Tag Archives: president

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.

President/Cabinet Conflict in Italy – The Results of an Expert Survey

Following on from yesterday’s post about president/cabinet conflict in semi-presidential Romania, today’s post focuses on president/cabinet conflict in a parliamentary country.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea of president/cabinet conflict in a parliamentary republic, but it definitely occurs. Philipp Koeker (2015), of this very parish, has explored presidential activism in certain parliamentary countries in his thesis and forthcoming book. So too has Margit Tavits (2005).

Here, I report the president/cabinet conflict scores for Italy. For Italy, I was looking to record scores for 12 cabinet units. I did not ask for scores for non-partisan presidents or caretaker governments. I received six expert replies. Italy was one of the countries where the level of inter-coder reliability was high.

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.

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 levels of conflict. See Table below.

As with Romania, the results will most likely not be a surprise for Italy experts. And the keen-eyed will have noticed the correlation between one particular Italian leader and the cabinets with higher levels of conflict.

References

Koeker, P. (2015), Veto et Peto: Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe, Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science, University College London.

Tavits, M. (2009), Presidents in Parliamentary Systems: Do Direct Elections Matter?, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

President/Cabinet Conflict in Romania – The Results of an Expert Survey

I am currently working on a book project, part of which involves a study of president/cabinet conflict in Europe’s parliamentary and semi-presidential regimes. Following the example set by Sedelius and Ekman (2010) and Sedelius and Mashtaler (2013), I conducted an expert survey. The survey was conducted between the beginning of August and October 2015. I was lucky enough to receive replies from over 100 academics. I am very grateful and I will acknowledge the help of all the respondents personally in the book.

I asked academics to provide a judgment of the level of president/cabinet conflict in 235 cabinets in 21 countries from 1995-2015. The academics were all political scientists with country-level expertise. I asked them to judge the level of president/cabinet conflict for each cabinet in a particular country 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. The number of returns per country ranged from 1 for Malta to 9 for France.

With expert surveys, inter-coder reliability is always an issue. Certainly, there was disagreement among country experts and for some countries the level of inter-coder reliability was surprisingly low. However, Romania was one of the countries where the level of inter-coder reliability was high. Here, I report the president/cabinet conflict scores for Romania. In subsequent posts, I will report scores for other countries.

For Romania, I was looking to record scores for 16 cabinet units. I did not ask for scores for non-partisan presidents or caretaker governments. I received seven expert replies.

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 levels of conflict. See Table below.

The periods of conflict will not come as a surprise to Romania experts, especially the seven experts who kindly returned the survey given the level of agreement was high. However, along with scores from the other countries, these results and those like them provide a first step in the process of explaining why president/cabinet conflict varies both across countries and across time in countries. This is the aim of the study in the book that will appear later in the year.

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.

Henry E. Hale – Presidential Power in Ukraine: Constitutions Matter

This is a guest post by Henry E. Hale, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at George Washington University

Some observers argue Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been determined to concentrate power in his own hands ever since his May 2014 election and has either failed or not seriously tried to eliminate high-level corruption. Yet nearing the end of his third year in office, he clearly lags far behind where his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was three years into his presidency. Indeed, Ukraine in 2017 remains a much more politically open place than it was in 2013. Why has this been the case?

While leadership styles are clearly part of the story, there is a strong argument to be made that constitutional design is an important part of the explanation. When Yanukovych first came to power, he used his fresh mandate not only to get his own person installed as prime minister (something Poroshenko also achieved) but to establish a strongly presidentialist constitution, one that signaled his clear dominance over the parliament and all other formal institutions. This signaled to Ukraine’s most potent oligarchs and other power networks that Yanukovych was the unquestioned dominant authority and complicated their efforts to challenge him; even if his opponents had managed to win the 2012 parliamentary elections, which they did not, even this position would not have put them in a position to significantly limit presidential power.

Poroshenko’s election, on the other hand, emerged partly out of the discrediting of that very presidentialist model, which with the rise of the Euromaidan came to be blamed for fostering overweening presidential power and its use of brutal force against its own people. Indeed, one of the first moves of the victorious revolutionaries, weeks before Poroshenko’s election, was to restore the constitution that had been in place prior to Yanukovych’s 2010 election. This constitution establishes a division of executive power between the president and a prime minister who is primarily beholden to parliament. Thus while Poroshenko surely would have liked to have more formal power, he was not in position to capitalize on his election win to call for a newly presidentialist constitution.

As a result, Poroshenko’s efforts to augment his own power have been limited by a constitution that leads the country’s political forces to see him as not necessarily the dominant power. While the parliament did vote to confirm his preferred prime minister, his parliamentary majority is at best fragile and does not represent a strong control over parliament, and there is a strong likelihood he could lose control of the next parliament given current patterns of public support. With parliament (and by implication the prime ministership) a major prize, Poroshenko’s opponents thus find it easier to envision a successful move against him even if they cannot capture the presidency itself. And this leads others to be more cautious about placing all their political and economic eggs in Poroshenko’s basket, which further limits his authority in the country.

My sense, therefore, is that Ukraine’s being more democratic about three years after Poroshenko than it was three years after Yanukovych is more about constitutions than about presidential beliefs or capabilities–even in a country like Ukraine, where the rule of law is weak and people frequently question whether constitutions matter at all.

Presidential profile – APJ Abdul Kalam, former president of India

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, commonly known as APJ Abdul Kalam, was sworn in as India’s 11th president on July 25, 2002. A space expert and science administrator by profession, he became the third Muslim (in a predominantly Hindu country) and the first scientist to assume the presidency. He was also the first, and so far, the only person to have stepped into the office without a background in politics.

Presidents in India are indirectly elected by a complex arithmetic of proportional voting. Members of both houses of parliament and all state legislatures are eligible to vote in such elections. Any person aged 35 or more, and eligible to be a member of the lower house of parliament may stand as a candidate. Elections, though, are mostly contested along party lines, and the composition of the electorate and the method of voting mean that the outcomes are often known well in advance.

The center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (“Indian Peoples Party) (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance, then in power in New Delhi, along with some regional parties nominated Kalam’s candidature on June 10, 2002. A week later, on June 18, 2002, the Congress Party, the principal opposition at the center, also announced its decision to back him. His nomination came months after a state in Western India was rocked by riots along religious lines. Commentators speculated if a Muslim had been nominated to reset India’s (tolerant) image, nationally and beyond.

Kalam, expectedly, won his election by a massive margin, and was sworn in on July 25, 2002. He would remain in office for 5 years.

The Indian presidency, it is often said, is modeled after the British monarchy. At an obvious level, the comparison is misleading. Britain is a monarchy, India is a republic. The president, the head of state, is elected. Indeed, the Indian president is the only nationally, albeit indirectly, elected office under the Constitution. He or she has claim to a degree of constitutional and electoral legitimacy monarchies don’t.

Nonetheless, the Indo-British comparison remains the standard template both in academic and judicial thinking.

Perhaps the most important power of the president is to appoint a prime minister. Ordinarily, this is an easy task. Imported British conventions dictate that the leader of the party with a majority in the lower house of parliament must be invited to form the government. But there are exceptions, and Kalam faced a peculiar challenge two years into his term.

In May 2004, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won an upset election victory against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The Congress party elected its leader, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, to be the leader of the parliamentary party.

Immediately, protests broke out. Demonstrations and counter demonstrations happened. To many it was a matter of national pride. Adapting from the US Constitution, only naturally born Indian citizens should be prime ministers, they argued. The Indian Constitution, of course, imposes no such limitation.

Kalam had a decision to make. As he weighed his options, some speculated about his reservations in appointing Sonia Gandhi as the prime minister. Ultimately, he didn’t need to decide. Gandhi, enlightened by her “inner voice”, refused the party’s nomination, and instead suggested economist Manmohan Singh as the prime minister. (Singh would hold the prime ministerial reigns for two full terms.) In his account of the presidency, Kalam, for his part, denied claims about his reservations about Sonia Gandhi. He would have appointed the leader of the majority party, whoever that be, he wrote.

President is the head of state, and all decisions are taken in his name. Judicial opinions and academic commentary, once again, interpret the powers of the presidency through a British lens. A president exercises formal powers, it is said; the real powers vest with the council of ministers headed by the prime minister. The latter decides, the president delivers. His discretion is limited, so goes the conventional view.

Presidents may have limited discretion, but they also have endless time in which to decide those matters. And President Kalam demonstrated the enormity of the passive powers of his office. He did so while dealing with mercy petitions of convicts on death row. Ordinarily, mercy petitions are decided by the council of ministers, and passed on to the president for approval.

Kalam, strongly opposed to the death penalty, simply sat on the petitions. He did nothing about them. Of the 21 petitions forwarded to him during his term in office, he sat on all but one.

Occasionally, his inaction attracted controversy, but Kalam remained steadfast. An unequal application of the death penalty (almost all death row convicts were impoverished citizens), he said, was a violation of the Constitution.

Occasionally, his action attracted controversy, too. In India, the central government may dismiss state governments under certain circumstances, impose president’s rule, or dissolve the legislature and initiate new elections. The decision to dismiss a state government is taken by the council of minister but must be approved by the president. In 2005, Kalam signed off on a controversial dismissal by the UPA government, something, he later regretted. He should have studied the matter further, he said, instead of hurrying it. (The dismissal was challenged in the supreme court, and eventually overturned.)

Kalam’s most challenging moment arrived in 2006 after both houses of parliament enacted a self-serving piece of legislation. It retroactively removed disqualifications many members of parliament suffered by holding “offices of profit” – something the Constitution bars. Kalam agonized over the Bill at his desk. He found it unprincipled and hasty. He formally returned the Bill to the two houses asking them to reconsider – the first and only time a president in India has done so. The houses didn’t reconsider; they simply reenacted it. Once again, it landed before Kalam. Unwilling to precipitate a constitutional crisis, he eventually gave his assent. In his autobiography, he called this the “toughest” decision of his presidency.

As he neared the end of his term, questions arose about re-nominating him to the presidency. An organic groundswell of support appeared both in print and electronic media. Newspapers carried large numbers of op-eds and letters to editors expressing support for Kalam. Online petitions swelled with support. For a man who never stood for direct elections, Kalam was a home run; he would have swept away any opposition in a direct contest.

The NDA, his original proposer, extended its support. The Sonia Gandhi-led Congress Party, though, refused. We may never know why.

Fali Nariman, India’s preeminent jurist voiced what millions of Indians felt when he wrote of Kalam’s departure: “We will miss him — that unconventional figure who became India’s First Citizen in July 2002. Never pompous, not even ‘presidential’, he walked into the Palace at Raisina Hill with few worldly goods — he now leaves with even fewer … We could have asked him to stay: but we didn’t … Of him it can be said, as Winston Churchill once said about his departed king: ‘He nothing common did, or mean, upon that memorable scene.’ Memorable scenes are rarely re-enacted, but they are always remembered.” (Fail Nariman, “We’ll miss you, Dr Kalam”, Indian Express, July 23, 2007)

From his first days in office, Kalam was massively popular. Old and young, across political lines, identified with him, and endearingly referred to him as the “people’s president”. His simplicity, his infectious, if inchoate, optimism was his strength. India’s only bachelor president, and in his 70s, he was widely popular with students, and often interacted with them.

A lifelong teacher, poet, and the author of many books, Kalam maintained associations with several universities in India and elsewhere after his presidency. Perhaps fittingly, he died (of a heart attack) while lecturing to a group of students at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He lived in the classroom and died there, too.

At least the for the foreseeable future, APJ Abdul Kalam will remain India’s most endearing apolitical politician.

Presidential Profile – Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgia’s non-partisan President

Giorgi Margvelashvili, 47, the fourth president of Georgia was elected in 2013 with 62 percent in direct popular vote. Prior to his presidential nomination, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education and Science in the government of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. Although viewed as a non-partisan President right now, Margvelashvili was picked and nominated by Bidzina Ivanishvili himself for the ruling Georgian Dream Coalition in May 2013. With the victory of the Georgian Dream candidate in the presidential race, cohabitation, tense relations between the executive government (Georgian Dream) and the President Mikheil Saakashvili (United National Movement), came to an end. However, Giorgi Margvelashvili began a new era in the history of Georgian Presidency with the country moving from a president-centric system to a more parliamentary system. This transformation has caused dramatic changes in the intra-executive conflicts.

Background

Giorgi Margvelashvili joined the Georgian Dream government in 2012 when the coalition won the parliamentary elections. Before that, he was known as a philosopher, political commentator and an academician, who used to be the rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). Mr. Margvelashvili graduated from Tbilisi State University in 1992 with a degree in Philosophy. Later he earned degrees from the Central European University in Prague, Czech Republic (1994) and the Institute of Philosophy of the Georgian Academy of Sciences (1996). Margvelashvili holds a PhD degree in Philosophy from Tbilisi State University.

However, 2012 was not his first attempt in Georgian politics. Margvelashvili was a member of the opposition party led by the Chairman of the Parliament, Zurab Zhvania, in 2003. Before joining the government, he advised Bidzina Ivanishvili during the 2012 parliamentary election campaign.

Constitutional Reform

The constitutional reform that was finalised in 2010 and enacted in 2013 changed the form of government in the country. Some politicians viewed the reform as shift from a presidential to a parliamentary model, while others claimed that Georgia was moving to semi-presidential system.

After the 2012 Parliamentary elections, for the first time in the history of independent Georgia, power was peacefully transferred from the ruling party to the opposition. However, this historic transition appeared to be painful for the political system. Cohabitation, or the change in the balance of power between the two branches of government, has led to confrontation between the executive government and the president.

Although cohabitation ended with Mikheil Saakashvili (2004-2013) stepping down from the office and Giorgi Margvelashvili commencing his term, intra-executive conflict has not ended.

Power of President

According to the constitution of Georgia and the amendments enacted in 2013, the President lost nearly all power over the executive government. At the same time, with the legacy set by the previous president, public perception of the institute of president was of a powerful leader and a head of the government.

Currently, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili is the head of state and guarantor of the country’s integrity and national independence; furthermore, he is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and represents Georgia in foreign relations; the President leads the National Security Council, decides the issues of granting citizenship, and has the power of pardon. The President also presents the candidate for a Chairman of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara  and Abkhazia to the Supreme Council for approval;

Transformation into the non-partisan president

Margvelashvili expressed his disobedience to the master, Bidzina Ivanishvili, soon after his inauguration. First, he openly disagreed with the possible relocation of the Administration of the President from the Presidential Palace. The Presidential Palace, which was built during Saakashvili’s term, was strongly disliked by Ivanishvili as a symbol of UNM’s rule in the country. Instead, the PM commissioned the renovation of a new building for the President’s residence. Despite the fact that more than 10 million USD of public funds were spent on the refurbishment, Margvelashvili refused to relocate and continues to work in the Avlabari Presidential Palace to this day.

When Bidzina Ivanishvili stepped down as Prime Minister a major intra-executive conflict unfolded between the President and a new PM, Irakli Gharibashvili.

Constitutional ambiguity was demonstrated in several occasions:

In 2014, Georgia signed an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union. The Agreement acknowledged Georgia’s progress on the path to European integration, promised a deep and comprehensive free trade with the EU, and visa-free travel.

As the highest representative in foreign relations, Margvelashvili’s administration considered that the President was the right person to sign the AA for Georgia. However, PM Gharibashvili viewed the head of the executive government as the right person to sign the document. Finally, PM Gharibashvili won the battle and on June 24, he 2014 signed the agreement on behalf of Georgia.

In 2014, participation in the UN General Assembly in New York caused another conflict between the President and the Prime Minister. As usual, Georgian delegations were headed by Presidents (Shevardnadze, Saakashvili), who also addressed the GA. However, the government decided that PM should head the delegation instead of Margvelashvili. Both offices began to plan the visit independently, without any coordination, until former PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili, accused the president of acting as a competitor to the prime minister. Soon, Margvelashvili cancelled the visit and accused the government of ignoring the constitution. (Tabula, 2014)

On Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26, President Margvelashvili sent out copies of the constitution to the prime minister, MPs, and the Supreme and Constitutional courts as a symbolic gesture calling the state institutions to respect the constitution. (A.Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili for Presidential Power. 2015)

The intra-executive conflict faded when Irakli Gharibashvili resigned without explanation and the new Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili took office.

Gharibashvili’s successor, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, has gone out of his way to present a united front with Margvelashvili. He made a point of attending a session of the National Security Council that Margvelashvili convened in late January, whereas Gharibashvili had participated in only one of three such sessions under Margvelashvili’s chairmanship. (Radio Free Europe, Liz Fuller 2016)

New Constitutional Reform without the President

President Margvelashvili’s administration is widely engaged in the legislative process. The President has vetoed several bills. However, the ruling Georgian Dream, which enjoys supermajority in the Parliament, does not fear presidential vetoes.

Most recently, the Chairman of the Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, inaugurated a new constitutional commission consisting of 73 members, tasked with producing amendments to the Constitution.

As reported by Civil Georgia, the President refrained from participating in the work of the state constitutional commission because the format offered by the Parliament “obviously lacks political trust and political legitimization”.

The chief of president’s administration explained that the President wanted the commission to be co-chaired by him, Prime Minister and Parliamentary Chairman, but the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party rejected this proposal. (Civil.ge)

One of the issues that the constitutional commission will touch upon will be the indirect election of future presidents of Georgia.

The next Presidential elections in Georgia are due to take place in 2018. However, it is uncertain if Margvelashvili intends to participate in the race for the second term, or if he has any intention of remaining in politics.

www.president.gov.ge – official website of the Georgian President.

Official Facebook Page of Giorgi Margvelashvili

American Foreign Policy and Ukraine

On 24 January, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, appealed to the EU and the U.S. to keep sanctions on Russia. The U.S. and the EU initially imposed sanctions in 2014 in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Shortly before leaving office, President Obama extended the sanctions for one year, until March 2018, to signal the commitment to continue to support Ukraine. And until now, both the EU and the U.S. have promptly acted on their commitments toward Ukraine as the country has been facing some of its most challenging times.

The fears of President Poroshenko, however, are not unfounded. Following the recent presidential election in the U.S., Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Ukraine and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, said it was a particularly stressful time for Ukraine and that “Ukraine was the biggest loser in the world tonight.” The statement was not surprising given the previous comments made by President Trump. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, for instance, he suggested that there could be a shift in American foreign policy toward Russia and Ukraine, putting in question whether the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions on Russia and support Ukraine.

Even though in the last week the news has mostly focused on the recent executive orders issued by the U.S. government, the question of the sanctions remained in the media. During the recent press conference, when further pressed on the question, President Trump appeared ambiguous and noncommittal in his answer, saying “we’ll see what happens, very early to be talking about this.” The question of Ukraine, however, is likely to come up again later this week during the Senate confirmation of prospective secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

European leaders have not changed their position on Ukraine. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, who has just finished her first state visit with President Trump, reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to maintaining sanctions on Russia “until it met its commitments on Ukraine.” Germany has also remained a steady ally of Ukraine through its roughest times. However, it is maintaining the support of the U.S. in the months and years to come will probably be one of the biggest challenges of the foreign policy yet to come for President Poroshenko.

Presidential Profile – John Pombe Magufuli: An outsider with an ambitious (and controversial) agenda

Presidential Profile

John Pombe Magufuli

Only one year in office and Tanzania’s new president, John Pombe Magufuli, has thoroughly divided opinions. To some, he is mchapakazi (a workhorse), tingatinga (a bulldozer), an anti-corruption crusader with a vision of how to propel Tanzania to middle-income status. To others, he is a “petty dictator”, an uncompromising taskmaster bent on quashing opposition parties and curbing civil liberties in the interests of “peace” and “development”.

Whichever side you fall on, it is undeniable that Magufuli’s presidency has sent shockwaves through Tanzania’s political system. Whether he will achieve the ambitious change he desires, rooting out entrenched politico-business networks and setting a path towards industrial transformation, is another matter. But whatever the outcome, his disruptive politics are a story in their own right, which begins with his improbable rise to the top.

The candidate from nowhere  

In 1985, when Tanzania’s first President Julius Nyerere retired from office, the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) instituted a two-term limit, ensuring a transfer of power from one president to the next every 10 years. Since then, CCM’s presidential nominations have become increasingly competitive. Ahead of the 2015 general elections, a record 42 presidential aspirants entered the race to become the official nominee.

This competition is largely the result of growing factionalism, which reached a new high in 2015. The main cleavage was between the outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete and his former Prime Minister turned rival, Edward Lowassa.

Kikwete threw his weight behind several candidates, his top preference being his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Membe. Lowassa, meanwhile, mobilized a carefully cultivated network of supporters to rally behind his own bid for the nomination. Among the remaining presidential aspirants, many were rumoured to be “spoilers” fronted by one side or the other to split the vote in their favour.

The uncertainty surrounding the nominations fuelled a wave of intense speculation. But amidst the many lists of supposed top contenders, one name barely got a mention. Magufuli kept a low profile through the nominations process. Although a minister for 20 years, he never held an official position within CCM and steered clear of factional politics. He had a reputation as clean politician who kept his head down and got the job done. As Minister of Works under Kikwete, he attracted some attention due to his road-building zeal. But even so, he continued to be seen primarily as an effective technocrat.

In an ironic twist, the internal party divisions that Magufuli so scrupulously avoided ultimately helped catapult him to the top. President Kikwete manipulated the CCM nomination procedure, using the vetting powers of the party ethics committee to remove Lowassa’s name from the list of eligible aspirants. The CCM National Executive Committee, which contained a majority of Lowassa supporters, then retaliated by voting out Kikwete’s two preferred aspirants from a list of five pre-vetted candidates. The National Congress then voted overwhelmingly for Magufuli. The other two candidates, both women, were presumably seen to pose too great an electoral risk.

An unusual campaign

At the start of presidential campaigns, Magufuli faced several challenges.

The CCM brand had lost some of its lustre during the Kikwete years, in part due to repeated corruption scandals. At the same time, the opposition invested considerably in extending its organizational reach countrywide and, after uniting in a four-party coalition, seemed poised to make record electoral gains.

As a candidate, Magufuli was also weak. He had no support base of his own so relied on a campaign taskforce composed largely of close Kikwete allies. Moreover, he had to square off against Lowassa, who defected and became the candidate for the opposition coalition. Many Lowassa supporters left CCM with him while those who stayed were accused of backing his candidacy.

Magufuli responded by turning his reputation as a low-profile technocrat to his advantage. His stump speech promised an end to corruption and a renewed dedication to hard work. He contrasted his own integrity with Lowassa’s alleged history of backroom deals. In positioning himself as the anti-corruption candidate, he also distanced himself from business-as-usual under Kikwete, upon whose support he nevertheless continued to rely. He promised to serve the wananchi (ordinary citizens) and referred to former President Nyerere’s fiercely egalitarian politics as his guide.

The first 100 days

Magufuli won the 2015 election with 58 percent of the vote, the lowest ever for a CCM presidential candidate.

He immediately set about implementing a populist agenda. He declared his government would slash all wasteful expenditure and followed up by ordering an end to “unnecessary foreign travels” for government officials. He then announced that the $150m saved on air travel costs would be reinvested in road construction. A series of similar gestures then followed.

Weeding out corruption, or “bursting boils” to use Magufuli’s phrase, emerged as an equally important part of the campaign against waste. Weeks into his presidency, Magufuli launched a crackdown on “big businessmen”, directing Tanzania Revenue Authority Commissioner General, Rishad Bade, to target tax avoiders. His Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa, later showed up at the TRA offices unexpected and suspended Bade while investigations were still pending into the disappearance of 349 shipping containers from TRA’s records. Again, these early moves were quickly followed by more suspensions, firings and threats from State House.

Magufli indicated his overriding aim was to eliminate corruption and ensure economic transformation through a soon to be revealed development plan. His shock-and-awe approach was also politically strategic, and this for two reasons.

First, it generated a wave of popular support. It also helped pre-empt any potential opposition from within CCM and government. Magufuli’s own political base was narrow at best, yet his actions threatened the entrenched patterns of rent-seeking that had come to define CCM politics. Amongst those allegedly opposed to the new President’s approach was his predecessor and erstwhile mentor, Kikwete. By acting swiftly, though, Magufuli could at least temporarily cow otherwise vocal opponents into silence. He was, arguably, further aided by the temporary confusion Lowassa’s defection caused within CCM. One of the party’s strongest factions was now in disarray and, without its leader, appeared suddenly powerless.

But those who had something to fear as a result of Magufuli anti-corruption crusade were not the only ones worried about the President’s new style.

The opposition and civil liberties

After taking office, Magufuli quickly imposed heavy restrictions on opposition parties.

The first, and most flagrant, breach of trust between President Magufuli and the opposition, particularly the Civic United Front (CUF) party, came after the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission annulled the 2015 elections for the Zanzibari President and House of Representatives. While this initial decision had nothing to do with Magufuli, his subsequent unwillingness to intervene was heavily criticized by opposition actors. The elections were re-run in March 2016 amidst an opposition boycott, thus leading to an overwhelming victory for the long-time ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). What’s more, starting in September, the CCM government has exacerbated divisions within CUF after the Registrar of Political Parties repeatedly favoured one of two rival factions.

Tensions, meanwhile, have also grown between Magufuli and CHADEMA, Tanzania’s largest opposition party and the dominant player on the mainland. Through the Deputy Speaker, a lawyer appointed to Parliament by Magufuli, the President has seemingly tried to stifle opposition in Parliament. He has also effectively banned all opposition meetings outside of parliament, even internal party meetings. Individual politicians meanwhile, have repeatedly been drawn to court with some languishing for months in jail.

Opposition parties are not the only ones affected by the new strong-arm politics. Several Whatsapp users have been charged with insulting the President under the Cyber Crimes Act, a piece of legislation passed under Kikwete. A newly enacted Media Services Bill also promises a fresh set of restrictions on free expression while journalists have also found themselves under pressure.

The economy

Despite some impressive gains in revenue collection and cost cutting efforts, Magufuli’s economic management has raised serious concerns. His efforts to centralize control over wealth creation and to root out corruption and waste have, in many instances, had negative economic ramifications.

Some of these were perhaps unavoidable. Magufuli’s order that all government meetings be held in public offices, and not luxury hotels as was the norm, has hit the hospitality sector hard. But pouring government funds into rented conference space was, to begin with, perhaps not the best form of economic stimulus.

Other negative side-effects are, however, down to poorly conceived policy decisions. For instance, efforts to levy VAT and crack down on smuggling has led to a 800,000-tonne drop in cargo volumes going through Dar es Salaam port.

Whilst Magufuli’s push for rapid industrial expansion will depend on foreign investment, he has done little to boost investor confidence. In March, Magufuli declared he wanted a stop to the practice of ‘hiring generators’, admittedly a costly means of power generation. The Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) responded by denying having signed a contract with an American company, Symbion, responsible for managing a gas-fired power plant in Dar es Salaam. In January of this year, while addressing a crowd at a rally, Magufuli announced that he would cancel the operating license of a foreign mining company that had already invested $26m prospecting for nickel. This came after local officials had advised the President that the best location to develop a water project was within the area covered by the company’s license.

Perhaps most worrying, there is mounting concern of food shortages and possible famine due to drought. Magufuli has, however, refused to declare a famine, alleging that the supposed threat is a media and opposition fabrication.

 

Where to from here?

With the next elections due in 2020, it is still early days for the Magufuli presidency. And yet his time in office has already caused significant upheaval.

Given the severe restrictions on opposition parties, it is unclear whether they can bounce back and build on their 2015 electoral gains. Recent by-election results suggest they are in a weak position, as is to be expected.

Regarding Magufuli’s economic legacy, it is still too early to tell. Data on Tanzania’s macro-economic performance is mixed. Signs of a significant dip in growth rates may be attributable to the negative effects of drought on agricultural production while other sectors, like construction, are expanding, possibly thanks to the President’s commitment to infrastructural development. The success of Magufuli’s ambitious industrialization agenda will, nevertheless, require more than a fiscal stimulus.

Finally, there is the crucial question of Magufuli’s support within CCM. There are persistent rumours of tensions between Kikwete and Magufuli. At the same time, some argue that Magufuli has curbed his anti-corruption zeal, treading carefully around issues that may implicate leading CCM figures, including his predecessor.

An outsider at the start, Magufuli is still walking a political tightrope. While his desire to re-engineer a corrupt political settlement in Tanzania is laudable, success is far from assured. His methods too—a mix of repression and intimidation—leave much to be desired. As with much else in the world of 2017, these remain interesting times.