Tag Archives: president

Ukraine – Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych on Trial

On May 4, Ukraine began a high treason trial of its former president Viktor Yanukovych. According to the Ukrainian state prosecutor’s website, Yanukovych is accused of committing “treason by helping the Russian Federation and its representatives to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The so-called “trial of the century” has already held two sessions. The prosecution’s main evidence are copies of letters written by Yanukovych asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine. In addition, the prosecutor says that it has witness testimonies, documents, and photo materials to support the case. The punishment for treason in Ukraine carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

However, in addition to the treason trial, Yanukovuch is also under criminal investigation in three other cases. First, the former president is accused of ordering the use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators during the so-called Europmaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014. Second, Yunukovych is accused of having formed criminal groups. And finally, the Mezhyhirya case of illegal acquisition of property. The Mezhyhirya residence of the former president became famous when it was confiscated in 2014 after he fled the country. Later authorities discovered fleet of luxury cars and other luxury items that have stored in the the now infamous estate.

Currently leaving in exile in Russia, the president is being tried in absentia. To enable this, Ukrainian legislature had to pass a number of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code. This, however, generated a number of controversies. Some argued that the bill is a case of selective justice and is politically motivated, drafted with a sole purpose of putting the former president on trial. Furthermore, the defence has argued that there is no legal basis for the treason trial as Yanukovych has not been presented with an official notification of the charges against him. Most importantly, however, the bill has been criticised for the potential impact it may have on regular citizens. Many argue that the amendment can lead to the dangerous abuse of power allowing the possibility of convicting a person in absentia, without them even knowing about being on trial.

In the last year alone, a number of other countries put their presidents on trail. The most high profile recent case is the impeachment and the corruption trial of the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye. Burkina Faso has also recently started a trial of its former president Blaise Compaore. He is also tried in absentia and is accused of using force against unarmed protesters in 2014, during the uprising that took him out of power. The presidents of Brazil and Argentina are also currently on trial for corruption. Thus, a quick look around the world shows that Ukraine is not the only country to have one of its former presidents on trial. However, it is one of the few countries to have a president tried for treason, in addition to corruption and excessive use of force.

The trial is an important test for the Ukrainian judiciary. There are serious grounds for bringing charges against the former president. However, it is crucial for the trial to be conducted in a fair and independent manner in order not to only avoid the verdict being challenged in an international court but also continue to further build and strengthen the judicial system in Ukraine.

Presidential profile – Rajendra Prasad, former president of India

The Indian Constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950. Later that day, Rajendra Prasad, a distinguished veteran of the Indian National Congress became the first president of the newly created Republic of India. The Constitution’s fate would rest significantly on Prasad’s shoulders. Was he up to the task?

In designing its central institutions of government, India heavily borrowed from the Westminster model. But the highest constitutional office – an elected presidency – wasn’t one of them; it had no modern British lineage.

Designing this new office proved challenging. The Constituent Assembly, a large body of modestly elected persons, agonized over many models and multiple drafts. As the president of the Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad was intimately involved in the deliberations.

The Assembly had three models to choose from: a monarch, a directly-elected president or an indirectly-elected president. Suddenly inventing a monarchy wasn’t feasible. So, the Assembly had to opt for more democratic varieties. In its first round of deliberations, Assembly opted for a directly-elected president. But doubts soon appeared. Would a president backed by a national mandate collide with a prime minister? Better sense prevailed, and the Assembly backed off. An indirectly-elected president it would be.

Type was only one issue. Equally important was the issue of powers: Precisely, what powers should this indirectly-elected president have? With the Westminster model looming large, members agreed that the president, like the British monarch, wouldn’t rule. Prime ministers and their cabinets would. A ceremonial president is what the Assembly, it seems, settled on. Remember: Prasad helped craft that agreement.

Curiously, the Constitution, its precise language, did not reflect that agreement. Instead, it reposed the president with two major roles. Article 53 made the president the repository of executive powers: “The executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with this Constitution.” Article 74, in the original Constitution, heightened his sense of power: “There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advice the President in the exercise of his functions.” And Article 79 made the president a constitutive part of Parliament: “There shall be a Parliament for the Union which shall consist of the President and two Houses to be known respectively as the council of States and the House of the People.” This was in addition to scores of other provisions that seemed to confer specific powers on the president.

Soon after the Constitution came into effect, skirmishes broke out between President Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Prasad no longer felt bound by the “agreement” in the Constituent Assembly. The powers of the president, he said, were those the text of the Constitution dictated. Nehru, on the other hand, read the provisions and the powers they conferred through lens of the agreement in the Assembly. Reading the provisions without any sense of the Westminster system, he said, would undo the delicate balance the Constitution had created.

The battle lines were clearly drawn. Prasad emphasized the text above all else. To him, the text meant how it read. To Nehru, the constitutional text was merely a gloss. Making sense of it required an understanding of India’s gradual adoption of the Westminster system.

This interpretative battle was fought several times, and they were India’s original struggle over constitutional meaning. High on Prime Minister Nehru’s agenda early on was the modernization of Hindu personal law – the law of marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance of Hindus. Nehru wanted to reform and modernize Hindu customary law. But only Hindu law. Personal laws of Muslims and other religious minorities didn’t figure in his legislative agenda. Prasad objected, both on constitutional and personal grounds. Reforming only Hindu codes would be discriminatory, he said. He made it known that if enacted by the two Houses of Parliament, he would exercise his independent judgment when it came to assent. He also made it clear that he would likely withhold assent – something a British monarch hadn’t done for many centuries.

And then there were land reform Bills that both Houses of Parliament overwhelmingly voted for. But Prasad agonized over them, again on constitutional grounds. Not enough compensation had been provided for, he said, to those whose land had been taken over. Nehru wouldn’t have this. He insisted on a rubber-stamp president, not an independent, political one. With Prasad insisting on real powers, Nehru lined up a battery of legal eagles to make the case for a republican president in name only. And then there were threats, too. Unable to get his way, Nehru on more than one occasion threatened to resign if Prasad stalled his agenda.

Ultimately, the Indian electorate settled the matter. The first general elections in 1952 conferred on Jawaharlal Nehru a massive democratic mandate. Prasad saw the writing on the wall. He backed off. The text, its powers, didn’t matter; it didn’t mean what it said. India, after all, was going to be a Westminster system. (Between 1950 and 1952, president and parliament functioned on the basis of elections last conducted in 1937.)

Rajendra Prasad remained president until 1962. He was first formally (indirectly) elected in 1952, and then again, in 1957. So far, he remains the only person to have served two terms as president. With his reading of presidential powers written off by the Indian electorate, Prasad for most his long term stood relegated to ceremonial functions – in line with Nehru’s original conception of what the presidency was meant to be.

It should, then, come as no surprise that Nehru steadfastly opposed Prasad’s candidature as president. But the latter ultimately prevailed within the Congress party. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Like Nehru, Prasad, too, had a long and distinguished record in the Congress party.

Born on 3 December 1884 in the Bengal Presidency of Siwan (present day Bihar), Prasad showed great promise as a student. He graduated with a Masters in Economics from the University of Calcutta in 1907, and later completed his Masters in Law in 1915. He earned a doctorate in law from Allahabad University in 1937.

His association with the Congress party began during his student years in Calcutta (now Kolkata), and he formally became a member of the party in 1911. He became the president of the Indian National Congress in 1934, and again in 1939. He also became a minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Interim Government in 1946. In 1962, he was conferred the highest civilian honor in India, the Bharat Ratna. He died on 28 February 1963.

Rajendra Prasad lost out in making the president an independent center of power. But as Indian politics degenerated into the chaos of coalition politics in the 1990s, once again, there were calls for the president to assert his “independence”. With the comfort of a stable single-party rule over, political parties and commentators in India looked to the president to exercise authority and judgment. Perhaps Prasad was right all along – and far too ahead of the times.

William Crotty – Donald Trump’s Presidency: Stage One

This is a guest post by William Crotty, editor of Winning the Presidency 2016 (Routledge, 2017)

Introduction: The first 100 days of a new presidency is considered a marking point. In this post, the recently inaugurated president is evaluated in relation to:

  • his (in this case) approach to governing; the quality, background and experience of his appointees to federal office;
  • his substantive initiatives and accomplishments in domestic and international affairs (trade, military actions and relations with other nations);
  • the operational efficiency and professionalism of his administration and its decision-making.

Comparisons are then made with previous administrations and in particular with that of his predecessor.

Donald Trump responded to his 100-day anniversary with one of his many unpredictable outbursts, calling it a false standard of no significance. Then he did his best to provide the media and voters with a sense of a hyper-active presidency, on the move and transformative.

It largely failed. The Trump presidency was criticized on a number of levels from his chaotic White House to his being an uninformed and even ignorant leader, leading an administration with no clear direction or substantive achievements of merit. Nonetheless, Trump, by accident or self-interest, was correct in scoffing at the first 100 days of a presidency as a marking point; it is one that shows little predictive power in determining the final perception of an administration. Still, accepting the conventional standard serves the purpose of providing an early assessment of an administrative ability to adapt to the demands of the world’s most powerful office.

Taken in this context, the evaluations have not been kind. Trump was seen as unprepared for the presidency; ignorant of its working of government; unfamiliar with the history of the country or its relation with other nations; favoring billionaires, military personnel, conspiracy theorists and nationalists in running his administration; an unpredictable and vengeful leader; and autocratic in style and thinking. Government appeared not to interest him and his issue concerns focused mainly on rewarding those of wealth and, through his family, continuing his business interests. As he would say, he never expected the presidency to be as complicated as it was. He considered Washington a “swamp,” as he said in the campaign, and did his best to spend time in Florida golfing and entertaining at his Mar-a-Lago estate, club and golf course. He had even used his property to conduct business fully in the public eye (his meeting with the prime minister of Japan and their reacting to a North Koran threat being one of the more dramatic instances).

The pattern and style of his decision-making and the values and priorities forming these are clear extensions of those found in the campaign. Basically the administration is run exactly like the campaign – it is a one-man operation – and the promises made in the election provide the blueprint for the administration.

A final point before looking at what has and has not been achieved. However Trump may be judged by the media and outsiders, his core supporters continue to back him. Unlike Barack Obama, he has made it a priority to continue the rallies that marked the campaign, which he enjoys, to give his followers his version of events. In two national polls (taken before the firing of the director of the FBI), 97 to 98 percent of Trump voters continue to support him and believe he is doing what he promised to do. However one assesses his actions, the political landscape has been in turmoil since his assuming the office of president.

Appointments: Trump has appointed Wall Street executives to his major economic positions in the administration, all with no government experience. He has appointed high-ranking military officers to defense and national security positions. Beyond these, he has chosen people to lead Cabinet and other agencies who are committed to ending them (Gov. Rick Perry of Texas in the energy department) or want to end their mission (Betsy DeVos heading the education department and wanting to stop funding for public schools, and Scott Pruitt, who has repeatedly sued the EPA, the agency he now heads) and/or who have no knowledge of the department’s mission (Dr. Ben Carson in housing). He has fired but is yet to replace federal prosecutors nationwide. Additionally, hundreds of other government positions have been left open.

Sources of Information: Given his lack of knowledge or experience in understanding government operations, Trump depends heavily on outside sources to keep him informed and up-to-date. He does not trust government agencies and he particularly distrusts the national security agencies and the CIA. Consequently, and given his predilection for conspiracy theories and nationalist commitments in policy matters, he relies on Fox News, a conservative network (he spends a considerable amount of time watching TV), and hard-core nationalist radio programs. Stephen K. Bannon, one of his closest advisors, is a product of such an environment.

Trump relies primarily on himself and his instincts, does not prepare himself for situations and comes across as disorganized, temperamental and unpredictable, qualities he appears to value. Add to this his family, and especially his daughter Ivanka who has an office in the White House, who are called on for advice and to run his business affairs. He also has a large if informal number of corporate executives who meet with him personally or on a semi-regular basis.

Trump’s major issues in the campaign were repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”); revising (“reforming”) the tax code to cut rates and further reward the wealthiest; and stopping immigration and deporting undocumented aliens and anyone who has entered the country illegally, regardless of length of residence.

The record:

  • Trump’s major preoccupation during his campaign as well as a major agenda item of the Republican party since it was passed by the Congress was the repeal of Obamacare. He promised a better, more efficient and less expensive replacement that would continue to be inclusive.

It turned out that neither Trump or the Republicans had a plan in mind. House Speaker Paul Ryan along with a handful of House colleagues did put together a bill that would largely end Obamacare, change the tax code to help the wealthy and cripple Medicaid which serves many of the medical needs of the poorest Americans. Trump signed on and promised a “bloodbath” if all Republicans did not vote for it. It fell short of 11 supporters to gain a majority and so was not brought to the House floor. The outcome was considered a disaster for the administration and Democrats claimed that Obamacare was now safe. They were wrong.

The Far Right Freedom/Tea Party Caucus opposition had sunk the bill. They then came up with a more restrictive bill that eliminated more services, cut Medicaid by $800 billion and changed the tax code to move the same amount to the wealthiest of Americans. The bill would deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, a particularly sensitive issue.  Trump and Ryan signed on. It passed by 4 votes. The bill passed a Republican-controlled House in a matter of days and without Congressional Budget Office review of the cost, making a mockery of the legislative process. The Republican Senate indicated it may write its own bill.

The second attempt at repeal (The American Health Care Act) makes changes to the subsidies for those who buy their own healthcare insurance. It includes a provision that states can opt out of some or all of the act’s provisions. Most of the state governments are now in the hands of the Republicans who have argued for the ability to opt-out from the beginning. It has a particular appeal to them and should the final bill keep this option, most states will enforce it, using this as the opportunity to limit or totally deny benefits to their residents.

Trump sent a one-page revision of the tax code to Congress. It would redraw the tax laws, again transferring wealth to the best-off, ending estate and other taxes that affected the richest and lowering the maximum tax a corporation or individual could pay to 15 percent (down from a standard of 35%). It offered minor changes to advantage the working and middle classes. The Congressional Budget Office has yet to calculate the losses in revenue for the government from the tax proposal or for the health care repeal bill passed by the House.

Trump increased arrests and efforts to deport undocumented aliens (a total of 22,000 from January to March, 2017) and attempted to shut down immigration from five Muslim countries. The administration has encountered court efforts to review or halt such actions. Trump responded to the courts’ questioning of his plans by saying he would restructure the federal court system to eliminate such delays in the execution of his orders.

These were Trump’s major initiatives.

In addition:

  • Trump is reviewing and cancelling as promised all Executive Orders issued by his predecessor Barack Obama. These include environmental restrictions on oil, gas and coal production and other (health-related) provisions; efforts to control climate change; limits on pipeline expansion throughout the country including approval of the Dakota Access pipeline and allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed; set-asides of public lands for national parks and recreation; safety guidelines; the Dodd-Frank bill limits on Wall Street; government support for the arts and PBS; and so on. He is attempting to reverse the Clean Power Plan and international agreements on air and water pollution, open national parks and protected waterways to oil drilling, reverse efforts to prohibit oil and coal companies from dumping toxic waste into waterways; and end any restrictions on corporate earnings. Further in this context, he proposes to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, along with related cuts in the budgets of other federal agencies concerned with domestic programs.
  • Trump’s off-hand remarks appeared to reverse the two states objectives for Israel-Palestine and reinstate the two nations approach for China and Taiwan.
  • He imposed tariffs on goods coming into the U.S. such as lumber and dairy products while threatening to withdraw from NATO and canceling the Trans-Pacific Partnership Obama attempted to have passed in his final days in office.
  • Trump appointed and had confirmed in close Senate vote hard-right conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
  • Trump ordered 59 cruise missiles fired into Syria in response, the White House said, to the Syrian government’s use of poison gas on its population.
  • With or without his direct approval, the military dropped the “mother of all bombs” second in impact only to a nuclear bomb and never before used on a reputed ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan.
  • He signed order for constructing a wall along the Mexican border but funding has been left uncertain.

The actions taken have been frantic and mostly unpredictable, a style that Trump likes and one that suits his temperament. In broad terms, the effort is to reduce domestic programs to a minimum; remove all restrictions in the public interest on economic activity; end environmental safeguards; stop immigration; and introduce a contentious and challenging foreign policy to international affairs, a phase that is just developing.

An issue that would not go away is Russia‘s role in the election in promoting Trump’s candidacy and in the number of advisors to Trump’s campaign and nominees for federal office with contacts of various kinds to the Russians. Most of these have been denied. They include the senator (Jeff Sessions of Alabama) chosen as Attorney General who lied on his ties to the Russians in his confirmation hearing and the national security director, former general Michael T. Flynn, who had lied to the Vice President and others about his Russian associations. He was fired by Trump. There have also been such alleged associations between other members of the administration and advisors to Trump’s campaign.

The White House refused to investigate the charges as to date has the Congress and the Justice Department which also has refused to appoint a Special Prosecutor to look into the matter. The FBI says it is investigating such ties but will not give out any information. Critics argue this is what the FBI should have been doing during the campaign.

Shortly after appearing before the Congress and indicating the Russian connections to the Trump campaign and White House appointments and advisors was under investigation, Trump fired the FBI director, James T. Comey. The firing caused a sensation and drew comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate.

Presidential historian Richard North Patterson: “… this latest spasm of self-absorbed self-preservation carries the anomalous stamp of Trump’s disordered psyche.

… what is so distinctive and disturbing here is Trump’s naked desire to attack the legal system itself, reducing his presidency to a cage match between our institutions of justice and a man who does not even pretend to represent them.”  (Richard North Patterson, “A President Is Acting Guilty and Unhinged,” Boston Globe, May 11, 2017, p. A14).

Trump’s reaction was to meet with Russian government officials, including that county’s ambassador to the United States, a principal in the controversy, and to prohibit the American press from covering the meeting. The photo of the event to appear in the media was supplied by the Russians. Trump has also said he may stop daily press briefings for the media and limit these to one every two weeks which he himself may lead, rather than his communications staff.

One thing is clear: Trump loves strongmen. He has praised Vladimir Putin of Russia repeatedly. He personally called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, charged with the mass killings of drug dealers, praised him and invited him to the White House. After having his Secretary of State threaten North Korea with the possibility of military action, he completely changed direction, praising North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un and while warning that “nobody is safe” from North Korea nuclear weapons said he would be “honored” to meet with him. Besides Putin and Duterte, Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, a former army officer who instigated a ruthless purge of dissidents and Islamists. “. … Trump seems to have a genuine affinity for men of action who brook little dissent.” (Ishaan Tharoor, Today’s Worldview: “Trump’s Invitation to Duterte Is a Sign of the Times,” Washington Post, May 1, 2017.

Donald Trump had begun his post–100 day presidency by:

  • Saying the Civil War (1861-1865) in which 600,000 Americans died was unnecessary. Abraham Lincoln was responsible for it. If Trump’s new hero, populist President Andrew Jackson, was in charge the war would not have taken place. Jackson was a slave holder. The two sides (North and South) should have made a deal, according to the president.
  • Said visitors logs to the White House will no longer be publicly available.
  • Changed May 1st, normally a day to celebrate labor unions, into “loyalty day” intended to honor nationalism, small government and his presidency
  • Announced an increase in military actions in Afghanistan
  • Said the United States government needed “a good shutdown” in the fall to force a partisan confrontation over federal spending
  • Waived all rules on the conflict of interests

There of course is much more but this should give an idea of the administration, how it operates and what it believes important.

Democratic Party Opposition: As for the Democrats, potential presidential candidates for the party’s 2020 nomination are beginning to stir. These include the familiar – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and possibly Hillary Clinton – and the not-so-well-known- members of Congress, mayors of major cities and governors. Meanwhile, while the congressional House and Senate parties have vigorously contested the Trump presidency, the 2018 congressional elections are coming up, for which the Democratic party has not prepared.

The party was devastated under Barack Obama. He had no interest in it, did little campaigning for candidates, ignored party-building and basically controlled the national party to ensure it offered no opposition to his presidency. In the process, he left the field to the Republicans. The results were the Democrats lost 69 House seats and 13 Senate seats and lost their majority in both houses of the Congress. They also lost just under 1,000 state legislative seats. The party is in its worse shape since 1922 and Democratic governors at their lowest ebb since 1865. To date, it has yet to begin recruiting candidates for the 2018 off-year congressional and state races.

The DNC during Obama’s presidency and under his control was a part-time operation. The then-chair’s one preoccupation was in advancing Hillary Clinton’s pursuit of the presidency. In the words of the Democratic leader of the Senate, the national committee was “useless.” And the neglect took its toll.

Given this, the battle for control of the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in early 2017 assumed unusual importance. It pitted a progressive Congressman committed to rebuilding the party against a member of the Obama administration, a centrist with no electoral experience, strongly backed by Obama in his last days in the White House. Obama’s candidate was supported by, in addition to Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. His opponent was supported by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the major labor unions and grassroots Democrats hoping to mobilize those taking part in anti-Trump rallies nationwide. Obama’s candidate won a close race and the national committee has continued to remain essentially dormant while Obama has announced a $400,000 fee for a Wall Street talk. Such talks and his commitment to writing a book on his presidency are his present concerns (book contracts with Barack and Michelle Obama in the range of $60 million have been reported by The Guardian. The biggest problem for the National Democratic Party is not opposing Trump, although it has done little along these lines, but getting out from under Barack Obama’s control.

Conclusion: The 100-day reckoning may be a false standard as claimed. Still a number of things about Trump and his presidency have become clear. First, he is not prepared for the job of president. Second, while he enjoys exercising power he does not like the demands of the presidency, the public and media scrutiny and the criticisms of his behavior and he hates “the swamp,” Washington. Third, he with his family’s assistance will keep their main focus on making money and extending the Trump brand. Fourth, he is determined to destroy what is left of a soft social welfare state in the United States. Fifth, he is committed to increasing the already extensive polarization of wealth in the country, further enriching those at the top of the income pyramid (himself included), making a situation already the worst among advanced democracies that much worse. Sixth, he wants an aggressive, contentious and militaristic defense and foreign policy, the outlines of which are just becoming clear. And finally he is an autocrat determined to do whatever is needed to increase his personal power, testing the limits imposed by a democratic society.

Finally, Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times (May 3, 2017, p. A27) writes: “Has the first 100 days of the presidency made Donald Trump nuts? … You read all of Trump’s 100-day interviews and they are just bizarre.” It is an administration “… bound not by a shared vision but by a shared willingness to overlook Trump’s core ignorance, instability and indecency.”*

The question left is where do we go from here and the answer is likely more of the same.

 

 

*For Trump’s assessment of the first 100 days, see his speech to a rally of supporters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on April 29, 2017.

(Note: As of May 12, 2017, the WhiteHouse.gov website has the link above “being updated,”
although video of the rally is available from various web sources.)

Štěpán Drahokoupil – Czech Republic: Back to instability

This is a guest post by Štěpán Drahokoupil, Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

The Czech Republic has experienced a period of remarkable political stability since the formation of the coalition government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka in January 2014[1]. But the political events of last week once again reminded many people that governments lasting four years – the regular term of the Chamber of Deputies – are very rare. One of the main causes of the recent development is the tense relationship between Prime Minister Sobotka and President Zeman, but also weak political practices during the process of accepting resignations and nominations of Prime Ministers in the Czech Republic.

Here is a summary of what happened in Prague last week: Prime Minister Sobotka held a press conference on Tuesday, May 2, where he was expected to announce a recall of Andrej Babiš, the Minister of Finance, due to accusations of illicit financial dealings. Instead, Sobotka announced his resignation and therefore the end of the whole government. The ceremony, where the President was supposed to accept the resignation of PM, was scheduled for Thursday. However, Prime Minister Sobotka unexpectedly informed President Zeman that he first wished to consult with the president about the next steps without formally handing in his resignation. President Zeman then held the ceremony anyway, even though there was no actual resignation from the prime minister. What is even more remarkable (although not entirely unusual for Zeman) is that the president behaved very disrespectfully towards the prime minister. At the end of the week, Prime Minister Sobotka decided to recall only minister Babiš after all and took back the announced resignation of the whole government. The main reason for this U-turn seems to be that Sobotka did not receive an assurance from the President that he would accept the resignation of the whole government – as is the custom – instead of only the resignation of Prime Minister Sobotka.

After more than two decades of the independent Czech Republic there is no political consensus on the very rules of how to dissolve a government or how to nominate one. When previous Prime Ministers (Václav Klaus, Vladimír Špidla, Stanislav Gross, Mirek Topolánek and Petr Nečas) handed their resignations to the presidents of the day, their government was considered to have resigned. This time, the president openly questioned this political practice – Zeman argued that Sobotka’s resignation could be perceived as  the resignation of only the prime minister not of the whole government. This is also not the first time that President Zeman has interpreted constitutional stipulations and political practice in a way that has suited his own political interests. After the resignation of Prime Minister Nečas in 2013, President Zeman appointed a new government led by Jiří Rusnok. However, he did so without consulting the Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber of the parliament) and therefore without securing a majority for the new govenrment. Subsequently, Jiří Rusnok and his government failed to win the vote of confidence, but the President refused to appoint another candidate for prime minister (although parliament had previously presented an alternative). Therefore the government of Prime Minister Rusnok was in office without the confidence of the lower chamber of the Parliament for several months and was replaced only after the general elections in 2013, which were won by the CSSD leader Bohuslav Sobotka and his allies.

The current political crisis also demonstrates that when there is a stable government, based on a functioning coalition of political parties, the prime minister can successfully challenge the president and his/her actions – irrespective of whether they are warranted by any constitutional stipulations. However, when one government party becomes an ally of the president, it considerably strengthens the position of the head of state. It is well-known that the Minister of Finance, Andrej Babiš, and President Miloš Zeman have made a political pact, resulting in a difficult situation for Prime Minister Sobotka. Moreover, President Zeman is seen as the clear frontrunner in the next presidential elections in 2018, while Andrej Babiš’ political movement, ANO, is polling around 30% (in contrast with PM Sobotka’s Social Democrats at 15 %).  The next general elections are scheduled for late October of this year.

Bohuslav Sobotka has been in office for 40 months as of May 2017. In terms of time in office, this makes him the third most successful Prime Minister in the history of the Czech Republic. Only the current President Miloš Zeman and his predecessor President Václav Klaus finished their whole terms as Prime Ministers, both 48 months (see Table 1 below). No government of the Czech Republic has finished its four-year mandate since 2002. Thus, the recent development seems much more like a norm of Czech politics rather than an exceptional situation.

Table 1: Prime Ministers in office (1992 – 2017)

Prime Minister Term Number of months
Václav Klaus 1992 – 1996 48
Václav Klaus 1996 – 1998 18
Josef Tošovský 1998 6
Miloš Zeman 1998 – 2002 48
Vladimír Špidla 2002 – 2004 25
Stanislav Gross 2004 – 2005 8
Jiří Paroubek 2005 – 2006 17
Mirek Topolánek 2006 – 2007 4
Mirek Topolánek 2007 – 2009 26
Jan Fischer 2009 – 2010 14
Petr Nečas 2010 – 2013 36
Jiří Rusnok 2013 – 2014 6
Bohuslav Sobotka 2014 – 2017 40+ (as of May 2017)

The average time in office of Czech governments is less than two years. The shortest government lasted only four months and the longest four years. When we take into consideration that some of the cabinets were technocratic governments – headed by non-political figures because there was no political majority in the Chamber of Deputies – the “political governments” lasted on average 25.6 months and technocratic governments 8.7 months.

Table 2: Average time of governments, shortest and longest governments (1992 – 2013)

Average duration of all governments 21.3 months
Shortest government: PM Mirek Topolánek (2006 – 2007) 4 months
Longest governments: PM Václav Klaus (1992 – 1996), PM Miloš Zeman (1998 – 2002) 48 months
Average duration of “political governments” 25.6 months
Average duration of “governments of officials” 8.7 months

Note: Since the final number of months of PM Sobotka in office is still unknown, it is not part of the calculations.

Notes

[1] The government was formed by the Social Democrats (CSSD), the political movement ANO and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It had 111 out of 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

____________________
Štěpán Drahokoupil is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Charles University. He graduated in political science from Charles University and his research focus is comparative political science, specifically political systems and the theory of democratic, hybrid and undemocratic regimes.

Uganda – President Museveni’s term of “no joking around” takes a dramatic turn

President Yoweri Museveni, recently re-elected for the fifth time, continues to pursue his term of “no joking around” in spectacular fashion. After adopting the new slogan, using the Swahili phrase kisanja hakuna mchezo, Museveni has remained unusually hyperactive, doing everything from transporting water on a bicycle in a demonstration of drip irrigation techniques to personally editing routine government communiques.

In recent weeks, though, Museveni upped the ante still more, taking a direct hand in snaring two civil servants and a minister in high-profile bribery cases. On March 28, the Police’s Flying Squad Unit encircled the Ministry of Finance and arrested two Ministry officials on suspicion of soliciting bribes of over Sh15b (£3.2m) from Chinese investors looking to establish a phosphate plant. This dramatic intervention came after said investors reportedly complained directly to the President, who in turn advised them to comply with the officials, the idea being to ensure the police could catch the wayward public officials  “red-handed”.

A second, strikingly similar incident occurred less than two weeks later. This time, the Minister of State for Labour, Herbert Kabafunzaki, was caught by security operatives from police and Special Forces Command allegedly in the act of receiving a Sh10m (£2.1k) bribe from the prominent Sudan-born businessman Mohammad Hamid. The exchange occurred during a meeting at Kampala’s five star Serena hotel while not only security but also the media—tipped off in advance—lay in wait. Again, the story was that Hamid had personally phoned the President after Kabafunzaki demanded a bribe to ignore complaints of sexual harassment from workers at the Pearl of Africa Hotel, owned by Hamid.

These two Hollywoodesque operations have fuelled a heated debate. Museveni insists both interventions were aimed at rooting out corruption in the civil service and Cabinet, which he likened to a den of “thieves”. Some observers accepted this narrative, arguing that anyone soliciting bribes should be punished. Others remained more sceptical, questioning the President’s personal involvement when Uganda has an alphabet soup of anti-corruption agencies. Still other commentators argued that the entire sequence of events was stage managed to provide an opportunity for the President to perform his role as anti-corruption crusader.

These more critical appraisals have considerable merit. We can take the analysis a step further, though. Indeed, kisanja hakuna mchezo not only appears superficial and performative. It is also being skilfully manipulated to further entrench—as opposed to challenge and uproot—the constellation of, yes, often corrupt interests upon which Museveni’s regime rests.

To understand this point, it is worth taking a step back and revisiting Museveni’s original speech, in which he introduced his new “no joking around” mantra. In June of last year, shortly after his re-election, Museveni delivered his address to a gathering of Cabinet ministers, Permanent Secretaries and top-level members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). He used the occasion to outline a 16-point plan aimed at “fast-tracking industrialization and socio-economic transformation”.

Despite the ambition of the title, the points themselves were familiar. They centred on the need for industrial expansion through foreign investment, which Museveni argued could be encouraged through special tax breaks, the installation of industrial parks, and the suppression of wages. It is a cocktail consistent with Museveni’s past embrace of IFI-backed policies. It is also a policy orientation that—perhaps contrary to the IFI’s own expectations—has helped sustain Museveni’s government in power.

Observer’s interested in the political economy of NRM rule have long noted the President’s cultivation of a pro-regime business constituency composed notably of foreign investors, who despite their wealth cannot themselves pose a political threat to the regime.[1] For Museveni, favouring foreign investors is thus both good politics and good economics.

The President’s characterization of corruption—its causes and would-be solutions—also speaks to this strategic interest. Of the myriad forms of corruption that have emerged in Uganda under his watch, Museveni chose to focus on a very narrow subset in his speech. He thus stressed the need to “banish corruption so that the parasites that increase the costs to our investors are eliminated.”

Fast-forward a few months and we see Museveni following through on his aim to flush out the “parasites.” But of more concern than the alleged efforts to solicit bribes is perhaps the ability of people like Hamid Mohammed to make a personal phone call to the President, and to get the assistance of the Special Forces Command by way of a response. Hamid is certainly not a struggling new investor just trying to make good. He was first introduced to Museveni in the mid-2000s, after which point the President allocated to the businessman 15 acres of prime land in Kampala to construct a grandiose Hilton hotel. The project is still unfinished despite being years overdu, but rather than distancing himself from Hamid, Museveni has issued warnings to media outlets following negative reporting of the businessman’s dealings.

Investors like Hamid are not the only regime-aligned individuals who are receiving renewed support during kisanja hakuna mchezo. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kale Kayihura, is also among those whom the latest operations appear specially orchestrated to benefit. Kayihura has long served as one of Museveni’s closest lieutenants, yet he has come under increasing pressure amidst rising crime rates, allegations of police infiltration by organized gangs and, most recently, accusations of being complicit in the murder of the former police spokesman, Andrew Kaweesi. Museveni has nevertheless sought to shield Kayihura, tasking him with overseeing the arrest of the two Ministry of Finance officials and then praising him for the intervention. Earlier this week, the President reappointed Kayihura for another term as IGP.

For a President who has remained in power for over three decades, it is not surprising that Museveni should be doubling down, protecting the interests of his close allies. It is also not surprising to see the promise of renewal through “no joking around” come undone. What is perhaps new, though, is the somewhat more brazen effort to dress up as an anti-corruption crusade what is, in fact, the exact opposite, namely an attempt to protect insider interests.

In this business of “no joking around”, it may be that the joke is on us.

[1] See for instance Roger Tangri and Andrew Mwenda’s 2013 book, The Politics of elite corruption in Africa: Uganda in comparative African perspective.

Ukraine and NATO – President Promises a Referendum

In the beginning of February, in an interview with a German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, President Poroshenko announced that he would hold a referendum on Ukraine’s membership in NATO during his presidency. Citing increasing support for the alliance among the population of the country, the President confirmed that he would do everything in his power to join the North Atlantic Alliance if the Ukrainians vote for it.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Poroshenko paid particular attention to strengthening Ukraine’s relationship with the international organisations and alliances, with a particular focus on the EU and NATO. Visa free regime with the EU was one of Poroshenko’s headline campaign promises. And although it has taken two years longer to achieve than the president had hoped, the EU seems to be set to introduce a visa free travel for Ukrainian citizens in June.

However, a closer affiliation with NATO, even though might be desired by the majority of the Ukrainian population, might be even more difficult to achieve for the president. Poroshenko, however, does not seem to be dismayed by the challenging task ahead. In the interview, the president cited a quickly rising support for the alliance among the Ukrainian population: “Four years ago, just 16 per cent [of Ukrainians] supported NATO membership. Now it is 54 per cent.”

However, even if NATO referendum will pass, joining the North Atlantic Alliance may still prove difficult for Ukraine. It has been reported that, although supportive of the country, NATO is not keen on admitting it as a new member and is cautious not to provoke Russia. A very similar situation surrounded Poland, when it joined the Atlantic Alliance in 1999 but no Russia response followed. However, Russia made its position clear on the question of Ukraine joining NATO in 2008, when it threatened to target its missile on Ukraine if it joined the Atlantic Alliance.

NATO member fees have also been the topic of the controversy recently. During the recent visit of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the US, President Trump reportedly presented her with a £300bl dollar bill. Whether Ukraine would be able to cover its fee membership if admitted is also a question.

Nonetheless, the question of Ukraine membership in NATO is not new. An online petition, which collected 25,000 signatures, asking for a referendum on NATO membership was previously submitted to the president in August 2015. And even though the referendum, of course, will not directly result in Ukraine joining NATO, holding a referendum would not only fulfil President’s pre-electoral promise to do so but also show the support for the alliance in the country.

Zambia – President Lungu sacrifices credibility to repress opposition

Zambian President Edgar Lungu finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place in both economic and political terms. As a result, he has begun to lash out, manipulating the law to intimidate the opposition, and in the process sacrificing what credibility he had left after deeply problematic general elections in 2016.

Let us start with the economy, where the president is stuck in something of a lose-lose position. On the one hand, his populace is growing increasingly frustrated at the absence of economic job and opportunities, while a number of experts have pointed out that the country is on the verge of a fresh debt crisis. Economic growth was just 2.9% in 2016, while the public debt is expected to hit 54% of GDP this year, and the government cannot afford to pay many of its domestic suppliers.

On the other, a proposed $1.2 billion rescue deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has the potential to increase opposition to the government for two reasons. First, it would mean significantly reducing government spending, including on some of Lungu’s more popular policies. Second, many Zambians are understandably suspicious of IMF and the World Bank, having suffered under previous adjustment programmes that delivered neither jobs nor sustainable growth.

The president faces similar challenges on the political front. Having won a presidential election in 2016 that the opposition believes was rigged, and which involved a number of major procedural flaws, Lungu desperately needs to relegitimate himself. However, this need clashes with another, more important, imperative – namely, the president’s desire to secure a third term in office when his current tenure ends in 2020.

The problem for Lungu is that while it looks like he will be able to use his influence over the Constitutional Court to ensure that it interprets the country’s new constitutional arrangements to imply that he should be allowed to stand for a third term – on the basis that his first period in office was filling in for the late Michael Sata after his untimely death in office, and so should not count – such a strategy is likely to generate considerable criticism from the opposition, civil society and international community.

Lacking viable opportunities to boost his support base and relegitimate his government, President Lungu has responded by pursuing another strategy altogether: the intimidation of the opposition and the repression of dissent. While in some ways represents a continuation of some of the tactics used ahead of the 2016 election, when the supporters and leaders of rival parties were harassed and in some cases detained, the recent actions of the Patriotic Front (PF) government represent a worrying gear-shift.

Most obviously, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who came so close to leading his United Party of National Development (UPND) to victory in the latest polls, has been arrested and his home raided. His crimes? There appear to be two sets of charges. One set is relatively mundane, and relates to an incident in which Hichilema is accused of refusing to give way to the president’s convoy. For this, the opposition leader has been charged with breaking the highway code and using insulting language.

The second charge – that of treason – is much more serious, but also much less clear. Court documents state that Hichilema “on unknown dates but between 10 October 2016 and 8 April 2017 and whilst acting together with other persons unknown did endeavour to overthrow by unlawful means the government of Edgar Lungu.” Although this charge has also been linked to the recent traffic incident, it seems more likely to be motivated by the president’s ongoing frustration that the UPND continues to contest his election and refuses to recognise him as a legitimately elected leader.

If this is the true motivation for the charges, it will only be the latest of a number of moves to cow the opposition. For example, in response to the refusal of UNPD legislators to listen to Lungu’s address to the National Assembly, Richard Mumba – a PF proxy close to State House – petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare vacant the seats of all MPs who were absent.

The opposition are not alone. Key elements of civil society have also come under fire. As a result of the waning influence of trade unions, professional associations now find themselves as one of the last lines of defence for the country’s fragile democracy, most notably the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). It should therefore come as no surprise that a government MP, Kelvin Sampa, recent introduced legislation into the National Assembly that would effectively dissolve the LAZ and replace it with a number of smaller bodies, each of which would be far less influential.

The bills introduced by Mumba and Sampa may not succeed, but in some ways they don’t need to. Their cumulative effect has been to signal that those who seek to resist the governments are likely to find themselves the subject of the sharp end of the security forces and the PF’s manipulation of the rule of law. The nature of Hichilema’s arrest is a case in point. Despite numerous opportunities to detain him in broad daylight, armed police and paramilitaries planned a night attack in which they switched off the power to the house, blocked access to the main roads, and broke down the entrance gate. Inside the property, the security forces are accused of firing tear gas, torture, urinating on the opposition leader’s bed and looting the property.

It is therefore clear that the main aim of the operation was not an efficient and speedy arrest, but rather the humiliation and intimidation of an opponent.

Such abuses may help Lungu to secure the short-term goal of prolonging his stay in power, but they will threaten to undermine Zambia’s future. It will – or at least it should – be politically embarrassing for the IMF to conclude a deal with Zambia while the opposition leader is on trial on jumped up charges and civil society is decrying the slide towards authoritarian rule. Rumours now circulating in Lusaka suggest that President Lungu may be preparing to enhance his authority by declaring a State of Emergency in the near future, which would further complicate the country’s international standing.

Lungu’s blatant disregard for the rules of the democratic game also has important implications for the county’s political future. Many Zambian commentators reported that the 2016 election was the most violent in the country’s history, and forecast rising political instability if this trend was not reserved. Rather than heed this warning, President Lungu appears determined to put this prophecy to the test.

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is the Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham

Serbia – Aleksandar Vučić: the old and new strongman of Serbian politics

In this post, I examine the first and because of the results also final round of presidential elections in Serbia. The election was held on April 2 and Prime Minister Vučić won in this first round with predicted 54.9 % of the votes (with Sasa Jankovic coming as second with 16.2%) (see for the results Rudic 2017). This election comes roughly one year after the early parliamentary dissolution and the ensuing snap elections also won by Vučić. In the following, I will first briefly describe the process between the parliamentary and presidential elections, the campaign and motivations that might have driven Vučić’ candidacy. This is then followed by an assessment of the consequences of the results for the political process and the democratic development in Serbia.

In March 2016, the Serbian President – then Tomislav Nikolić – dissolved the National Assembly (Narodna skupština) and called for early elections (the third in four years). The reasons for the dissolution that I described in an earlier blog post discussing the parliamentary elections apply surprisingly well again and show the motivation why Vučić ran as candidate for the presidency.

Similar to the snap parliamentary elections last spring, the run for president by Vučić is widely viewed as move to cement the ruling of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). One main motive for the 2016 snap election was pointedly formulated by the following quote: “Vučić may simply […] cash in on his popularity, while it lasts” (Stojanović and Casal Bértoa 2016). But considering the results of the early parliamentary elections, the political move of Vučić did not work as expected. The SNS lost 27 seats in parliament and was far off by the projected +50% result (Pavlović 2017, 55). Even more important was a newly emerging opposition that was virtually non-existent or heavily discredited prior to the 2016 election. As Prelec (2016) has pointedly argued: “Vučić is no longer the only bastion of ‘Europeanness’ in Serbia”. This opposition consists now of an even more diverse group ranging from far-right to progressive movements. But still 48.2 percent of the votes guaranteed Vučić and the SNS a strong position, albeit within a coalition government he formed with some delay in August 2016. Many observers, including me, assumed that the new and old Prime Minister could continue his “domestic and foreign policy course [..] enacting the political and economic changes required for membership in the European Union, while simultaneously seeking closer relations with Russia.” (Brunwasser 2017)

But then something unexpected happened. Several viable candidates outside of the SNS influence emerged and made the presidency suddenly a possible veto point for Vučić’s plans of political leadership. Among possible contestants the most promising where Ljubisa Preletacevic-Beli (an alias used by a satirical campaign) and the former ombudsman, Sasa Jankovic.  Vučić’s solution to the problem was running for president by himself. Next to the obvious threat of a loss of power Boban Stojanović, Fernando Casal Bértoa (2017) named 2 further reasons why he decided to do so, “the temptation of ‘illiberal democracy’” and “little significant change in terms of his [Vučić] capacity to influence policy or exert power”. In particular, the second argument needs some clarification. Contrary to what a variety of outlets reported, we should be careful when we characterize the presidency in Serbia as “largely symbolic” (Brunwasser 2017). Depending on the party majorities and the actors occupying the main posts within the executive, the assessment of intra-executive relations varies dramatically. One example would be the comparative case of the presidency of Boris Tadić. During his first term – also a period of cohabitation – he was often described as inactive. This however changed dramatically when his Democratic Party (DS) won the 2007 and 2008 parliamentary election. In his double role as chair of the party and president of the country he wielded enormous political influence and clearly dominated intra-executive relations. Mirko Cvetković as Prime Minister was however highly respected and his term and cabinet broke for a short time the unfortunate tradition of frequent cabinet reshuffles and snap elections.

After Sunday’s election and the landslide victory of Vučić, we can expect a similar development for Vučić’s presidency, when it comes to the part about the president’s dominance over the prime minister. He will influence the political landscape more than his predecessor Tomislav Nikolić. Vučić will also aim for stability but this stability will actually mean something entirely different: stabilizing in this case will result in an even firmer and more authoritarian grasp on power in his bid for even more. Shortly after the election results were published, demonstrations against Vučić started all across Serbia and the organizers in several cities announced that they plan to continue their protest against election fraud, partisanship of media outlets and Vučić’s authoritarian tendencies.

Literature

Brunwasser, Matthew (2017): Serbia’s Prime Minister Projected to Win Presidency, Consolidating Control, in: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/02/world/europe/serbia-aleksandar-vucic-president-elections.html

Pavlović, Dušan (2017): Serbian Presidential Elections, in: Contemporary Southeastern Europe, in: http://www.suedosteuropa.uni-graz.at/cse/sites/default/files/papers/pavlovic_serbian_elections_2016.pdf

Prelec, Tena: Serbian parliamentary election 2016: A gamble that almost backfired, in: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/04/26/serbian-parliamentary-election-2016-a-gamble-that-almost-backfired

Rudic, Filip (2017): Vucic Wins Serbian Presidential Elections, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/vucic-wins-serbian-presidential-elections-04-02-2017-1
Stojanović, Boban and Casal Bértoa, Fernando (2017): Serbia’s prime minister just became president. What’s wrong with this picture? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/04/serbias-prime-minister-just-became-president-whats-wrong-with-this-picture/?utm_term=.8cdfe26a5d7e

Stojanović, Boban and Casal Bértoa, Fernando (2016): There are 4 reasons countries dissolve their parliaments. Here’s why Serbia did, in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/22/there-are-4-reasons-countries-dissolve-their-parliaments-heres-why-serbia-did/ (April 22).

President/Cabinet conflict in Poland

Following on from the post about president/cabinet conflict in Romania and Italy, today’s post focuses on president/cabinet conflict in Poland.

To recap, I asked academics to provide a judgment of the level of president/cabinet conflict on a four-point ordinal scale: a High level was indicated as the situation where there was persistent and severe conflict between the president and the cabinet; a Low level was expressed as the situation where there was no significant conflict between the president and the cabinet; and two intermediate levels – a Low-Medium level, and a Medium-High level – where the level of conflict was unspecified.

For Poland, I record scores for 13 cabinet units. I did not ask for scores for non-partisan presidents or caretaker governments. I received seven expert replies. The level of inter-coder reliability was high.

If we assign a value of 0, 0.33, 0.67, and 1 for Low, Low-Medium, Medium-High, and High respectively, then we return the following mean levels of conflict. See Table below.

These results tally nicely with the study by Sedelius and Ekman (2010) and Sedelius and Mashtaler (2013).

References

Sedelius, Thomas, and Ekman, Joakim (2010), ‘Intra-executive Conflict and Cabinet Instability: Effects of Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe’, Government and Opposition, 45(4): 505–30.

Sedelius, Thomas, and Olga Mashtaler (2013), ‘Two Decades of Semi-presidentialism: Issues of Intra-executive Conflict in Central and Eastern Europe 1991–2011’, East European Politics, 29(2): 109-134.

Zambia – President Lungu and the Third Term

In recent years, an increasing number of African presidents have sought a third term in office, despite operating in countries with a two term limit on the presidency. By and large, such efforts have been successful in countries in which leaders exercise effective control over both the security forces and a dominant ruling power. Thus, presidents in Rwanda and Uganda removed constitutional barriers to their tenure without significant difficulties.

By contrast, leaders who either lack effective control of their parties and security forces, or hold power in more open and democratic states, have tended to forced to respect the constitution. Examples of the former type of case include Burkina Faso and Nigeria, while Zambia is often cited as an example of the latter trend. Back in 2001, when the then-President Frederick Chiluba sought to seek a third term, an “Oasis Forum” of religious leaders, trade unionist and opposition activists defeated his plans.

It is looking increasingly likely that Zambia will now experience a second “third term crisis” as President Edgar Lungu looks to extend his time in office. Lungu is currently in his second spell in State House, and has argued that because he did not serve a full first term – he took over from the former President, Michael Sata, following his untimely death in office – he should be allowed to contest for power for a third term.

He appears confident that Constitutional Court judges will back his interpretation of the constitution. On the one hand, there are precedents in Africa of a leader serving three terms in such cases. On the other, the new Zambian constitution is ambiguous and can be interpreted both to support and prohibit Lungu’s ambitions. One clause of the 2016 constitution states that “a person who has twice been elected as President shall not be eligible for re-election to that office”, which seems to present a shut and dried case.

However, a further clause states that “If the Vice-President assumes the office of President … or a person is elected to the office of President as a result of an election [a presidential election held if the VP cannot assume the presidency for any reason] … the Vice-President or the President-elect shall serve for the unexpired term of office and be deemed

(a) to have served a full term as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, at least three years remain before the date of the next general election; or

(b) not to have served a term of office as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, less than three years remain before the date of the next general election.”

Although Lungu did not replace Sata from the position of Vice President, he did win power through a presidential by-election and only held office for a year before the next general elections. On this basis, his supporters claim that the most appropriate interpretation of the constitution would be to treat the president as if he had fallen under (a). If the Constitutional Court agrees, Lungu will be deemed not to have served a full term, and is eligible to stand again.

This, coupled with the fact that Lungu appointed the Constitutional Court last year, has encouraged the president to believe that he can carry the day. Indeed, while most leaders pretend not to be actively campaigning for a third term until they are sure that it is in the bag, the Zambian president has openly stated his desire to retain the top job, despite the next election not being until 2021.

However, recent analysis that has suggested that the president is now a shoe-in for a third term risks overstating the case. There are a number of important players who will seek to block Lungu’s third-term bid, both without and within his own political party. Despite its narrow election victory in 2016, the Patriotic Front remains deeply divided. Moreover, allegations of election rigging mean that the president’s mandate is questionable. At the same time, international donors are increasingly worried about Lungu’s poor record on both political and economic governance. Against this backdrop, efforts to force through a third term are likely to generate considerable opposition, both within the legislature and on the streets.

This is significant because it was precisely this combination that blocked Chiluba’s path back in 2001. While much of the academic and media coverage focussed on high-profile civil society protests, it was a revolt by Chiluba’s own MPs that denied him the votes he required to change the constitution through parliament. Lungu will be hoping that a combination of carrot and stick – patronage and intimidation – will be sufficient to marshal parliament to his side if the Constitutional Court does not rule in his favour. He may well be right, especially as Zambian civil society is significantly weaker today than it was in the past and his MPs have recently been falling over each other to express their loyalty in the media. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the last Zambian president to make such as assumption ended up profoundly disappointed.

Follow Nic Cheeseman on Twitter @fromagehomme

*This post was updated following particularly helpful comments and suggestions from Sishuwa Sishuwa. Any errors or mistakes remain my own.