Tag Archives: Presidential Power

Jessica Fortin-Rittberger – Strong Presidents for Weak Post-communist States

This is a guest post by Jessica Fortin-Rittberger, Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Salzburg. It is based on a chapter entitled  “Strong Presidents for Weak States. How Weak State Capacity fosters Vertically Concentrated Executives” in Philipp Harfst, Ina Kubbe, Thomas Poguntke (eds.) Parties, Governments and Elites: The Comparative Study of Democracy, Springer series in comparative politics.

The link between institutions and democratic survival is at the heart of a vibrant scholarly exchange, debating the virtues and perils of parliamentary and presidential systems. Presidentialism in Latin America, but also in former Soviet republics, correlates strongly with authoritarianism. But what if this correlation is an artefact? What if it is rooted in a constellation of conditions that predate the choice of institutions? In other words, are presidential institutions shallow causes of democratic consolidation? In a newly published paper, I argue that the conditions under which different types of executives are chosen following regime transitions are indeed a key to the puzzle. I propose an explanation that suggests that the intrinsic features of presidential systems are less relevant than the conditions that facilitate the installation of vertically-concentrated executive power.

I focus on a specific form of context: infrastructural state capacity understood as “the institutional capacity of a central state, despotic or not, to penetrate its territories and logistically implement decisions” (Mann 1993: 59). Many of the new states that were born after the 18th century, and especially after World War II, were not consolidated and suffered from limited infrastructural capacity. Interestingly, many of these new states also emerged with vertically-concentrated presidential arrangements: I do not think this is a coincidence. In situations where infrastructural state capacity is most deficient, the vertical concentration of executive power in the hands of a few players becomes more likely.

To look into this relationship, I examined 26 post-communist countries over the period between 1989 and 2009. This set of countries is an ideal testing ground to probe this relationship, since the environment of state capacity is temporally prior to the selection of institutions. Most new constitutions were established in a time period ranging from a few months (Hungary) to up to five years (Ukraine) after the collapse of communism. To capture the level of power concentration in the hands of the executive, I employed two indicators. Table 1 presents the scores of both indicators in the year of the first post-communist constitution. The first encapsulates the formal level of power concentration from Frye, Hellman and Tucker’s Data Base on Political Institutions in the Post-Communist World (2000). In this measurement, powers of popularly elected presidents are scored from (1) to (21), where (1) represents the weakest presidents in terms of constitutional provisions, and (21) the presidents endowed with the most prerogatives. The second indicator taps into informal practices. I used the item called “constraints on chief executive” from the Polity IV dataset (Marshall and Jaggers, 2012). This measures the operational (de facto) independence of the chief executive in relations to other players. The categories range from (1) where the chief executive has unlimited authority, through (7) where the chief executive is at parity or subordination to other institutional players (legislative assembly, prime minister, constitutional court). Harnessing both formal and informal aspects of executive power allows me to grasp the phenomenon of power concentration in an encompassing fashion.

The analyses provide unambiguous support for my core argument that state capacity is crucial to establish executive dominance over other institutional players. State capacity at the onset of independence (or transition) helps to explain the level of executive power concentration in the newly designed constitutions. This means that in environments with weak infrastructural state capacity it is easier for politicians aiming to secure state power or to access to the state’s power resources to push for the adoption of strong, vertical forms of executive power. Once in place, these power structures have proven quite durable, although some countries have recently enacted reforms to curb executive power, at least on paper. This also helps explain why the record of presidentialism has been so dire in the region; it is not the institution of a president per se that is harmful to democracy, rather the extent to which power is concentrated.

Even though I find these strong relationships in my research, there are some important caveats. Many of these institutional setups are static over time, hence my models face difficulties to explain recent occurrences of executive power concentration that were accompanied with democratic backsliding. Turkey is a case in point, where we can observe the demise of a democracy in a brazen power grab at the hands of a leader seeking to establish a presidential vertical. Yet, the state was not weak at that point. Hungary is another example, with the authoritarian tendencies of its government, and Prime Minister, to curtail political rights and freedoms, as well as dilute institutional checks and balances. Hungary is particularly problematic for my argument, since it should have been a least likely candidate for such a reversal.

A strong state is therefore no guarantee against executives engaging in power grabs; a weak state simply makes it easier.

Works cited:

Frye, T., Hellmann, J. S. & Tucker, J. 2000. Data Base on Political Institutions in the Post-Communist World, unpublished, Columbia University.

Mann, M. 1993. The Sources of Social Power, Vol. 2: The Rise of Classes and Nation States, 1760-1914, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Marshall, M. G. & Jaggers, K. 2012. Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2012. The Polity IV dataset

Fabian Burkhardt – The Paradox of Presidential Power under Authoritarianism: Studying the Institutionalization of Russia’s Presidential Administration 1994 – 2012

This is a guest post by Fabian Burkhardt (University of Bremen & German Institute for International and Security Affairs)

Rulers cannot rule alone. This simple wisdom is oftentimes forgotten with regard to Putin’s Russia. This blog post summarises a paper presented at the BASEES Annual Conference in Cambridge that attempts a systematic inquiry into the institutionalization of Russia’s ‘institutional presidency’ – the Presidential Administration – between 1994 and 2012. It argues that partial institutionalization over time contributed to an increase in presidential administrative power. But as personalism and proceduralism coexist, presidents remained weak and debilitated at the same time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with Sergei Kiriyenko, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office (left) | photo via Kremlin.ru

The U.S.-American presidency remains the best-studied example of a presidential administration to date. After early presidents still had to hire staff out of their own pocket, Congress finally granted funds – albeit only for a single clerk. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and the creation of the Executive Office of the President in 1939, the White House staff has steadily  grown into a fully-fledged bureaucratic organization. In the U.S. literature on the ‘institutional presidency’ – the process of staff growth, functional specialization, increasing complexity and routinized patterns of organizing work – is referred to as ‘institutionalization’ and usually contrasted to Neustadt’s seminal, but president-centered, personalized perspective on presidential power. We know quite a lot about the complexity, centralization, politicization and unilateralism of the U.S. ‘institutional presidency’, but not very much about ‘presidential centers’ elsewhere. Particularly for post-Soviet countries, and the Russian Federation more specifically, much remains to be explored. This can be partly ascribed to a lack of readily available data, yet this is also predicated on the tendency to focus on executive-legislative relations on the one hand, and a president-centered leadership bias on the other. Moreover, Russia scholars have made numerous contributions to the ‘Institutions under Authoritarianism’ literature, but so far they limited themselves to the legislature, parties, elections, or center-region-relations.

My research aims to open up the black box of an “institutional presidency” under authoritarianism: I analyze the ‘institutionalization’ of ‘the Kremlin’ – or more precisely the Presidential Administration (PA) – by taking a longitudinal view from 1994 until 2012, a period which spans the three presidents Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, and ten chiefs of staff. This strategy was chosen, among others, to investigate in how far core characteristics of the PA survive turnover of presidents and chiefs of staffs. To do this I applied a framework that was initially developed by Samuel Huntington who understood institutionalization as an “increasingly stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior”, and which was later applied to the U.S. and Latin American ‘institutional presidencies’ (Table 1).

Scholars have attested a high degree of personalism to Russian governance both in the 1990s and 2000s. In the 1990s the PA defied “traditional categories of organizational analysis” as it mixed “hierarchical bureaucracy” and a “loose confederation of offices” (Huskey 2016). Furthermore, Yeltsin’s approach to organizing advice in the administration “was individualized, anti-procedural, and anti-institutional” (Breslauer 2008). In the 2000s, a high degree of regime personalization, neopatrimonialism and patronal politics should also present a major obstacle to institutionalization. However, if we follow the logic of the literature on stable authoritarian regimes, one would expect that autocrats strive to reduce uncertainty of future outcomes by means of stable patterns recurring over time. Huskey sees the Russia of the 2000s as a technocratic authoritarian regime with an ever increasing “bureaucratization of politics”, hence concomitant to the party system or executive-legislative relations one should also expect a certain degree of institutionalization in the PA.

My research shows that, unsurprisingly, both proceduralism and personalism persisted, but their proportion changed over time. In my view, a strong case can be made for at least a partial institutionalization of the PA, mostly thanks to an increased autonomy, regularized procedures and more stable structures in the adaptability and complexity indicators.

With regard to autonomy, a tendency towards a “progressive independence of the executive power” (Schmitter 1976). This can be illustrated by the swelling of the PA’s share of the annual state budget in comparison to other state organs. While in 1994, both the PA and the Duma’s share were comparable at about 0.1 percent, by 2012 the share of the PA grew to around 0.7 percent while the Duma’s was more than 17 times smaller (0.04%). Until 1999 the difference was not that large, yet the years 1999 – 2003 marked a transition period which suggests that the rise of United Russia as a dominant party played a significant role in this.

Recruitment patterns of PA staff were used as a second indicator to find out whether staff was hired and promoted from the outside of the PA, or by means of a more closed hiring system from the inside. The challenge was to choose a category of staff that existed for the whole period of investigation. Therefore, I collected a complete data set of all presidential representatives in Russia’s regions for 1991 and 1999 and Main Federal Inspectors (MFI), who after the 2000 federalism reform fulfilled approximately the same task.

Figure 1 shows that until 1999 Federal Representatives were almost exclusively recruited from outside the PA, most frequently with a background from the federal parliament, or regional executives or legislatures. However, by 2004 more than one third of MFI boasted experience within the PA apparatus of federal representatives before they were promoted to this position.

For the adaptability indicator, a complete set of all units of the PA was compiled with information on their duration of survival over time.

Among the 100 units in the set, only seven “core units” survived for the whole period of investigation. Overall, I find that in the 1990s almost four times as many units were created as in the 2000s, after Putin came to power the units survived on average twice as long as under Yeltsin. Also, electoral cycles, and with them the rotation of chiefs of staff in proximity to elections, became crucial for the survival of units.

For complexity and functional specialization, organigrams were collected from various sources such as archives, presidential decrees and media. These schemes give an idea how structure “shapes the kind, caliber, and amount of information presidents receive on policy matters”. Figure 3 provides just one example to illustrate the approach: 1996 three parallel hierarchies existed within the administration: The Service of Aides (upper left), the security pillar which includes the Security Council (upper right) as well as the general management pillar subordinate directly to the chief of staff (lower middle).

The legendary Service of Aides was soon to abolished and never to be revived, among others because of the competing hierarchy and direct information channel it created paralleling the one of the chief of staff. Overall, it can be posited that at the latest by 1998 a consolidated structure was achieved by excluding some major units that had made the organization exceedingly complex. After that time, merging and adding new smaller units by layering were the main strategies of “institutional gardening” applied.

And finally, coherence refers to unity and consensus, and is operationalized as rule-following and compliance. For this purpose, I compiled annual implementation rates of presidential orders (Porucheniia Prezidenta) from internal statistics of the PA’s own Monitoring Department. Stunningly, for the 2000s only between 40 and 60 percent of presidential orders were implemented by the addressees of these orders. In other words executive actors oftentimes resist Putin’s policy initiatives. While even in Western democracies it cannot be assumed that unilateral executive acts are self-enforcing, in Russia this can be explained by bad governance and “debilitated dirigisme”: the “failure of an activist state”, or in this case an activist president, to control its supposedly subordinate agents.

So where does this leave us? In his seminal work on authoritarian Chile Pablo Policzer remarked that “rulers cannot rule alone”. This might sound a bit simplistic at first glance, but is highly relevant for Russia. Presidents – be it Yeltsin, Putin or Medvedev – were only as powerful as their administrations allowed them to be. Especially Vladimir Putin who is oftentimes portrayed as seemingly omnipotent oftentimes winds up being impotent after all, in particular when other actors need to be empowered to get things done. Due to a partial institutionalization of the PA, the ‘power over’ – its organizational and coercive aspects – increased, but not the ‘power to’, the ability to govern proactively.

Fabian Burkhardt is completing his PhD entitled “Presidential power and institutional change: A study on the presidency of the Russian Federation” at the University of Bremen’s Research Centre for East European Studies. He is a member of the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies in Munich. Currently, he is also a fellow at the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. More information about his research can be found here (https://lmu-munich.academia.edu/FabianBurkhardt). He tweets @fa_burkhardt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johannes W. Fedderke and Dennis Jett – Pricing US Ambassadorial Postings: how much would you have to pay to be posted as US ambassador to the Court of St. James?

This is a guest post by Johannes W. Fedderke and Dennis Jett from Pennsylvania State University. It is based on their recent article in Governance.

US ambassadorial postings are unusual. Unlike other major powers, a significant proportion of US ambassadors are political appointees rather than career diplomats. Political appointees, chosen by the White House rather than the State Department, are non-randomly distributed across diplomatic posts, being most common in Western European and Caribbean countries.  They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but they have in common the fact that in some way they helped the president get elected. The largest number do that that through campaign contributions, but others do it by bringing diversity to the ranks of appointees, for some other political purpose, by being personal friends or serving as loyal staff aides to the president. These categories are not mutually exclusive, but one is usually predominant.

In a recent paper,[1] we explore the why and the how of the US ambassadorial appointments process.

Patronage utility frameworks provide plausible explanations of “why” donors and special interest group representatives are chosen for ambassadorships, and we examine two possibilities: all-pay auctions and alternating offer bargaining games.

Since a political appointment to a diplomatic post provides a rent to the recipient, one analytical approach to the contest for the posting is provided by all-pay auctions, in which all bidders pay for the prize regardless of whether their bid proves successful or not. As an alternative to the strategic interaction by means of auction, which does not allow for negotiation over the prize or its value, the strategic interaction between the donor and presidential candidates can also be thought of as a multiperiod alternating offer bargaining game.

Under plausible and readily specifiable conditions, the implication of both frameworks is symmetrical: donors get what they pay for, with low donations eliciting low quality posting offers, high donations high quality posting offers. The immediate empirical prediction is that higher campaign donations should be matched by better quality diplomatic postings.

So why are both theoretical frameworks of relevance?

Direct reliance on bargaining over donations and posts would constitute a violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. On the other hand, under all-pay auctions, the expectation is that donors would pay the full underlying valuation of diplomatic posts. Empirically this is not universally true, with both over- and underpayment for posts observable. This can be more readily accounted for in terms of a bargaining framework, with donor and candidate having varying bargaining strengths from case to case. Reality is likely a messy and complex result of both of these processes.

In our paper, we test the proposition that higher donations will be associated with better postings, and extend the analysis to provide a “pricing” of posts in terms of their underlying characteristics.

Our data covers ambassadorial appointments to all countries with whom the United States has diplomatic relations, a total of 170 countries, for both terms of the G.W.Bush presidency, and both terms of the Obama presidency, through 2013. The data covers 13 years of ambassadorial appointments, generating 764 data points. We measure the desirability of diplomatic posts by means of per capita GDP (GDPPC), its attractiveness as a tourist destination (measured as the number of tourist visits), and the level of hardship or danger pay the ambassador receives in a post. We also distinguish between different “types” of donation, directly to presidential campaigns as personal donations, to the political party of the presidential candidate, “bundling” donations by means of which donors act as coordinators for larger groupings of donors to provide financial support to campaigns, as well as “ex post” donations to campaigns (for instance to the inauguration of a successful presidential candidate).

We demonstrate that higher donations to presidential campaigns predict an improved desirability of diplomatic postings for donors, across both the per capita GDP and attractiveness as tourist destination metrics.

Types of donations can also be shown to have a differential impact on the quality of appointment. While donors to political parties realize the highest per capita GDP postings (on average $14,000 higher than career diplomats), while campaign donors realize more moderately improved postings (on average $6,000 higher than career diplomats), in terms of the return on each dollar donated, the highest return is realized by campaign donors. Thus a $100,000 campaign contribution raises the GDP per capita level of the diplomatic posting by $27,000; a $1,000,000 party political donation raises the GDP per capita level of the diplomatic posting by $5,000.

The implication is that donating to the party requires much greater contributions to secure a comparable post to campaign donations, but since there are fewer caps on what can be given to a political party than there are for donations directly to presidential campaigns, there is the opportunity to compete more aggressively for better posts by contributing large amounts to the former.

So how much would you have to pay for a US diplomatic posting? In our paper we explore this question for all feasible posts, and across a range of possible forms of political donations. Here we cut to the chase, and list four of the more up-market options (Berlin, London, Paris, Rome) – see Table below. We list the implied “prices” of the diplomatic posts under either personal campaign contributions to a presidential campaign directly, computed specifically for the first Obama term, or for party political contributions, computed as an average for all four presidential terms in our data set. Both prices are on the per capita GDP metric of country desirability rating.

Should your target post be the Court of St. James, the cheapest option was by means of personal contributions to the first term of the Obama administration (a snip at $1.1 million), the most expensive option via party political donations (on average $4.3 million over the 2000-13 period).

  Personal Contribution
Obama 1st term
GDP per capita metric (US$)
Party Political Contribution
All 4 Presidential Terms
GDP per capita metric (US$)
Berlin 1,170,517 4,514,841
London 1,131,642 4,331,352
Paris 1,089,080 4,140,936
Rome 881,985 3,190,090


[1] Fedderke, J.W., and Jett, D., 2016, What Price the Court of St. James? Political Influences on Ambassadorial Postings of the United States of America, Governance, forthcoming, DOI 10.1111/gove.12254.

Presidential power and the Austrian presidential election

In April 2016, I was asked by the Austrian newspaper, Die Presse, to provide some general thoughts on presidents and presidential power in the run up to the first round of the presidential election there. The FPÖ candidate, Norbert Hofer, was expected to do well and I was asked about how the role of the president might change if he won. The article in Die Presse summarised my thoughts and is available in German here. With the re-run run-off election due to be held on 4 December and with the FPÖ likely to win, here is the full transcript of the comments I returned. They seem as relevant now as before except that the traditional situation in Austria is perhaps even more likely to change if Hofer is elected than was envisaged in April. Given the context of the election, if he wins he may wish to flex his presidential powers. Moreover, the presidency itself is also perhaps more likely to be the subject of controversy.

  • Which of the powers of a president have the greatest political significance in your view?

Presidential powers are always dependent upon context, particularly the party political context. For example, the power to dissolve parliament seems like a really important constitutional power. However, if the president’s party is poorly placed to do well at the election or if an election has been held only recently and another election is not going to change the situation, then the power to dissolve the legislature becomes almost a dead power. In effect, the president cannot use it. The same goes for the power to call a referendum. Presidents tend to call referendums when they know they are going to win them. If they are worried that they will lose, then they rarely risk calling one in the first place. So, the power in effect disappears.

Two important powers are the power to appoint and dismiss the PM. The power to appoint the PM seems very important. However, as before, often presidents have little choice. The election may have returned a party or coalition with a legislative majority. The party or coalition is likely to have its own Chancellor candidate. So, the president can often do little more than choose the PM that the parties have already agreed on. Only if there is a very fragmented party system, or if the government collapses and there is no clear alternative PM can the president exercise a personal influence. Clearly, this circumstance can arise, but it usually rare. By contrast, the power to dismiss the PM can be important. This situation can allow the president to take the initiative, especially if the PM is unpopular. The risk is that it brings the president into conflict with the parties in the legislature. Indeed, this power is one that is not recommended for young democracies.

  • Do you agree with the view that the actual power of a president depends on whether he controls (or is able to neutralize) parliament? Is it true that in a semi-presidential regime, a weak parliament is the precondition for a strong president?

Again, the exercise of power is a mix of constitutional powers and political context. France is the classic example here. In 1958 the constitutional powers of parliament were greatly reduced and by the mid-1960s the president was established as the main political leader of the country. So it looks as if a weak parliament was a necessary condition for a strong president. However, in France presidents have tended to be backed by a presidential majority in parliament. This majority has been loyal. The majority has not wanted to use any of parliament’s remaining powers to block the president. Even when the majority has been opposed to the president during periods of cohabitation, power has simply shifted to the prime minister. Parliament has not become any stronger. So, yes, the constitution matters. Parliaments can have more or less powers in that regard. However, the relationship between presidents and parties is equally if not more important. In practice, a weak parliament is often the result of a particular party political context, just as much as if not more so than the constitutional situation itself. Of course, the flip side can occur too. If the party political context is confused, then parliament can become strong, usually viz. the PM and government, though, rather than the president. That said, if parliament uses it power to vote down a government, then the president can be called upon to make a choice about a new government.

  • If you assess the constitutional powers of the Austrian president, could he – given different political circumstances – become as strong an institutional figure as the French president? What would be necessary for this to happen?

Austria is a very unusual case. Iceland is perhaps the only other country like it in terms of the presidency. In both countries, the powers of the president are strong relative to most other semi-presidential countries. For example, the Austria president probably has more constitutional powers than the the French president. The Austrian president can dismiss the PM and government, whereas the French president, according to the constitution at least, cannot. In practice, though, the situations in the two countries are reversed. In Austria, the president is a pure figurehead and has almost always simply executed the decisions that the government and parties have wanted. True, some presidents have been more willing to criticize the government than others, but none has used their powers independently. By contrast, the French president is seen as the leader of the presidential majority in parliament. This means that the president has usually been able to appoint a loyal prime minister who will carry out the president’s wishes with the backing of the majority. As the leader of the majority, the president has also had the de facto power to change the PM even though this is not in the constitution, whereas the Austrian president has not exercised that power, even though it is in the constitution.

For the situation in Austria to change, the political context must change. Up to now, parties have not chosen candidates who are likely to see the presidency as an active institution. This can be seen in the age and profile of previous presidents and presidential candidates. They have tended to be elderly figures, who have often had an important party career in the past but who are no longer senior party decision-making figures. Alternatively, they have been largely independent figures who have been adopted by political parties. In neither case have they had the party political authority to act independently. In this context, it is not surprising that they have been figurehead presidents. Moreover, there is also the historical factor in Austria. This has weighed against the desire for an active presidency. However, the political context can always change. If the president were to come from outside the governing parties, then this could change the situation. The new president might feel that s/he has a mandate to act. Also, if there was now a mood for a more active presidency to address the country’s difficult issues, then a new president might feel justified in using his/her powers.

Let’s go back to the Icelandic case. Here, it was very common to hear that the president’s powers were lost. The president was a pure figurehead. Nothing would change that. Powers would never be used. However, during the financial crash the president vetoed government bills on two occasions, leading to two referendums. Suddenly, the powers that some people had assumed had been lost came back. In fact, they had never gone away. It was just that the political context had changed and now the president was in a position to use them. The context in Austria may change too.

  • Is there any institutional aspect or authority that makes the Austrian president extraordinary in comparison with other European presidents (e.g. the right to freely choose the prime minister?

Other countries have this power. For example, the French president has the power to nominate the PM freely. It is worth noting that in contrast to some countries the Austrian president does not have long list of clearly defined executive powers. If the new president wanted to be more active and if the president was from a party that was not in government, there may be the potential for the constitutional powers of the president and government to be disputed. In this event, the courts might be called upon the interpret the constitution. This has happened previously in countries like Romania and Poland. So, the presidency could become a source of constitutional debate. Again, though, this would require a change of political context.

  • Do you think that directly elected presidents are (ceteris paribus) more powerful/influential than indirectly elected presidents, or are other factors (such as the configuration of the party system or the authority of the office-holders) of greater significance?

Direct election is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a strong president. It is true that directly elected presidents tend to be more powerful than indirectly elected ones. For example, the directly elected French and Romanian presidents are more active than the indirectly elected German or Latvian presidents. That said, there are some very weak directly elected presidents. Austria is one case. Ireland and Slovenia are others. There are also times when indirectly elected presidents have been influential in countries like Italy. So, direct election is not a guarantee of power. Moreover, if we look at Slovakia and the Czech Republic, both of which changed their constitution and shifted from an indirectly elected president to a directly elected president, we see that the role of the president scarcely changed pre- and post-direct election. In other words, direct election has not made much difference to the exercise of presidential power in either country.

Again, what matters in the mix of the constitutional situation and the political context. The combination of a directly elected president, an important set of constitutional powers, and a political context where the exercise of those powers is seen as both legitimate and desirable can lead to a very influential president. In practice, that combination of factors has been relatively rare in post-war Europe. France is the obvious case where they have combined on occasions. In most cases, though, even when there has been a directly elected president, then either the president has not enjoyed very many powers, or, more usually, the party political context has not been particularly conducive to the exercise of those powers at least in the long-term.

Johannes Freudenreich – The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems

This is a guest post by Johannes Freudenreich, Postdoctoral research fellow at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft at the University of Munich. It is based on an recent article in Latin American Politics and Society

In the beginning of the 21st century, prospects of Latin American presidential democracies were good. The dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s had vanished, economies were constantly growing, and comprehensive social welfare programs were implemented. Many political scientists link these successes to the ability of Latin American presidents to form, maintain and manage cabinet coalitions (Cheibub 2007). The differences between presidential and parliamentary systems of government seemed to have become rather marginal. Both presidents and prime ministers achieved legislative majorities by forming broad cabinet coalitions and critics of the presidential form of democracy, such as Juan Linz (1994), seemed to be proven wrong. However, soon presidential impeachments became the new pattern of political instability in the region (Pérez Liñan 2007). Cabinet reshuffling remains constantly high and broad corruption schemes, directly linked to coalition politics, have been disclosed, such as the Mensalão Scandal in Brazil, where the ruling party of President Lula da Silva used illegal side payments to secure the legislative support of members of the ruling coalition.

My recent article in Latin American Politics and Society takes a systematic look at the formation of cabinet coalitions in presidential systems over the past 25 years. It analyzes the extent to which presidents in 13 Latin American countries have formed coalitions that increase their law-making capabilities, and whether presidents form coalitions tailored to find majorities in Congress especially when presidents have low independent influence over policy based on their institutional law-making powers.

The study complements the perspective that cabinet coalitions are largely an instrument for finding legislative majorities with the idea that presidents use cabinet posts to honor pre-electoral support. The reason is the following: presidential elections provide strong incentives for electoral coordination because they tend to favor two-candidate competition. In a multi-party setting, this means that parties have incentives to form pre-electoral coalitions to present joint presidential candidates. When negotiating pre-electoral pacts, parties are likely to agree on how to share the benefits of winning including cabinet posts. After the election, presidents find it difficult to abandon these agreements as they need the trust and support of other parties within and outside of their coalition during their presidential term. Thus, it is expected that cabinet coalitions are likely to be based on the electoral team of presidents and that other legislative parties are invited to join the cabinet only additionally to parties of the existing pre-electoral coalition.

The study further argues that parties attractive as pre-electoral coalition partners are not necessarily the ones that would achieve cabinet participation if the negotiations of cabinet posts were an unconstrained post-electoral process. For example, in a one-dimensional policy space, extreme parties, parties more extreme than the president to the median legislator, are relatively unimportant for legislative decisions and thus unlikely to be included in the cabinet for legislative reasons. In a presidential race, however, extreme parties can provide valuable votes and campaign resources and therefore have far stronger blackmailing power. Furthermore, presidential contests produce a strong antagonism between the president and the parties of the president’s electoral rivals. Since the president’s survival in office is not contingent on the support of other parties in parliament, parties that present a strong presidential candidate are likely to be excluded from the cabinet, even if their inclusion is rational from a lawmaking perspective. It is therefore expected that the party of the runner-up is generally excluded from the presidential cabinet and that the overall explanatory power of variables of legislative bargaining increases once one controls for the effects of pre-electoral coalition formation and competition.

The study empirically evaluates this argumentation on the basis of so-called conditional logit models, presenting a new empirical strategy to analyze cabinet formation under this type of regime. The tests are conducted on a new dataset of 107 democratic cabinets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Based on the new method and data, this study presents the most comprehensive test yet of the determinants of the partisan composition of presidential cabinets.

The most note-worthy empirical results are:

First, presidents try to form majority coalitions, but it is the upper house majority not the lower house majority which makes cabinet coalitions significantly likely to from. One potential explanation for this phenomenon is that there are generally fewer parties in the upper than in the lower chamber, due to the disproportionality of electoral systems used to elect upper chambers in Latin America. Thus, the president’s party is often overrepresented in the upper house, which makes it easier for presidents to find majorities. Furthermore, upper chambers are generally strong in Latin America (Nolte and Llanos 2004), and controlling an upper chamber is often sufficient for the president to prevent a veto override.

Second, contrary to expectations in the literature, extensive presidential decree powers decrease the probability of the occurrence of cabinets which control only a minority of seats in the lower house of congress. A potential explanation for this phenomenon is similar to the argument developed by Strøm (1990) for minority governments in parliamentary systems. Parties prefer to stay in opposition when the government has a weak independent influence on policy. The other explanation is that pre-electoral coalition formation is more prevalent when presidents’ institutional authority is high, as political actors make a relatively simple calculation about the benefits and the costs of coordination in presidential elections. The more powerful the president, the higher the incentives for pre-electoral coalition formation (Hicken and Stoll 2008; Freudenreich 2013). And if the a coalition is in power anyway, it is easier to extend this coalition to secure a majority in the lower house of congress.

Third, considerations of governability and pre-electoral bargaining describe two distinct yet compatible sets of factors that influence cabinet formation in presidential systems. Many cabinet coalitions in Latin America are congruent or extended versions of the pre-electoral coalition of the president and parties of the main presidential competitor are generally excluded from the cabinet, but these factors are distinct to the incentives of legislative bargaining. The explanatory power of variables associated with governability increases once variables of pre-electoral bargaining are included in the statistical model. For example, cabinet coalitions are more likely to form when they include the median party in the lower chamber of congress, but this effect is only statistically significant when one controls for the effects of pre-electoral bargaining.

Overall, the paper tries to show that an inclusive approach is necessary to study coalition dynamics in presidential systems. Pre-electoral commitments strongly affect cabinet formation and thereby also confound the relationship between cabinet formation, legislative bargaining and governability.


Cheibub, José A. 2007. Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Freudenreich, Johannes. 2013. Coalition Formation in Presidential Systems. Ph.D. diss., University of Potsdam.

Hicken, Allen, and Heather Stoll. 2008. Electoral Rules and the Size of the Prize: How Political Institutions Shape Presidential Party Systems. Journal of Politics 70, 4: 1109–27.

Linz, Juan J. 1994. Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference? In The Failure of Presidential Democracy: The Case of Latin America, ed. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 3–89.

Nolte, Detlef/Mariana Llanos. 2004. “Starker Bikameralismus? Zur Verfassungslage lateinamerikanischer Zweikammersysteme.” Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen 35: 113-131.

Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Strøm, Kaare. 1990. Minority Government and Majority Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Erik Herron – Ukraine: Presidential Appointments and the Central Electoral Commission

This is a guest post by Erik Herron, the Eberly Family Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University


How important are presidential appointments to the exercise of presidential power in transitional societies? This blog entry presents a brief discussion of the implications for presidential influence over non-cabinet posts, using an example from a single country still struggling with democratic consolidation: Ukraine.

As Doyle and Elgie (2016) have noted, efforts to gauge presidential power vary substantially. Some studies emphasize subsets of presidential decision-making authority rather than a full range of powers, others focus on statutory or constitutional authority rather than practical manifestations of power [1]. Canonical measures of presidential power, like Shugart and Carey (1992), note the importance of presidential authority over cabinet appointments [2]. While decisions on cabinet posts can be critical for stable and successful governance, appointments outside the cabinet can have a significant impact on a president’s ability to lead.

In Ukraine, appointments to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) – the body overseeing election administration – have exerted an extraordinarily important role on the outcomes of presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. As this blog post is being composed, Ukrainian politicians are engaged in an intense debate over who will occupy seats on the CEC and the president’s team is playing a large role.

Ukraine’s CEC is regulated by the Law on the Central Electoral Commission. The commission is composed of fifteen members who are approved by the parliament upon recommendation by the president. Appointments are associated with partisan affiliations; the president is supposed to take the proposals of political parties into account during the appointment process [3]. The CEC has extensive powers over the electoral process, including the responsibility for interpreting and implementing legal provisions, forming electoral districts, managing the voter registry, and certifying the results. The CEC, and its subordinate District Electoral Commissions (DECs) and Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs), are at the center of battles to influence election outcomes.

The importance of these administrative units became especially clear in 2004. Ukraine’s semi-authoritarian president, Leonid Kuchma, was restrained by term-limits from seeking the presidency for a third consecutive time. Instead of altering the rules, Kuchma abided by them but selected a preferred successor: Viktor Yanukovych. A growing opposition to the Kuchma regime rallied behind the strongest challenger: Viktor Yushchenko. The election campaign featured strong allegations of fraud and intimidation, including the poisoning of Yushchenko with dioxin. Yanukovych and Yushchenko were the strongest first-round competitors and faced off in the second round on November 21, 2004 [4].

Evidence of widespread fraud tarnished the second round, with accusations of ballot box stuffing and intimidation in PECs, alteration of records in DECs, and the improper announcement of falsified results by the CEC. Millions of Ukrainian citizens protested and thousands set up camp in the center of the capital city. After negotiations and a decision by the Supreme Court invalidating the second round, a re-vote was held and Yushchenko was declared the winner.

While many accounts of the “Orange Revolution” rightly emphasize the role of citizen mobilization and protests in challenging the regime, the events leading up to it also show the critical role that election administration can play in determining outcomes, especially in societies where the rule of law and democratic principles are not firmly embedded.

Research that I have conducted with colleagues about election administration underscores the importance of these bureaucratic posts in Ukraine (e.g., Boyko, Herron, and Sverdan 2014; Boyko and Herron 2015; Herron, Boyko and Thunberg Forthcoming) [5]. Figure 1 compiles the outcomes from several of our studies and shows how control of local commissions – PECs – is associated with election results. The figure displays the coefficients and standard errors showing how control of officers on a commission is associated with variation in the results. All of the models treat the performance of party/candidate i in polling station j as the dependent variable (i.e., the proportion of the vote received), but the independent variables vary. In many cases, parties or candidates have an associated “bonus” in precincts where they control commissions.

Figure 1. Comparison of Commission Officer Effects, 2010-2014


The figure shows that major competitors in 2012 and 2014 benefited from having their co-partisans present in officer positions; these candidates or parties performed better, on average, where their allies held officer posts. However, in the 2010 presidential election, the “benefit” was generally absent. The rules regarding the composition of commissions differed in 2010 and required a balance of forces: Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the main rivals for the presidential post, had equal numbers of commissioners and officers on each commission in the second round. While the findings on this table are preliminary and should be interpreted with caution, they generate two important possibilities for understanding the value of appointments. First, the results suggest that for some parties, controlling commissions can generate electoral benefits. This finding illustrates the value to presidents in controlling appointments, even for ancillary posts. Second, the findings suggest that when partisan appointees are balanced, the effects of controlling commissions dissipate.

The current struggle over appointments to Ukraine’s CEC takes place in a context where the ostensibly independent CEC and its subordinate units have been politicized. The current president, Petro Poroshenko, has maintained a hard negotiating stance over CEC appointments. The simultaneous end of all members’ terms provides the president with an opportunity to populate the commission with allies, potentially to his co-partisans’ benefit in future elections. The CEC’s power over election administration extends the influence of its decisions down to the front-lines. In close elections, this control could prove to be decisive and a powerful weapon in a president’s partisan arsenal. While non-cabinet appointments are not primary indicators of presidential power, they can be valuable tools to shore up presidential authority.


[1] Doyle, David and Robert Elgie. 2016 “Maximizing the Reliability of Cross-National Measures of Presidential Power.” British Journal of Political Science. 46(4): 731-741.

[2] Shugart, Matthew Soberg and John Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Brian Mefford’s detailed blog post (http://www.brianmefford.net/ukraine-update-920-cec-reform-recommendations/) reviews current and proposed members of the CEC and proposes reforms to the CEC law. Mefford notes that vague language in the law permits the president to adopt a hard stance in terms of negotiations. He also notes that past CEC membership has represented the parties in parliament

[4] I served as an international election observer during the second round and witnessed efforts to manipulate results in favor of Yanukovych by local electoral commissions.

[5] Boyko, Nazar and Erik S. Herron. 2015. “The Effects of Technical Parties and Partisan Election Management Bodies on Voting Outcomes.” Electoral Studies. 40 (December): 23-33; Boyko, Nazar, Erik S. Herron, and Roman Sverdan. 2014. “Administration and Management of Ukraine’s 2014 Presidential Election: A Systematic and Spatial Analysis.” Eurasian Geography and Economics. 55 (3): 286-306; Herron, Erik S., Nazar Boyko, and Michael Thunberg. Forthcoming. “Serving Two Masters: Professionalization Vs. Corruption in Ukraine’s Election Administration.” Governance.

France – 2016: President Hollande’s annus horribilis

2016 is turning out to be President Hollande’s Annus horribilis.  The incumbent President’s misfortunes in 2016 appear compounded by the quickening pace of political decline, as the 2017 presidential election approaches. As this blog entry is written, French President François Hollande appears to face an impossible dilemma: to be the first President not to stand for re-election, or to stand as candidate with the danger of not reaching the second round.[1] Hollande’s predicament might be interpreted in terms of a series of inappropriate responses to specific events, in which case the Socialist President is a victim of the normal rhythms of extraordinary times. There are any number of key events to choose from: we consider the aborted constitutional reform of 2016 below.  Hollande’s descent might also be interpreted as the culmination of a series of design faults: the original sin of the mode of election in 2012; the result of a particular style and discourse; the unintended consequences of the political responses to the terrorist attacks on 2015; the longer term impact of economic crisis and the failure to bring down unemployment. All of these factors recall the weak political, partisan and sociological basis of support from the outset. To understand Hollande’s predicament we need thereby to mix levels of analysis: to capture the structural, partisan and political bases of the current presidential weakness, as well as individual responses.

Hollande’s original sin lay in the manner of his election as President in 2012. His 2012 presidential campaign was fought in large part as an anti-Sarkozy referendum, designed to preserve an early opinion poll lead that was mainly built upon a popular rejection of Sarkozy. A majority of second round voters (51%, compared with 31% in 2007) declared that they had voted negatively (for the candidate best placed to prevent the less preferred candidate from being elected) and only a minority declared they had voted positively for their candidate (49%, compared with 69% in 2007). [2] His candidacy was based on his strategic political positioning as being a ‘normal’ candidate and president, a style deliberately adopted to be the counterpart of the flamboyant Sarkozy. Once elected President, however, Hollande experienced a rapid descent from popularity, much faster and more thorough than any previous president. The failure to act during the first 100 days represented a lost opportunity.  He was trapped by the frame of normality during a period of economic crisis; the attraction of a “normal” President who ignored the economic tempest in a wave of enforced optimism soon wore off.   For the 2012 electoral series was fought in a context of economic crisis; voters were almost as pessimistic about the ability of Hollande to ‘improve the situation of the country’ (26%), as they were about Sarkozy (25%). [3]  Hollande’s claim to normality had also involved a commitment to keep his private life out of the public domain, but the public jealously displayed by Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande’s erstwhile partner, destroyed this aspiration very early on. Hollande’s personal judgement was then called into question by a succession of scandals involving leading figures of the Socialist-led government. By far the most important scandal was that of Jerome Cahouzec, the first Budget Minister whose reputation for integrity was destroyed by evidence of a secret bank account in Switzerland (despite his repeated denials).

I have argued elsewhere that the Hollande presidency has been undermined by the weakness of a consistent legitimising discourse[4]. It is unclear to many what Hollande represents. There is a weakness of story-telling, the construction of a coherent narrative to describe and justify governmental action. Is Hollande a traditional social-democrat? There was certainly a sustained effort during the Ayrault premiership (2012-2014) to revive a social-democratic discourse, and to give substance to this by using social-democratic instruments such as the annual social conference between the government, the business associations and the trade unions; the principle of negotiated solutions to labour laws and training, and the state’s involvement in attempting to reduce unemployment by subsidised jobs for young people. The core problem lay in the inability to resolve the most intractable policy issue of them all, unemployment. Hollande’s commitment in 2013 to ‘reverse’ the rising level of unemployment provided a hostage to fortune. By early 2016, no major diminution of the unemployment rate had occurred, with France comparing unfavourably with her main EU partners and competitors. Hollande did not convince as a social-democratic president, not least because of his inability to resolve this most intractable problem of domestic policy.  Was he more successful as a ‘social-liberal’? Hollande began the ‘social-liberal’ turn in 2013 (when a governmental programme, the CICE, first reduced various business taxes) faced with evidence of France’s sluggish economic performance and the tense relations with the business community. The main programme was the pacte de responsabilité in January 2014: 50 billion euros of reductions in business taxes, against the (unfulfilled) expectation that firms would begin hiring workers again. If the social-liberal orientation was determined by Hollande’s choices, the responsibility for justification lay with premier Valls (from April 2014) and increasingly from the ambitious minister of Finance Emmanuel Macron, who steered his own liberalisation programme in 2015.

At the end of December 2015 Hollande obtained some of his best poll ratings since taking office[5]. Hollande has enjoyed the most success with a Republican narrative, centred on education, citizenship, the role of France in the international arena and the Nation. In 2015, Hollande appeared as the embodiment of national unity against the internal and external terrorist threat. The right tone was struck, in the mass rallies of January 11th 2015 in defence of the Republic after the attacks on Charlie- Hebdo and in the convoking of Congress in Versailles, just days after the November 13th outrage.  In his address to the Congress, Hollande received a standing ovation. He also made a dual commitment: to reform the 1958 constitution to provide a firmer footing for the state of urgency[6]; and to deprive terrorists of French nationality (initially those with dual nationality, later on all French nationals). These two related but distinct articles were imagined in order to provide a firm response to terrorist attacks, but also to embarrass the political right into supporting constitutional reform (Hollande’s previous attempt to amend the constitution, to include the reform of regional languages, had failed in 2015 due to the obstruction of the Senate).

Once the dust of the Versailles speech had settled, the dual offensive was doubly offensive to the ‘usual suspects’ (the frondeurs, Martine Aubry, the Socialist mayor of Lille, the ‘left of the left’), but also more generally to Socialist deputies, if not to broader public opinion (which supported the position adapted by the executive on both counts). The proposal to refer to the state of urgency in the 1958 constitution was criticised by some lawyers as providing a constitutional basis for what is by definition an irregular process[7], but these arguments left public opinion indifferent. Hollande’s manoeuvre was designed to rally support from across the political spectrum, in particular from the Republicans whose approval would be necessary to allow any constitutional reform. Here was a potentially popular reform, albeit one that divided constitutionalists, aroused opposition to some of its elements from the Constitutional Council[8] and appeared to strengthen administrative circuits and the police at the expense of legal authority and the judges.  The article would have consecrated the power of the French president to determine what constitutes a state of urgency and minimise parliamentary involvement.

The controversy aroused by the State of emergency was as nothing compared to that of the proposal to deprive terrorists of their French nationality should they be convicted of terrorist crimes. The initial proposal was to remove French nationality from bi-national citizens convicted of terrorist attacks. Faced with firm opposition, especially from Socialist deputies, an amended proposal was introduced whereby any convicted terrorist could be deprived of their French nationality, potentially creating apatricides. As Patrick Weil pointed out, there were problems with each of these positions: to deprive only bi-nationals of their French nationality was tantamount to discrimination and to creating two classes of citizenship (against the equality inherent in the Declarations of the Rights of Man)[9]. But the proposal to remove French nationality from any convicted terrorist might leave certain citizens without a nationality. If the first proposal clearly went against the canons of French republican equality, the second one was manifestly contrary to international jurisprudence and law. After four months of high drama, the constitutional reform bill eventually fell in March 2016, once the Senate refused to accept the terms of the constitutional reform finally approved

in the National Assembly[10]. The saga further alienated the left (including losing the Justice minister Christian Taubira, the symbol of left-wing authenticity within the Valls government) without rallying the right in support of the constitutional change. Eventually both measures fell victim to the decision to abandon the constitutional reform. The real fault was a political one. This idea of removing nationality from terrorists has long been associated with the UMP (Sarkozy in 2010) and even the National Front (Front national – FN), whose spokesperson declared the FNs agreement with the proposal.   The political damage caused by this saga has been considerable for the lack of any positive outcome. The response was to divide further an already emasculated left, without opening up a viable electoral alternative.

One of the core constituencies supporting Hollande in 2012 was that of the youngest age cohorts (18-24, 25-34). Shortly on the heels of the constitutional saga, the proposed El Khomri law revealed how difficult it can be for any government, including a Socialist-led one, to maintain a constructive relationship with young people on the verge of entering the labour market. The merits of the proposed El Khomri law (which initially set out to reform [modestly] the labour code, to liberalise [somewhat] the conditions under which firms could lay-off workers and to limit job-loss payments) might be debated. The employer’s association, the MEDEF, has long argued that the French labour code is impossibly complex and has posited a clear link between excessive regulation and the stubborn refusal of the unemployment curve to begin its movement downwards. In drafting the initial project, premier Valls listened closely to be MEDEF (and rather less closely to PS deputies or traditional support organisations such as the student union, the UNEF).  In rather typical style, weak consultation produced a social movement which, in turn, led the government to abandon key elements of the proposed legislation. Rather like the Macron Law in 2015, the proposals that eventually emerged fell far short of their initial ambition.  Perhaps the Socialists have nothing to expect from the MEDEF. But the rupture with ‘young people’ was the real downside of this series. The most contentious issues were abandoned before the law had been introduced in the Council of Ministers. And yet this climb-down was not enough to put the genie of France’s youth back into the bottle, as the mobilisation against the Loi el Khomri was transformed into the nuits debout movement, staring in the Place de la République in Paris and extending outwards to the French cities shortly after, the symbol of a divided left and a youth in revolt, renewing with a classic register (social protest) aimed against the incumbent socialist government. The mobilisation of students and school pupils against the proposed El Khomri Law recalled that one decade earlier against the First Employment Contract (Contrat premier emploi – CPE) of de Villepin government. The merits of the case need not be reviewed extensively here. That the dual labour market might be responsible for the high level of youth employment does not figure as part of the mental map of the protesters against labour market insecurity. But the management of the Valls- Hollande tandem was clearly defective. Neither the minister, Myriam El Khomri, nor premier Valls was able to reassure and satisfy a youth fearful of labour flexibility and desirous of the full time permanent contracts that their parents enjoyed.

Faced with these setbacks, the latest batch of opinion surveys provide little solace for Hollande. The third round of the CEVIPOF’s 2017 Barometer casts doubt on Hollande’s personal judgement. Even more recent surveys have suggested that Hollande, as PS candidate, would not reach the second round and, if he did, would be defeated by Marine Le Pen[11]. These findings are incredibly damaging, as they undermine Hollande’s attempt to position himself as Father of the Nation, defending the Republic against its enemies. In this fin de règne there is new evidence of lèse majesté: in the form of the ambitious political positioning of Emmanuel Macron, the new darling of the polls on the left. Though Macron owes his political ascension to President Hollande (Assistant General Secretary of the Elysée, named as Finance minister in April 2014),  in early April 2016 the ambitious énarque announced the creation of a new political movement, En Marche, explicitly aiming to  transcend left and right. Whatever the fortunes of this movement (there have been others), it is difficult to see how it cannot be experienced as a form of treason by Hollande, protector and promotor of the ambitious Macron as a counterweight to premier Valls and a bridge to the business world.  Valls, trapped by solidarity with Hollande and by co-management of the executive for over two years, is no longer the young reformer anxious to sweep aside the existing Socialist order. Macron is much less constrained and more likely to ‘kill the father’.

These events tells us something about Hollande’s presidential style. The official optimism of public speeches throughout the Hollande presidency was in stark contrast with popular perceptions of failure. The 2012-2017 presidential term has been defined in part by a style that posits a preference for formal consultation over open confrontation. There is much to be said for the art of refined compromise, especially after the fractures of the Sarkozy years.  Hollande’s celebrated capacity for synthesis was developed over years as First Secretary of the Socialist Party, and involved an intimate knowledge of PS networks, and of the changing centre of gravity within the party.  If the advantage is flexibility, and the ability to adapt to a changing centre of gravity, the downside is the challenge of consistency, credibility and coherence. Ultimately, Hollande’s reputation has suffered from the ambiguities of the 2012 campaign, from the lasting impression of a lack of coordination within the executive and in relations with the Socialist-led majority and, above all, by perceptions of a poor policy record, marked notably by the failure to control unemployment.


[1]  ‘François Hollande dans une position toujours plus difficile avant la Présidentielle’   IPSOS- CEVIPOF-Le Monde, 30 March 2016, http://www.ipsos.fr/decrypter-societe/2016-03-30-francois-hollande-dans-position-toujours-plus-difficile-avant-presidentielle. In the third wave of the CEVIPOF’s Barometer, by far the largest rolling survey with over 20,000 respondents, Francois Hollande was in third position whether the Republican candidate was Alain Juppé (14%), or Nicolas Sarkozy (16%). Hence, the incumbent President would be eliminated on the first round.

[2] Jaffré, J. (2012) ‘Ce que signifie le vote du 6 mai’, Le Monde, 5 June.

[3] Op. cit.

[4] Cole, A. (2014) ‘Not Saying, Not Doing:  Convergences, Contingencies and Causal Mechanisms of State Reform and Decentralisation in Hollande’s France’ French Politics 12 (2): 104-135.

[5]  In an IFOP-Fiducial poll for Paris Match and Sud Radio, 27-28 November 2015, Hollande obtained 50% of positive opinions. Cited in Le Monde, 2-4 January 2016.  By 26 April 2016, Hollande was credited with only 17% of favourable opinions (83% unfavourable) in an ODOXA survey for L’Express.

[6] The state of urgency, ruled by a law dating from 1955 at the height of the Algerian crisis, is not to be confused with the state of emergency (Article 16), which allows the President to suspend the normal operation of the Constitution.

[7]  Beaud, O (2016) ‘Ce projet de réforme constitutionnelle est inutile et inepte’, Le Monde, 2 February.

[8] In response to a Question prioritaire de constitutionalité, (QPC) the Constitutional Council demanded a much stricter control of the conditions under which computer hard disks could be copied, which emptied the measure of much of  its operational effectiveness.

[9] Weil, P. (2016) ‘Le principe d’égalité est un pilier de notre identité’, Le Monde, 8 January.

[10] Bekmezian, H. (2016) ‘Le Sénat enterre la décheance de nationalité’, Le Monde 19th March ; Le Monde (2016) ‘les principales réactions à l’abandon de la réforme constitutionnelle’ Available at : http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2016/03/30/les-principales-reactions-a-l-abandon-de-la-reforme-constitutionnelle_4892495_823448.html#vZUkG8eYkkGyg1mZ.99 (consulted 27 April 2016).

[11] For example, according to the IFOP – Fiducial poll (17/04/2016) for i-tele, Paris-Match and Sud Radio, Le Pen would win a (very hypothetical) Le Pen-Hollande run off in 2017 by 53% to 47% http://www.ifop.com/media/poll/3363-1-study_file.pdf.

Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron – Should the 2014 Egyptian Constitution be Amended to Increase Presidential Powers?

This is a guest post by Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron, Senior Researcher, Institute of Research for Development, Paris

Between 10 and 25 January 2016, the Egyptian Parliament ratified in 15 days more than 300 law-decrees adopted by President Abdelfattah al-Sisi since his election in June 2014.[1] In spite of calls by Egyptian experts[2] and NGOs[3] not to ratify abusive decrees that had, among other things, banned protests, legalized emergency police powers, and expanded military court jurisdiction over civilians, all the laws were rubber-stamped by the House of Representatives without much debate or discussion. Only the new Civil Service Law was rejected by the deputies.

These laws were endorsed on the basis of Article 156 of the 2014 Constitution according to which in case an event requires taking urgent measures which cannot be delayed while the House of Representatives is not in session, the President of the Republic may issue decrees having the force of law, provided that they are presented to, discussed and approved by the new House of Representatives within fifteen days from the commencement of its session.  When the Parliament met for the first time in January 2016 after the parliamentary elections, not only did they not challenge the urgent nature of these laws but they also decided to review only those that had been issued after January 18, 2014, meaning after the approval of the Constitution in a popular referendum, and not after July 2013, the dissolution of  the Upper House of Parliament and the appointment by the armed forces of an interim president to replace President Mohamed Morsi. The newly elected Parliament, therefore, gave a restrictive interpretation of its supervisory powers under the 2014 Constitution. In addition, many newly elected MPs declared that they wished to amend the ‎constitution to grant the president greater powers.[4]

  1. Should the President’s Term be Extended?

Newly elected members of the Parliament wish to increase the ‎president’s term in office to more than four years and to end the two-term limit. Since 2005, the president has been elected by direct universal suffrage. The 2014 Constitution (art. 140)  provides that he will be serve for four years and may be reelected only once. He must be an Egyptian, born to Egyptian parents, and neither he nor his parents nor his spouse may have held any other nationality (art. 141). He must enjoy civil and political rights, have performed military service or have been exempted therefrom by law, and shall not be less than 40 years (art. 141).

In order to be accepted as a candidate for the presidency, candidates must receive the recommendation of at least twenty elected members of the House of Representatives, or support from at least twenty five thousand citizens enjoying the right to vote, in at least fifteen governorates, with a minimum of one thousand supporter from each governorate (art. 142).

The constitution does not provide for the appointment of a vice president. In case of the temporary disability of the president, the Prime Minister shall act in his place (art. 160). In case of permanent vacancy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall replace him (art. 160). In case the House of Representatives has not been elected, this task falls to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court (art. 160). The interim President may not run for the presidency or request any amendment to the Constitution or dissolve the House of Representatives or dismiss the Government.

Al-Sisi’s supporters wish to reinstate the provisions of the 1971 constitution, as amended, according to which the president was elected for renewable six-year terms.[5]

  1. Should the Powers of Parliament be Decreased?

It may seem paradoxal that members of the Parliament have called for a decrease of Parliament’s powers and an increase in those of the President.

Parliament and the Choice of the Prime Minister

Some members of the parliament wish to grant the ‎president greater powers. They have particularly criticized the provisions related to the appointment of the Prime Minister (art. 146). According to the new constitution, the President of the Republic shall assign a Prime Minister to form the government and introduce his program to the House of Representatives. If his government does not win the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives within thirty days at the most, the President shall appoint a Prime Minister who is nominated by the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives. If the government of such a Prime Minister fails to win the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives within thirty days, the House shall be deemed dissolved, and the President of the Republic shall call for the election of a new one within sixty days from the date on which the dissolution is announced. In the event the government is chosen from the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives, the President of the Republic shall, in consultation with the Prime Minister, choose the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs and Justice.

Al-Sisi’s supporters consider that the President should be able to choose and dismiss members of his government without considering the opinion of Parliament, as was the case under Mubarak.

Parliament and the President’s Responsibility

Some members of the Parliament also wish to amend the conditions for impeaching the president. According to Article 159, accusing the President of the Republic of violating the provisions of the Constitution, treason or any other felony must be based on a motion signed by at least the majority of the members of the House of Representatives. The indictment shall only be issued by the majority of two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and after an investigation by the Prosecutor General. As soon as this indictment is issued, the President of the Republic shall be stopped from carrying out his duties; this is considered to be a temporary impediment precluding the President from performing his competences until a verdict is issued in the case. The President of the Republic shall be tried before a special court headed by the President of the Supreme Judicial Council with the membership of the most senior deputy of the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the most senior deputy of the President of the State Council, and the two most senior Presidents of the Courts of Appeal; prosecution is to be carried out before such a court by the Prosecutor General.

The 2014 Constitution also provided, for the first time, for a confidence removal mechanism. The House of Representatives may propose to withdraw confidence from the President of the Republic and hold early presidential elections upon the filing of a motion to be signed by at least the majority of its members and upon approval of two-thirds of the members of the House (art. 161). Upon approval of the proposal, the matter shall be put to public referendum to be called by the Prime Minister. If the majority approves the decision to withdraw confidence, the President of the Republic shall be relieved from his office and presidential elections shall be organized. If the result of the referendum is negative, the House of Representatives shall be deemed dissolved, and the President of the Republic shall call for the election of a new House of Representatives within thirty days as of the date of dissolution.

It is unlikely that such a procedure would ever reach its term or be initiated. The electoral system chosen for parliamentary elections, the fact that the president may appoint 5% of MPs, and that the assembly will be dissolved in case of failure of the referendum makes it almost impossible that there would be a two-thirds majority of members calling for the dismissal of the president.

  1. Should the President’s Powers be Increased?

The constitution of 2014 is presented by its opponents as having significantly reduced presidential powers in favour of the government and parliament. For instance, they consider that the president should be able to commit the armed forces abroad after a simple notification of Parliament instead of its approval by a two-thirds majority. The new Constitution, though, grants the president extensive executive and legislative powers.

He is the head of state and head of the executive power (Art. 139), and the supreme commander of the armed forces (art. 152). It establishes, in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, the State’s general policy (art. 150). He appoints and dismisses civil and military employees (art. 153), has the right to issue pardon after consulting the Cabinet (art. 155). He represents the State in its foreign relations (art. 151), accredits diplomatic corps (art. 153), declares war and sends armed forces outside after consulting the National Defence Council and with the approval of the House of representatives by a majority of two thirds (art. 152); makes peace and concludes and ratifies treaties (art. 151).

He has the right to propose laws (art. 122), promulgates  them (art. 123) and can use his right of veto (art. 123). As we have seen above, in the absence of parliament, he may issue decrees having the force of law in case an event requires taking urgent measures that cannot suffer any delay (art. 156). He can call for a referendum on issues relating to the supreme interests of the state (Art. 157). He may also propose constitutional amendments (Art. 226).

The President may declare a state of emergency, after consultation with the Government and with the approval of Parliament, for a maximum period of three months, which may be extended for a similar period with the approval of two-thirds of the members of the House (art. 154).

He may appoint up to 5% of the members of the House of Representatives (art. 102). He may dissolve the House, after a referendum, but is not required to resign if he does not get the support of the majority of voters (art. 137).


A common trait among all Egyptian constitutions of the republican era is the presence of a hybrid system, a mixture of presidential and parliamentary systems, increasingly unbalanced in favor of the executive. The 2014 Constitution has retained the same organization of powers while strengthening the concentration of power in the hands of the head of state.

A semi-presidential system is considered by supporters of the president as being incompatible with the security requirements of the current situation and there have been calls for the establishment of a presidential system. To be adopted, such amendments would require a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives to be submitted to referendum (art. 226). The current composition of the Chamber of Representatives should not make reaching such a majority difficult for the proponents of such amendments.

In September 2015, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi declared that the 2014 Constitution had been written with good intentions, in particular the provisions giving broad powers to the parliament, but that this was not enough to govern a state.[6] This statement was considered as an implicit call to amend the constitution. A few days later, however, the president declared that amending the constitution was not on the table at the current time.[7] This was not enough, though, to ease the worries of the drafters of the 2014 Constitution who decided with public figures in February 2016 to form a committee to protect the Constitution against  those supporters of President Al-Sisi who consider that the constitution unduly limits the president’s powers.[8]


[1] The Tahir Institute for Middle East Policy, Legislation Tracker. Extraparliamentary Laws passed by President Sisi, 9 January 2016, http://timep.org/commentary/legislation-tracker-report-january/

[2] Ziad Bahaa Eldin, Egypt parliament’s first job: reviewing 340 laws, 13 January 2016,  http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/180861/Opinion/Egypt-parliaments-first-job-reviewing–laws.aspx

[3] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: New Parliament Should Fix Abusive Laws, 12 January 2016,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/12/egypt-new-parliament-should-fix-abusive-laws

[4] Gamal Essam Eldin, Egypt’s newly elected MPs vow to amend constitution, 3 November 2015,  http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/162589/Egypt/Politics-/Aboutus.aspx

[5] The 1971 Constitution had been amended in 1980, to cancel the limitation to two presidential terms (Article 77) and had been amended again in 2005 to establish presidential elections by direct public ballot (Article 76).

[6] Ahram online, Egypt’s 2014 Constitution was Written with Good Intentions but is not Enough: Sisi, September 13, 2015, accessed October 24, 2015, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/141421/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts–constitution-was-written-with-good-intenti.aspx. This statement raised criticisms from Nour Farahat, a prominent law scholar (http://albedaiah.com/news/2015/09/13/96697), and from the novelist Alaa al-Aswani, (http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/novelist-slams-president-over-constitution-remarks), for whom the constitution should represent an obligation on all citizens, especially the president. This statement sparked questions around possible amendments of the constitution to reduce the powers of the parliament and increase those of the president.

[7] Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, “Egypt: Reclaiming the Constitution”, Ahram online, 17 October 2015, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/161127/Opinion/Egypt-Reclaiming-the-Constitution.aspx

[8] Mona al-Nahhas, « Amend or Upend ? », Ahram Weekly, 26 February 2016, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/15590/17/Amend-or-upend-.aspx

The Basis of Presidential Power in Chile: An analysis from the perspective of public opinion

This is a guest post from William Porath of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. It is based on a recent paper published by William and co-authors José-Joaquín Suzuki (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), Tania-Marie Ramdohr (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) and Juan Cristóbal Portales (Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez) in the Bulletin of Latin American Research. The full paper is available here.

Presidential power in a mediatized society is increasingly determined by the image that the leader is able to transmit through the media, as the basis of his or her popular legitimacy. This is, of course, beyond the presidency’s institutional power basis. In the Chilean case, it appears that this country has increasingly become a mediatized society. Under this assumption, we conducted a study that has just been published in the Bulletin of Latin American Research, regarding what issues or topics are most covered or highlighted by the press across three presidential campaigns in Chile, over a span of 20 years.

The assumption is that those aspects that the press highlights about the campaign are an indicator as to what attributes a candidate, i.e. the future president, should have, or about what issues public debate should concentrate on. That is to say, the profile of the candidates for president being displayed to the public through the media, should be the profile and the concerns of those deemed fittest for the office, according to this indirect way of assessing public opinion.

In 1989, and excluding the simple general information about the campaign and the discussion of certain issues as various controversies and political attacks, the topic that found most interest in the media was the government programs of the candidates, which occupied 35% of the analyzed space. We could say then that at that time the basis of public legitimacy of a candidature was in its ability to offer solutions, through public policies, to the problems, which society felt was important and urgent. It is therefore interesting to note that 10 years later, during the presidential election of 1999, that this space decreased to 24% and continued to decline to during the 2009 campaign, when it reached 19%.

In summary, proposals for public policies and programs have been losing importance as the basis of legitimacy for the presidency in a campaign. At least according to this analysis of the media.

In this context, the subject that increases dramatically in importance is the discussion of campaign strategies. The space devoted to this topic goes from 24% in 1989 to 37% in 1999, and reached 44% in 2009. That is, following this line of argument, the basis of legitimacy of a presidential candidate is the ability to organize and lead a successful strategy to win an election, and paradoxically, not the substantive content of their policy proposals.

And what about of the characteristics of the candidate? Our work has distinguished between personal political skills, as defined by the competence for office, their integrity or charisma, and the characteristics of their private lives as an ordinary person, such as their hobbies, family, appearance and wardrobe or information about their non-political biography. In this sense, the media interest in the political competencies of the candidates remained constant in all three elections analyzed, around 8% of campaign coverage. Meanwhile the interest in the private life of candidates (the “privatization “of politics) remained around 5% in the first two elections we studied, but it then rose explosively in 2009 to occupy about 19% of all coverage.

It appears that there is a new basis of legitimacy for candidates for the post of president in Chile: his or her private life.

In any case, we should point out that our analysis considers the four most important newspapers in the country, in terms of circulation and national scope, including two tabloids or so called “popular presses”. And if their presence explains the huge increased interest in the private lives of candidates by 2009, it is significant that the same pattern is repeated in the serious press, or the reference newspapers.

The above analysis was also broken down according to the actor who took the initiative. Thus, we separately analyzed the agenda that was initiated by the press, and we compared it with the priorities of the issues that came to the newspapers as direct or official statements from candidates. By doing this, the impression is that politicians have tended to follow a pattern of discussion that has been imposed upon them by the media.

For example, if the candidates initially showed more interest in discussing their proposals for public debate, allocating about 43% of the space in their statements in the media to this subject, in 2009, that space fell to 35%. Also, given the growing media interest in the campaign strategies of the candidates, discussion of strategies shifted from 19% of candidates’ statements in 1989, to 24% in 1999, and 33% in 2009. It is also significant that by 2009, the candidates themselves quadrupled the space allocated to details of their private lives (16% vs. 4%).

While these analyzes are limited to quantifiable indicators, nonetheless, we can say that in the past 15 years, increasingly, the subject of public discussion about the capabilities of the successive presidents in Chile has been about his or her ability to communicate, and to manage their communications strategy. The degree to which this strategy is successful can be observed in public opinion polls, which the media focus on practically every two weeks. Also, and as in many other Western democracies, in Chile, the first question that policy makers appear to discuss when they are designing a new policy is “How will this sound in the media?”

Of course this year, the slowing economy, the accumulation of structural reforms undertaken by the government, and a series of political corruption scandals have returned the focus to political issues. In particular, the deep distrust that the public feels about the political system and the increasing loss of its legitimacy have returned to public debate the question of political leadership and acumen, above and beyond simple popularity in the media.