Tag Archives: presidential election

Ukraine – Parliament Declares Martial Law

On Monday, November 26th, the Ukrainian parliament approved presidential decree “On Institution of Martial Law in Ukraine.” The measure was passed with 276 votes in favour during an extraordinary session of parliament. The decree was put forward by President Poroshenko on advice of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 23 sailors in Kerch Strait on Sunday.

Before the martial law was approved, the President was forced to compromise on a number of points. First, the initial decree requested that martial law be introduced for 60 days. Lawmakers only agreed to 30 days. It came into effect at 9am on November 28 and will be in place until December 27. Initial proposal also suggested that martial law would be introduced on the entire territory of Ukraine. But per the approved law, it will cover only 10 regions and territories along the Russian boarder, the Sea of Azov and the Black sea.

Second, lawmakers insisted on the relaxation of the proposed limits on the rights and freedoms of citizens. To reassure the citizens, the Parliament voted not to debate the martial law proposal in closed session but instead the debate was televised on national TV. On his website, the President insisted that the decree was proposed mainly as a security measure and assured that he did not intend any restrictions to citizens’ rights. The President also noted that neither partial nor full mobilization was envisioned unless the conflict escalates further.

Finally, during the Parliamentary session, lawmakers demanded assurances that introduction of martial law will not affect the holding of presidential elections early next year. Only 5 minutes after the Parliament voted in favour of martial law, it approved a law officially setting the date of the next presidential election for March 31, 2019.

These recent political events generated two main concerns. First, of course, comes the issue of security, territorial integrity, and independence of Ukraine. Russia has denied any wrong-doing. However, other countries and international organizations have supported Ukraine. During a press conference, NATO’s chief stated that “there is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and military personnel” and demanded that ships and sailors be immediately released. Concerns about what the attack and declaration of martial law could mean for the security in the region are high. President Poroshenko was careful to insist that “martial law does not mean declaring war. It is introduced with the sole purpose of boosting Ukraine’s defense in the light of a growing aggression from Russia.” He also noted that it did not mean that Ukraine either gave up or was not amenable to diplomatic solutions to the crisis, insisting that Ukraine will continue to comply with the Minsk agreement and all other international obligations.

Second, what impact will the introduction of martial law have on the political situation in the country, especially on the upcoming presidential elections? The opposition has accused the President of using martial law to divert public attention from his failing popularity. Some even expressed concerns that martial law will allow the possibility of postponing or cancelling the election complete. According to opinion polls, only 5-10 percent of citizens were ready to vote for him in the last couple of months. Less than 15 percent trusted the President. However, other presidential candidates have similar low levels of support and trust. For instance, 75 percent of those surveys did not trust Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the main candidates running for president next year.

The next couple of months will be critical for Ukraine and its President. On the one hand, it will be important to secure territorial integrity of the country and avoid escalation of the crisis. On the other hand, the President will need to ensure that he keeps his word and that free and fair elections do take place as scheduled on March 31, 2019. In the words of the recent Foreign Policy dispatch: “Martial law is a test. Will Ukraine’s democracy pass?”

DRC – Presidential campaign is on

The presidential campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was launched on Thursday, November 22, one month ahead of the December 23 presidential poll. While the ruling coalition is well prepared and ready for the fight, the opposition is trying to catch up from behind. Months of opposition efforts at uniting behind a single candidate have thus far been unsuccessful.

The United Front for Congo (FCC), the electoral coalition backing President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is indeed united. The FCC has pulled all the stops, including enlisting famed Congolese dancer and singer Tshala Muana to produce a get-out-the vote jingle and music video calling on Congolese to ‘vote vote vote for Shadary, candidate number 13.’ [See previous blog posts relating Kabila’s clever maneuvering to secure support for his chosen contender here and here.] A 564-member campaign team working for Shadary includes sitting Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala and his cabinet, the president of the national assembly, Kabila family members and a number of other well-known Congolese.  The impressive line-up presented at a public ceremony on November 3, is divided into 48 ‘cells’ with representation from all 26 provinces, covering the entire country. Some of the alleged members of the campaign team, like the trainer of the national football team Floribert Ibenge, have complained, however, that their name was added to the roster without their consent. A leading opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, has called the apparent fusion of state and party, with major state institutions at work for the ruling party’s candidate, ‘inacceptable.’

The opposition despite significant efforts, remains divided in two major camps – one backing Fayulu, the other supporting Felix Tshisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who passed away in 2017. For a short 24-hour period it appeared that the leaders of the seven major opposition parties had succeeded in agreeing to support a unity candidate – Martin Fayulu – as the flag bearer of the Lamuka (“wake up” in Lingala and Swahili) coalition. The seven leaders met for three days in Geneva in early November to negotiate an agreement, hosted by the Kofi Annan Foundation. Three of the leaders – Moise Katumbi, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Adolphe Muzito – are excluded from running as candidates, leaving four possible choices: front-runners Felix Tshisekedi (UDPS) and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe (UNC); and second tier candidates Fayulu (ECiDé) and Freddy Matungulu (CNB). With 41 seats, the UDPS is the second largest party in the National Assembly of the DRC, after the ruling PPRD, followed in sixth place by the UNC (with 17 seats), while ECiDé (3 seats) and CNB (0 seats) are smaller parties whose leaders have not held prominent positions in Congolese politics. Fayulu is currently a National Assembly deputy, and Matungulu is a former IMF-official who served a two-year stint as minister of finance in the early 2000s.

The method chosen to facilitate a vote among the seven opposition leaders meeting in Geneva, after a consensus candidate did not emerge, had the unexpected consequence of Fayulu’s selection. A two-round vote was held: only the four eligible candidates could vote in the first round, casting two ballots – one for himself and one for one of the other three. None of the four chose to cast his second ballot for his perceived strongest  competitor, resulting in Fayulu and Matungulu getting the most votes and proceeding to the second round – an outcome that should perhaps have been foreseen, taking the likelihood of strategic voting into consideration. On November 11, in the second round, all seven opposition party leaders, including the three banned from running, cast their vote, leading to the selection of Fayulu.

The choice of Fayulu as single candidate for the opposition did not survive the realities of Congolese politics, however. Upon their return to Kinshasa, Tshisekedi and Kamerhe were met by demonstrations by their respective party bases and within 24 hours both withdrew from the Geneva agreement. The two pursued bilateral negotiations, and on Friday November 23, they signed a pact in Nairobi whereby Kamerhe will support Tshisekedi. According to the agreement, should Tshisekedi win, he will appoint Kamerhe as prime minister, and the two would switch places on the presidential ticket in five years time. The detailed deal references also the distribution of key cabinet and other posts.

It is thus likely that three leading candidates will face off in the one-round presidential poll on December 23 – Shadary, Fayulu and Tshisekedi. Of these, Tshisekedi appears best poised to win, according to a recent opinion poll by the Congo Research Group based at the University of New York, whose findings are contested by the ruling party. The poll, conducted in the first half of October, found Tshisekedi to be favored by 36% of voters, followed by Kamerhe at 17% and Shadary close behind at 16%, while Fayulu trailed at 8%. The agreement with Kamerhe further strengthens Tshisekedi’s chances.

The scene is set for a hard fought race. Election observers – many to be deployed by the Catholic Church – and party agents will play an important role in increasing the transparency and credibility of the vote in a context characterized by consistent opposition concerns over the integrity of the voter registry and the reliability of the electronic voting machine introduced by the election commission.

Czech Presidential Politics in the Fall of 2018

There are two essential factors which facilitate understanding of the real power of Czech presidents and which make them relatively weak in relation to the government or parliament. First, none of them has managed to create a solid and strong party backing in the parliament.  This holds true also for Miloš Zeman, who has repeatedly attempted (and failed) to form a presidential party.[1] Thus, the October municipal and Senate elections[2] and their results had no specific and direct consequences for President Zeman. Second, the Czech president is endowed with few significant powers. Probably the most important one is the power to appoint the Prime Minister and, on the basis of his proposal, other members of government[3]. Hence, once the second cabinet led by Andrej Babiš had been appointed in July 2018, President Zeman had a much smaller influence on Czech governmental as well as parliamentary politics.

Despite these stable features of the Czech democratic regime, Miloš Zeman has constantly been able to create a stir in the Czech politics, an ability attributed to him both by his supporters and critics. First, even though Babiš’ cabinet was appointed and won a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, the President kept influencing the cabinet’s composition, blocking Miroslav Poche, the Social Democratic (the junior coalition partner’s) nominee for the position of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Poche was refused by Zeman, officially because of the former’s positive stance to EU migration quotas. However, there were rumors that other reasons might have played a role in the rejection. For example, Poche supported Zeman’s rival, Jiří Drahoš, in the 2018 presidential contest. In addition, Zeman’s move was a tool to humiliate and weaken the Social Democratic party[4].

Be it as it may, Prime Minister Babiš did not insist on Poche, as he did not want to risk a conflict with President Zeman. As a result, the Social Democrats tacitly gave in and nominated another person – Tomáš Petříček. This was a surprising choice, because Petříček was Poche’s assistant without much political experience. Thus, only after three months, Czech political elites managed to provide a full-time leader for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Until that time, the ČSSD’s leader, and minister of the interior, Jan Hamáček had been in temporary charge.

Second, seeking his own foreign policy, to a large extent independently of the cabinet, President Zeman has made many other politicians uneasy. Zeman kept emphasizing an orientation to the East, notably to Russia and China, promoting “economic diplomacy” over human rights issues (the one-time the flagship of Czech foreign policy). This policy is to a certain extent consistent with Zeman’s predecessor, Václav Klaus, but is in stark contrast to Václav Havel, who is widely remembered as a vociferous advocate of human rights anywhere on the globe. Despite the fact that occasionally presidents and governments clashed over foreign policy issues, the major pillars of the Czech foreign policy of the 1990s were clear and major political representatives were consistent in supporting them: pro-Western, pro-EU orientation as well as promoting human rights issues. However, these pillars of the Czech foreign policy have been undermined by practical steps taken by both branches of the Czech executive over the last decade or so. Miloš Zeman is one of the most influential proponents of Russian interests in Europe, for example, advocating Russia’s position towards the affair of poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, calling for lifting anti-Russia sanctions, supporting the Russian state corporation, Rosatom, and its effort to win a tender to  enlarge the Czech nuclear power plants.

Whereas Zeman has rarely been accepted by Western political leaders, he has repeatedly visited Russia. Zeman has also been to China four times, meeting top Chinese leaders, supporting their idea of reviving the Silk Road. It seems that this clear Eastern orientation, legitimizing authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere, is not sufficiently balanced by other Czech foreign policy makers, some of whom take a similar position, whereas others are pragmatic and lack any orientation in foreign policy issues (such as Andrej Babiš). All in all, Czech foreign policy has been incomprehensible, especially vis-á-vis the EU. Thus, the person of the Minister of Foreign Affairs proves to be of key importance for the future of Czech foreign policy and its major goals, notably in the era of great debates on the future of the EU following Brexit.

Tomáš Petříček outlined the goals of his efforts as follows: “I would like to clearly delineate our country’s position in the European Union and the wider transatlantic area. Our core priorities are that our foreign policy has continuity, that it is consensual and that it is coherent.” This position was probably a reaction to varying standpoints on Czech foreign policy. This lack of consensus was visible within the executive over the past year and which made the Czech foreign policy unclear. As far as the migration crisis is concerned, Petříček adopted a very similar stance to Prime Minister Babiš: instead of letting refugees come to Europe, Petříček claims that migrants should be supported in their countries of origin: “We can do more in countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to help refugees and improve their living conditions in refugee camps. Our target should be to stabilize the countries they are fleeing in order to ensure they can stay in their home countries.”

In general, the appointment of Tomáš Petříček as the Minister of Foreign Affairs was a clear disappointment for many observers, because Petříček is an inexperienced minister whose views on foreign policy had not been known in public before he became the Minister. Petříček’s efforts to take the initiative as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and set the agenda will probably be very difficult given his lack of experience, lack of political authority, lack of authority of his own party (which is also divided on key foreign policy issues) and also with regard to the assertive position of Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš, the two dominant figures in Czech politics and who are likely to outshine Petříček in Czech foreign policy.

Third, the Czech Republic celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Czechoslovak state, which was established in 1918. The celebrations and various public events commemorating the ups and downs of the Czechoslovak and Czech state peaked with the traditional state decorations ceremony at Prague Castle. This was a special moment to award distinguished citizens, historical figures (honored in memoriam), artists, sportsmen and like. The ceremony was tainted by a bitter dispute between president Zeman and his opponents. This dispute dates back to origins of Zeman’s presidency when he came into conflict with various people, notably with academics and presidents of several Czech universities who were not invited to the state decorations ceremony. In addition, a few leading political figures were not invited either, whereas others rejected to attend the ceremony in protest against – what they labeled as – a private Zeman party. The dispute was also accompanied by a critique of persons who were decorated. Besides uncontroversial personalities (such as anti-Nazi fighters or Olympic gold medalists), critics reproached President Zeman for decorating his close friends, people who collaborated with the Communist secret police, or controversial businesspeople.

It is highly unlikely that Miloš Zeman will cease to be a provocative and controversial politician, constantly attracting media attention and giving cause to anger. On the other hand, the Czech presidents are generally trusted political figures. Even Miloš Zeman, who has always been a polarizing figure in Czech society, enjoys support/trust of about half of the Czech population, much more than the government or parliamentary chambers (but less than mayors or local governments)[5]. More than four years remain until the end of his second presidential mandate. Only health problems, which the media often speculate about, may become an effective stop to his political style.

 Notes

[1] For details see Brunclík, Miloš, and Michal Kubát. 2018. Semi-presidentialism, Parliamentarism and Presidents: Presidential Politics in Central Europe. London and New York: Routledge.

[2] Several Zeman’s rivals from the 2018 presidential contest were elected senators, such as Jiří Drahoš, Pavel Fischer or Marek Hilšer.

[3] Art. 68 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic

[4] Zeman was once the party’s chairman and even prime minister between 1998 and 2002. However, since a significant portion of social democratic MPs did not support Zeman in the 2003 presidential elections, Zeman’s relationship to his party changed for the worse and this event has plagued their relationship since then.

[5] Červenka, Jan. 2018. Confidence in constitutional institutions and satisfaction with the political situation. October 2018. Praha: CVVM. (Full text is available in Czech only).

Magna Inácio – The 2018 Presidential Elections in Brazil: A Turning Point?

A far-right president, Bolsonaro, was elected in Brazil, propelling the most radical political shift in Brazilian politics since the redemocratization. In the runoff election, Bolsonaro secured 55.8 million votes (or 55%), a 10% margin of victory ahead the leftist candidate, Haddad.

The former army captain, Bolsonaro, successfully turned himself into the mouthpiece of the politically dissatisfied. Under the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone”, his strident rhetoric echoed nationalistic, conservative and identity-based issues against corruption, crime, and moral crisis. To broaden his electoral appeal, he won over markets by pledging a deep policy shift toward market-friendly reforms under the charge of his ultra-liberal economic advisor, the would-be minister of finance. Even without clear proposals, and by means of contradictory signs, he successfully packaged all the issues into a promise of an alternative government, expressing not only a rejection of leftist administrations headed by PT, the presidential party for 13 years, but of the whole political system. Branding himself an outsider, Bolsonaro spiced up his anti-establishment appeals with controversial remarks about basic democratic tenets. His statements signalled little tolerance for political opponents and activists, and his proposal to change the Constitution raised concerns of authoritarian threads put forth by his government.

The exceptionality of this presidential election partially explains the electoral success of Bolsonaro, a backbench deputy, nominated as a presidential candidate by a small party and managing limited campaign resources. This election had a frontrunner candidate, former president Lula, deemed ineligible by the electoral courts due to his conviction for corruption crimes. At the same point of the campaign, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally and campaigned from his hospital bed and from his home until Election Day. The commotion caused by this violent event restrained his rivals’ negative ads against his electoral platform and political discourses. He did not take part in TV debates with other candidates, a contest highly valued by Brazilian voters. Instead, he broadcast himself extensively using social media and, at the same time, he blocked his running mate and economic adviser from taking a public position on sensitive issues of his electoral platform. In addition, the electoral process was heavily poisoned by misinformation, rumors and fake news disseminated through social media by campaigners and extremist supporters.

But, is this only an exceptional election, or a turning point in Brazilian politics? We are probably witnessing a more radical change than occurred with the first victory of a leftist party at the presidential level in 2002. This is signaled not only by Bolsonaro’s profile and his path to the presidential seat. He is the most visible face in this process. Other electoral effects reveal a shift far beyond that.

First, the political polarization has assumed a centrifugal dynamic in this election. The political divide evolved into voter fury against the political establishment, mainly the most presidentialized parties. These anti-system feelings and strong rejection of established parties has spread to legislative and subnational races. Electorally, it boosted the Bolsonaro candidacy, but also changed the face of the legislative branch. The electoral volatility showed a considerable transfer of votes to right-wing parties. Although Bolsonaro´s party was the most rewarded, several small parties also gained seats. The seat-shares of the centrist parties reduced considerably, raising concerns about their pivotal roles in moderating legislative decisions in the next legislature. On the left side, parties maintained their legislative strengths, given the coattail effects of their presidential candidates, ending the presidential race in the second and third positions. However, it shadows the future of a stronger, united opposition to Bolsonaro’s government.

It led to a second consequence, a higher legislative fragmentation. The effective numbers of the parties (EFN) was raised to 16.5 and 13.5, in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, respectively. It showed not only changes in the interparty competition within the congress. The anti-establishment feelings also triggered a tsunami of legislative turnover, skyrocketing to 52% and 48% of legislators in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, respectively. It greatly benefited conservative outsiders and freshmen candidates, mostly affiliated with right-wing parties. The conservative-leaning seat-shares has increased considerably with the election of religious-minded and military deputies. However, it is still not clear how aligned they are with the liberal reforms in the economic policy area. Thus, the next congress will be not only more fragmented, but also populated by cross-pressured legislators.

It raises the cost of forming political majorities, even if the president decides to walk away from coalitional presidentialism and govern through ad hoc coalitions. Thus, the expectations that 2018 elections would foster the conditions to overcome five years of political and economic turmoil in Brazil seems to be unrealistic.

Georgia – Presidential election: First-round results and expectations for the second round

The last direct presidential election in Georgia before the constitutional change to indirect election was held on October 28. The presidency will be weakened following last year’s constitutional amendments. However, the battle for the presidency has still been intense.

A large number of candidates contested the presidential election, but the results of the first round showed that the main fight was between the so-called Independent Candidate but, in effect, the candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Salome Zourabichvili, and Grigol Vashadze, who was nominated by the United National Movement. Despite claims by the ruling party that its candidate had won at the first round, the Central Election Commission confirmed that a second round would be needed. In the end, the Central Election Commission announced that Salome Zurabishvili had won 38.64% in the first round and Grigol Vashadze 37.74%. Davit Bakradze from the European Union came third with 10.97%.

source: Photo from https://on.ge/elections/2018/results

These results were somewhat unexpected for the ruling party. However, confidence in Georgian Dream is very low as the country’s socio-economic situation has deteriorated significantly and citizens are dissatisfied with the government’s activity. If we look at the election results, we see that just 46.74% of the electorate participated in the elections. The outcome of the election is a protest against the policies of the ruling party. For example, Zourabichvili’s statements regarding relations with Russia and the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 were not supported by a large part of society. Most voters supported pro-Western political parties. In addition, Georgian Dream lost support because they did not have a candidate from their own party. The general secretary of the party said that citizens sent us a message that many things in the country need to be replaced, quickly and efficiently, and taking into consideration the interests of each citizen.[10] However, Gedevan Popkhadze, a member of the parliamentary majority said that if Grigol Vashadze were to win the presidential election, this would be a real step towards the beginning of the civil war.

The second round will be very tense as the opposition candidate has a real chance to win. At the same time, though, Georgian Dream will need to persuade those voters who did not come to the polls to vote at the second round and support their candidate. It is equally important for the opposition forces to support each other. The European Union’s candidate, Davit Bakradze, said that he would support Grigol Vashadze. He was also supported by the Republican Party, which did not have its own candidate in the presidential election. Zurab Japaridze, the presidential candidate of Girchy, said that he would vote for Grigol Vashadze in the second round. The candidate of the Labor Party will not support any candidate. The leader of the Free Democrats, Levan Samushia, called on voters to choose Grigol Vashadze. The Patriots Alliance announced that they and the government are “natural partners” and that they will support Salome Zourabichvili. [1]

One of the nationalist groups, “Georgian Mars”, said that the Georgian Dream needed to take two steps to get their support: announce that there will be no marijuana cultivation law and early parliamentary elections. [2] The position of the Georgian Orthodox Church is important in the elections. The Catholic Patriarch of Georgia met with representatives of the Georgian Dream and then the candidate of the United Opposition Grigol Vashadze. The candidate of the United Opposition said at the meeting with the Patriarch of the meeting that the second round should be held in a democratic environment without any insult and confrontation. [3]

Everybody knows that the fight in this election is not just for a presidential post whose power is formally restricted and whose deliberate weakening and discrediting has been carried out by Georgian Dream since 2013. In the second round, voters will have to make a difficult decision. On the one hand, confidence in the ruling party is very low. On the other hand, the government is threatening voters that if they support the opposition, former President Saakashvili and his government will return to Georgia. One thing is clear. The division of power today is essential and the victory of the opposition candidate in the presidential election will be more useful for the country’s future democratic development.

Notes

[1] ვინ ვის (არ) დაუჭერს მხარს II ტურში  http://netgazeti.ge/news/315636/

[2] ქართული-მარში-მეორე-ტურში-ზურაბიშვილის-მხარდაჭერისთვის-ოცნებას-მოთხოვნებს-უყენებს https://on.ge/story/29685

[3] https://1tv.ge/news/grigol-vashadze-patriarqtan-shekhvedraze-visaubrebt-rom-meore-turi-mshvid-demokratiul-garemoshi-sheurackhyofebisa-da-dapirispirebebis-gareshe-unda-chatardes/

Gary Murphy – The Irish Presidential Election of October 2018

This is a guest post by Gary Murphy, Professor of Politics in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

The re-election of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland has been widely welcomed across the Irish political landscape. His overwhelming victory on the first count with 55.8 per cent of the first preference vote has vindicated the decision of the two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support him. The 822,566 first preference votes he received is by some distance the largest number of votes ever secured by a candidate in an Irish presidential election. The turnout in the election was, however, the lowest in Irish presidential history at just 43.3 per cent.

Higgins was first elected in October 2011 for a seven year term from a total of six candidates and has proven to be a very popular president. He has what one might call the common touch. He presided with great dignity over the state’s hundred anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising which heralded the beginning of the move towards Irish independence in 1921, and became the first Irish president to lead an official state visit to Britain in 2014.

For pretty much all of his pre-presidential political life Higgins was a devout exponent of left-wing causes both internationally and domestically. Many were fashionable in certain avant-garde circles but had little wider resonance. His two short spells in Cabinet between January 1993 and June 1997 as Minister for Arts, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht were the oases around long barren spells in the political wilderness. Even when Labour was in government in the 1970s and 1980s, Higgins was against coalition. Then came the economic crash, the presidential election of 2011 and a political career that had all the signs of petering out to a footnote in Irish history was dramatically resurrected. Higgins’s victory had a type of last man standing quality about it. As his opponents were undone one by one by various foibles the avuncular Higgins was duly elected winning 39.6 per cent of the first preference vote.

In office Higgins has remained true to his beliefs and has made a number of speeches critical of what he sees as the global neoliberal project. He caused some controversy with his encomium on the death of the Cuban leader Fidel Casto in November 2016 where he praised Casto’s record on human rights but this was entirely consistent with his long held views of anti-colonialism and his opposition to American foreign policy. He has, however, been very careful not to overstep the constitutional boundaries of his office and made no specific criticisms of the Irish government’s policies during his seven year term.

Higgins showed a nimble dexterity in getting out of his original promise to only serve one term as President by solemnly declaring that while he did at one stage say that getting through one term was the length of his aspirations he decided he had to run again to build upon the very solid foundations he had laid in office. In that context he used his constitutional prerogative to nominate himself and the major political parties rowed in behind him.

Getting on to the Irish presidential ballot is a rather byzantine affair and is dominated by the political parties. While an incumbent can nominate themselves other candidates must either get the backing of twenty members of the Oireachtas which consists of 160 members of Dáil Eireann (the lower house) and 60 members of Seanad Eireann (the upper house), or four of the country’s 31 city and county councils, most of which are dominated by political parties.

Only one of Ireland’s political parties, Sinn Féin, decided to use their members of the Oireachtas to nominate a presidential candidate. When Mary Lou McDonald took over as Sinn Féin party leader in February 2018 she stated that she would like to see the party contest the election. Even though it had been clear for some time that President Higgins was more than likely going to run again, McDonald was determined that Sinn Féin would put forward their own candidate to challenge the popular incumbent. In mid-September the party duly nominated Liadh Ní Riada, one of its Members of the European Parliament to be its standard bearer in the election.

Most political observers were of the view that Sinn Féin would use the election campaign as a vehicle to accelerate its political momentum in the Republic of Ireland. The widespread perception was that while Sinn Féin could not realistically expect Ní Riada to mount a serious challenge to Higgins it expected to come a strong second and increase the 13.7 per cent of the vote its candidate Martin McGuinness secured in the 2011 contest and the 13.8 per cent of the vote it received in Ireland’s February 2016 general election.

When Eamon de Valera wrote the constitution in 1937 getting the support of four county or city councils for a presidential nomination would have been a gargantuan task given that Ireland was essentially a two party state and the councils were dominated by members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who displayed strict loyalty to their party candidate. But since 1997 when the council route was first used to nominate independent candidates councillors have become somewhat intoxicated by the one real national power they have and 2018 became the third election in a row where independent candidates managed to get on the ballot through this route.

In comparative terms the Irish presidency is essentially a weak office. Presidents have very few constitutional powers of which to avail and so limited are these powers that a president has essentially no room for independent action. Nevertheless the draw of the presidency is such that the presidential elections of 2011 and 2018 have seen numerous candidates attempt to use the council route to get their name on the ballot. In 2011 three candidates were successful by dint of this route and this rose to four in 2018. These were Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, and Seán Gallagher, who had come second to Higgins in 2011. Rather bizarrely, Casey, Duffy and Gallagher had all been part of the popular RTE television programme, Dragons Den, where the so-called dragons decided whether to invest in ideas and businesses pitched to them by putative entrepreneurs. Freeman, by contrast, was a noted campaigner for mental health initiatives and had established one of Ireland’s largest charity organisations, Pieta House.

Gallagher was a late entrant to the campaign and had received some notoriety after having sued RTE over the 2011 campaign. He had held a substantial lead until the last week of that campaign and argued that the state broadcaster’s behaviour in a television debate essentially cost him the election. This suit was not settled until December 2017. By the middle of September all four had received the required amount of nominations from the country councils and a short five week campaign of six candidates began. Four opinion polls held between 16 September 2018 and 16 October 2018 were very consistent and showed Higgins with a massive lead of close to 70 per cent, Gallagher in the low teens and the rest in single figures. The strong Sinn Féin challenge never materialised. Gallagher’s campaign was nowhere near his 2011 showing and the other independents gained no traction with the voters.

This changed dramatically in the last ten days of what had been a relatively dull campaign up to then. There has been various mutterings about supposed lavish expenses being incurred by Higgins but these gained little momentum and it appeared that none of the candidates could offer a persuasive case to unseat the incumbent. Then in a podcast interview with a national news organisation Peter Casey made somewhat incendiary comments about the travelling community wherein he criticised the decision by the Dáil to give formal recognition to Travellers as a distinct ethic group in 2017 and claimed that they were basically camping on other people’s land. He also vociferously criticised many people on social welfare claiming that Ireland had become a welfare-dependent state, with people having a sense of entitlement that had become unaffordable.

Casey was widely criticised by the other candidates and various media commentators but his comments seemed to strike a chord with various parts of the electorate and he continued with these themes in a number of media debates over the last week of the campaign. Casey had never been at more than 2 per cent in any of the polls taken during the campaign but when two exit polls were released after voting had finished on Friday 26 October he was close to 21 per cent. When the votes were counted he had received 342,727 first preferences and 23.3 per cent of the votes. The most likely explanation for the rise in the Casey vote is that it was a protest against the political establishment added with elements of prejudice against marginalised groups. The other challengers all polled in single figures with Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riadh polling a disastrous 6.38 per cent to finish fourth.

Incumbency proved to be a real advantage for Higgins. The electorate were clearly happy with their president who had represented them with distinction abroad and had caused no real controversy at home. Given the constraints of the office it was extremely difficult for the other candidates to offer a persuasive case of why they should replace him. Ultimately in a resounding manner the Irish electorate were quite happy to settle for a repeat of the last seven years of the Higgins presidency safe in the knowledge that the next seven are likely to see a continuation of a safe pair of hands as their head of state.

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.