Tag Archives: presidential election

Fabian Burkhardt – The non-campaign of the 2018 presidential election in Russia

Keep Navalny out, programmatic statements to a minimum, and turnout up. If one had to summarize the non-campaign of the 2018 presidential elections from the Kremlin’s vantage point in one sentence, this would probably be it. It will most likely go down in history as the most uninspiring presidential election in Russia’s post-Soviet history. Even President Vladimir Putin’s campaign slogan “A strong president – a strong Russia” had been copy-pasted from Boris Yeltsin’s 1993 referendum campaign. The incumbent is slated to win the elections on 18 March with a landslide and will then embark on his fourth presidential term ending in 2024 which – according to the constitution – would be his last six years in power as president. Vladimir Putin’s anticipated status as a “lame duck” in conjunction with the non-competitive, largely predetermined and non-programmatic nature of the campaign has led many analysts to speculate about the “arrival of a post-Putin Russia.” Nevertheless, elections under authoritarianism are not void of meaning. From a functional perspective, researchers conclude that “the role of Russian elections has evolved from information-gathering and co-optation to primarily signaling the regime’s strength and sporadically dividing and embarrassing the opposition.”[i] And indeed, signaling strength by showing strong turnout and splitting the non-parliamentary opposition seemed to be high on the agenda of the presidential administration.

The setup

The incumbent Vladimir Putin announced he would run again for president on 6 December 2017. This unusually late announcement three months before the election fits the overall impression of Putin’s campaign: The campaign trail and programmatic statements were reduced to a minimum. In fact, only the presidential address to the Federal Assembly on 1 March gave the broader public a glimpse into how Putin views the next six years, a vision analysts called “conservative technocracy”. Among the other seven registered candidates, two are outright spoilers (Sergei Baburin and Maksim Suraikin). Two represent parliamentary “systemic” opposition parties: Vladimir Zhirinovsky for the LDPR and Pavel Grudinin for the Communist Party (CPRF). Zhirinovsky has been a regular at presidential elections since 1991. In 2018, too, he played his role well of a scandalous, anti-Western, far-right scarecrow and clown that makes everyone else look well-behaved and decent. Shortly before his candidacy was announced, Pavel Grudinin himself did not know he would replace the CPRF’s long-term general secretary Gennady Zyuganov. Grudinin is not a party member, but was actively promoted by the leftist former protest leader Sergey Udaltsov during the party primaries. As director of the Lenin-Sovkhoz (sic) he merges both a capitalist and pro-Soviet or even Stalinist world view. As a newcomer his popularity quickly rose to higher single digits in official polls, but state television was quick to launch a smear campaign against him. This lead to speculation that his candidacy had not been agreed with the presidential administration or whether it signified infighting of various groups within the elite. Otherwise, Boris Titov – chairman of the Right Cause party and acting business ombudsman officially accountable to the president – admitted that he does not consider himself as a genuine candidate and sees the campaign rather as an opportunity to follow up on his cause as a business representative by other means. Grigory Yavlinsky, the co-founder and long-term leader of the liberal Yabloko party once more decided to take part in the election after he had not been registered in 2012, but observers describe his campaign as half-hearted at best. Probably the biggest surprise was the candidacy of journalist and socialite Kseniya Sobchak. During the campaign she has tried her best to convince the public that she was not a spoiler launched by the presidential administration although she did admit she had informed Vladimir Putin (who had worked under her father in the St. Petersburg city hall) about her plans. The amount of airtime on state TV she receives attests to claims that she fits the presidential administration’s plans rather well. Overall, it remains to be seen whether she aims to capitalize on the publicity she has received to increase the number of Instagram followers she has or to launch a new political party in the future. On the other hand, she has received praise from human rights defenders for speaking out in favor of some repressed activists like Yury Dmitriev and Oyub Titiev.

Boosting turnout to convey strength

Signaling strength to the elite, opposition and the wider population is among the core functions of authoritarian elections[ii]. Despite Putin’s approval ratings, which have remained above 80% since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, this “approval” for various reasons does not automatically translate into electoral turnout in favor of the incumbent. In general, turnout has been declining across presidential, parliamentary, and gubernatorial elections (Figure 1). Nevertheless, this decline has been least pronounced for presidential elections, therefore a turnout between 65 and 70 percent might still be in the cards.

Given Vladimir Putin’s predominance in Russia’s state media and public sphere in normal times, pushing his person during the election campaign even more could backfire. Quite the contrary, at times observers have had the impression that the presidential administration has tried to restrict Putin’s election-related campaign events and TV reporting.

Overall, two main strategies to boost turnout can be identified. The first is a massive public relations and ads campaign launched by the Central Election Commission to inform citizens about the upcoming election. The official budget of the CEC for public relations amounts to 770 million rubles (13.6 million USD), but reports indicate that many companies voluntarily place information on the upcoming elections. Mobile telecom operators sent SMS text messages, the state services website Gosuslugi emailed users on behalf of the CEC, and companies ranging from the retailer Magnit to gas stations and Burger King placed election-related information on their receipts. Large state companies such as Aeroflot, Sberbank or VTB also placed ads on their websites, celebrities placed paid-for posts on Instagram, and youth TV channel ran clips about the most fashionable event of the spring.

Second, recent research[iii] has demonstrated that voter intimidation and mobilization at the workplace is an important component of elections in Russia. Frye, Reuter, and Szakonyi (2018) report that during the 2012 presidential election campaign “17 per cent of employed respondents experienced intimidation by their employers.” Future research will have to investigate the scale of workplace mobilization during the 2018 elections, but at this point we already have evidence that especially large companies are preparing to do so, such as the Chelyabinsk-based metal producer Mechel or the oil giant Rosneft. It is also crucial to keep in mind that this is as much a bottom-up as a top-down phenomenon. Given the large dominance of the state in the Russian economy, large companies have significant incentives to demonstrate loyalty to the state because they might be treated with sticks such as reprisals in form of oversight bodies or even expropriation, or with carrots such as a preferential treatment with state contracts.

To boycott or not to boycott, and comparative politics

While Sobchak’s campaign started from a mostly apolitical (“Sobchak against all”) slogan to a more political and programmatic platform (For Sobchak), Aleksey Navalny’s bid was political from the very beginning with a strong organizational component. His Foundation for the Fight against Corruption (FBK) managed to sign up more than 700,000 supporters and opened 81 regional headquarters all over Russia. Moreover, especially in the first half of 2017 Navalny managed to stage two comparatively successful protest marches with a strong regional focus in March and June despite increasing pressure from the authorities. In November 2017, for example, he announced that his employees in Moscow and the regions (i.e. not counting volunteers and supporters) had spent more than 2000 hours under arrest and had paid more than 10 million rubles (USD 175,000) in fines. As there is little doubt he would have been able to collect the 300,000 signatures demanded by law, Navalny announced a “voters’ strike” (Zabastovka izbiratelei) after the Central Election Commission rejected his bid to register officially as a candidate on 25 December 2017. Given the resources invested by Navalny, a “boycott” seemed rational, but this automatically pitted him against Sobchak and Yavlinsky. From the perspective of the Kremlin, this constellation was ideal for splitting the opposition with a minimum of effort by the presidential administration itself. What ensued was a rather fierce and at times self-destructive debate by supporters of the various camps about the perils and virtues of electoral boycotts. Electoral mathematicians such as Sergey Shpilkin and Andrei Buzin argued that a boycott that comprised only opposition supporters, but not Putin voters, would only marginally decrease turnout, but inevitably increase Putin’s vote. Notable political scientists such as Grigory Golosov and Aleksandr Kynev support the boycott. Quite interestingly, the debate frequently made reference to boycotts around the world. The most-cited reference was Matthew Frankel’s 2010 paper “Threaten but participate: Why election boycotts are a bad idea”[iv] who argued that boycotts are rarely the correct strategy unless the opposition has widespread public support. But even supporters of the boycott found arguments in the Frankel piece that seemed to underscore their position, therefore cherry-picking among expert opinions and academic writings for political purposes was widespread. The whole debate illuminates blank spots in the reasoning and what the various political actors omitted. First, not much has been written about electoral boycotts in comparative politics, so it seems doubtful whether it is actually possible to draw robust conclusions “from the literature” for the Russian case. Second, Navalny’s ”voters’ strike” counts as a “minor boycott” at best. But comparative research so far has predominantly focused on major boycotts. In the most comprehensive work on boycotts to date, Emily Beaulieau only includes those boycotts in which more than 50% of the opposition takes part[v]. And third, the public debate mostly focused on the depression of turnout to harm Vladimir Putin’s claim to legitimacy, but other crucial aspects are kept quiet about. Staffan Lindberg found that boycotts are often positively correlated with electoral violence[vi]. Moreover, oppositional actors preferred to ignore that boycotts are frequently associated with a post-electoral crackdown by the authoritarian regime, and that the long-term prospects of democratization in the aftermath of boycotts are rather bleak[vii]. Overall, the debate on boycotts was rather superficial, but managed to drive a wedge between various opposition actors.

Election monitoring

Navalny and his team underscored that the election boycott was only one element of his strategy of voters’ strike, other elements include nation-wide protests and election monitoring. In fact, right after Navalny was denied official registration as a candidate he announced that his regional campaign headquarters would be transformed into election monitoring headquarters that would help organize and train the regional independent monitoring on election day. In early March, his website boasted more than 45,000 registered election monitors with an overall aim of 50-70,000 (there will be more than 95,000 polling stations). More crucially, while the debate on a boycott was mostly divisive, the election monitoring initiative seems to have led to some collective action and cooperation, and therefore also to a build-up of trust, social capital and experience among opposition actors. In late January, former Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov, who is largely supportive of Yabloko, reached an agreement with Navalny: Gudkov aimed to cover all of Moscow’s 3500 polling stations with two observers (in early March 5500 had registered on his website), and Gudkov and Navalny would share expertise and training capacities.

While the scale and effect of this monitoring campaign remains to be seen, in the light of recent research this strategy seems to be justified from the opposition’s point of view. Rodion Skovoroda and Tomila Lankina, for instance, show that “reports by independent observers of subnational electoral irregularities could be employed as reasonably reliable indicators of fraud, and could be utilized alongside other data to ascertain the incidence of misconduct in Russia and other settings”[viii] In an another paper on Russian regional politics, Skovoroda and Lankina find that election fraud has the potential to generate protest[ix]. Depending on the degree of electoral fraud and the quality of election monitoring, the signaling effect and potential ensuing protests could actually prove more effective in delegitimizing the elections than the boycott which has been so divisive for opposition actors.

Constitutional politics and presidential power

The presidential campaign has once more highlighted how the expansion of constitutional and subconstitutional presidential powers[x] and the “rule by law” bolsters authoritarianism.

Navalny’s non-registration: On 25 December 2017 the Russian Central Election Commission refused to register Aleksei Navalny as a presidential candidate. In its decision the CEC argued that Navalny did not possess the passive right to be elected president due to his five year suspended criminal conviction in the Kirovles 2 case. The CEC’s point of reference was the federal law “On the elections of the President of the Russian Federation”, which states that persons convicted of severe or very severe crimes cannot be elected. Navalny, for his part, argues that Art. 32 of the Russian constitution only bans those citizens from being elected that are “kept in places of confinement by a court sentence.” Therefore, Russian federal law is more restrictive than the constitution which – as the supreme juridicial force with direct action – in Navalny’s and some notable constitutional lawyers’ reading should therefore trump federal law. Both the Russian Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court declined to review the Navalny case on the merits. Moreover, Navalny filed a second petition with the European Court of Human Rights arguing that the repeated Kirovles 2 decision was handed down with major procedural irregularities. It is expected that the ECHR – just as in its first sentence on Kirovles 1 – will decide in favor of Navalny. In September 2017, the Council of Europe’s Council of Ministers already had appealed to Russia to allow Navalny to stand for elections.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly: Russia’s equivalent of the American State of the Union Address is usually held by the president every year. In 2017, however, Putin failed to deliver the address to the Russian political elite, a first in the post-Soviet Russian history. If the address is regarded as a duty, and not as a prerogative of the president, then Putin’s omission has to be interpreted as a violation of the constitution. In addition, in February the date of the address was postponed several times and finally took place only on 1 March. Due to the close proximity to the elections, the speech was in fact an address of the main presidential candidate, and not the president, to the political elite, and therefore not only dilutes the constitutional meaning of the address, but also even more distorts the electoral playing field in Putin’s favor.

Presidential term limit: Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 for his third term was accompanied by a debate about the meaning of paragraph 3 of Art. 81 of the constitution that “one and the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running [dva sroka podryad]”. Many founding fathers of the constitution argued that this formulation essentially copied and implied the French meaning “two consecutive terms” that would not allow another term, even if the third was not consecutive as in Putin’s case. Kseniya Sobchak reinvigorated this debate by filing a lawsuit with the Supreme Court the aim of which was to achieve a ban of Vladimir Putin running for president in 2018. As expected, the SC confirmed that Vladimir Putin’s registration as a candidate by the CEC was lawful. Nevertheless, both Sobchak’s petition and her speech at the SC as well as her lawyer’s comment on the SC’s justification of its appellate ruling will be useful for posterity to judge Vladimir Putin’s presidency. Sobchak claims that a Constitutional Court ruling from 1998, a SC ruling from 2001 as well as a textbook written by the current chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin clearly underscore that one person cannot occupy the post of the president more than two times. But more interestingly, she also argues that Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin admitted on multiple occasions that they secretly conspired to retain the presidency within their elite group. In Sobchak’s reading, this plot constitutes a usurpation of power: even when Vladimir Putin was prime minister he de facto controlled the presidency and therefore in 2018 he has already held the presidency for four consecutive terms. Needless to say, the SC did not expand on the alleged secret deal. But still her legal reasoning resonates with Alexander Baturo’s work on term limits and continuismo[xi].

These three examples illustrate that talks about a post-Putin Russia appear to be premature at this point. At least the legal and political barriers for extending his rule beyond 2024 are low. More crucial still is what Henry Hale has called “the great power of expectations”[xii]. Vladimir Putin will leave the presidency voluntarily or by force only when a significantly large part of the elite will expect him to be weak. Monitoring and assessing these elite beliefs and expectations will be essential for Vladimir Putin’s fourth – or fifth – term to understand whether it will be his last, or not.

Notes

[i] Zavadskaya, M., Grömping, M., & i Coma, F. M. (2017). Electoral Sources of Authoritarian Resilience in Russia: Varieties of Electoral Malpractice, 2007–2016. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 25(4), 480.

[ii] Simpser, A. (2013). Why governments and parties manipulate elections: theory, practice, and implications. Cambridge University Press.

[iii] Frye, T., Reuter, O. J., & Szakonyi, D. (2018). Hitting Them with Carrots: Voter Intimidation and Vote Buying In Russia. British Journal of Political Science, 1-25.

[iv] Frankel, M. (2010). “Threaten but participate: Why election boycotts are a bad idea. Brookings Policy Paper, Nr. 19, 1-12.

[v] Beaulieu, E. (2014). Electoral protest and democracy in the developing world. Cambridge University Press.

[vi] Lindberg, S. I. (2006). When Do Opposition Parties Participate? In: Schedler, A. Electoral Authoritarianism. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 149-163.

[vii] Smith, I. O. (2014). Election boycotts and hybrid regime survival. Comparative Political Studies47(5), 743-765.

[viii] Skovoroda, R., & Lankina, T. (2017). Fabricating votes for Putin: new tests of fraud and electoral manipulations from Russia. Post-Soviet Affairs33(2), 100-123.

[ix] Lankina, T., & Skovoroda, R. (2017). Regional protest and electoral fraud: evidence from analysis of new data on Russian protest. East European Politics33(2), 253-274.

[x] Burkhardt, F. (2017). The institutionalization of relative advantage: formal institutions, subconstitutional presidential powers, and the rise of authoritarian politics in Russia, 1994–2012. Post-Soviet Affairs33(6), 472-495.

[xi] See pages 49 to 53 for Baturo’s discussion of the extension of term limits and the Russian case: Baturo, A. (2014). Democracy, dictatorship, and term limits. University of Michigan Press.

[xii] Hale, H. E. (2014). Patronal politics: Eurasian regime dynamics in comparative perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Cyprus – Continuity and change after the 2018 presidential election

The 2018 presidential election in the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) saw the re-election of incumbent president, Nicos Anastasiades, although in more difficult conditions than five years previously. In 2013, he was elected relatively easily, riding the wave of anti-government feeling at a time of worsening economic conditions and intense critique of the former leftist government. In 2018, the situation was different in many respects. This included the fact that he had lost the backing of his former centrist ally (DIKO) and was supported only by his (rightist) party DISY and because of the standard negative effects of incumbency, particularly after some harsh economic decisions, notably the first ever ‘bail-in’ in the EU, which led to increased economic uncertainty and distress among the population.

However, and despite the above, in last Sunday’s election President Anastasiades won 56% of the vote against 44% for Stavros Malas. This was a very similar result to the 2013 election when the same contesters polled 57.48% and 42.52% respectively. For many people, the result made it seem as if the previous 5 years had not taken place. In analysing the results and identifying the reasons and the consequences, this post must be read as a follow up from my previous post in which I analysed the context within which these presidential elections took place.

The issue in the first round was centered on who would face Anastasiades in the second round and whether there would be any room for cooperation between that candidate and the candidates and parties who failed to qualify. In the end, Malas and AKEL polled 30.24%, which was a lot more than anticipated. Therefore, Malas and AKEL were among the definite winners of the first round. The first round had another winner though: the extreme right candidate Christos Christou, the leader of the extreme neo-Nazi party ELAM, who polled 5.65% (up from the 3.7% that his party scored in the 2016 parliamentary elections).

Anastasiades, though coming first, scored 35.51%, which was much lower than expected. He can, therefore, be ranked among the losers of the first round. However, the definite loser of the first round was Nikolas Papadopoulos, who campaigned mostly on the Cyprus problem and who polled 25.74% (approximately 6% down from the total sum of the aggregate vote of the four parties that supported him). The latter seemed to be an indirect indication that the majority of the voters still support the bizonal bicommunal federation as the most acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem.

Abstention reached 28.12%, almost 10% up from 2013, showing that it is a structural feature of Cypriot electoral behaviour, while at the same time it has not reached its ceiling. Exit polls revealed that abstention was much higher among younger cohorts.

The second round revealed an entirely different setting. There, Anastasiades cruised to victory by a clear margin. Although abstention was a little lower than the first round (26.03%), it was still high by Cyprus’ usual standards. More worryingly, the president-elect was actually voted in by a minority of the electorate. Abstention excluded, Anastasiades’ polled 39.1% of the electorate compared to his 43.4% in 2013 and Christofias’ 44.6% in 2008; these figures do not include those who did not register to the electoral lists, or approximately 30,000 people.

Anastasiades’ election can be explained by a variety of factors. The include, first, the fragmentation of the opposition. They won a majority in the first round, totalling approximately 65%. However, its different constituent parts could not strike an agreement for the second round. This placed Anastasiades in an advantageous position allowing him to maneuver effectively. All the parties and candidates who failed to qualify for the second round decided to support neither of the remaining candidates, which was arguably more damaging to Malas.

Second, Anastasiades’ narrative focused on the need to continue a cautious policy with regard to the economy but a decisive attitude with regard to the Cyprus problem; this combination seemed to appeal to voters more than the narratives of his major opponents, Papadopoulos and Malas. Papadopoulos’ new strategy on the Cyprus problem was ambiguous and unclear, thus causing anxiety and uncertainty, whereas Malas’ association with AKEL reminded them of Christofias’ presidency which was judged as bad, particularly in the economy. Both candidates failed to produce and present a convincing, coherent and applicable programme to the voters.

A third reason lies with Anastasiades U-turn in regard to the Cyprus problem in the last few months. The president adopted a more hard-line position, projecting himself as the only candidate who could assertively defend Greek Cypriots’ rights at the negotiation table. This U-turn enabled him to reach out to the more nationalist voters of his own party (DISY) who had considered him too soft towards the Turkish Cypriots and also of other center right and right-wing parties. The nationalist portion of the electorate in Cyprus remains high and this U-turn proved decisive.

The elections revealed interesting insights with regard to Cyprus’ political and party system, indicating mixed signs of change and continuity. Signs of change have been evident for some time now. Partisan attachments are fading away with younger generations not feeling bound by their families’ choices. Cyprus has been experiencing a process of dealignment for a few years now, but without any realignment except in the case of the extreme right ELAM. Interestingly, their party leader achieved a bigger percentage in the presidential elections (5.7%) than his party did a year and a half back in the parliamentary elections of 2016 (3.7%), which is something that he could potentially capitalise on in the near future. However, increased abstention, protest voting and citizens’ dissatisfaction with the overall workings of the political system indicate the existence of a political vacuum in which new organizations, movements and/or parties could enter.

Another interesting new feature of this election which might be revealing for the future was the inability and unwillingness of political parties to reach agreements and make alliances with each other. This was the first time in Cyprus’ presidential election history that candidates and parties did not seek an agreement between the first and the second round. This was justified by their wish not to water down their positions. This was well-received by part of the media and their supporters, but it could also be a sign of their inability to reach a consensus. Moreover, the intense and polarized confrontation between most of the parties, as well as their divergent positions on several dimensions of party competition shows that most opportunities for cooperation have been severely damaged, which in turn points to the difficulties ahead for the president.

The parties that populate the space between the leftist AKEL and rightist DISY have declared their intention to further enhance their cooperation beyond the mere joint support of a common presidential candidate. Their intention is to create a powerful ‘third pole’ in the party system that will pursue power and policies autonomously. Although this is a difficult task to achieve, given their different political and personal agendas and their internal problems, if they do succeed it could change the nature and format of party politics in Cyprus given the fragmentation of the centrist political space hitherto. At the same time, it will place significant pressure on the new president since he will face harsh opposition from two discrete blocs (left and center).

Signs of continuity are also evident particularly with regard to the effects of bipolarism (left and right). The mainstream parties of both left and right, AKEL and DISY, continue to dominate their respective political spheres and have proven their endurance despite their problems. In this regard, the ‘old’ party system has once again proven powerful enough to absorb the shocks and survive.

What is the future for the president elect? It has been pointed out by many commentators that the president will immediately face numerous challenges and will not benefit from any honeymoon period. These challenges include, inter alia, the possible resumption of the negotiations over the Cyprus problem, difficult decisions in the economy (e.g., privatizations, seizure of properties by the banks and many more), the developments with regard to Cyprus’ natural gas deposits, etc. All these decisions must be made in the context of a polarised and hostile environment, particularly in parliament where president Anastasiades does not enjoy a majority anymore. Although Cyprus is a presidential democracy, the president nevertheless has to achieve consensus or at least a majority in many bills. Both AKEL and the parties of the so-called middle space have declared their intention to oppose the president on all fronts. Achieving consensus will be increasingly difficult from now on.

Overall, President Anastasiades has to walk a very thin line. He was voted in with 21,000 votes less than in 2013. More importantly, 335,000 voters did not vote for him (143,401 who abstained, 12,173 blank votes, 10,778 spoilt ballots, and 169,243 citizens who voted for Malas) compared to the 215,281 who did vote for him. To ignore this arithmetic would be a huge mistake, particularly on high salience issues such as the Cyprus problem and the economy. Moreover, he can no longer blame the previous government.

Finland – Niinistö re-elected in the first round with 62.6 % of the vote

In the first round of the Finnish presidential elections held last Sunday, 28 January, the incumbent Sauli Niinistö secured his re-election with a comfortable 62,6 % of the vote. This was the first time the president was elected already in the first round since the move to direct elections in 1988 / 1994. Turnout was 69,9 % (including only those resident in Finland), just below the 70,1 % achieved in the latest parliamentary elections held in 2015.
Elected in 2012 as the candidate of the National Coalition, the conservative party that he chaired from 1994 to 2001, Niinistö had announced last May that he would seek re-election as an independent candidate. The National Coalition nonetheless indicated that it would endorse Niinistö’s campaign, and the party indeed campaigned quite actively in support of Niinistö. Also the Christian Democrats had decided to support Niinistö instead of fielding their own candidate.

Niinistö was the clear favourite throughout the campaign. In all surveys conducted since last summer between 60-80 % said they would vote for Niinistö. Contextual factors favoured the president. The war in Ukraine and the overall aggressive foreign policy of Russia have increased tensions in the neighbouring area, with these circumstances facilitating presidential activism. Bilateral ties with Russia became more important, and Niinistö’s high-profile meetings with Putin and other leaders received extensive friendly media coverage. Here one needs to remember that Finns are used to seeing the president as the guarantor of national security, and the unusually high approval ratings indicate that voters appreciated Niinistö’s foreign and security policy leadership. Another, quite different, type of a boost to Niinistö’s campaign came in the form of an announcement in October by the president and his wife Jenni Haukio that they were expecting a baby in February. Niinistö, who turns 70 in August, has also two adult sons from his previous marriage.

As the voters clearly approved of Niinistö’s track record in office, the other ‘mainstream’ candidates found it extremely difficult to challenge him. The constitutional prerogatives of the president are essentially limited to co-leading foreign and security policy with the government, and the debates largely focused on familiar themes – relations with Russia, the EU and NATO. To be sure, there were some relatively minor differences, with the left-leaning candidates – Merja Kyllönen (Left Alliance), Tuula Haatainen (Social Democrats), and Pekka Haavisto (Green League) – emphasizing global issues and equality, with Niinistö and Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) in turn adopting more ‘realist’ positions. This was most evident in debates concerning relations with China, as two giant pandas donated by China arrived in Finland in mid-January. Nils Torvalds (Swedish People’s Party) in turn was the only candidate openly supportive of NATO membership.

At least some colour and ideological alternatives were brought to the campaign by Laura Huhtasaari (The Finns Party) and Paavo Väyrynen, currently an MEP and a long-standing, popular yet controversial, Centre Party politician who was now running as an independent candidate having been the presidential candidate of the Centre Party in the 1988, 1994 and 2012 elections. Both Huhtasaari and Väyrynen utilized anti-EU discourse, with Huhtasaari in particular also advocating much stronger powers for the president, including the right to dissolve the parliament. Such sentiments are shared by the electorate, with surveys reporting that the majority of the Finns would favour a stronger presidency and that the president should be also involved in domestic politics and EU affairs. The other candidates appeared by and large willing to respect the constitutional division of labour between the state institutions, but essentially all of them nonetheless flirted with the idea of an active president that would also, if needed, intervene in domestic matters.

Turning to the results, appealing primarily to the more liberal, urban, green-left younger voters, Haavisto finished second with 12,4 % of the vote. This was obviously a clear disappointment, given that six years earlier Haavisto had made it to the second round against Niinistö. The personal popularity of Haavisto combined with the recent rise of the Greens in Finnish politics undermined the prospects of Kyllönen and Haatainen. Kyllönen, an MEP known for her colourful rhetoric, finished with 3,0 % of the vote. The Social Democrats in turn had experienced major difficulties in finding a credible candidate, and Haatainen, known for her expertise in social and health policy, was clearly outside of her comfort zone. Haatainen received a dismal 3,2 % of the vote. This meant that the Social Democrats fared again really badly in presidential elections, with their more high-profile candidate Paavo Lipponen, the prime minister from 1995 to 2003, winning only 6,7 % of the vote in the 2012 elections.

The main excitement in the Centre Party was whether Väyrynen, who had severed ties with his party in the early 1990s over EU membership, would beat Vanhanen who served as the prime minister from 2003 to 2010. The race was indeed quite close, with Väyrynen getting 6,2 % and Vanhanen 4,1 % of the vote. To put it mildly, the outcome was a major embarrassment to Vanhanen and his party. Torvalds received 1,5 % of the vote.

Huhtasaari, the candidate of the populist and anti-immigration Finns Party, won 6,9 % of the vote. Her party had effectively split into two last June after the party congress had elected MEP Jussi Halla-aho, convicted in court for hate speech, as the new party leader. Immediately following the election of Halla-aho, the more moderate or populist wing of the party left the Finns and established a new party, the Blue Reform, which did not nominate a presidential candidate nor support any of the candidates. Huhtasaari was also the youngest (38) and least experienced of the candidates, having first entered the parliament in the 2015 elections. Hence she clearly performed well, and, together with Väyrynen, the combined vote share of the two Eurosceptical candidates was 13,1 %.

Overall, the results mean more of the same. Niinistö is not in favour of NATO membership, but supports the development of EU’s security and defence policy, bilateral security policy cooperation with Sweden, and maintaining close ties with NATO, views largely shared by the mainstream parties and the public. During his first six-year term Niinistö shared power with cabinets led by centre-right prime ministers, and this clearly contributed to smooth co-leadership in foreign policy. It also facilitated presidential activism, especially since the 2015 parliamentary elections as PM Juha Sipilä has proritised domestic issues such as reviving the economy and the re-organization of social and health services. Hence the results of the next parliamentary elections scheduled for spring 2019 and the personality of the next PM will be important in terms of Niinistö’s second term in office.

Zimbabwe – President Mnangagwa blows cold and then hot on elections

These are confusing times for Zimbabwean voters and political commentators.

On 12 January, the spokesperson for the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, told journalists that the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had asked to postpone the general election. In a meeting between the two, which appears to have been inspired in part by Tsvangirai’s poor health, the opposition leader is said to have demanded that the polls – which are currently scheduled to take place between July and September 2018 – be deferred by three years to allow much needed reforms to be implemented.

The fact that this information was leaked by the government immediately raised suspicions that in reality the story was being used by the ruling party to “fly a kite” for a plan to push the elections back. The idea that a ZANU PF faction was testing the waters to see whether the government could get away a power grab were leant credibility when Tsvangirai’s advisors subsequently rejected the president’s account, claiming that “the matter was never a subject for discussion”.

This interpretation subsequently gained further ground when former Cabinet Minister and Mnangagwa rival Jonathan Moyo used an interview with Zeinab Bedawi on BBC’s Hard Talk to say what many were thinking, alleging that it was in fact the president who had tried to persuade Tsvangirai to agree to an election delay because he is “afraid of losing”.

However, Zimbabwe has entered new and less predictable political times, and rumours don’t last long these days.

Just six days later, the headline on the front page of the Herald, a recognized government mouthpiece, screamed “Elections in five months: President”. According to the story, elections were not to be postponed but rather brought forward. Although July 23 is the earliest date that elections can be held without a change of the law, the president told Zimbabweans that the country was “going for elections in four to five months’ time”.

This was followed up by a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times in which Mnangagwa committed himself not only to holding elections quickly, but to holding good quality ones. According to the president, “We want fair free credible elections … In the past those who had pronounced themselves against us; who pre-determined that our elections would not be free and fair, were not allowed to come in. But now with this new dispensation I don’t feel threatened by anything.”

Promoting democracy to secure development

In a surprise to many, the president did not leave things there. Instead, in a move designed to build bridges with the West ahead of the World Economic Forum at Davos on 23-26 January, Mnangagwa committed himself to a wide-ranging process of democratization.

This, he pledged, would include holding credible elections and allowing international observers from the Commonwealth and the United Nations to oversee the process – something that the government did not allow last time round.

The president also said that he was willing to enter into talks with the United Kingdom about Zimbabwe re-joining the Commonwealth. This would be something of a fillip for the British government, signalling that Zimbabwe had genuinely returned from the cold — and that Mnangagwa’s administration had recognized that the demonization of the UK that occurred under Robert Mugabe had not been in either country’s interests.

It would also have important implications for politics in Zimbabwe going forwards. In 2013, Robert Mugabe withdrew his country from the Commonwealth after the organization decided to maintain Zimbabwe’s suspension indifferently.

That suspension resulted, in part, from a flawed election in 2002, when Mugabe retained power in controversial circumstances. Allegations of violence and intimidation during the presidential election campaign led the UK, Australia and New Zealand to express deep concern, and a critical report from the Commonwealth Observer Group proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

Thus, while Mnangagwa can expect a soft landing from the Commonwealth as a new leader preaching reform, he would also be taking a risk. Inviting international scrutiny and welcoming international observers could easily backfire, especially if the president turns out to be less popular than he hopes.

Which all raises one big question: does he really mean it?

Why democracy now?

We know that Mnangagwa is not a democrat by instinct.

Although he has sought to disassociate himself from the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 1980s, few believe his protestations of innocence. The deaths of around 20,000 mainly ethnic Ndebeles in Matabeleland occurred while he held prominent roles within the security forces, and his public statements around the time were telling.

According to The Chronicle newspaper, at a rally in Victoria Falls in 1983, Mnangagwa likened the dissidents to cockroaches and bugs – anticipating the language of the Rwandan genocide – and “said the bandit menace had reached such epidemic proportion that the government had to bring ‘DDT’ [pesticide] to get rid of the bandits.”

More recently, it is important that the new president did not come to power through the ballot box but through a very carefully orchestrated palace coup. The lesson that this episode taught him was straightforward: the one thing that can save you when your influence is on the wane and people you know are turning their backs on you is military support.

In other words, the new president is not someone who is ever going to believe the naïve cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Given this, how are we to interpret his newfound commitment to democratic norms and values? It is possible that Mnangagwa has had a “road to Damascus” moment and that the leopard really has changed his spots. But a more likely answer is that he is using the promise of democracy to pursue other ends.

The president knows that Zimbabweans will judge him on the state of the economy, which is looking like a tough ask. Despite all of the talk of a more clean and efficient government, and of an open door for foreign investors, many are waiting to see if the government will come through on its promises before parting with their money.

This represents a significant challenge for Mnangagwa, because while some of his own speeches have stoked popular expectations of an instant recovery, the reality is that the economy has been tanking for so long that it will take a while to turn it around.

One thing that could help to change this picture is debt relief. According to the International Monetary Fund, Zimbabwe will owe external lenders more than US $10 billion. Because this represents over half the country’s annual GDP, the government’s capacity to invest in public service and economic recovery will be severely hampered unless this debt can be cancelled or heavily rescheduled.

And while that is said to be a purely economic decision by key players such as the IMF and the World Bank, in reality it us much easier to justify saving the economic bacon of governments that take and hold power legitimately.

But if Zimbabwe’s new leader is mainly talking up democratic reforms to unlock economic assistance, what does that mean for the next election – might we actually see a “good enough” contest? Or is there a way that the president can have his cake and eat it?

What does a quick election mean?

There are some presidents in the world who do not really understand the nuts and bolts of how an election works – who make mistakes by failing to grasp key procedures and processes, and agree to what the think are small changes, only later to find that they have large consequences.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is not one of these presidents.

Having played a central role in the ZANU-PF election machine for many years, he has an intimate knowledge of how to control the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, the mechanisms that the party uses to mobilise the vote, and is well aware of the fact that the government’s hegemony relies on a system of intimidation to keep opposition supporters away from the polls.

If he is floating the idea of an early election it suggests that he thinks doing so will be to his advantage. Why might that be the case?

An early election could help Mnangagwa in three ways.

First, going to the polls quickly gives voters less time to be disappointed if the promised economic resurgence does not materialise. The longer the president leaves it, the more he will need to show some green shoots of recovery to back up his claim to be the answer to the country’s financial difficulties.

Second, with Morgan Tsvangirai in poor health and the opposition divided over the question of whether or not he should be replaced by a younger leader, there may be no better time for the president to test his popularity. Whether or not Tsvangirai asked Mnangagwa to postpone the election, it is clear that the Movement for Democratic Change is not in great shape to contest one today.

Finally, the new president is well aware that clever autocrats rig elections well in advance – through the electoral roll, the channelling of patronage, and the manipulation of traditional leaders – and that to detect and expose these abuses the international monitors need to have long-term observers on the ground months ahead of any contest. If a snap election is called, it will be impossible for international monitors to deploy in time – even if the president keeps his promise to invite them – because they would effectively need to be in place already.

A quick election might therefore be just what ZANU PF needs. By taking advantage of Mnangagwa’s honeymoon, the challenges facing the opposition, and the massive head-start that the ruling party enjoys after decades of political manipulation, the government can retain power without needing to do anything on polling day that will create troublesome media headlines.

And by inviting international election observers who will only be able to deploy close to an election day, missing the preparations, the president will be able to sustain the image of being a democratic reformer without actually having to hold a democratic election …

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and the author of How to Rig an Election

Cyprus – The 2018 presidential election: A war of all against all

In less than two weeks’ time, the people of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) are going to the polls for the 12th time in Cyprus’ presidential electoral history to elect the 8th president of the Republic (the first elections were held in 1960 when Cyprus gained its independence from Britain). As already mentioned in a previous post, five major candidates will contest the elections with a clear favorite to win: the current right-wing president Nicos Anastasiades. In this short post, I will try to summarize the most basic things that one has to bear in mind with regard to the forthcoming presidential elections in Cyprus.

1. The first round of the elections is scheduled for 28 January 2018 and if a second round is needed (almost certainly), this will take place on 4 February.

2. The President of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot by constitutional provision) is the highest authority in the country with very strong powers in his/her possession, unmatched in any other country of the EU. The president is both head of state and government. The only check on the institution’s power was the Turkish Cypriot vice-president as was envisaged in the London-Zurich agreements that established the Republic of Cyprus (1959-1960). However, the withdrawal of Turkish Cypriots from all state and government institutions in 1964 following inter-communal clashes and the subsequent Turkish invasion in 1974 mean that the president has concentrated all powers in the office.

3. Presidential elections are held every five years under a majoritarian two-round system, i.e., a successful candidate needs to receive a majority of the votes to be elected. With some exceptions, the rule in Cyprus is that a second round is needed to determine the president.

4. Given the majoritarian system and the absence of a dominant party that has more than 50% support on its own, all political parties and candidates try to strike bargains between them, particularly after the first round has ended.

5. In the past, presidents from all ideological currents have governed, including the self-declared communist AKEL (2008-2013), rendering the elections a matter more of political efficiency than ideology. Cyprus’ EU membership also limits the space for competition based on ideology and clearly distinct between policies and elevates issues of transparency and corruption on the agenda.

6. All types of elections in recent years have been held under conditions of extreme popular discontent towards political actors and very low levels of trust in them. This election is no different, particularly following the 2013 bail-in that saw a significant haircut in bank deposits of many Cypriots and the collapse of the powerful banking system of the country.

7. Apart the current president who is running for re-election (supported by his own party, the right-wing DISY), the other four major candidates are: N. Papadopoulos, president of DIKO and who is supported by an alliance of four parties (center-right DIKO, center-left EDEK, Solidarity Movement and the Greens); S. Malas, an independent who is supported by the left-wing AKEL; G. Lillikas, president of the Citizens’ Alliance; and C. Christou, president of the extreme right National Popular Front-ELAM.

8. The electoral strength of the major parties is as follows: the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY) 30.69%; the left-wing Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) 25.67%; the center-right Democratic Party (DIKO) 14.49%; the social democrats EDEK, 6.18%; the right-wing, nationalist Solidarity Movement, 5.24%; Green Party, 4.82%; Citizens Alliance, 6.01%; and the extreme-right ELAM, 3.71%. Based on these figures alone and bearing in mind which candidates the parties support, it is likely that that N. Anastasiades and N. Papadopoulos are the favorites to progress to the second round. However, one plus one does not always equal two in politics.

9. It was thought that the inglorious conclusion of the discussions for finding a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem between the leaders of the two Cypriot communities last July would dominate the campaign. However, the polls indicate that most people are primarily concerned with the economy, with the Cyprus problem coming second. Issues of corruption are also significant in these elections.

10. Programmatic discourse has been de-emphasised during the campaign. This has been complimented by a move towards the personalization of politics and electoral campaigns; this trend has been under way in Cyprus generally in recent times and is not confined to this electoral campaign. Most polls indicate that the personality of the candidate and not party affiliation will play the most crucial role in the voter’s final decision. In turn, this trend enhances the role of the leader at the expense of the party organization. Additionally, the majority of the polls also reveal voter choice is based on whom they perceive as the least bad among the candidates and not the best option.

11. Abstention is expected to reach the highest ever level in any presidential election. In the last presidential elections abstention rose to almost 20% in the second round (17% in the first) and is now expected to climb further. Moreover, approximately 30,000 of the eligible 40,000 voters did not register until the deadline of 18 December 2017; the vast majority of them being persons under the age of 22, which shows an aversion of young people to politics and adds to the abstention rate.

12. The campaign thus far, and with no indication of change going forward, has been one of a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’. This is particularly true for the three main candidates, Anastasiades, Papadopoulos and Malas. Accusations are exchanged constantly and on a daily basis between them, as well as between their supporting parties on all issues. For example, Lillikas indirectly accused Papadopoulos of offering him money and public office to withdraw his candidacy and support him. On another occasion, all candidates demanded that the president replace his minister of interior because of his partisan behaviour and partiality while being responsible for the organization of the elections. This polarization between the candidates, in turn, questions their ability to form alliances at the second round and arguably places the strongest candidate (N. Anastasiades) in an advantageous position since the bridges between Papadopoulos and Malas and the parties supporting them seem broken.

13. President Anastasiades has focused on three issues that are believed to be his strongest assets: his strong personality and authority; the fact that he improved the economy, successfully guiding the country’s exit from the memorandum and the crisis; and his ability to strike new and also enhance old international cooperation agreements with neighboring countries. Papadopoulos has highlighted his new agenda/strategy for disengaging from former presidents’ concessions with regard to the Cyprus problem; his reliability with regard to the economy; and his ability to act as a unifying figure between several parties. Malas has campaigned on the freshness that his candidacy brings to political life, and that has no links to the corrupt political and party system. He has also tried to stress the independent status of his candidacy vis-à-vis claims that he is nothing more than AKEL’s puppet.

14. If we believe the polls, President Anastasiades is favorite not only to win through to the second round but also to win at the second round, regardless of who stands against him. The polls suggest that N. Papadopoulos stands a better chances than S. Malas in a possible second round with N. Anastasiades. However, if Anastasiades were not to win, it would not be the first time in Cyprus that the polls got it wrong.

15. Given the belief that N. Anastasiades will win the election, the most significant issue in this election campaign is who will win through to the second round with Anastasiades. This raises the stakes for AKEL as a party and N. Papadopoulos as a person. Both AKEL and Papadopoulos face significant blame-gaming if they fail to win through.

16. The day after the election matters primarily with regard to the new president’s stance on the Cyprus problem and less on his economic policies. The latter point connects the presidential elections in the RoC with the ‘parliamentary’ elections held just a few days apart in the northern, occupied part of Cyprus; these elections took place a few days earlier (7 January 2018). While the elections did not concern the new leader of the community, they were crucial with regard to the parties’ results and their positions both regarding the Cyprus problem and relations with Turkey. A first reading of the results reveals tricky times ahead, since the political parties of the right that are more sceptical and more hardline regarding the Cyprus problem and more receptive of Turkey’s wishes and demands won a majority amidst increased abstention.

Mali – Fifth time’s the charm: IBK’s new winning team?

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) has appointed a new prime minister and renewed his cabinet – again. Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga (SBM), who takes over from Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, is IBK’s fifth prime minister since he became president in 2013. This is as many prime ministers as former President Alpha Oumar Konaré had during his 10 years in office, and one more than former President Amadou Toumani Touré appointed during his 10 years at the helm of the state. Under IBK, prime ministers have generally lasted less than a year, only Modibo Keita succeeded in eking out 15 months. What explains this frequent turnover at the “primature” during IBK’s first term? And what justifies this latest change in particular?

Though the president formally lacks the power to dismiss the prime minister under Mali’s 1992 semi-presidential constitution,[1] the frequency with which IBK has changed prime ministers during his first term in office is strong evidence of the president’s informal powers. Mali, like other premier-presidential systems, is experiencing a situation of party “presidentialization” (Samuels and Shugart 2010), frequently found under circumstances where the same majority controls both the presidency and the legislative majority. In other words, though the president does not formally have the power to dismiss the prime minister and cabinet, the ruling RPM party and its coalition members have effectively delegated this power to him.

President IBK has faced unprecedented security challenges, compared to his predecessors. The government is struggling to hinder the spread of terrorist groups and reestablish state control over large swaths of the national territory, of which only about 20% is considered safe for travel by the UK Government. Terrorist attacks have increased in frequency over the past year and extended over a larger geographical area, with much of central Mali now also affected. Extremists have targeted symbols of the state, attempting to murder of the Chief Justice of the High Court and kidnapping the president of the district court of Niono. Lack of progress on the implementation of the 2015 peace accord with former rebels has not improved matters.  IBK’s cabinets have also struggled to handle social crises [see previous blog post here] in the health and education sectors, and an attempt at adopting a new constitution failed last year [see previous post here].  Changing prime ministers and cabinet members has provided IBK an avenue for changing a losing team.

Like his predecessor, the new prime minister, SBM, served as defense minister in a previous IBK government – as did the new foreign minister. Clearly security concerns weighed heavily in IBK’s choice for the top cabinet positions in the new government, and unsatisfactory progress in addressing spreading insecurity likely contributed to shortening the tenure in office of SBM’s immediate predecessor.  The new cabinet (see Figure 1 below) includes one portfolio more than the previous one – the Ministry for Local Development – which goes to a member of the RPM leadership, Zoumana Mory Coulibaly. In addition to Coulibaly, five more new cabinet members make their entrance into the government, and five other ministers have changed portfolio. The representation of the ruling RPM remains strong, despite the departure of the former prime minister who was the first vice-president of the party. The five who have left the government include the former minister of Foreign Affairs (a career diplomat who was in charge of negotiating the 2015 peace agreement) and the former minister of Human Rights and Government Reform (who shepherded the failed constitutional reform process). The new government includes one more woman than the previous one.

This most recent change of prime ministers was also the last chance before the looming presidential election in July where IBK is likely to seek reelection for a second term. Other candidates have already announced themselves, including Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, former army general and former minister of territorial administration in IBK’s first cabinet; Kalifa Sanogo (of the ADEMA party – ruling coalition member), mayor of Sikasso, Mali’s second largest city; Modibo Kone, expert at the West African Development Bank (BOAD); and Hamadoun Touré, head of the tech initiative “Smart Africa” and friend of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The ease with which IBK has been able to change prime ministers and cabinet members has provided him with scapegoats for failed policy and security initiatives. However, the botched constitutional reform initiative, where plans for a referendum had to be abandoned in the face of widespread opposition notably against provisions for increased presidential powers, is difficult to explain away. The coming months will demonstrate the resilience of the ruling coalition in the face of a mobilized opposition, and on the other side the ability of the opposition to coalesce around a single or a few candidates. It remains to be seen whether IBK this time succeeded in assembling the winning team that will take him over the finish line to a second term in office.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name

 

Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation

 

Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maiga NEW, Secretary General of the Presidency, former defense minister under IBK ASMA-CFP, president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly Same Former amb. to US, former minister
Foreign Affairs Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly Territorial administration (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Territorial administration Mohamed Ag Erlaf National education RPM, member of leadership
Justice Hamidou Younoussa Maiga Appointed in November by the previous PM Former justice
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Investment and Private Sector Baber Gano Transportation RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadoun Konaté Same RPM leadership
National Education Housseïni Amion Guindo Sports CODEM, president
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Former university professor
Human Rights Kadidia Sangare Coulibaly NEW Former head of the National Commission for Human Rights
Local Authorities Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa Decentralization and Local Taxation Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Transportation Moulaye Ahmed Boubacar NEW RPM leadership
Habitat and Urbanism Cheick Sidiya Sissoko dit Kalifa NEW ADEMA
Agriculture Nango Dembélé Livestock and Fishery RPM leadership
Livestock and Fishery Kane Rokia Maguiraga NEW Public sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré Same Public sector
Infrastructure and Equipment Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra Same Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow Same Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (also gov. spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Local Development

(NEW PORTFOLIO)

Zoumana Mory Coulibaly NEW RPM, leadership
Territory Planning and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra Same ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same RPM, leadership
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré Same Civil society
Sports Jean Claude Sidibé NEW Sport sector
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

[1] Article 38 provides that the president “terminates the appointment” of the prime minister “when the latter tenders the resignation of the government” (identical wording as Article 8 in the French 1958 constitution). Formally, the prime minister is thus only accountable to the legislature, leaving Mali in the premier-presidential sub-category of semi-presidential systems. In contrast, in president-parliamentary system, the president is empowered by the constitution to dismiss the prime minister at will, making the premier accountable to both parliament and president. See Shugart and Carey (1992) for further discussion of these two subtypes of semi-presidential systems.

Nigeria – Buhari’s second term ambitions, the Atiku challenge, and the limits of incumbency

President Muhammadu Buhari will, in all likelihood, seek a second term in office. For starters, this is a prospect that is buttressed by much political tradition and precedent; no Nigerian president who lived through a first term has ever walked away from the possibility of a second (at least not willingly).[i] But the president’s desire to retain his office has also been implied by more recent events. Among these are the fact that next year’s budget, which Buhari proposed in November, promises to be Nigeria’s biggest ever, an expansion in spending which analysts have interpreted as designed to shore up his government’s reputation in advance of the 2019 polls.[ii] Along with this has come his de facto endorsement by the state governor’s forum, easily the most influential elite caucused within Buhari’s All Progressive’s Congress (APC) party. With this decisive announcement already secured, an official declaration of Buhari’s intention to contest is almost a formality.

However, taking all of this to mean that Buhari’s second term bid will be a cakewalk would be imprudent. Least of all because a general election is likely to pit him against easily his toughest opponent on Nigeria’s current political stage; namely Alhaji Atiku Abubaker.

There are a number of important details to bear in mind which hint at why Alhaji Atiku might represent a most formidable challenger. Foremost is the fact that he is (in)famously wealthy. This is an especially meaningful quality in a context wherein electoral races are increasingly becoming prohibitively expensive. But aside from (though not unrelated to) his wealth, he has also been a regular fixture on Nigeria’s political stage having both served as Nigeria’s second elected vice-president from 1999 – 2007 and unsuccessfully run for president on three separate occasions (1992, 2007, and 2011).

Atiku’s ubiquity in Nigerian politics has certainly come with its costs. His proximity to an unpopular Nigerian state over such an extended period of time has tainted his reputation and raised numerous question marks about the propriety of his wealth. Critics also point to his having frequently switched party allegiances or, in Nigerian parlance, ‘decamped’ (most recently last month) as evidence of his being conniving or dishonest.

However, his supporters parry accusations of his dishonesty by pointing out that most Nigerian politicians have, at one point or another, decamped and that party switching has effectively become a norm of political behavior in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, as Nigerian academics have also argued.[ii] Moreover, Atiku’s continuity in Nigerian politics –even if in the form of unsuccessful presidential bids– has allowed him to reinforce a strong base of supporters over time. This formula was put to fruitful use by none other than Buhari himself who, identically, also lost three presidential elections before his victory in 2015 suggesting, perhaps, that in Nigeria’s presidential politics, the fourth time might be the charm.

Atiku has also recently thrown his support behind a number of issues, which are backed by growing constituencies. Of note among these is his fervent support for constitutional reforms to restructure Nigeria’s federal system and allow for a more widely accepted balance between central and local governments. Proponents of these reforms include both national civil society and communities in the oil producing regions of Nigeria, both of which could be important electoral constituencies. Atiku has also recently come out in favor of #EndSARS, a protest movement which has been aimed at disbanding an unpopular police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and which has largely taken place on Twitter. Weighing-in in favor of proponents of #EndSARS, has shown Atiku to be responsive to the public outcry of a young urban constituency which is increasingly recognized to be an influential ally of opposition candidates in African elections [iii].

But beyond (and perhaps more important than) these personal traits however, there are also important structural factors that make Atiku’s possible bid against Buhari a distinctly viable one. Chief among these factors is the peculiar matter of zoning. Zoning refers to an informal arrangement amongst Nigeria’s political parties which requires that after a president from either the northern or southern half (or ‘zone’) of the country has served two consecutive terms in office, his successor must come from the opposite ‘zone’. This issue partially accounted for northern support in 2015 for Buhari against the re-election bid of former president Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner who, having completed the term of his successor who died in office, was widely castigated by northern politicians for seeking to stay in office beyond the ‘turn’ of his zone. [iv]

The fact that the presidency will remain zoned to the north in the upcoming election means that Atiku will face much less of a challenge from other presidential hopefuls from the south who might otherwise have made threatening incursions into the race. Additionally, Buhari’s heavy handed response to militancy in Nigeria’s oil delta and to the pro-Biafran successions movement in the past two years have not won him very many new supporters in the south, a region which already voted heavily against him in 2015. Taken together, these factors will mean that, in a race against Atiku, Buhari will face a viable challenger in his core base in the north while fighting an uphill battle in much of the south (particularly the south east) where, given Buhari’s unpopularity, Atiku might be deemed a much more palatable choice. An assessment of the above factors, as well as the fact that no similarly viable northern challenger has emerged in the opposition People’s Democratic Party, probably account for Atiku’s decision to jump ship from the APC to the PDP late last month.

In Nigeria’s immediate context, these factors raise the possibility that the 2019 general election could be a hotly contested race that pits two former allies against each other. Politics, of course, makes strange bedfellows but there is no reason to expect that such cohabitation will endure through thick and thin. In more general terms however, the forgoing analyses has also brought to the fore some of the challenges which sometimes make the fact of being an incumbent a double edged sword in increasingly competitive electoral contexts.

[i] Siollun, M. (2009). Oil, politics and violence: Nigeria’s military coup culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishing.

[ii] Omilusi, O., P. (2015). “The Nuances and Nuisances of Party Defection in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Academic Research, Vol. 3, No. 4.

[iii] Resnick, D. (2012). Opposition parties and the urban poor in African democracies. Comparative Political Studies, 45(11), 1351-1378.

[iv] Owen, Olly, and Zainab Usman. “Briefing: Why Goodluck Jonathan lost the Nigerian presidential election of 2015.” African Affairs 114.456 (2015): 455-471.

France – The election of Emmanuel Macron and the French party system: a return to the éternel marais?

This is the summary of an article that has just been published in Modern and Contemporary France. There are 50 .pdf e-prints freely available. Just click on the above link.

In 1964, Maurice Duverger published an article in the Revue française de science politique entitled ‘L’éternel marais: Essai sur le centrisme français‘ [The eternal marshland: An essay on centrism in France]. He argued that for around 80% of the period from 1789 to 1958 France had been governed from the centre, which he disparagingly called the marais. For Duverger, the French post-Revolution party system was characterised by a bipolarisation of party competition between the left and the right. However, both the left and the right were split between an extreme version and a moderate version. With the extremes opposed to each other and with the moderates usually unwilling to work with their respective extremes, Duverger argued that rather than alternations in power between the left and the right, power had shifted between governments of the moderate left and the moderate right. These forces had governed either separately or sometimes together, but, crucially, almost always against the two extremes. This was the system that Duverger characterised as the éternel marais.

Writing in 1964, Duverger believed that the system might be about to change. In retrospect, he was right. For more than 50 years, marais governments all but disappeared in France. With very few exceptions, the right governed against the left as a whole, or vice versa. However, the election of President Macron in 2017 election may have marked a change, challenging the party system that has been in place since the mid-1960s and suggesting the potential for a return to a new-period of marais government. In the article, I provide evidence to suggest that the current Macron administration has the characteristics of a Duverger-style marais government. I then sketch two potential interpretations of the contemporary party system, both of which raise the prospect of a return to the éternel marais.

There is evidence that from Macron’s LREM parliamentary party, the parliament in general, and the cabinet to suggest that the current administration has the characteristics of a Duverger-style marais government.

The June 2017 legislative election returned 310 députés who were officially members of the LREM parliamentary group as of 24 July. Many of these députés were elected for the first time. However, many others were previously associated with party politics. In this regard, Le Monde (Sénécat and Damgé in Le Monde, June 27, 2017) reported that 68 had previously been associated with the moderate left Socialists, 20 with the centre-right Union des democrats et indépendants and 10 with the right-wing Les Républicains (LR), plus a small number who had been associated with other parties. Thus, there is evidence that LREM itself corresponds to Duverger’s portrait of a marais party, namely one that contains representatives of both the moderate left and the moderate right but not the extremes.

Since the Assemblée nationale began its work after the legislative election, LREM has also received support from other elements of the moderate left and the moderate right there and has been opposed by the extreme or anti-system right and leftFor example, when Prime Minister Philippe invoked Article 49-1 on 4 July, all members of the centrist MoDem parliamentary group voted for the government in the confidence vote. In addition, all members of Les Constructifs group either voted for the government or abstained. This group brought together moderate right deputies from LR party who had chosen to remain in LR but who were willing in principle to work with LREM. What is more, most members of the ex-Socialist party group also either voted for the government or abstained in the confidence vote. By contrast, the extreme right and the extreme left were opposed to the government. All eight FN deputies voted against the LREM government, as did Nicolas Dupont-Aignan who rallied to Marine Le Pen at the second round of the 2017 presidential election. Similarly, all the Communists voted against the government, as did all the members of the La France insoumise (LFI) group.

In addition, the Philippe government itself also included former representatives of ex-LR moderate right figures, such as Bruno Le Maire and Gérard Darmanin, ex-PS moderate left ministers, such as Gérard Collomb and Jean-Yves Le Drian, and centrists from MoDem. This is in addition to ministers who were founding members of the LREM party itself.

Thus, there is no question that Macron’s election has led to another period of marais government in Duverger’s terms. In itself, this is quite a change in the context of the party system of the Fifth French Republic since the early 1960s. However, to what extent has Macron’s election reshaped the party system such that there may be a return not just to a short-lived period of marais government, but to the éternel marais?

Building on Gougou and Persico’s recent article in French Politics, the new French party system might be interpreted in one of two ways.

The first interpretation is a tripolar system (or tripartition). Here, the first pole would be an anti-system left pole comprising LFI, the Communists and perhaps also a rump Socialist party that would be anchored on the left and would be willing to work with other groups on the anti-system left but not with LREM. These groups would share a common set of anti-austerity economic values and cultural/universalist values. In this tripartition interpretation, there would be a second pole on the extreme right comprising the FN and a set of parties that would be willing to work with it, including perhaps LR, especially if it were to be led by one of the leading candidates for the party leadership in the vote later this month, Laurent Wauquiez. In this scenario, LREM and allies would constitute the third pole. Here, LREM would remain a combination of moderate left and moderate right figures. This pole would also include other moderate right groups such as MoDem and the Constructifs and perhaps even a small, ex-PS moderate left party that was unwilling to cooperate with the anti-system left. The various elements of this third pole would be irreconcilably opposed to the anti-system left in terms of economic policy and to the extreme right on cultural/universalist values. With the extreme left and the extreme right unable to cooperate and with the various elements of the third pole sharing basic values whether or not LREM managed to remain a united party over time, there would be the potential for a return to ongoing marais governments.

The second interpretation is a four-pole system (or quadripartition). Here, LFI, the Communists and perhaps a rump PS would be on the extreme or anti- system left; LREM would operate as a de facto moderate left pole; LR and various allies would constitute a moderate right pole; and the FN would be on the extreme right. This interpretation assumes that LR would not cooperate with the FN because they would be opposed on economic policy and there would still be a gap between the two parties on cultural/universalist policies, even if the gap narrowed in 2017. Facing an electable moderate right in the form of LR, LREM would choose to compete with LR and its allies on economic issues by moving towards a more clear-cut centre-left position. (There is little evidence of such a move from the very early period of the Macron presidency.)

If the French party system were to take this form of quadripartition, then the prospects for ongoing marais governments would also be very high. Here, there would be considerable opportunity for an alternation in power, but it would be likely to take place only between the moderate left and the moderate right, both of which would always be governing against the extremes. This form of quadripartition would correspond most closely to the pre-1958 situation that Duverger outlined in his 1964 article. This was the period of the éternel marais.

Clearly, the Macron presidency is still in its infancy. President Macron will face many challenges in the years to come. His response to them—and that of his government— will help to shape the future contours of the French party system in no doubt unexpected ways. Nonetheless, the 2017 presidential and legislative elections did mark a change in French party politics. Duverger’s idea of the marais may be a useful way of thinking about the contours of the French party system in the immediate aftermath of these elections and the nature of the governance that flows from it.

Kenya – A look into pivotal role observers play in elections

This post by Prof. Nic Cheeseman first appeared in The Nation on 28 November

The Supreme Court approved President Uhuru Kenyatta’s October 26 victory, but it is still too early to fully evaluate the court’s impact on the elections, and the impact of the elections on the Court.

What we can do now is to look back on the role played by international election observers, who have received a great deal of criticism in Kenya.

A week or so ago, I published a piece on this topic in the Washington Post with Todd Moss and Jeffrey Smith.

The article was designed to continue the debate about what role international monitors should play, and how they can be strengthened.

ELECTION OBSERVERS
However, in the rush to edit the piece down to the required word length many important points were cut.

As a result, some people have asked for more information on our argument, others have requested further elaboration on the kinds of reforms that could be introduced, and others still have complained that the analysis did not do justice to the complex challenges that observers face.

In response, I shall use this column to try and set the record straight.

GUESTS

What are observers to do?

One of the main challenges for observation teams is that people tend to exaggerate their power.

Ahead of the elections, many Kenyans invested considerable confidence in the ability of missions from the Carter Center and the European Union.

But the rules that observers must play by, if they are not to get into trouble with both their employers and the governments whose elections they oversee, means that there is only so much they can do.

Most obviously, international observers operate in foreign states at the pleasure of the host government, and so have to be particularly careful when alleging rigging.

RIGGING

There are plenty of countries that do not allow foreign teams in – such as Zimbabwe, from where I am writing – and so observers must protect their reputation in order to maintain access.

As a result, monitors often find it difficult to make strong statements when they suspect foul play but cannot prove it.

This situation held in Kenya following the election of August 8, when the opposition quickly pointed to missing forms and electronic irregularities as evidence of rigging, but hard evidence of exactly how many votes had been added or lost was not available.

The Supreme Court interpreted the failure of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to provide information and access to its servers to imply malpractice, even though it lacked concrete evidence of the extent of rigging.

This was an assumption that the Carter Center and the European Union were simply not in a position to make.

CIVIL SOCIETY
Similarly, it is not well-known that observers have no right to directly intervene in elections, even to stop abuses that they directly witness.

Instead, they are supposed to record and report malpractice – leaving intervention to domestic institutions such as the electoral commission and the police.

This is a particularly weak position when we factor in that observers have no power of enforcement – they can make recommendations in their reports, but they have no financial or judicial leverage with which to ensure they are acted upon.

That role falls to domestic civil society and international donors.

As a result, there is a significant discrepancy between the hope and faith that opposition parties place in international observers and their capacity to deliver.

EXPECTATION
What did observers do well?

Many people have been left with the impression that the teams from the European Union and the Carter Center let the Kenyan people down in 2017, not because they were worse than any other groups, but because people expected more from them.

Most of the times that I have heard this argument rolled out, it has rested on three foundations.

The first is that observers did not condemn the August 8 elections, whereas the Supreme Court did.

The second is that observers did not do their job properly because they stayed in Nairobi, did some shopping, and then went back to their comfortable jobs in Europe and North America.

The third is that observers always do the same thing, letting the bad guys off the hook.

RESEARCH
I have already explained why the first criticism misunderstands the power and role of international election observation.

The second criticism is also misguided.

The better and more thorough international missions, such as the Carter Center and the European Union, have a long-term component, placing observers in the country months ahead of the polls.

They also hire political experts who understand the country’s political history and can explain the context of the elections and the ways in which they tend to be rigged.

It is also incorrect to suggest that observers do not travel outside of the capital city.

CREDIBILITY

Almost all monitoring teams locate their staff in polling stations across the country in a reasonably representative way, and so can report on both the rural and urban experience.

The notion that international observers always do the same thing is also clearly false.

Kenyans only have to think back to 2007, when it was the European Union that called into question President Mwai Kibaki’s victory, citing figures from the Molo and Kieni constituencies.

It is also clear that international teams also adapted their approach in 2017, with both the Carter Center and the European Union making strong statements ahead of the “fresh” election on October 26.

These raised concerns about the lack of reforms within the electoral commission and the treatment of the Judiciary, and made it clear that the election was unlikely to be credible.

Thus, while the 2017 elections highlight a number of problems with the system of selection observation, I see most of these as relating to the way election observation works, rather than the people who do it and the decisions that they make.

RECOMMENDATIONS

What can be improved?

We now face the question of how election observation can be improved.

We need to do this for two reasons. On the one hand, a survey conducted by Ipsos Kenya in mid October 2017 found that a majority (59 per cent) of Kenyans want international observers to monitor future elections.

On the other hand, half of all respondents in the same survey agreed that “they make no difference when it comes to stealing votes”.

Thus, while observers are clearly needed, their reputation needs to be strengthened. How can this be done?

BURDEN OF PROOF
One obvious point is that observers can do a better job of communicating the limits to their powers.

But they cannot do this alone – the media, and the way in which observers statements are reported, is also a problem.

During the 2017 elections in Kenya, a number of observer reports that highlighted positive and negative aspects of the polls were reported as having given the process a “clean bill of health”.

However, while good Public Relations is important it will not be enough. The role of observers also needs to be bolstered.

There are two ways in which this can be done.

The first is to change the burden of proof, so that monitors can ask governments to demonstrate that processes are robust and transparent when they have concerns – even if these have not been proven.

STATEMENTS
A second related change would be to have much stronger pre-electoral statements that flag up issues of concern and highlight key challenges in a much stronger way than tends to occur at present.

Of course, one implication of this more tough approach is that in some cases observers may be asked to leave, or not be invited back – but this might not be such a bad thing.

If being present at an election means legitimising a deeply problematic process, staying away may be better.

International monitors could also take longer to issue their first post-election statements.

We know that in many cases election day looks great and the problems emerge halfway through the counting process.

REFORMS

It therefore makes sense to leave any statement until the counting is near complete – and to go to greater lengths to stress that any comments made at this stage are preliminary and must not be taken or reported as a final evaluation of the quality of the polls.

All of these reforms would represent small but significant improvements, but they will count for little if observers do not have the funding, skills and experience needed to actually detect electoral fraud.

At present, they are managed by good people with considerable experience. But they are also operating in a rather old-fashioned way.

EXPERTISE

As is traditional, the European Union team placed people in polling stations across the country.

Academic research suggests that this has the effect of reducing election rigging in the polling stations in which observers are present, but that this has little impact on the quality of the overall rigging because the malpractice is simply moved elsewhere.

A better use of these staff positions would therefore be to establish a high quality team that can interrogate the electoral register and voting and counting process.

TECHNOLOGY

In 2017, the European Union had a data analyst as part of the team, but not a set of experts on biometric technology and digital electoral processes.

Yet most of the problems with the election related to the transmission of forms, and the need to evaluate claims of hacking and the fabrication of results.

The implication is clear: Detecting rigging in the future will require monitors to adapt.

As elections change, so must election observers.

Kenya – President Kenyatta seeks to legitimate his rule

President Uhuru Kenyatta has won two elections this year, but is still struggling to prove his legitimacy.

In the first election, contested on 8 August, he received 54% of the vote according to the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). However, that result was later nullified by the Supreme Court on the basis of significant procedural failures, necessitating a “fresh” election within 60 days.

In that contest, fought on 26 October, Kenyatta won again, this time securing over 98% of the vote. But despite securing a landslide victory, his political authority has once again been brought into question.

The reason for Kenyatta’s vast majority was that his main rival, Raila Odinga, pulled out of the contest in advance. While Odinga’s name remained on the ballot paper, the opposition leader asked his supporters to stay at home, arguing that the election had no prospect of being more free and fair than the first.

Although some criticised Odinga for bringing a petition to the Supreme Court demanding a fresh election and then failing to contest it, this strategy was largely successful: supporters of his National Super Alliance (NASA) largely stayed at home, resulting in a significantly lower turnout of 39%, less than half that of the first poll (80%). In a small number of places, most notably in Odinga’s Nyanza heartlands, protests by opposition supporters prevented polling stations from being opened at all.

Odinga’s complaints were dismissed by government leaders who alleged that his decision not to contest was a desperate attempt to save face, motivated by the knowledge that he was destined for defeat. This was backed up by a number of defections of his former allies to the ruling party, including Odinga’s point-person in the vote rich Rift Valley region, Isaac Ruto.

However, the opposition’s concerns were leant credibility by the decision of one of the IEBC Commissioners, Roselyn Akombe, to resign citing a lack of progress towards improving the electoral process. Having fled to the United States, Akome gave a series of interviews in which she argued that the political context in Kenya would not allow for a credible poll.

These statements were then followed by a worrying press conference held by the Chair of the Commission, Wafula Chebukati, who admitted that political interference within the IEBC had blocked a number of important reforms. In the days that followed, rumours spread that Chebukati was about to resign, making it impossible to hold the poll.

In the event, this did not happen, but the damage to the credibility of the Commission had been done.

Because the election of 26 October did not take place in all in all 290 constituencies – as required by the constitution – and as a result of the serious doubts about the competence and neutrality of the IEBC, Kenyatta’s victory has already been called into question by the opposition. And while Odinga has said they he will not be bringing another petition – arguing that the whole process has lost credibility – others already have.

Consequently, Kenya is heading back to the Supreme Court.

Thus, a president who has won two elections, one with a 98% majority, feels forced to defend himself. Most notably, Kenyatta used his acceptance speech to justify his position by reinterpreting the Supreme Court’s judgement to suit his own interests, arguing that:

“The Court did not Challenge my overwhelming mandate of 54%. The numbers were NEVER questioned. What the Court questioned was the process of declaring my victory. And because the court did not question my victory, they by extension, validated my 54% numbers. This was a Political Paradox.”

He also went to great lengths to depict voter turn out on 26 October as a demonstration of his popularity, rather than as a reason to question his legitimacy. Ignoring the drop off in political participation in many parts of the country, the president stated that:

“Here is the truth as recorded in our books. On August 8th, 15million Kenyans came out to vote. Of these 8.4 million Kenyans voted for me [The number is actually 8.2 million]. On October 26th, 90% of the same voters came out to support my Bid.”

These claims will resonate with Kenyatta’s supporters, but are likely to fall on deaf ears in opposition areas. For their part, the Courts now face another difficult decision. It is clear now that nullifying the result of the vote on 8 August did little to resolve the country’s political crisis; but it will be hard to make the argument that the “repeat” election represented a significant improvement than the first.