Tag Archives: presidential election

Georgia – The Presidential Election: Candidates and the Campaign

On October 28, 2018, the presidential election will be held in Georgia. This is the last time that citizens of Georgia will directly elect the president. After the election, the country will move the country to the parliamentary model.

This election is interesting because the number of presidential candidates is unprecedentedly high. However, acting president Giorgi Margvelashvili refused to participate in the election.[1] In addition, the ruling Georgian Dream party did not nominate a candidate for the election. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chair of the party, said that “it would be better for the development of democracy in Georgia if Georgian Dream, which has a constitutional majority in the parliament, made way for the opposition forces.”[2] Later, the party announced that it would support an independent presidential candidate.[3] After the official registration of the presidential candidates, they officially announced that they would support Salome Zurabishvili.[4] Zourabishvili himself declared a day before the Dream’s statement that he would run as an independent candidate in the election.[5]

Presidential candidates

A total of 46 candidates expressed an interest in running for president in the 2018 election. Among the candidates are well known politicians as well as new people. Candidates were nominated by political parties, and 26 independent candidates were nominated by initiative groups. In the end, the Central Election Commission registered 25 presidential candidates, 6 of which are independents.

Despite the number of candidates, several well-known figures are running.

Salome Zurabishvili was born and raised in a family of Georgian immigrants in France. He is a diplomat and has worked at different diplomatic posts in France. In 2003-2004 he was the Ambassador of France to Georgia, and was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia in 2004-2005, being dismissed by President Saakashvili. After leaving office he went into the opposition, founded a political party, but did not have any significant success. Salome Zurabishvili ran in the parliamentary elections of 2016 as an independent candidate and was elected with the help of Georgian Dream.

The candidate of the United Opposition, Grigol Vashadze, heads a coalition of 9 parties. One of the leading political forces in this coalition is the United National Movement. Vashadze is a diplomat. From 1981-1988 he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union. From 1990 to 2008, he ran a private business in Russia. In 2008 he was appointed as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, then Minister of Culture, Monument Protection and Sports, and until the year of 2012 was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Davit Bakradze, who is the candidate of European Georgia. This party was formed as a result of the split of the United National Movement. Bakradze worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia from 1998-2002. In January 2008 he was appointed as Foreign Minister of Georgia. From 2008-2012 he was the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia.

Another presidential candidate is David Usupashvili, a lawyer and chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia from 2005-2013. He was the speaker of parliament from 2012-2016. After the 2016 parliamentary elections, Usupashvili left the Republican Party and formed the “Movement of Movements”.

In addition, there is Zurab Japaridze is a former member of the United National Movement (UNM), leaving to form the “New Political Center – Girchhi” . There is also the chairperson of 2015-2018. Labor Party leader, Shalva Natelashvili, who has participated in the previous three presidential elections.

Pre-election context and election promises of candidates

Some people do not think that the election is important because of the reduced powers of the presidency. In fact, though, it may be considered as a trial run for the 2020 parliamentary elections. It is test for both the government and the opposition. The ruling party officially claimed that it was not standing a candidate in the interests of democratic development , but the decision is actually explained by its low poll rating.

In terms of democratic development, according to the NGO “Fair Elections”, electoral violations have already been identified. Specifically, pressure on political grounds, the possibility of intimidation, the use of administrative resources, attempts to bribe the voters, and the violation of the print material rules.[7]

One of the main problems of the presidential election is the selection of candidates for the district election commissions (DEC) and members of the PEC members. “ISFED” found that 14 out of the temporary members selected in 73 DECs were relatives of the election administration officials, and in 8 cases the DECs were elected by the supporters or activists of Georgian Dream.[8] In reality, the Georgian Dream’s supporters staff the election commissions, which is a big challenge to fairness and democracy. That is why the opposition is protesting, saying that the government is going to falsify the result.

The election slogans and promises of presidential candidates are often at odds with reality. For example, Zourabishvili said that “I am going to take troops from the occupied territories once again”.[9] Bakradze has promises legal services, high salaries, insurance and protection abroad, an increase in the pension of 50 GEL and promises to care for socially vulnerable people before returning home to immigrants.[10]Vashadze has promised to a prohibition of narcotic plants in the constitution. And so on.

These and other promises are empty, because after the presidential elections the president’s powers will be reduced and Georgia will move to the parliamentary system. However, most of the population is still not aware of what the parliamentary system means and what role the president will have. Therefore, candidates have adopted a populist stance to attract voters.

Russian issue in pre-election campaign

The Russian issue is one of the key issues in the presidential election. Voters and candidates are divided into two camps. Currently, 20% of Georgia’s territory is occupied by the Russian Federation after the 2008 Georgia-Russian war and there are continued provocations in the occupied territories. Georgia has no diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation. The relationship between the future president and Russia in this situation is very important.

In this context, there was a scandal. Salome Zourabishvili accused former President Mikheil Saakashvili of starting the war in South Ossetia.[15] This led to social protests, as well as criticism from experts and the opposition. Opposition candidates noted that this was a repetition of Russian propaganda texts and said that Zourabishvili’s presidency would be a threat to the interests of the Georgian state. [16] It is noteworthy that after a meeting held at the Georgian Dream’s headquarters, Zourabishvili changed his position. In a public speech where he read a text from the podium, he said that Russia is an occupying force and an aggressor.[17]

What are the chances of the presidential candidates?

Opinion polls suggest that no one ill be elected on the first ballot. The poll conducted by “Edison Research” for”Rustavi 2″ gave the following result: Grigol Vashadze, the candidate of the united opposition 22%; Davit Bakradze of European Georgia 18%; Zourabishvili 15 percent; Labor Party candidate Shalva Natalashvili 8%; and Davit Usupashvili, the candidate of Movement for Motion, 3%. Other candidates totalled 9% and 25% were undecided. [18] At the same time, the ruling party declared that their internal polls suggested that Zourabishvili would win at the first round.

Overall, we can say that no candidate has a special advantage in the election. Given the downturn of the ruling Dream party, the opposition has a chance to win, although there is still a lot of time and we will see what results are finally announced. Once again, we can assert that it will be important for Georgian democracy if an opposition candidate wins this presidential election.

Notes

[1] Giorgi Margvelashvili will not take part in the presidential elections, https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29463535.html

[2] Ivanishvili: My position is not to nominate a presidential candidate, http://liberali.ge/news/view/38640/ivanishvili-chemi-pozitsiaa-rom-ar-davasakhelot-prezidentobis-kandidati

[3] The ruling party says it will support an independent presidential candidate, https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29454222.html

[4] Georgian Dream will support Salome Zourabichvili during the presidential elections, https://on.ge/story/27412-ქართული-ოცნება-საპრეზიდენტო-არჩევნებზე-სალომე-ზურაბიშვილს-დაუჭერს-მხარს

[5] Salome Zourabichvili is running for president, https://imedinews.ge/ge/saqartvelo/71192/salome-zurabishvili-prezidentad-kenchs-ikris

[6] Nino Burjanadze boycotts presidential election http://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/97818-nino-burjanadze-boycotts-presidential-election.html?rund=1536518542&ar=A

[7] 2018 presidential elections – first interim report of pre-election monitoring, http://www.isfed.ge/main/1409/geo/

[8] 2018 presidential elections – first interim report of pre-election monitoring, http://www.isfed.ge/main/1409/geo/

[9] What are the presidential candidates deceiving us – the presidential election 2018? https://commersant.ge/ge/post/ras-gvatyueben-saprezidento-kandidatebi-saprezidento-archevnebi-2018?>

[10] David Bakradze is a presidential candidate of “European Georgia, 22 July 2018, https://reginfo.ge/politics/item/8537-davit-baqrawe-„evropuli-saqartvelos“-prezidentobis-kandidati-iqneba

[11] Presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze met with supporters in Akhaltsikhe, 18.09.2018,  http://sknews.ge/index.php?newsid=19317

[12] https://www.facebook.com/DavidUsupashviliOfficial/videos/303878537079557/?t=14

[13] “Primetime” on Electoral Candidates – How will Zurab Japaridze use presidential duties, 07-02-2018, https://www.primetime.ge/news/1530512785-პრაიევის-შემთხვევაში

[14] “Here is the parliament, I will fly!” – Shalva Natelashvili promises the voters, 29 August 2018, free space, http://www.iberiatv.ge/ka/gadacemebi/tavisufali-sivrce/article/17932–ai-mag-parlaments-ise-davifren-ras-pirdeba-shalva-nathelashvili-amomrchevels

[15] Salome Zourabichvili about the August war: Georgia started this part of this war situation, http://netgazeti.ge/news/297043/

[16] Election of Salome Zourabichvili as president is a threat to the interests of the Georgian state – Davit Bakradzehttp://fortuna.ge/salome-zurabishvilis-prezidentad-archeva-qartuli-sakhelmwifos-interesistvis-safrtkhes-sheicavs-davit-baqradze/

[17] Zurabishvili will change his position, 2018-09-18 09:30:54http://for.ge/view.php?for_id=54886&cat=2

DRC – 21 candidates for one seat

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the election commission (CENI) has released the final candidate list for the December 23 presidential election. The list has 21 names: three political heavyweights and 18 candidates with few chances to win, particularly as the election is held in one round. Most striking fact? Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is not on it, meaning that for the first time the DRC will see a transfer of presidential power through an election.

Representing the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) will be former Vice Prime Minister for the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, current permanent secretary for the PPRD and a close Kabila-ally. The nomination of Shadary put an end to speculations about whether Kabila would find a way to circumvent constitutional term-limits and stand for reelection for a third term [see previous post musing over who would run in the presidential poll here].

Shadary was a founding member of the PPRD and has risen through the ranks of the party: he was Kabila’s campaign chairman in 2006 and 2011; was elected deputy to the National Assembly; served on the Law Committee (PAJ); chaired the PPRD caucus; and was the coordinator for the ruling majority in the National Assembly. During his time as Minister of Interior from 2016 till February of this year, he oversaw a crackdown on protests in the wake of the de facto extension of Kabila’s term by two years. Dozens of protesters were killed and Shadary was placed on the EU sanctions list for violations of human rights.

There is speculation that with the selection of Shadary, Kabila’s intent is to take advantage of the DRC’s semi-presidential constitution to enact a  Putin-Medvedev scenario where, should Shadary become president, Kabila would be appointed prime minister and retain the real levers of power.

On the opposition side, two front runners are left standing: Felix Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi who passed away last year, and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). Two other opposition heavyweights were excluded: former Kabila-ally Moise Katumbi, who was impeded from returning from exile to register as a candidate; and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, recently returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC), who was disqualified because of his his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC.    

Fewer opposition candidates should make it easier to unite behind a single candidate and avoid splitting the vote – unless the opposition decides to boycott because of concerns over election administration. These concerns include the use of a controversial electronic voting machine and an incomplete voter register where 16 percent of voters lack fingerprints. Also, human rights abuses by security forces targeting political party activists are rising, according to the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, as elections approach.

The electoral campaign starting on November 22 is less than two months away. While Kabila has succeeded in establishing a unified coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), backing Shadary, the opposition appears to be waffling still over how to select their candidate. Negotiations have been ongoing among opposition leaders without any formal agreement announced to date. Bemba has declared he is ready to back a consensus candidate, but who will it be and how will he be selected [there are no women among the top presidential contenders]? The opposition leaders have announced a public meeting on September 29, by which time we should know more about their strategy.

Magna Inácio and Aline Burni – What comes after the storm? Hurricane season in the Brazilian presidential election

Expected as a turning point after five years of political turmoil, the 2018 Brazilian presidential election is heading into ever-increasing uncertainties as to who will win and how she or he will govern. Since the 1990s, strong presidential powers and electoral rules favoring political polarization between large interparty alliances has turned the presidential competition into a structuring vector of the whole political system. Therefore, two presidentialized parties, PSDB and PT, have become the major forces alternating in power, blocking outsiders and newcomers to send themselves to the presidential contest. This bipolarization has made government policy offers more moderate and the Brazilian politics, centripetal. At this time, however, it seems to be challenged in an unprecedented way, and the competition is so far, very uncertain.

The success of coalitional presidentialism has been eroding after two decades of relative stability. Political dissatisfaction has been skyrocketing since the massive street riots in 2013, driving down even more the low levels of institutional confidence in Congress and parties and, recently, citizens’ support for the democratic regime is endangered. Corruption scandals and economic depression tempered the polarized reelection of President Rousseff (PT), in 2014, culminating in her impeachment two years afterward. The initial success of the new government, headed by vice-president Temer, vanished quickly when corruption scandals also reached him and his inner circle. In general, political parties have been strongly hurt and episodic institutional conflicts emerged since party and legislative leaders started to be investigated and arrested, sometimes with the suspension of parliamentary prerogatives of office-holders under investigation.

Generalized feelings that these wrongdoings are systemic has been fueling anti-establishment appeals and a strong pressure for political renovation. Political polarization feeds tension between democratic and authoritarian values, with a significant part of the population appealing for military intervention as a means to solve the political and economic crisis. On recent times, episodes of political violence have happened, such as the killing of Rio de Janeiro councilwomen Marielle Franco (PSOL) and her driver, and the incident in which shots were fired at Lula’s caravan, both in March this year.

Under this political nightmare, will mainstream political parties be able to coordinate this electoral process towards a new equilibrium?

For the first time since 1994, the highly unpopular sitting president has been politically ignored of negotiations of electoral alliances, despite his party, the PMDB, being one of the key actors. The most important left-wing leader and potential candidate, former president Lula (PT), was pushed out due his conviction for money laundry and gang formation, resulting in his arrestment few months before the nomination season. The involvement of leaders of large parties in corruption trials resulted in reputational losses and considerably reduced electability of their potential candidates. This increased, in the eyes of other parties, the cost of joining hands with them. In addition, reforms barring campaign funding from private companies increased the opportunities for self-funded candidates. Overall, these conditions have turned this into an ever more open-seat presidential election, raising the incentives for not-yet presidentialized parties and outsiders.

Given this political landscape, 2018 presidential race has been compared to 1989, the only time when a non-mainstream party won the presidency. Indeed, one of the surprises of this race has been the emergence of a competitive, far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro (PSL), whose discourse is centered on an anti-corruption, moralization of politics and law-and-order approach. Bolsonaro has been leading the polls since the beginning, in a scenario without former president Lula, oscillating around 20% of vote preferences. He can be considered an “inside-outsider” since has been serving as representative for seven mandates despite his anti-establishment appeals. Although usually compared to Trump, Bolsonaro does not count on a robust party organization sponsoring him. His motto is to “change everything that is in place”, and his brand gesture is the simulation of warm guns with his hands. One of his proposals is to turn the gun regulation more liberalized in Brazil, and he has previously openly defended the military dictatorship. He surfs on the waves of backlash against progressive socio-cultural values and strong anti-system sentiment.

Electoral rules have, however, moderated centrifugal trends in the first stage of this election, the nomination season, closed at the end of July. Under runoff and concurrent elections, in a scenario of reduced campaign funding, established parties sought more conventional alliances. On the center-right, a large alliance among center and right-wing parties, headed by PSDB candidate, Alckmin, was formed to broaden its public funding and free publicity on TV. It inhibited medium and small parties from allying with the “inside-outsider” candidate, Bolsonaro, despite his high-polling position. Furthermore, newcomers, two millionaire businesspeople, are also getting access to the ballot. On the left, the PT worked to block an alternative alliance of center-left parties, since it is working to judicially reverse Lula’s expected ineligibility and keep its pivotal position on its side of the ideological spectrum. This resulted in more fragmentation on the center-left, with the nomination of Marina Silva (Rede) and Ciro Gomes (PDT), two competitive candidates challenging PT dominance. At the end, the presidentialized parties, PT and PSDB, were constrained to build different alliances from when they had won the election and 13 candidates are running for presidency. However, the nomination process has shown more predictable alliance strategies than expected.

Campaigning officially started on August 16th, and the advertising on traditional media took off on the 31st. Television and radio remain the most important sources of information for voters during the campaign, in the shortest period for presidential campaigning in recent decades. Nevertheless, candidates seeking their “campaign momentum” and putting themselves as front-runners are facing more uncertainties that they expected.

First, although most candidates had already been nominated by the end of July, the dispute has been largely undefined since PT kept Lula as its candidate, holding on a strategy that insists on him being a victim of major injustice, until the very last minute. It was expected that Lula would be declared ineligible by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), due the Clean Record Act (“Ficha Limpa”), which forbids the candidacy of anyone who has been convicted by a decision of a collective body. However, PT called on the international community, having received support from famous left-wing leaders worldwide, and a request by the United Nations Human Rights’ Committee not to prevent the former president from standing for the election, until his appeals before the courts have been completed. As expected, the TSE declared Lula ineligible and established September 11th as the deadline for PT to present an alternative candidate. After having run out of appeals, the former mayor of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad, was nominated as PT candidate only 26 days before the first round of voting. Whereas Lula’s incomparable popularity seems capable of transferring some support for his designated candidate, this campaign is shorter than previous ones and relative unknown Haddad was nominated late. The underperforming government of the impeached president Rousseff, who was also chose by him, will shadow PT’s attempts to sell Haddad as someone able to rescue the success of Lula’s administrations. Despite PT simply omits Rousseff’s administrations from its announcements, the left-wing challengers are already recalling her failures and promising do better in pushing progressive agendas for attracting non-conservative voters.

Second, an unprecedented event shacked the campaign considerably. The far-right candidate Bolsonaro was stabbed on September 6th, during a rally by a person who alleged political motivation against the candidate’s positions towards minorities, but the act seems to be organized only by himself. A shocking event also happened in 2014, when the third-place on polls Eduardo Campos (PSB), died in a plane crash. This incident had a considerable impact on voters’ preferences for his running mate, Marina Silva, who replaced him and reaching more than 30% of vote intentions on the same point of the presidential campaign in 2014. However, this thread coming from a third-party candidate did not last, after an intense negative campaign from PT candidate. At the end voters turned back to what they see as the most credible options, and the PT-PSDB clash happened for the sixth time. By its turn, the outrage against Bolsonaro raised an expectation of larger impact than in 2014, since he was seen as victim of political violence and intolerance. However, polls have showed that the commotion was limited, while the resistance to vote for the radical and anti-system candidate remains high among voters. The impact of this violence on his campaign is uncertain, but it can reduce the voter mobilization in this last stage of campaign. Bolsonaro is hospitalized and blocked from conducting his personalized campaigns on the streets. Absent from media debates and backed by a less professional campaign staff, his attempt to resort to a massive Internet strategy may be insufficient to expand his appeals towards more heterogeneous audience or, even, keep his current supporters.

These close events, the expected replacement of PT candidate and the unforeseen Bolsonaro’s stabbing, have forced all presidential candidates to change their strategies. While the second round is likely to show the confrontation between right-wing and left-wing candidates, it is unclear how far these candidates are from the center and whether escalation of polarization can occur. Bolsonaro remains stable as front-runner, radicalizing the anti-PT sentiment. As the candidate with the highest rejection rate and facing a remarkable gender gap in voters’ preferences (30% of male and 14% of women), his odds to win the election are unlikely by now. Polls show that is likely to lose for any other candidate of both ideological poles. Other four competitive candidates linger very close in the dispute for the second place, center-right (Alckmin) and three center-left candidates (Ciro, Marina, and Haddad).

Since 1994, this is the first time that a front-runner is an “inside-outsider”, coming from an inexpressive political party. As it happened in previous presidential disputes, there are some tensions challenging the prior bipolar dynamic. However, this time the menace of a third-party breaking the status quo is relatively stronger. Usually the challenger comes from within the system, such as in 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014. A certain level of “insiderness” has been required to gather sufficient strengths in order to disturb the centrifugal dynamic induced by institutions and electoral rules. Even when a convincing challenger emerged with more confidence, voters have hesitated to stick with an alternative at the last minute. Polls on 2014 presidential election showed that voters’ first-round decision was only consolidated on the last 10 days before election day. In its turn, this uncertainty scenario, marked by high fragmentation of candidate supply, particularly on the left, the number of undecided voters remains high and swing vote tend to be a decisive factor. At this point of the campaign, who will benefit of this is still an incognita.

Magna Inácio is an associate professor in the Department of the Political Science at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, in Brazil. She is currently carrying out research on presidents and presidencies with focus on multiparty cabinets, executive–legislative relations and internal organization of the Executive branch. Her research interests include coalition governments, the institutional presidency, and parliamentary elites in Brazil and Latin America.

Aline Burni is a researcher for the Center for Legislative Studies at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), where she is a PhD candidate in Political Science. She was a Fulbright grantee at New York University, and previously served as International Advisor for the Minas Gerais state government. Her research interests are comparative and European Politics, Electoral Studies, Political Parties and Radical Right-wing Populism.

The men who will never be King: Cameroon’s October 2018 presidential election

Presidential elections are scheduled in Cameroon for October 7, and barring an unexpected development Paul Biya is on his way to secure another seven-year term and to start his 37thyear in office. This is despite the fact that Cameroon is in a drastically more precarious position than it was last election. Tepid economic growth, an ongoing Boko Haram threat in the north, and a devastating crisis in English-speaking regions have led to sharp declines in human security. The continent also seems to have had its share of presidents for life, as seen most dramatically in the recent departure of Robert Mugabe from the national scene in Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, most predict that Biya will emerge victoriously. The current opposition landscape simply cannot muster enough force, and Biya enjoys enormous advantages as head of state.

The Competition: A Fragmented Field Once Again

As in past elections, the opposition has failed to coalesce into a unified front. Historically, this has been to their detriment. In 1992, during Cameroon’s first multiparty election, Paul Biya won the election with a mere plurality of 40% while the opposition split the vote between five other candidates. In 2004, the National Reconciliation and Renomination Coalition (CRRN) fell apart before the election when John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) withdrew his support. During the last presidential election in 2011 no less than 22 candidates were on the ballot.

This cycle the election management body ELECAM has approved nine candidates, including Biya. Three are representative of Cameroon’s nearly 300 “mushroom parties” – former student activist Cabral Libii Ngue of the Universe party, Serge Espoir Matomba of the United People for Social Renewal (PURS), and Pentecostal pastor Ndifor Afanwi Franklin of the Cameroon National Citizen Movement (MCNC). These parties come and go every cycle, and are often framed around the ambitions of individual figures or niche issues. They generally garner less than 1% of the vote, and are mainly opportunities for individuals outside of the establishment to raise their profile and perhaps gain some international financial support. Others believe that they are there to “muddy the waters” and dilute the opposition. It is not cheap to run for president and it requires a financial deposit of 30 million CFA (~$50,000), indicating that these candidates have some means.

Alongside these figures are two household names that are more akin to a symbolic opposition. Adamou Ndam Njoya is a former member of government, and in 1992 founded the opposition Cameroon Democratic Union (UDC). Njoya has been on the national stage for decades and has run for president in every election. But, he now has very little appeal outside of his home area of Bamoun, and even more specifically the Noun Department. He is joined by former minister Garga Haman Adji of the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD). Garga left the ruling party in 1992 and is a frequent critic of government corruption. He ran for president in 2004 and 2011, winning just 3% of the vote.

The main opposition drama is between the remaining three candidates: Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), Akere Muna of the Popular Front for Development (FPD), and Maurice Kamto of the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC). Only Osih is a member of a longstanding opposition party. Osih’s nomination signals a generational shift in the SDF away from its chairman and perpetual presidential candidate, John Fru Ndi. Osih is young and Anglophone, but appeals to Cameroon’s French-speaking areas. He has campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, improved services, and a return to federalism. Moreover, he has relatively deep pockets from his aviation business. His major liability is his young age (49), which has caused some skepticism over whether he has the ability to steer the complex ship of the Cameroonian state.

By contrast, Kamto and Muna are both veteran attorneys with significant international exposure and pedigree. Kamto was Biya’s delegate to the Ministry of Justice between 2004 and 2011 and active in the United Nation’s International Law Commission. But, Kamto and most of the MRC are of the Bamileké ethnic group from West region, which has left him vulnerable to accusations of tribalismAkere Muna is an Anglophone and a former Vice President at the international corruption monitoring organization Transparency International. He is also a scion of one of Cameroon’s most famous families. Akere’s father, Solomon Tandeng Muna, was the Prime Minister of Cameroon and later President of the National Assembly. His brother Bernard is another well-known lawyer and former activist in the SDF. His sister Ama Tutu was Minister of Arts and Culture between 2007 and 2015. Kamto and Muna are also running on campaigns of anti-corruption and have staked out support for federalism.

This creates an opposition field that will undoubtedly split the vote more than it needs to be. No candidate has excluded the possibility of a coalition, and each has made statements that a single presidential candidate would be the most beneficial. But as in past attempts there is no consensus over who would lead such a coalition. In 2004, opposition contenders agreed that a commission should choose the most appropriate presidential candidate based on a point system. However, that system broke down after Ndam Njoya was chosen by that very system. Moreover, a united opposition still does not have sufficient numbers to topple Biya. This means that some candidates might not be thinking just about 2018, but also about the next election in 2025 when Biya will be 92 years old and will more likely step down from power.

The Incumbent: The Advantages of State

 Paul Biya enters this electoral contest with immense advantages built up over decades in power. First, it is important to recall that Biya’s candidacy is the result of a 2008 constitutional amendment that removed term limits. That maneuver was meant to defer on question regarding Biya’s succession, which risked creating irreparable rifts within the ruling party. As president, Biya has held together a tenuous multiethnic coalition based on patronage. Biya distributes cabinet portfolios, civil service positions, and development resources in implicit exchange for political support. This distribution has created winners and losers, and is seen as particularly beneficial to Biya’s Southern co-ethnics, the Beti. Change in leadership would signal a change in distribution that would undermine the existing order. Biya’s candidacy is basically a continuation of the status quo.

Biya has already maintained the support of various elites. A group of 20 opposition parties that call themselves the G20 have backed Biya. The G20 have stated that their support is for the sake of national security, but also that they see the chances of Biya losing as miniscule. Therefore, staying loyal to the president improves their standing and chances of obtaining benefits after the election. Importantly, the bulk of northern elites, who were at some point a significant opposition front, are also behind Biya. For instance, Cameroon’s Minister of Communication Issa Tchiroma is not from the ruling party but has been a frequent spokesman for the regime during the crisis in Anglophone areas. Likewise, Bello Bouba Maigari was once a serious presidential contender, but is now content as Minister of Tourism.

Alongside this system of patronage, Biya has access to significant resources of the state and enjoys significant presidential powers. Earlier this year he had parliament pass a bill that deferred the legislative elections due to the logistical cost of operating multiple elections within the challenging security context. During past elections, it was common for teachers, local administrators, and state-recognized traditional chiefs to campaign for the ruling party. The ruling party uses state-owned resources like vehicles and stadiums during elections, and state-owned media is heavily tilted toward the president. Indeed, in 2004 and 2011 Biya barely campaigned, and spent much of his time abroad.

There are also concerns over whether the election itself will be free and fair. A limited number of international observers regularly arrive in Cameroon, and there is a very small domestic observation capacity. The creation of ELECAM in 2008 has improved the management of elections in Cameroon, and incidents of outright fraud have declined since 1992. But, the president appoints members of ELECAM and appointed governors are responsible for many election related activities. For example, governors issue permits for gatherings and rallies, and can declare states of emergency that limit freedom of movement. In the past, opposition actors have frequently been detained over so-called violations of various statutes regarding political organization.

Most importantly, the Boko Haram situation and crisis in English-speaking region has led to significant issues with election preparation. Hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians are displaced, and ongoing violence might keep many away from the polls. There are reportedly significant issues with voter registration, and it is not clear how many polling stations will actually be open and accessible in English-speaking areas. The SDF has already rejected a government proposal to move polling stations into military barracks. These issues impact opposition areas particularly hard. While opposition figures like Osih or Muna are likely to win large swaths of the English-speaking regions, the total number of votes might very well be much lower than in previous elections.

The fragmented opposition and Biya’s powerful hand combine to create a sense of apathy among many voters. While many are galvanized given the dire economic and political conditions, others only see more of the same.

Analysis of the Mali presidential election process and outcome

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

Unsuccessful Malian presidential contender Soumaïla Cissé’s claims of fraud have gained little traction, and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s re-election in the August 12 runoff has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Yet hopes that the presidential election would reinvigorate the Algiers peace process may remain unfulfilled; a declining level of citizen engagement leaves the country’s institutions and leaders arguably weaker than in 2013.

Participation[1] fell 6.28 points this year from the record voter turnout of 48.98% in the first round poll of 2013. Runoff participation plummeted over 11 points to 34.42%, the lowest rate in a presidential race since 2002. Despite rapid growth in the voting population—17 percent more registered voters, over 1.1 million more individuals—372,283 fewer Malians bothered to cast a runoff vote in 2018. Explanations for this could include an overall weakening of support for the candidates, dissatisfaction with facing the same choice as in the 2013 runoff, and/or a skepticism as to whether the election would bring any real change to voters’ lives.

The election returns tell a similar story.  With 67.12 %, Keïta won more than two votes for every one for Cissé in the runoff. This is a large and convincing margin, but it may mask citizens’ deeper concerns for their country.  The 34-point victory is still the second-narrowest in a presidential runoff in Mali—only Cissé’s loss to Amadou Toumani Touré in 2002 was closer. Cissé improved upon his 2013 performance by over 10 percentage points, winning nearly 200,000 more votes. He has clearly gained ground with the public.  Keïta, on the other hand, won a second term despite inspiring fewer actual votes than he did five years ago. Runoff votes for Keïta dropped by 562,767. Put another way, for every vote he won in August 2013, almost one-quarter did not support him again this year. This does not place the president in an ideal position to push through controversial measures such as the reforms called for by the Algiers Accord.  Keïta accepted the importance of working with his opponents, soliciting their support in his victory speech. Cissé, however, has continued to contest the final results.

A declining level of voter participation could also reflect a lack of confidence in the electoral process and institutions. For a number of election cycles, both domestic and international observers have recommended reforms that would inspire greater voter confidence in the process, and which have not been pursued.  Some recurring examples include better defining roles and procedures for registering voters and delivering voter cards; considering the creation of a permanent and independent election management body; more transparency in results management, both at the polling station and at the Constitutional Court; and publicizing the CENI’s[2] findings.  Many of the challenges that gave rise to these past recommendations recurred this year.

One positive development in civic engagement in these past elections was the role played by Malian election monitoring groups. These deployed thousands of observers, who monitored all phases of the process. While noting many reassuring points, these groups also illuminated some problems that could undermine public confidence in elections. The Malian observer group Coalition for Citizen Observation of Elections in Mali (COCEM) noted that residents of the central region (where Cissé enjoys significant support) had a more difficult time obtaining their voter cards, generally for reasons attributed to insecurity. COCEM also observed unlawful distribution of “batches” of voter cards in five out of 15 regions (the law allows a maximum of two proxy card withdrawals per person).  On election day, COCEM and others documented areas where voting was cancelled, despite an improved security presence.

COCEM also conducted an analysis of the polling-station-by-polling-station results for each round.  COCEM found that in 393 polling stations (out of 22,675) all the votes went to a single candidate. Among these polling stations, 297 had more than 50 voters, and 112 also had 100 percent turnout.[3]  It may not be surprising that in some Malian communities, everyone votes for one candidate. The 100 percent turnout is arguably more surprising, particularly in an election with low turnout.  In the 297 polling stations with unanimous voting and more than 50 voters, the average turnout was 86 percent; 254 of these polling stations were in areas prone to insecurity—Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti; and 127 alone were in the Timbuktu region, from which a number of Cissé’s complaints to the Constitutional Court emanated. It is important to state that these facts do not prove Soumaïla Cissé’s claim of massive ballot-box stuffing—in 44 polling stations with more than 50 voters, Cissé received all the votes.  Had such fraud taken place, however, these are the types of results (high turnout, mostly for one candidate) it would produce.

The number of votes at issue would not have affected the outcome,[4] but the complaint filed by the opposition provided the Constitutional Court an opportunity to build confidence in the post-election process.  Cissé requested the court produce and examine, for example, the voter sign-in sheet (which could be probative if box-stuffing indeed occurred) for a number of locations alleged to suffer security or other problems, some of which COCEM’s analysis shows voted unanimously. Instead of considering the question of when a combination of insecurity and skewed results warrants closer scrutiny, the court required Cissé to produce a copy of the tally sheet showing that a complaint was made at the polling station by a party representative; however, in 2013 the EU observation mission noted that party agents only received copies of the final count, not of their complaints. If that is still the practice, it would make proof of misdeeds nearly impossible, according to the court’s current jurisprudence. Where Cissé also offered witness testimony, it was not considered sufficient. The court appears to consider the CENI’s reports dispositive; indeed, it is not clear that the court would consider any evidence favorably absent corroboration by the CENI observer. However, without divulging the CENI’s and court delegates’ observations, it is difficult for the public to assess the sincerity of the court’s judgment.

The court’s approach to its decision will thus likely fuel more opposition criticism of the post-election process. Critics could also question the court’s position on transparency measures that were taken in 2018. The court begins its opinion with an aside in which it asserts that requests by national and international observers for access to the center where results are compiled, and for on-line publication of results by polling station, lack a legal basis.  The court reasons that since the law does not affirmatively require these measures, they should not have been taken, and compromise Malian sovereignty. The court ignored Article 11 of the constitution, which states that “Anything not prohibited by law shall not be prevented….” The court’s language was unnecessary to the resolution of the case, the purpose of including it is unclear, and the statements should give Malian democracy advocates cause for concern. The net effect of this resistance to open election data practices could well be to reinforce citizen skepticism and further alienating voters.

[1] Figures for 2013 and 2018 are taken from Constitutional Court decisions. For previous elections, see http://africanelections.tripod.com/ml.html.

[2] The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) “supervises” election operations organized by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. CENI is run by a board representing the majority, opposition and civil society. It sends observers to every polling station and provides a report to the President. Its report is supposed to be published in the Official Journal (Electoral Law, Arts 3, 4, 17).

[3] Twenty-one voting stations had 100 percent turnout and voted unanimously in both rounds.

[4] The number of votes cast in unanimous polling stations nationwide totaled 57,449, while Keïta’s victory margin was over 900,000.

 

Navigating the Electoral Tsunami: The aftermath of Mexico’s Presidential Election

This is a guest post from Javier Pérez Sandoval at the University of Oxford.

Among many other things, democracies are systems in which parties lose elections. Early this month, Mexican voters elected a new president and come December, for the third time in a row in the post-transition era, Mexico will have had a relatively peaceful party alternation in government. That is, while observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) have highlighted multiple instances in which cartel related violence threatened electoral integrity at the local level, their preliminary report also commends Mexico for successfully celebrating the largest and most complex elections in its contemporary history.

I have outlined the good, the bad and the ugly about the Mexican 2018 campaigns elsewhere. Here I intend to do three things: First, I will offer a brief account of the Election Day. Second, I will break down the results, aiming not only to summarize them but also to offer highlights and alternative explanations to what is now called the MORENA tsunami. In the third and last section, I present two political challenges faced by Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as well as one key task for Mexico’s political regime. My conclusions ponder what this electoral result could mean for Mexican democracy.

Election Day

There are multiple detailed accounts of the contenders and their coalitions and the National Electoral Institute (INE) has a fine-grained description of the Mexican electoral process. Here, however, I focus on three aspects of Election day that are worth emphasizing:

  1. Citizens’ involvement – This has been perhaps the most transparent and the most effectively watched election. Throughout the day, over 1.4 million citizens in charge of polling stations, along with 2.6 million party representatives and 33 thousand national and international observers shielded voting as a mechanism for decision making. In addition, not only did the vote-from-abroad tripled, but also, and most importantly, 63% of registered citizens voted. It is worth highlighting that the 2018 electoral race had roughly the same turnout that gave Mexico its first alternancia at the turn of the century.
  2. (Relatively) Peaceful Process – Three incidents marked election day: A) Five politically motivated murders were registered, b) Citizens in Mexico City protested ballot insufficiency at “special” (in-transit) polling stations and c) tension through the day culminated in contention in the results in the state of Puebla. Weighing up Mexico’s overall context and considering that roughly 97% of polling stations reported either minor or no incidents at all, it is safe to say that the vast majority of the population voted freely.
  3. Acknowledging the results – Not even 2 hours had passed after polling stations closed and all other candidates —Ricardo Anaya, Jose Antonio Meade and Jaime Rodríguez Calderón — had publicly recognized AMLO’s victory. While only two out of the three vote-counting stages are over, the presidential election had a clear and certain result before midnight. Mexico’s electoral authority will finish up counting the votes and come month’s end, INE will make the results official.

The Results: Re-Shaping Mexico’s Political Arena

Elsewhere I suggested that the 2018 election had the potential to completely redefine Mexico’s political landscape and looking at the electoral outcomes, it appears that they did. Considering that over 3,400 public officials were elected, a full overview of the results is beyond the scope of this paper. Consequently, I first broadly summarize the main results in Table 1 and then I move on to present three highlights and three alternative explanations for the outcome.

Table 1.- Mexico’s 2018 Results

Not only did López Obrador win by a considerable margin, but the Juntos Haremos Historia coalition (MORENA-PES-PT) also won the majority of congressional seats —at the federal and local level— along with a significant number of Governorships and Mayoralties (not displayed here).  Before presenting the highlights, it is worth noting that for the first time in Mexico’s history a) women will obtain equal participation both in Cabinet and in Congress and that b) unfortunately, the first truly independent candidates at all government levels lost their respective races. Along with these factors, the electoral outcomes have three further implications:

  1. Strong Mandate – Not only is the election an interesting case for exploring coattail effects, but also, it has been almost 4 decades since a Mexican President obtained such an ample electoral support —and it is the first time this happens under competitive elections. This fact should prove fundamental in the implementation of the coalition’s policy platform.
  2. Renewed Legitimacy – The high turnout rate, a clear mandate and the fact that Mexico will have its first left-of-centre government in 80 years, help strengthen democratic legitimacy in two ways: First, contrary to previous experiences (i.e. Mexico in 2006), there is no doubt on the social legitimacy of the newly elected government. Second, and most importantly, the 2018 process boosts the legitimacy of the electoral mechanism itself. It shows that votes —and not guns— are an effective tool for securing and redistributing political power.
  3. Political Geography– Beyond showing that democracy is now the only game in town, this outcome also tackles its uneven spread. Along with the national change, this electoral process opens up a new era of subnational politics. For the first time in Mexico’s contemporary history the majority of Governors will face divided governments, buttressing representation as well as local checks and balances. Moreover, as Map 1 shows, alternancias at the local level should reshape political bargaining across and between governmental levels.

Map 1.- Mexico’s Political 2018 Geography

To explain the results, 3 alternative hypotheses have been offered: First, some analysts suggest that angry and disenchanted voters punished Enrique Peña Nieto’s government for the multiple corruption scandals and for its poor economic performance. A second hypothesis suggests looking at AMLO’s effective campaigning, his distinct policy agenda along with his populist appeal. Closely related, the last alternative that has been offered emphasizes AMLO’s broad social and political coalition. Suffice it to say that there is enough material for social and political scientists to disentangle.

Looking Past Election Day: Upcoming Challenges

In addition to the social, international and economic challenges, in the upcoming months, the newly elected government will face two specifically political dilemmas. At the same time, the flexibility of Mexico’s presidential democratic regime will also be tested. I briefly address each of these issues below:

  1. The Delivery Paradox – It has been suggested that AMLO’s new administration is in a bind. Using his majority in Congress to implement his policy platform will allow his opponents to accuse him of brining Mexican hyper-presidentialism back; if he doesn’t, and consequently fails to comply, he risks losing popular support. Past the honeymoon period, carefully navigating this paradoxical situation will require bargaining and political innovation.
  2. Taming the beast – To secure his victory, AMLO articulated a socio-political movement in which many groups and sectors coalesced for electoral purposes. Successfully dealing with the previous challenge will require, among other things, managing to transform that movement into a somewhat disciplined and coherent party organization.
  3. Checks & Balances – Given the overwhelming support for AMLO’s government, at the regime level, in order to guarantee the survival and consolidation of democracy, finding political counterweights is key. Actors coming from three distinct arenas will play a crucial role in balancing Mexican politics: 1) Civil Society and Media, 2) International and national Markets and 3) Opposition parties. Members of these last group have a difficult task ahead, as they first need to regroup and redefine themselves. Here scholars of Mexican parties will need to be creative in exploring and explaining upcoming changes to the party system.

The night after the election citizens paraded the streets across the country, their message was one of hope and illusion. Latin America and the world also expectantly observe the Mexican political scenario. Ironically, Langston’s book on PRI’s survival was published the year in which the party obtained its worst electoral result. In their new book, Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo, argue that flawed democracies successfully overhaul their elite-biased institutions once the old authoritarian guard passes away. Can the electoral catastrophe of the PRI be interpreted as its (political) death? And if so, will Mexican democracy consolidate? Or will it be fatally injured by this pyrrhic victory? The cards are now on the table, and as the authors clearly suggest, only time will tell.


Javier Pérez Sandoval (javier.perezsandoval@politics.ox.ac.uk) is a DPhil in Politics candidate at the University of Oxford based at Wolfson College. He hold a BA in Politics and an MPhil in Comparative Government. He is passionate about regime change, subnational politics, presidentialism and socio-economic development. He teaches the Latin American Politics tutorial to undergrads at the University of Oxford and has worked as an Associate Lecturer at Brookes University for a similar course. Beyond his keen interest in Argentinian, Brazilian and Mexican political dynamics, he is also a sci-fi and cinema aficionado.

DRC – Finally preparing for a presidential election, but who will run?

With a two-year delay, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is finally preparing for a presidential election on December 23, 2018. The deadline for candidate declarations is August 8. Many observers still wonder whether term-limited President Joseph Kabila will find a way to run, though moves to adopt a new constitution or change key constitutional provisions have seemingly been abandoned [see earlier blog post about such moves here]. The smiling face of the president adorning huge billboards in Lubumbashi or printed on t-shirts in Kinshasa is not reassuring to his critics, who take it as an indication that “he wants to stay.” Kabila supporters from the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) pooh-pooh such concerns, arguing it is a way of celebrating the president’s achievements.

It is peculiar that with less than a month to go before the window for candidate submissions closes, the PPRD candidate is not yet known. Though the process for selecting that candidate remains opaque, it is clear there will not be an open primary election. According to André-Alain Atundu, spokesperson for the presidential majority, primaries contributed to destroying the Republican Party in the US and the Socialist Party in France. Kabila tightly controls the candidate selection process in an effort to manage political egos and “avoid a war in his political family,” in Atundu’s words.

On July 1, Kabila launched a formal coalition – the Common Front for Congo (FCC) – that will throw its support behind a single candidate for the ruling majority. Wise move, as the constitution was changed in 2011 to eliminate the requirement for a runoff in the event no candidate wins an absolute majority (Kabila was reelected with 49 percent of the votes later that year). Members of the FCC include parties and civil society structures currently represented in the government of national unity created following the political agreement of 31 December 2016, but is open to others. On July 7, the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU) also signed on to the charter of the FCC, despite a move earlier in the year by PALU to join forces in the coming elections with two of the major opposition parties, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) of Vital Kamerhe.

Under Kabila’s leadership, the FCC aims to run joint candidates with a common program at all levels of elections: presidential, legislative and regional elections that will all be held simultaneously. Remains to be seen who Kabila will favor as presidential candidate and whether the FCC will resist as the egos of those not selected are bruised. Potential choices include National Assembly President Aubin Minaku; former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo; Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, former vice prime minister for the interior, recently promoted to party secretary for the PPRD; and a number of possible outsiders.

On the opposition’s side, the front runners are easier to identify. Despite significant talk about the need for a single candidate to avoid splitting the vote, there is as yet no formal agreement on who that should be. The three top potential candidates are: Moise Katumbi, former governor of Katanga and former ally of Kabila, who has had his passport revoked and currently cannot return from Europe; Félix Thisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who passed away last year; and Jean-Pierre Bemba, president of the MLC and former rebel leader, who came in second to Kabila in the 2006 presidential run-off. Bemba, who has served 10 years of prison in The Hague, was acquitted on appeal by the International Criminal Court on June 8 from charges for crimes against humanity. He has been promised a passport to return to the DRC by the Congolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the debate is on between lawyers in Kinshasa as to whether Bemba can register as candidate, given on the one hand his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC, and on the other the fact that he does not yet have a voter card – which is required to register. Finally, former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe appears ready to back whoever emerges as the strongest opposition candidate.

If indeed an agreement is reached among opposition leaders on fielding a single candidate, how would such a consensus candidate be selected? Via a “mini primary” election, as Kamerhe has suggested, an idea also supported by Katumbi in the past? If so, who would vote and how would such a primary election be organized in time? The MLC party congress to take place on July 12-13 could provide a first good indication of the opposition’s ability to move ahead in unified rank, depending on whether the party opts to put forward its own candidate, and if so how other opposition parties react.

July 25 marks the start of the process for submitting candidates for the presidential and legislative elections. We can foresee two weeks of intense political maneuverings in both political camps between now and then.

Race, Economics and Identity: Explaining Donald Trump’s 2016 Victory

Why did Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election? In the 20 months since his surprise victory, scholars have taken a deep dive into election-related data seeking answers. Although a full consensus has yet to emerge, they have zeroed in on two likely explanations: race and economics. (While not necessarily mutually exclusive, they are often presented as such.) The case for race is typically based in part on surveys showing that Trump voters score high on measures of “racial resentment,” an index based on responses to a series of questions regarding respondents’ views toward school desegregation, the fair treatment of blacks in employment, the federal government’s role in assisting blacks, and affirmative action in employment and education. The goal of these and similar surveyed-based indices is to identify underlying racial biases that respondents might otherwise be reluctant to reveal. According to scholars utilizing these measures, the higher racial resentment scores among Trump’s supporters is evidence that his victory reflected his ability to stoke latent racial animus among white voters, particularly those in the lower socioeconomic strata.

Not all scholars buy the race-based explanation for Trump’s victory. Morris Fiorina, in his analysis of race, class and identity in the 2016 elections, points out that white support for the Democratic presidential candidate declined from 2012 and 2016. This, he says, raises the perplexing question of “how racism would lead millions of whites who voted for and approved a black president to desert a white Democrat.” One answer is that the “racial resentment” index is not actually identifying racial bias, but instead is tapping into a strain of conservative ideology that opposes race-based policies. In an innovative attempt to discern what racial resentment scores are actually measuring, Riley Carney and Ryan Enos substitute groups other than African-Americans into the racial resentment questions. They find that conservatives’ responses to these questions do not appreciably change when other groups are referenced. Based on these findings, they suggest that, at least for conservatives, racial resentment scores are not measuring racial bias against any particular group so much as a more general belief in a “just world” in which, ideally, one is rewarded for working hard and playing by the rules.

Survey questions, and the racial indices constructed from them, are useful methods of gauging underlying sentiments that respondents might otherwise be reluctant to express. But, in addition to the questions of interpretation cited above, these surveys limit respondents to answering a specific set of questions that may not fully capture the range of sentiments behind their voting behavior. To get around these limits, I conducted a series of open-ended conversations with several dozen Trump supporters at four of his campaign rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign. Their responses provide additional insight into the motivation of Trump voters.
A recurring theme in these conversations was a belief among Trump supporters that, through no fault of their own, they were living in a world in which working hard was no longer a guarantee of success. Citing issues like trade and immigration, they told me that the rules of the game by which they were raised no longer insured a level playing field. These responses are consistent with the “just world” thesis advanced by Carney and Enos in their experimental studies.

However, this does not preclude a racial component to Trump’s support. Even if his voters were not motivated by racial animus, they may still have harbored a shared racial identity rooted in the belief that, as a group, they were adversely affected by what they saw as a rigged political and economic system. It is true that Trump voters were not economically any worse off than were supporters of other candidates. However, in the interviews I conducted, I was struck by how often his supporters talked not about their own economic status, but instead about their fears for their children’s futures. As one Trump supporter in New Hampshire explained to me, “These people still believe in the American Dream about getting ahead, but they think it is slipping away from us.” Similarly, many respondents described their support for Trump as a response to the economic downturn they saw in their communities, rather than in their own home.

These comments are consistent with studies showing a correlation between Trump’s support and the impact of trade on jobs, disparities in health across communities and, particularly in the Midwest where Trump made surprising gains, an unstable housing market. Even though Trump’s supporters might be comparatively well off, they often lived in places where they observed economic hardship that disproportionately affected those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

For his part, Trump proved very effective at validating this perspective. After hearing journalists and political elites routinely describe them as xenophobic, misogynistic and racist, his supporters seemed gratified that Trump recognized their views as a valid response to decades of stagnant wages, lost jobs, and declining hope for the future against the backdrop of a political system that seemed to ignore their concerns. At last, his supporters told me, someone is actually listening to what we are saying, rather than trying to castigate our hidden motives. In short, Trump gave voice to a significant portion of the electorate that felt their concerns were not being addressed by the political establishment.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton ran a campaign that by historical standards, was unusually focused on attacking her opponent’s fitness for office, as opposed to addressing the socioeconomic conditions that concerned many of Trump’s supporters. Even without her ill-fated description of half of Trump’s supporters as belonging in a “basket of deplorables” characterized by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” views, one can understand why her campaign strategy may have cued a different voting calculus among some white voters than did Obama’s more economically-focused 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney.

Why did Trump defy predictions to win the 2016 presidential campaign? Analysts continue to sift through the data and, while it is likely they will not fully agree on a single answer, the evidence to date is consistent with the idea that Trump’s message resonated with the concerns of lower- and middle-income white voters in key states who viewed the political system as increasingly unresponsive to their interests. While there was undoubtedly a racial component to Trump’s support, it appears predicated less on racial animus against other groups and more on a shared sense that on key issues, the rules of the game were increasingly stacked against them. By attacking the characteristics of the candidate who spoke to their interests, to say nothing of their motives for supporting him, Clinton may have inadvertently contributed to that group solidarity, thus fueling an erosion of support among many white voters who backed Obama in 2012.

Turkey’s new presidential system enters into force with Erdoğan’s election win

Turkey held a snap election on 24th June. This was the first time that concurrent presidential and assembly elections were held. The constitutional amendments installing a presidential system enter into force with this election. President Erdoğan was re-elected as president at the first round with 52 percent of the votes. He becomes the first president of the new political system. His party, the AKP (Adalet Ve Kalkınma Partisi/ Justice and Development Party),  won 42 percent of the vote and its partner, the MHP (the Nationalist Movement Party),11%. It’s highly likely that there will be a conservative/nationalist coalition formed by the AKP and the MHP.

Elections were held under the continuing state of emergency since the coup attempt in 2016. One of the major political actors, Selehattin Demirtaş, the leader of the Kurdish HDP (Halkın Demokrasi Partisi/ Peoples’ Democracy Party) has been in prison for political speeches he made. There were regular assaults and violent attacks on opposition parties even on the election day and threats of internal war by supporters of the ruling AKP. The ruling party also used state facilities, had financial support, and controlled state and private media to ensure greater coverage for themselves and block opposition candidates’ appearances, creating immense electoral inequalities.

The AKP and the MHP formed an alliance called “Cumhur/Public” and supported Erdoğan. At the beginning of the campaign period, it appeared as if President Erdoğan had two particular targets. One was to prevent the IYIP (İyi Parti/the Good Party), from taking centre-right votes from the AKP. The other one was to push pro-Kurdish HDP under the ten percent threshold by portraying the party supported by nearly six million people as the supporter of terrorism. If he could  do so, the AKP would win the HDP’s seats, as it was the second party in the regions where the HDP is strong.

However opposition parties, especially the left wing CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi/the Republican Peoples Party) and its candidate Muharrem İnce, challenged this strategy by visiting Demirtaş in prison, promising recognition of the right of Kurds to be educated in their mother tongue, and abolishing the state of emergency. The HDP asked for strategic help from left wing voters to reach the threshold and in return promised to support the runner-up opposition candidate in the second round of presidential race. Even though the opposition parties failed to capture the assembly majority, the HDP did passed the infamous 10 percent national threshold and won 67 MPs in the 600-person Assembly.

Despite the great unfairness they faced, the opposition put up a credible struggle to change Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. The opposition alliance, “Millet/the Nation”, which was formed by the CHP, the IYIP, the SP (Saadet Partisi/the Happiness Party), and the DP (Demokrat Parti/ the Democratic Party) agreed on a transition period during which a new constitution for a parliamentary democracy would be drafted. They all ran their own candidates in the first round of the presidential election, but agreed to support whoever won through to the second round. They also affirmed their intention to form a coalition government to democratise the country and tackle the serious economic problems. The HDP declared its support for a new democratic = constitution recognising certain minority rights, too. Their received 47 percent in the presidential race and 46 per cent in the assembly election.

The country will now embark upon a new Turkish type of presidential system with almost no outside checks and balances. President Erdoğan created a highly politicized judiciary after the coup attempt, removing nearly 5,000 judges and appointing politically loyal supporters. The army was also restructured. Now, all state institutions will be redesigned around the presidential office. President Erdoğan controls almost all media (state and private) and the private sector. It appears that the MHP’s supporters are willing to receive some of the benefits of state patronage (1) by forming a coalition.

In short, Turkey’s competitive authoritarian regime is getting consolidated under a patronal hyper-presidential system despite nearly half of the nation’s will for true democracy.

Notes:

1. H. Hale, Patronal Politics Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective, Cambridge Uni Press, 2015, p. 9-10

Nigeria — Ruling Party Holds National Convention amidst Internal Crisis

Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party will hold its national convention this Saturday, July 23, at perhaps its most fragmented state since it was formed in 2013.

At its inception, it was already clear that the APC was an alliance of strange bedfellows united primarily by the common purpose of unseating incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 election. Yet the speed at which deep rifts became evident once the party took power surprised even its doubters.

An early row, barely months after President Buhari’s inauguration, over the leadership of Nigeria’s National Assembly revealed festering strife between the President and an influential group of former governors (known as the ‘new PDP’) who left Jonathan’s then ruling party for the APC shortly after the opposition coalition was formed. The result of this early disagreement was the election as Senate President of Bukola Saraki, one of the most influential figures within the nPDP faction, marking Buhari’s loss of control over a National Assembly in which his party has held the majority.

This arrangement, resulting in repeated battles between the legislature and the executive, has had a clear impact on Buhari’s agenda since early on in his tenure; from the two full years it took to complete most of his ministerial appointments to recurrent controversy over the passing of the government’s yearly budget and disputes over the schedule of the upcoming election. In turn, the government has lamented the National Assembly’s attempts to sabotage its budgetary agenda. The executive is, till date, also still pursing various legal cases against Saraki and his allies in the legislature.

Beyond the National Assembly, perhaps a more significant consequence of the discord between Buhari and the nPDP was the decision of factional heavyweight and former vice-president Atiku Abubaker to abandon the APC for his former party, declaring his intentions to contest for the PDP presidential ticket in the 2019 election. Atiku might be the opponent best placed to unseat Buhari in the upcoming polls.

Another crucial axis of division within the party appeared to run all the way through
Buhari’s own home. In 2016, First Lady Aisha Buhari took to the media to criticize the president for failing to accommodate the interests of important but unnamed members of the coalition. The interests in question soon turned out to be those of former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, a crucial figure in the coalition that brought Buhari to power, who soon thereafter publicly lamented his marginalization within the party, and criticized its national leaders. As the 2019 elections loom, President Buhari has made strides to rebuild strained ties with Tinubu, somewhat ironically appointing him to head a committee to reconcile aggrieved party stalwarts. Yet it is clear that the relationship between these two important camps remains frosty.

These wider schisms culminated in an all-out battle over the weekend of the 18 – 20 of May, 2018 during which nation-wide ward and state-level congresses were challenged by rival ‘parallel’ congresses in at least nine states. Various skirmishes were reported in several of these states; for instance, a national assembly member and commissioner of a neighboring state were beat up in Ondo while an APC member was stabbed to death in Delta state.

It is no surprise then, given this sharply divisive context, that the upcoming national convention is being greeted with high levels of apprehension. Though close to 7,000 delegates from across the country will vote over 65 key positions in an election to be held in Nigeria’s capital, the party leadership has been forced to rebuff fears that the winners have already been hand-picked in a pre-prepared ‘unity list’ of candidates.

The most important position up for grabs is that of the national chairman, for which former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomole has already received an endorsement from President Buhari. Yet, optimistically for the party’s prospects at cohesion, Oshiomole was also warmly welcomed in a recent meeting with party members in the national assembly, though its leaders stopped short of an outright endorsement.

If Saturday’s national convention is managed in a manner that is viewed to be largely transparent and accountable, then it is possible that we may see a more united party in the lead up to the 2019 polls, a prospect that would be a boon for Buhari’s second term ambitions. More generally, both party factionalism and the importance of the upcoming convention reveal the growing influence of party leadership positions and the legislature, as they become independent sources of power capable of checking the influence of an incumbent president.