Tag Archives: presidential 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.

Anna Fruhstorfer – The presidential election in Slovenia

The question of “will he need a runoff vote” was at the center of most news outlets’ attention prior to the presidential election in Slovenia in October 2017. He, the incumbent Borut Pahor, has been president since 2012 and was campaigning for re-election. Various polls suggested that he would already win the necessary absolute majority in the first round of the election. But Pahor fell short and won ‘only’ 47.1 percent with a low voter turnout of 43.5 percent. This now makes a second round of presidential elections in November necessary and thus gives his strongest contester Marjan Šarec a new chance to succeed. This election provides also “a large scale public opinion poll as well as a prequel to the parliamentary elections” (Bitenc 2017) – considering the results – a bleak outlook for the government. This post will focus on the two main candidates and their campaigns, describe the election results and discuss the chances for the two candidates to become the president in the run-off ballot.

During the first round of the presidential election a total of nine candidates ran for the office of Slovenian President (State Election Commission 2017). Presidential candidates are put forward by National Assembly deputies, political parties and the electorate. More precisely, according to the provisions of the Election Law of Slovenia, a candidate is required to fulfill at least one of the following requirements to be able to run: the support of either ten deputies; the support of at least one political party and three members of parliament (or the signatures of 3000 votes); or the signatures of 5000 voters (State Election Commission 2017). Most of the nine candidates were backed by parliamentary parties, among them Romana Tomc by the conservatives and Ljudmila Novak by the New Slovenia Christian-Democrats (Zerdin 2017).

Throughout the campaign the incumbent Borut Pahor and Marjan Šarec, the mayor of Kamnik (a town north of Ljubljana) were the two main contestants. Both candidates label themselves as more or less anti-parliamentary/establishment party politicians. This is a characterization that is particularly misleading for Borut Pahor. Already during the 2012 presidential campaign Pahor ran on an anti-establishment party platform, although he used to head the Slovenian government (until only a few months before the presidential election in 2012) and was chairman of the Social Democrats. During the 2017 campaign he ran again as independent and for example used the campaign to walk 700 km throughout Slovenia in an attempt to get to know local people (Novak 2017).

Marjan Šarec, who won 25% of votes during the first round, ran on the so-called List of Marjan Šarec. Both during the campaign but also now heading towards the runoff vote, Šarec pledged to provide change and to nominate a new generation of people for official posts. He also criticized Pahor for being rather a celebrity than a statesman (news outlets describe Pahor as instragram president due to his avid use of the application). This campaign issues have to be described within the context of the constitutional provisions concerning the Slovenian President. The 1991 constitution provides only a limited amount of constitutional power to the president. But presidents have established a – at times – powerful role in politics and are expected to fulfill a role of a non-partisan leader. As described in an earlier blog post, the Slovenian President is directly elected with an absolute majority in the first round (Art. 103). Slovenian Presidents do not participate in cabinet meetings, they hardly have any competences for times of crisis, yet a countersignature – e.g. by the prime minister – is not stipulated in the constitution. Without competences in the legislative process (no legislative veto and no legislative initiative; Art. 91 and 88), the president gains power mainly through the nomination and appointment procedure for the prime minister. In addition, “[…] in Slovenia the presidency depends very much on the charisma, political style and ambitions of the person holding the office” (Krašovev and Lajh 2008, 217; see also Cerar 1999). Thus, Slovenia has provided us with both restrained but also very active presidential leadership. Despite some instances that Borut Pahor is a representative of the latter type, with the end of his first term as president, it is safe to say that he was most of the times restrained and not involved in decisive political decisions. In the second round, Pahor is certainly the favorite, but the runoff will attract voters from different backgrounds for Šarec and he might be in for a surprise. It will not be unusual for the incumbent to serve only one term, Danilo Türk was the incumbent in 2012 and lost against Pahor in the runoff vote, and Janez Drnovšek decided to not run for a second term in 2007.

Literature

Bitenc, Aljaž Pengov (2017): A Preliminary Guide to Slovenia’s Presidential Elections, in: http://balkanist.net/a-preliminary-guide-to-slovenias-presidential-elections/

Cerar, Miro. 1999. “Slovenia.” In Semi-Presidentialism in Europe, edited by Robert Elgie, 232–59.
Krašovec, Alenka, and Damjan Lajh. 2008. “Semi-presidentialism in Slovenia.” In Elgie and Moestrup, Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe, 201–18.

Lukšič, Igor. 2010. “Das politische System Sloweniens.” In Die politischen Systeme Osteuropas, edited by Wolfgang Ismayr, 729-772.

Novak, Marja (2017): Polls open as Slovenian president runs for his second mandate,  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-slovenia-election/polls-open-as-slovenian-president-runs-for-his-second-mandate-idUSKBN1CR05R?il=0

State Election Commission (2017): http://www.dvk-rs.si/index.php/en/where-and-how-to-vote/the-electoral-system-in-slovenia

Zerdin, Ali (2017): Slovenia’s president wins most votes, but faces runoff, in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/slovenians-choose-president-as-pahor-seeks-re-election/2017/10/22/c92d384c-b6f8-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.d460494591ba

Eugene K B Tan – Singapore’s First Reserved Presidential Election: More Haste, Less Speed, and A Missed Opportunity?

This is guest post by Eugene K B Tan, Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University School of Law. He served as an unelected lawmaker between 2012 and 2014 in Singapore’s 12th Parliament.

After much hype and anticipation that preceded it, Singapore’s sixth presidential election in September 2017 quickly reached an anti-climatic end when the Presidential Elections Committee in pre-qualifying three presidential hopefuls determined that only one person, Madam Halimah Yacob, was eligible to contest.

Madam Halimah Yacob, who was Speaker of Singapore’s Parliament between 2013 and August 2017, made history by becoming Singapore’s first-ever woman President. She is also Singapore’s first ethnic Malay President in 47 years since Yusof Ishak (1965-1970), and will hold office for a six-year term until 13 September 2023.

The 2017 election was the third time (after 1999 and 2005) that the presidential election was uncontested since 1993. Earlier, in 1991, the presidency was converted from a ceremonial appointment to a popularly elected one.

This year’s presidential election was unique. Prior to the election, the government had embarked on the most significant re-engineering to Singapore’s constitutional architecture since the introduction of the Elected Presidency (EP) in 1991. In the 1991 constitutional changes, the head of state became a popularly elected office.

The EP institution was born out of the fears of a popularly elected ‘rogue government’ that could send Singapore down the road to ruin and perdition through populist measures that are financially unsustainable and the corrupt appointments of cronies to key leadership positions. However, the EP does not, in any way, detract from the fact that executive power and responsibility resides with the Cabinet. Singapore remains fundamentally a parliamentary system of government.

Under the Singapore Constitution, the EP is not a separate, countervailing power to the elected government. The EP’s role has been likened to a ‘second key,’ a watchdog, and a custodian. Through his custodial powers, the EP provides an additional layer of checks and balances, an “intra-branch” check on the Cabinet, which did not exist prior to 1991, in specifically defined critical areas including the drawdown of past national reserves, key appointments in the Public Service, corruption investigations, preventive detentions without trial under the Internal Security Act, and restraining orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

To enable the president to stand up to the popularly elected government, the constitutional designers in 1991 decided that the head of state should possess the requisite authority and legitimacy through a popular mandate obtained in a presidential election.

Where the EP institution did not fare as well as its predecessor was for the office to be rotated among the different races. Prior to 1991, Singapore had consciously sought to rotate the presidency among the different races. For example, the successors to Yusof Ishak (Malay) were Benjamin Sheares (Eurasian), Devan Nair (Indian), and Wee Kim Wee (Chinese). With the introduction of elections for the presidency, no Malay had been elected in the four elections between 1993 and 2017.

The constitutional review process on the EP began in February 2016 with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appointing a high-powered, nine-member Constitutional Commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, to work on three tightly scripted terms of reference. They sought to update the eligibility requirements for presidential hopefuls, as well as the framework governing the exercise of the President’s custodial powers, including whether the views of the Council of Presidential Advisors can be given more weight – and if so, how. The Commission was also asked to consider including a mechanism to ensure minorities have a chance to be elected as President.

The Commission, only the second in independent Singapore’s 52-year history, invited submissions from the public on specific aspects of the EP. It received more than 100 written submissions. Of these, 20 contributors were invited to expand on their submissions at four public hearings in April and May 2016. The Commission completed its work in August 2016 and its report was publicly released in early September 2016.

The Government followed up with a White Paper on 15 September 2016 outlining its agreement with many of the Commission’s recommendations but also noting some of the differences in implementation and ideas.

A critical proposal it made was to have “reserved elections”, to pre-emptively manage the potential issue of race marginalisation and the need to have a person from every major race for the head of state office. The Commission recommended a “hiatus-triggered” mechanism in which a reserved election is activated only after there has not been a president from a major racial community for five continual terms, or 30 years. Clearly, the Commission viewed the reserved election as an inter-generational safeguard for minority representation.

Besides providing for reserved elections, the amendments to the Constitution made in November 2016 also raised eligibility thresholds for candidates from the private sector to qualify to run for the presidency. Such candidates must be the most senior executive with executive control and being accountable for the entity they run. Such an entity must be at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity, and the candidates must have a track record of running these entities well.

Second, the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) was strengthened. The unelected CPA advises the President on matters pertaining to the exercise of the custodial powers, such as whether the government’s budget would draw on Singapore’s fiscal reserves not accumulated by the government of the day, and key appointments in the Public Service. This constitutional duty to consult the CPA applies to these decisions.

The President can exercise his discretion to veto the budget but if he does so against the advice of the CPA, then Parliament can vote to overrule the President. The November 2016 constitutional amendment increased the number of CPA members from six to eight.

In making consequential legislative amendments in February 2017, the government also announced that the 2017 presidential election would be a reserved election for the Malay community as the hiatus-triggered model came into play. (Whether the 2017 election ought to be a reserved election was the subject of an unsuccessful constitutional challenge.)

Historical Significance Overshadowed

Unfortunately, the historic significance of Madam Halimah’s election was overshadowed by the unhappiness among large segments of Singaporeans.  The public unhappiness cohered around two factors: (1) That the presidential election was uncontested, and (2) the apparent affirmative action provided for in a reserved election runs contrary to meritocracy, a key tenet of the Singaporean society which is almost sacrosanct for public office.

On the unhappiness over the uncontested election, the perception was that the enhanced eligibility criteria were unfair and sought to restrict the pool of eligible candidates to establishment figures and so strengthening the ability of the powers that be in ensuring that their preferred candidate would have a significant electoral advantage.

As for the apparent unhappiness over reserved election, this was not because Singaporeans did not appreciate that the presidency symbolised and embodied the nation itself and was a symbol of national unity. There is no doubt that having a minority President, elected by popular mandate, is a powerful statement of a thriving multiracialism in a polyglot society, where the ethnic Chinese comprise 75 per cent of the citizen population and the ethnic Malay is constitutionally recognised as the indigenous people and accorded a special position within the constitutionally setup.

Rather, Singaporeans were not persuaded that they could not see past a candidate’s race in deciding who to cast their ballot for. Again, the reserved election was seen as excluding candidates who might otherwise be eligible if it were an open election.

To be sure, the reserved election proposal was never popular right from the outset. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the reserved election “would be unpopular and cost us votes”.[1] For the government, their premise was that Singapore has “not arrived at an ideal state of accepting people of a different race” even where progress have been made “but it is a work in progress”. He added that Singaporeans “should not be shy to acknowledge that in Singapore, the majority is making a special effort to ensure that minorities enjoy full and equal treatment”. The reserved election, in ensuring that minorities regularly have a chance to be the President, would also strengthen multiracialism: “[I]t is one important symbol of what Singapore stands for, and a declaration of what we aspires to be. It is a reminder to every citizen, especially the Chinese majority race, that there is a role for every community in Singapore”.

However, there was the concern that the reserved election was an unfair indictment of nation-building efforts and the strength of the Singaporean-Singapore identity. Furthermore, there was also concern that the reserved election could transmogrify into a vehicle for affirmative action. A race-based election can give rise to the belief that a racial community has a legal right for one of its own to be elected president. Will there be subsequent expectations that other public offices be rotated among the races? If all races must have a chance to be elected head of state, would it also be setting a precedent for the other important public office such as the Prime Minister?

The concern with the erosion of the centrality of meritocracy was palpable. The Commission emphasised that candidates in a reserved election will have to meet the stringent eligibility criteria, similar to an open election. However, as a reserved election is not open to hopefuls from other races, a legitimate argument can be made that the meritocratic principle is not exercised in its full measure.

Furthermore, the reserved election approach also presupposes that only a minority race President can be a symbol of Singapore’s much-vaunted multiracialism. Indeed, it is not race or the colour of their skin that automatically endowed previous presidents as symbols of Singapore’s multiracialism. Rather, it was their practice and promotion of multiracialism that infused into the institution of the presidency the spirit and soul of multiracialism.

A reserved election might just reinforce the alleged tendency of Singaporeans to vote along racial lines. Voters might see that there is no necessity or urgency to vote for an electable minority candidate since the system will provide for a minority president in regular intervals if one is not elected.

Put simply, Singaporeans remained sceptical that they will compromise their own best interests and elect someone who is not deserving simply because they are of the same race. On the other hand, the government was of the view that multiracialism in Singapore needed the nudge of reserved election.

In essence, both sides of the debate saw the value and the power of electoral integration and how it could aid in the nation-building endeavour. The apparent chasm pivoted on whether integration should be allowed to develop organically or whether there should be deliberate effort at constitutional engineering. It probably boiled down to how the presidency can be safeguarded as a true symbol of Singapore’s national unity and to keep her multiracialism sustainable.

The above discussion does not at all deny that race, religion, and language remain fault-lines in Singaporean society. Neither do the above arguments under-estimate that these markers of ethnicity can induce and arouse primordial loyalties. Nevertheless, no amount of constitutional engineering can remove a racial or even a racist mindset and disposition in electoral behaviour.

Instead, the key questions that should arise from yet another uncontested presidential election is whether the reserved election mechanism would nudge and provide “incentives” for candidates and the electorate to think of how their electoral behaviour and their votes can entrench multiracialism and for their self-interest.

Singapore’s constant efforts at constitutional engineering suggest that in institutional design or re-design, process and procedures are not mere contingent tools or instruments by which the invaluable end of a more robust system of governance is realised. The process and procedures must be regarded and treated as necessary components of any system of governance.

How Singapore went about effecting the latest set of changes to selected aspects of the elected Presidency matters as much as the end result itself. Lessons will have to be learned as to why the ostensibly good intentions that formed the basis of the constitutional changes were not seen in similar light. It remains early days yet to determine whether values such as multiracialism, meritocracy, integrity, and the democratic mandate will be nurtured in the new constitutional framework.

The less than enthusiastic response to the no-contest outcome in September’s reserved presidential election suggest that ostensibly good intentions alone are inadequate as Singapore strives to create a system of governance that is robust, relevant, and resilient for the good and betterment of Singaporeans’ common destiny. Perhaps the process of engagement was inadequate.

In a one-party dominant system where the ruling People’s Action Party has governed uninterrupted since 1959, such significant constitutional changes are often perceived to be disguised attempts to maintain the political status quo and buttress the political hegemony of the regime. This is more so when the dominant impression was that of the government proceeding with undue haste especially when the system is not regarded to be broken. The process is as important as the final outcome, which in Singapore’s case is often seen as a foregone conclusion. This is a pity and could breed cynicism since the elected presidency, as the apex office in the city-state of 3.44 million citizens, can be a valuable safeguard in a system of government that has long taken pride in and become known for good governance, multiracialism, and meritocracy.

Notes

[1]  Quotes in this paragraph are taken from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks at the People’s Association Kopi Talk at Ci Yuan Community Club, 23 September 2017. The title of his remarks was, “Race, Multiracialism and Singapore’s Place in the World”.

Nigeria – Will President Buhari seek a second term?

This is a post by Sa’eed Husaini

Nigeria’s next election is two years away which, based on the usual rhythms of Nigeria’s electoral cycle, might as well be tomorrow. President Buhari, who swept to power in 2015 following an unlikely opposition victory, just reached the mid-way point of his four year tenure this past May. Yet an energetic slew of endorsements, counter-endorsements, and official declarations of intent by presidential hopefuls have already brought to the fore the question of whether or not Buhari will seek to retain his seat in 2019.

Of course, the fact that Buhari’s second term ambition still remains a matter of speculation rather than a forgone conclusion is itself noteworthy in a broader regional context wherein assuming that incumbents will hold on to power has too frequently been the surest bet.

Closer to home however, Buhari is in a sense a victim of his own success, insofar as his historic victory over incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan affirmed that a second term is no longer effectively a birthright for Nigerian presidents. Moreover, an ambitious and well-heeled crop of would-be successors are already making thinly veiled bids for the presidency meaning that Buhari will have to put up a serious fight if he will retain his tenancy in Aso Villa—Nigeria’s presidential palace—after 2019. Given these factors, what are some important considerations that might shape the president’s decision to either throw in the towel, or toss a hat in the ring?

Why he might run

Continuing to carry out what has largely been a personality-driven agenda will likely be Buhari’s key motivation for seeking to hold on to his seat. The security threat posed by Boko Haram and a fight against corruption have topped the president’s list of priorities during his past two years in office. Indeed Buhari’s background as an army general and a reputation cemented during his brief stint as military head of state for cracking down on corrupt officials were some of the bases for his popularity during his campaign.

Yet in government, much like in his campaign, Buhari’s strong personality, rather than wider institutional efforts, have been the ultimate base of his government’s agenda. Critics of the government’s anti-corruption fight in particular have pointed to its slow pace and unimpressive number of convictions it has scored as evidence of the president’s micro-managerial approach.

A promised clean up of Nigeria’s oil ministry—to which Buhari appointed himself as head—have also recently come under question, as two senior petroleum officials traded allegations of corruption on the front pages of national news. Buhari’s famous disdain for ‘Abuja politics’—or the regular dealings of Nigeria’s political class—has been at the heart of this close to the chest approach and might also imply a desire to personally see to the completion of his agenda, rather than to leave it in the hands of a successor.

Despite the setbacks, Buhari’s popularity, particularly within his core base in Northern Nigeria, is a second important reason why the president might still see a second-term bid as distinctly viable. To his base, built up across his four bids for the presidency, Buhari has represented the moral alternative to the corruption of mainstream Nigerian politics, a view which has been sustained (perhaps even been affirmed) amidst the difficulties his government has faced in navigating the treachery of high politics while in office. Firm affirmations and endorsements from across the North seem to suggest that, despite the stiffness of the mounting competition, he is still the man to beat in this region of the country.

Why he might not run

There are also a number of formidable hurdles that could dissuade Buhari against a possible second term.

Chief among these has been repeated health crises which have resulted in several extended medical absences during his presidency. This year, the president has spent more time in the U.K., where he has received medical treatment, than in Nigeria. Given his age of 74, these health challenges have been of particular concern.

The secrecy of the presidency about the exact nature of his illness strongly suggests a desire not to foreclose the possibility of a second term bid. Yet it also seems likely that audible doubts raised about his capacity to govern given his illness and advancing age will be a major consideration in deliberations about his political future.

Beyond the personal challenges, a Buhari second term bid also faces considerable political headwinds. Notwithstanding his popularity in the north, Buhari’s victory in the 2015 would not have been possible had he not joined a coalition with other regionally dominant political figures, including former governor of Lagos and southwestern political titan Bola Tinubu. This alliance, which is at the heart of Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) party, has at various points during the presidency appeared to teeter at the verge of collapse. The party’s internal disfunction was brought home in 2016 when First Lady Aisha Buhari, in a publicly aired interview, criticized the president for failing to accommodate the interests of important members of the coalition and, significantly, threatened not to support her husband’s re-election in 2019. More recently, the President’s Women Affairs minister also publicly declared that she would support Atiku Abubaker, another major member of the APC coalition, over Buhari in a 2019 race. It is highly likely that these deep fissures in the coalition which brought Buhari to power will also constitute a significant consideration in the presidents’ assessment of his electoral prospects and ultimate decision to either return or retire.

What is at stake

Ultimately Buhari’s decision in either direction will be the most important test the APC would have faced since the 2015 elections, as the response of the party’s major stakeholders—whether to support or oppose Buhari’s decision—will determine the party’s continued cohesion and future. Furthermore, the chances that the opposition People’s Democratic Party, can make significant inroads before the 2019 election will also crucially depend on the candidate whom the APC selects as its frontrunner. The wider impact of a Buhari re-election bid for Nigeria more generally is also worth considering: a president walking away from a second-term ticket could signal that Nigeria’s democracy has matured to the extent that leaders see the best interest of the country as more important than personal ambition. How Buhari will ultimately decide still remains uncertain but what is clear is that his second term ambition is a matter that will certainly require some careful consideration.

Kyrgyzstan – A Setback for Democracy: The 2017 Presidential Election

Sunday’s presidential election in Kyrgyzstan serves as a reminder that constitutional engineering can only go so far in furthering democracy. To inoculate Kyrgyzstan against the kinds of hyper-presidential regimes found in neighboring countries in Central Asia—and in Kyrgyzstan itself under President Kurmanbek Bakiev (2005-2010)—the Constitution of 2010 transferred broad powers to the parliament and limited the president to a single six-year term. The first president directly elected under these new arrangements, Almazbek Atambaev, has in recent weeks congratulated himself on adhering to the provisions of the Constitution, boasting that he had the political support to change the rules on term limits if he had wanted. However, the legacy of President Atambaev will be tarnished by his insistence on forcing on the country a successor whose election in the first round could not have occurred without the massive mobilization of the state apparatus and without Atambaev’s own campaign of innuendo and half-truths about the leading candidate of the opposition.

Preliminary results from 99 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s precincts show that Atambaev’s hand-picked successor, Sooronbai Zheenbekov, received almost 55 percent of the vote, while the main opposition candidate, Omurbek Babanov, captured just under 34 percent of the vote. Of the remaining 9 contenders in the race, some of whom were heavyweights in Kyrgyzstani politics, no one received over 6.5 percent of the vote. Almost three-quarters of one percent of the electorate chose the “vote against all” option on the ballot.

When Sooronbai Zheenbekov emerged in the late spring as Atambaev’s pick to represent the President’s party—the Social Democrats—in the presidential election in October, he seemed in many respects an unlikely figure to contest the presidency. Although he served as Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister from the spring of 2016 to the summer of 2017, he had not previously been in the leading rank of Kyrgyzstani politicians. A 58-year old official from the southern city of Osh whose wooden manner betrayed an early stint in the Communist Party apparatus, Zheenbekov’s energy level and demeanor contrasted sharply with the higher-octane favorite in the field, Omurbek Babanov, the charismatic 47-year old former prime minister and leader of the Republican Party. Where Zheenbekov had the support of the President and the machinery of state, Babanov was able to tap into his vast personal wealth to run an efficient, modern campaign that smothered the country’s physical and virtual space with the candidate’s image and, in the final days before balloting, sent individually addressed letters to voters.

In a country where regional and kinship ties can turn elections, Zheenbekov enjoyed a structural advantage over Babanov. He hailed from the largest region in the country, the southern province of Osh, whereas Babanov’s home was in the northern territory of Talas, Kyrgyzstan’s smallest region, one-fifth the size of Osh. Not surprisingly, it was in these two regions where voter turnout was highest. Whereas the national turnout approached 56 percent—the lowest on record for a presidential election, and well below the 61 percent participation rate in the previous presidential contest—over 68 and 61 percent of the voters turned out in the Osh and Talas regions, respectively. In a development that will surely raise doubts in the Babanov camp about the fairness of the count, the turnout rate in Talas declined by more than 20 percent compared to the 2011 presidential contest, while the participation rate in the Osh region increased by more than 15 percent. Given the very large numbers of migrant workers from the traditionally poorer southern regions who work in Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan, a turnout rate approaching 70 percent in the Osh region is unusually high.

Whatever the role of regionalism in voter behavior, that factor alone is unable to explain the success of Zheenbekov in Sunday’s election. For one, although individuals may come from a particular district or region, they surround themselves with political allies who are broadly dispersed across the country. In the case of Babanov, not only has his party traditionally enjoyed deep support in both the North and the South, but he concluded a pact less than three weeks before the election with a prominent candidate from the Jalal-Abad region in the South, Bakyt Torobaev, the leader of a parliamentary faction. The two men entered into a “tandem” that called for Babanov to appoint Torobaev prime minister if he won the presidency.
The Babanov-Torobaev “tandem” was but one of a number of pacts concluded in recent months that led to the withdrawal from the presidential race of prominent contenders for the presidency. This winnowing of the field through behind-the-scenes deal-making has become a standard feature of presidential races in Kyrgyzstan, and in this case it may well have helped Zheenbekov to win the contest in the first round. A larger field of veteran politicians, each with his or her own geographic and kinship networks, would have made it far more difficult for President Atambaev’s hand-picked successor to have achieved a first-round majority. As in previous contests, disqualifications based on the selective prosecution of prospective candidates and alleged violations of registration technicalities also narrowed the field of candidates considerably.

Assuming that the vote totals are accurate—and one official protocol from a southern precinct showing all 1369 votes for Zheenbekov raises serious doubts about that premise—the most compelling explanations for Zheenbekov’s first-round victory appear to lie in the campaign itself. State officials sympathetic to President Atambaev pursued a range of initiatives designed to tilt the scales in favor of Zheenbekov, from threats against government workers if they didn’t vote for Zheenbekov to en masse voting by teachers and university students, organized by the heads of state-related schools and higher education institutions. In a trip to the Batken region in the country’s South, a deputy prime minister in charge of overseeing the election was caught on tape telling local government personnel to vote for Zheenbekov or else. You mustn’t spit in the well you drink from, he warned them. For their part, leaders of the police and security services sought to convince the public that Babanov or those in his entourage were plotting to engage in violence to steal the election, accusations contained in leaked information from what should have been confidential interrogations. On election eve and election day, in several locations around the country the police brought in for questioning members of Babanov’s campaign team, which in some cases kept them from their duties as precinct observers.

In what may have been the most damaging blow to Babanov’s prospects, the Central Election Commission (CEC) heard a complaint in the final days of the campaign about a speech Babanov had given in the South to a group of Kyrgyzstani citizens of Uzbek ethnicity. The CEC concluded that Babanov’s comments violated campaign rules by “stirring up inter-ethnic enmity.” His offense: he told the ethnic Uzbeks that under his presidency, “if a policeman messes with (tronet) Uzbeks, he will be fired.” Although this complaint resulted in CEC’s third warning to Babanov, which could have disqualified him, it was the broad dissemination of portions of the speech, not just by the CEC but the Procuracy, which may well have undermined Babanov’s electoral prospects. In this case, President Atambaev’s team was engaging in what are called “dog whistles” in the United States, that is coded messages directed at nationalist voters among the ethnic Kyrgyz who have no interest in the state assuring equal treatment for ethnic Uzbeks.

President Atambaev and his political allies also exploited a meeting of Babanov with President Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan to raise further questions about the candidate’s loyalty to the Kyrgyz nation. In a stunning reaction to the unexpected meeting of Nazarbaev and Babanov in Kazakhstan, Atambaev launched the harshest attack ever directed against a neighboring president by a Kyrgyzstani leader. The tirade enjoyed considerable popularity on social media in Kazakhstan, a country that is not used to seeing its long-serving leader subjected to criticism.

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We started this post by observing that a country’s institutional design is not a sufficient condition for democracy. Without leaders who are willing to lose and state officials who are willing to apply the laws dispassionately, elections will not ensure the accountability of a government to its people. But if there is a modicum of hope to be taken from Sunday’s presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, it is that the stakes of this election for the nation were not as high as in some earlier contests. The paring of the powers of the presidency—accomplished through the 2010 Constitution and amendments pushed through by Atambaev last year—mean that the prime minister’s office may at last emerge as the core executive institution in Kyrgyzstan’s peculiar and ever-changing form of semi-presidentialism. Other elements of the country’s institutional design encourage a multi-party system and coalition governments, which tend to create the kind of messy and inefficient governance that works against the consolidation of power in the hands of a single individual.

To what extent the departing president will remain in the political game as a force behind Zheenbekov and the prime minister will become clear when Atambaev leaves the presidency in December. When Zheenbekov resigned the post of premier to run for the presidency two months ago, Atambaev installed his 40-year old former chief-of-staff, Sapar Isakov, as the new prime minister, and Isakov then surrounded himself with youthful technocrats rather than politicians. This combination of a less than forceful President-Elect and an inexperienced prime minister would seem to prepare the ground for the continued involvement of ex-President Almazbek Atambaev at the apex of Kyrgyzstani politics.