Tag Archives: presidential veto

Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe

This post summarises the new book by Philipp Köker ‘Presidential Activism and Veto Power in Central and Eastern Europe’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). The book is the inaugural volume in the new series Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics (edited by Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli) and is based on Philipp’s PhD thesis which won the ECPR Jean Blondel PhD Prize 2016.

Presidential powers feature prominently in academic debates. Paradoxically, until now only few scholars have tried to analyse and explain how presidential actually use them. This book tries to fill this gap in the academic literature, but is also rooted in a real-life encounter with presidential activism. As an undergraduate intern in the Polish Sejm I witnessed first-hand the negotiations between President Lech Kaczyński and Gregorz Napieralski, newly elected leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), on blocking an override of the president’s veto of the media law in July 2008.The aim of this book is map and analyse such patterns in the activism of presidents and explain when and why presidents become active and use their powers. Thereby, it focuses on 9 Central and East European democracies (i.e. those that joined the EU in 2004/2007) during the period 1990-2010. Given that their political systems were created during the same, comparatively short period of time, share a common trajectory of development and were confronted with the same challenges, they are particularly suited for analysis. With regards to presidential powers, I concentrate on two of the most prominent presidential powers:

  1. the power to veto legislation and return it to parliament
  2. the appointment and censure of governments and cabinet ministers

The central argument is that presidential activism can best be explained by the institutional structure – including the mode of election – and the political environment, particularly the relative strength and level of consensus between president, parliament and government. Thereby, I argue that popular presidential elections matter fundamentally for presidential activism – directly elected presidents are agents of the public rather than parliament and lack the constraints and potential for punishment faced by their indirectly presidents elected counterparts (which challenges Tavits 2008). Furthermore, presidents should be more active when they find themselves in cohabitation with the government, when parliamentary fragmentation is high, and when the government does not hold a majority in the legislature.

To test these and additional hypotheses, my book uses a nested analysis research design (Lieberman 2005) that combines the statistical analysis of an original cross-section time series data set on the use of presidential vetoes with carefully selected case studies based on numerous elite and expert interviews in four most-different countries. The analysis of presidential activism in government formation and censure is thereby deliberately left for the qualitative analysis as there is no adequate quantitative data yet.

Patterns of Presidential Veto Use in Central and Eastern EuropeMy regression models generally confirms the majority of my hypotheses. In line with the table above, my model results clearly show that presidents used their veto power significantly more often than indirectly elected presidents. Furthermore, presidents were more active during neutral relations with the government and cohabitation and the effects of the governmental and presidential seat shares, too, showed the expected effects. Echoing findings from the study of presidential veto use in the United States, president also vetoed more frequently the more bills were passed by parliament. Based on the predictions of the statistical models, I then select 12 president-cabinet pairings in four countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) for further in-depth analysis. Thereby, I make sure to select both strong/weak and directly/indirectly elected presidents and one pairing per office holder to control for institutional variations and individual presidents.

Presidential Activism in Practice

The in-depth analysis of presidential veto use also confirms my hypotheses and provides strong evidence that the hypothesised mechanisms actually insist. In particular, the mode of presidential election emerged as one of, if not the most important factor in explaining presidential activism. The popular mandate gained through direct elections gave presidents significantly more freedom in their actions but also required them to be more active to ensure their re-election – this was not only confirmed through my interviews with high-ranking presidential advisors but also evidenced by a number of presidents’ public statements. Indirectly elected presidents on the other hand acknowledged their dependence on parliament and therefore used their powers less often as not to interfere in the work of their principal. The relationship between president and government as well as the government’s strength in parliament were equally shown to be key determinants in presidents’ decisions to use their powers. Yet the qualitative also demonstrated that the size of presidents’ support base in parliament only becomes relevant when their party participates in government or when high thresholds are needed to override a veto. In addition, the qualitative analysis suggested an additional explanatory factor for presidential activism not included in my theoretical and statistical models – divisions within and between government parties provided additional opportunities for activism and could explain vetoes under otherwise unfavourable conditions.

My analysis of presidential activism in the appointment and censure of governments then takes a more exploratory approach and covers the entire period of observation (rather than just specific president-cabinet pairings). The results show some support for existing hypotheses in the literature but also call for re-thinking the use of non-partisan cabinet ministers as a proxy for presidential involvement. In particularly, non-partisans were not only often appointed without presidential involvement, but presidents were also more actively involved in placing co-partisans in the cabinet.

Studying Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond

Presidents still belong to the group of less-studied political actors. Yet even though countries differ greatly in how much power is vested in the presidency, presidents always possess at least some power and even the least powerful presidents play an important functional and procedural role in their political systems apart from ceremonial duties. Thus, studying presidential politics has a very strong practical relevance for any republican political system.

My book shows that theoretical approaches developed for presidents in other contexts (i.e. mostly the United States) ‘travelled’ almost effortlessly to Central and Eastern Europe. Several mechanisms of effect could be observed irrespective of institutional structure, highlighting the enormous potential of ‘comparative presidential studies’ beyond national contexts. Thus, I hope that my book is – together with the work of this blog and the recently formed ECPR Standing Group on Presidential Politics – will help to further develop this sub-discipline of political science to the extent that it becomes en par with long-established scholarship on the presidency of the United States.

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References & Notes:
Lieberman, E. S. (2005). Nested Analysis as a Mixed-method Strategy for Comparative Research. American Political Science Review, 99(3), 435–452.
Tavits, M. (2008). Presidents with Prime Ministers: Do Direct Elections Matter?. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Find out more details about the book and the new series Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics  on the Palgrave website.

Timor-Leste – Presidential veto causes political tension

President Taur Matan Ruak vetoed the 2016 budget law on 29 December 2015. The president vetoed the law because, in his opinion, the budget disregarded the needs of the poor. Parliament ignored the president’s objections and his veto was overridden without a single dissenting vote.

The adoption of the budget law has been delayed several times. Firstly, the ministers themselves could not agree on the proposed budget and failed to meet the October 15 deadline set by the Budget and Financial Management Law. The government presented the proposed budget to parliament on September 29th 2015.

On 2 December 2015 President Taur Matan Ruak threatened to veto a budget that does not prioritize education, health, agriculture and other sustainable sectors over physical infrastructure. Likewise, civil society groups stated that programs which benefit most people – such as health care, education, agriculture, rural roads and water – were cut, while projects which will be mainly used by the affluent and powerful – airports, highways, oil processing – got a larger share. Physical infrastructure[1] takes up more than a third of Timor-Leste’s budget (see figure below).

 

2016 budget - picSource: http://www.laohamutuk.org

The veto threat provoked considerable discussion in parliament about the president’s constitutional powers. Yet it did not influence the contents of the budget. Timor-Leste’s National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of the budget law on 3 December.

True to his word, the president vetoed the budget law on 29 December. In a six-page letter addressed to parliament, the president reiterated his objections to the (size of the) budget. For its part, parliament ignored the president’s recommendations and an identical budget was unanimously approved on 8 January 2016.

The president can complicate the enactment of legislation by referring it to the court. The constitution of Timor-Leste grants the president power to send legislation to the Court of Appeal (the country’s highest court) to determine whether it violates the constitution. If so, the president can issue a ‘constitutional veto’. Former President José Ramos-Horta, used this power when, for instance, he asked the court to review the constitutionality of the (rectified) 2008 and 2011 budget. A two-thirds majority in parliament is necessary to override a constitutional veto.

President Taur Matan Ruak decided not to send the budget law to the court. Such an act would probably only have postponed the implementation of the budget. To be sure, the president faces a government in which all parties in parliament are represented. So, parliament can easily override a constitutional veto as well.

The president reluctantly promulgated the 2016 budget law on 14 January 2016.

[1] Roads, ports and airports, other infrastructure, and Tasi Mane. The Tasi Mane project involves the development of a petroleum infrastructure on the south coast of Timor-Leste.

Romania – President-PM clash over fiscal reform during cohabitation

A previous post on Romania’s current period of cohabitation focused on the first serious clash between President Iohannis of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and PM Ponta of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) caused by the former’s veto on the Forestry Code. The relations between the head of state and the prime minister are now heading towards a full-blown crisis after President Iohannis rejected a tax-cutting plan that had been almost unanimously backed by the parliament, including the opposition led by the Liberal party.

The president’s justification for vetoing the forestry legislation in March 2015 was its breach of European Union competition law, as the new bill aimed to limit the economic activities of some companies. On July 17, President Iohannis rejected the government’s tax-cutting plan on the grounds that it had failed to obtain the approval of the European Commission and IMF officials and ran counter to the fiscal and budgetary strategy and the convergence programme.

The head of state deemed the new fiscal plan unsustainable in the long run. He argued against both excessive taxation and strong fiscal relaxation and criticised the government for failing to present a budget spending plan for 2016 including concrete measures aimed at reducing public expenditure to compensate for the extensive tax cuts. The prime minister denounced the president’s veto as a purely political act, aimed at blocking government actions at any cost and/or enforcing decisions made abroad against Romania’s interests.

The president’s decision to veto the Fiscal Code came as a surprise for several reasons. To start with, President Iohannis’ National Liberals not only gave their full support to the tax cuts in parliament, but also insisted on lowering the VAT rate from 24 percent to 19 percent (instead of 20 percent as the government had initially proposed). The reduction of the VAT rate to 19 percent had also been one of Klaus Iohannis’ core electoral pledges in the 2014 presidential campaign. The president’s opposition to the new fiscal legislation was therefore difficult to foresee, all the more so as he refrained from commenting on the new fiscal legislation while it was under public debate or when the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill with strong cross-party support on June 24. As a matter of fact, the president voiced his opposition to the tax cuts only a few days before the end of the 20-day period during which he is required to sign bills into law upon receiving them from the parliament or to request their re-examination.

Nevertheless, the president’s veto needs to be seen in a larger context. Economically, Romania’s Central Bank as well as the IMF and the EU have drawn attention to the unsustainable increase in fiscal deficit that the government’s fiscal easing plan might trigger in 2016. Additionally, prior to having its latest tax package passed by parliament, the government also lowered the VAT rate for food items from 24 percent to 9 percent with effect from 1 June 2015.

Politically, the relations between the Klaus Iohannis and Victor Ponta have worsened significantly after a criminal investigation was opened against the prime minister on June 5 on grounds of forgery, tax evasion, money-laundering, and conflict of interest. Since then he survived a parliamentary vote to have his immunity lifted, a no-confidence motion, and the president’s repeated calls for resignation. Eventually, PM Ponta did withdraw temporarily as a leader of Social Democrats, a move that opened up a fight for power inside the party.

Given the prime minister’s vulnerability on the party line, President Iohannis seized the opportunity to undermine his authority over the cabinet as well. Just days before he vetoed the fiscal code, the head of state rejected the prime minister’s first nomination for the Transport Ministry in a move that was reminiscent of his predecessor’s cohabitation wars. Undoubtedly, their relationship stands to deteriorate even further as the 2016 electoral contests are drawing closer. Under these circumstances, the head of state may be understandably unwilling to allow an embattled prime minister to use fiscal relaxation to his advantage in the 2016 local and general elections.

What next? Unless parliament calls an extraordinary session, a new vote on the Fiscal Code will take place in September. If legislators vote to preserve the initial form of the bill, the president has to promulgate it within ten days after receiving it unless he decides to challenge its validity at the Constitutional Court. Despite the bill’s initial passage in the Chamber of Deputies with just two votes against and one abstention, its fate the second time around depends on whether the National Liberals stick to their programmatic position or decide to rally around the president’s call. The prime minister has also announced the government’s readiness to speed up the enforcement of the VAT rate cut either by emergency ordinance or by assuming responsibility for the Fiscal Code in parliament.

South Korea – Presidential Decree, Presidential Veto, and Presidential Power

Elections are in the horizon for South Korea: legislative elections are scheduled for April 2016 while presidential elections are to be held in December 2017. With about nine months of campaigning to go under a president that seems under pressure of public disapprobation, and with the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) seemingly in disarray, this looks to be a good time for ruling Saenuri Party officers to re-evaluate loyalties to the “lame-duck” President while underlining allegiances to the public. It seems that floor leader Yoo Seung-min did just that: he brokered a deal with the opposition NPAD to pass the President’s public service pension reform by acceding to the NPAD’s demands to pass the National Assembly Act. Yet, within weeks of the path-breaking effort, both Yoo and the hard-won reforms would suffer the fall-out of the President’s wrath.

The National Assembly Act allows for the legislature to “request” changes to the president’s decrees or ordinances (itself a change from the previously, more strongly-worded “demand” changes in the Act). The Act, primarily targeted at reducing the executive’s influence on the investigations into the Sewol tragedy, provided for parliament to request a revision or change to an enforcement ordinance that requires the relevant ministry to respond to the request. The nimble balance of delivering on an important policy on the President’s agenda while acknowledging the public’s demand for greater accountability without compromising (and, indeed, perhaps enhancing) the ruling Saenuri party’s election chances was no mean feat. Indeed, the National Assembly Act was passed by 211 lawmakers – more than two thirds of the 298 incumbent members of the legislature – so that its strong support would underline to the President the significance of the brokered agreement.

Yet, the President not only came out blasting against the legislature’s “unconstitutional” encroachment of presidential powers but also threatened to veto the Act, and with it, the civil service pension reform bill that had been painfully and painstakingly negotiated. And, the President did not stop there. Following her veto on June 25, the President proceeded to cold-shoulder floor leader Yoo – notwithstanding his apologies and efforts to mend bridges with the executive – and her own party, until Yoo resign as floor leader for his “betrayal.”

Following the President’s veto, the Saenuri party recoiled from the Act, choosing to boycott the vote revisiting the Act and allowing the bill to die. The ruling party also recommended floor leader Yoo’s resignation from the post in a general assembly meeting, which Yoo accepted.

What is perhaps most curious is that these series of events have progressed while President Park is personally experiencing the most significant slide in public approval of her career, marked in turn by Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, an “influence” scandal in January 2015 that eventually led to the replacement of her highly unpopular chief-of-staff Kim Ki-choon, a huge corruption scandal that engulfed chief architects of her 2012 campaign as well as her government revealed in the aftermath of a business tycoon’s suicide in April 2015, to be followed by the government’s missteps and mishandling of the MERS crisis in June 2015.

What does this mean? At a minimum, it shows that the President retains significant political clout, which may set up political battles between the sitting President and prospective presidential candidates for control of the party going into elections.

Bulgaria – President Plevneliev’s second bid for a voting rules referendum

The Bulgarian president’s power to propose referenda is relatively weak. This, however, did not stop President Plevneliev from seeking a referendum on voting rules in 2014. The opposing Socialist-led majority in parliament eventually defeated his campaign. The president has nevertheless pledged to resume his efforts to trigger a national poll in 2015, following last year’s snap election and the formation of the centre-right coalition government led by PM Borissov’s GERB.

The head of state has a rather marginal involvement in the procedure for the calling of national referenda. While he or she has the right to put forward a proposal for a popular poll, the constitutional power to decide on the holding of a national referendum belongs entirely to the National Assembly (article 84). Under the new referendum law, which limits considerably the subject matters that can be put to a popular vote, one-fifth of all MPs, the government, one-fifth of all municipal councils, or a citizens’ initiative committee that gathered at least 200,000 signatures can also ask the Parliament to consider a referendum proposal. Additionally, a national referendum must be held if so demanded by a petition signed by at least 500,000 citizens (article 10).

If the parliament votes to hold the referendum, then the president must schedule the poll on a date that is not earlier than two months and not later than three months from the parliament’s decision (article 14). To be valid, a referendum also requires a higher turnout than that registered at the previous general election and the support of at least half of the voting participants (article 23). This means that any referendum held before the next general election needs a higher turnout than 51.05 per cent, which was recorded at the October 2014 election. If both conditions are met, then the Parliament must amend the law accordingly. However, if the turnout is lower than this threshold, but higher than 20 per cent of registered voters, then the Parliament only needs to discuss and vote on the referendum matter (articles 23-24).

President Plevneliev has taken different approaches to introduce his two bids for a voting rules referendum. He first brought this proposal into public debate in January 2014, following many months of street protests against the ruling Socialist-led coalition and just a few weeks ahead of a parliamentary vote on a new election law.

In a televised address to the nation, the head of state proposed a referendum on three aspects that were meant to increase the accountability of politicians and restore public trust in political institutions: the direct election of at least some of the 240 MPs who are currently chosen from semi-open party lists, and the introduction of compulsory voting and e-voting. Given the president’s opposition to the government’s new Election Code, which he also vetoed several weeks later, the referendum proposal was interpreted as routine infighting between the government and the head of state.

Shortly after the National Assembly overturned the president’s veto and turned down his referendum proposal, a petition supported by more than 560,000 signatures was brought to the parliament. The petition called for a poll on the same three questions and the signatures had been gathered with support from GERB, the main opposition party. Eventually, the number of valid signatures fell short of the 500,000 threshold that would have made it mandatory for MPs to call a referendum, but was still large enough to require a debate in the parliament. However, given that GERB was the only party to support the president’s call, the citizen initiative was easily rejected by the ruling parties in June 2014.

The president’s second attempt to trigger a voting rules referendum is currently on-going under different circumstances. The October 2014 snap election brought to office a new centre-right coalition government led by GERB, the party that supported president Plevneliev’s candidacy in 2011. This political change allowed the head of state to take a more conciliatory route to re-introduce the referendum on the political agenda.

Voting rules featured as one of the five major themes proposed for discussion during the President’s “Month of Political Consultations” with parliamentary parties. This consensual framework of discussion has allowed the president to re-launch the referendum initiative as an all-party agreement, even if the Socialist party is still opposing vehemently this idea. Thus, addressing the parliament following the conclusion of political talks, President Plevneliev underlined not only his firm intention to propose a new referendum, but also the all-party consensus to have this poll held alongside local elections, which are scheduled for the next October or November.

The details of the procedure to be followed – whether a parliamentary vote on the president’s referendum proposal will suffice or if the route of a citizen initiative needs to be taken again – will be determined in the coming weeks. In the meantime, small parties are also trying to take advantage of this process to initiate further changes that could end the big parties’ monopoly over the initiation of referenda. For example, a bill tabled by the left-wing ABV, one of GERB’s small coalition partners, proposes that 150,000 signatures should be enough for the parliament to consider a referendum initiative, while the number of signatures required for calling a referendum should be reduced to 300,000. Additionally, ABV argues that the participation threshold should be lowered to 40 per cent of the eligible voters and supports the introduction of a mixed-member proportional system.

Cabo Verde – President Fonseca vetoes the Bill for Holders of Political Positions

Cabo Verde 2015-04-19 om 13.02.00On 9 April President João Carlos Fonseca vetoed the Bill for Holders of Political Positions. Clearly, a presidential veto is not a unique event during times of cohabitation[1]. Yet, it was the President’s own party, the MpD (opposition), that together with the ruling PAICV party introduced and approved the Bill in Parliament. What is more, the Bill contained a salary rise for the President of no less than 64 per cent.

The Bill for Holders of Political Positions was introduced in Parliament by the parliamentary groups of the MpD and the PAICV in early March. The Bill contains new rules of procedure in parliament so as to improve ‘transparency, ethics and codes of conduct for parliamentarians’. Besides this, the Bill grants a significant salary increase for the President, the Prime Minister, government members, deputies and municipal elected officials. This ‘salary updating’ would cost more than 200 million escudos (approx. 2 million euro), representing 4.1 per cent of all spending included in the 2015 State Budget. After the Bill was passed by Parliament on 25 March, mass demonstrations broke out in Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. Demonstrators considered the legislation as a legal form of robbery and called on the President to veto it.

The Constitution of Cabo Verde endows the president with powers to influence the legislative process. Firstly, the head of state can issue a political veto and return the legislation to the organ which approved it. Secondly, the president can send a diploma to the Supreme Court of Justice in the case (s)he has doubts about the constitutionality of the legislation. Since President Fonseca took office in 2011, he has issued 3 political vetoes.[2]

After receiving the Bill for Holders of Political Positions, it took President Fonseca less than 24 hours to use his veto power for the fourth time. In his message to Parliament on 9 April, the President considered the concerns expressed by the citizens ‘legitimate’ and therefore decided to send the legislation back to Parliament. The Constitution defines that the deputies have 120 days to review the law from the date of the reception of the President’s message. If an absolute majority votes in favour of the Bill, the President will be required to promulgate the document within a period of eight days. Yet, the PAICV and the MpD have already indicated that they will not review the Bill. So, most likely, the legislation will expire.

By using his veto power, President Fonseca’s thus effectively checked the power of the Parliament. Moreover, the President rejected a law that was made and approved by his own party and which would have increased his own salary. He thus took a non-partisan stance and acted on behalf of the citizens’ interests. His veto was widely applauded in the media of Cabo Verde. Presidential elections will take place in 2016.

[1] Since the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections Cabo Verde finds itself in a situation of cohabitation where the President’s party is not represented in the government and the Prime Minister’s party, the PAICV, controls a parliamentary majority.

[2] Ecological tax bill (2012), Bill on amendments to the law of social protection (2013), Bill that grants legislative authorization to the government to review the civil procedure law (2014).

Veto et Peto – Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe, 1990-2010

This post summarises the main argument and findings of Philipp Köker’s PhD thesis
‘Veto et Peto: Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe’ (UCL, 2015).
You can download the full thesis from UCL Discovery here.

belweder_poland

The Belweder – Residence of Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski | © Philipp Köker 2008

The presidents of the new democracies that emerged in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after 1989 have been subject to a great number of studies. Thereby, political scientists have often focussed on presidents’ powers – be it to enhance or develop classifications of regime types, or to study their impact on democratic consolidation or economic development. However, comparatively little has so far been written on how president actually use the varying powers at their disposal. Therefore, the aim of my study was to map patterns of presidential activism – defined as the discretionary use of formal powers by the president – and explain why and when presidents decide to become active.

Until now, there have only been few attempts to explain the use of presidential powers in the context of European parliamentary and semi-presidential systems. One of the most useful in this regard is Margit Tavits’ (2008) ‘political opportunity framework’ which I also adapted for my study. Based on studies of intra-executive conflict Tavits argues that variations in environmental factors – the relative ‘strength of other political institutions and the constellation of political forces in parliament and government’ (ibid. 35) – determine the level of consensus between the president and other institutions and thereby create opportunities for activism. In contrast to Tavits, however, I argue that these factors do not eclipse the role of the mode of presidential election. Rather, in line with the traditional argument I asserted that popularly elected presidents should be more active than their indirectly elected counterparts. This is because they are agents of the public rather than parliament and lack the constraints and potential for punishment faced by presidents elected in parliament (for more detail, see pp.41-46 and pp.68-69 of my thesis). My main hypotheses were therefore:

  1. Directly elected presidents are more active than indirectly elected presidents.
  2. Presidents are most active during cohabitation, least often when relations with the government are unified.
  3. Presidents are more active when parliamentary fragmentation is high.
  4. Presidents are more active when the government’s seat share is small.
  5. Presidents are more active if their party’s seat share in the assembly is small (or if they have no parliamentary support base).

It is clear that research design, case selection, and the quality of data matters greatly in arriving at meaningful and reliable conclusions. In order to both achieve generalisable results and gain in-depth insights into the practice of presidential activism, I employed a nested analysis framework which combined large-N statistical analyses with qualitative case studies. The presidencies of CEE presented a particularly suitable set of cases for this type of comparative analysis for several reasons [2]. First, the regions boasts a mix of directly and indirectly elected presidents with varying degrees of power. Second, the new democracies in CEE were not only created during the same and comparatively short period of time, but also faced analogous domestic and external pressures during democratic transition. Last, as previous studies usually had to rely on proxies to measure presidential activism, I created an original cross-section time-series data set on the use of presidents’ legislative powers – vetoes, judicial review requests, and legislative initiatives – in CEE between 1990 and 2010 for my statistical analysis. For my case studies, I conducted 65 semi-structured interviews with high-ranking presidential advisors, (former) government members and MPs, and a number of national experts.

Patterns of presidential activism
In order to analyse my data on presidential activism, I used both negative binomial and event history regression models. For the sake of simplicity I only show some descriptive statistics on the use of presidential vetoes here. My regression models generally confirmed the majority of my hypotheses, particularly with regard to presidential vetoes – the most prominent and most frequently used presidential power. In line with the table below, my model results showed that presidents used their veto power significantly more often than indirectly elected presidents. Furthermore, presidents were more active during neutral relations with the government and cohabitation and the effects of the governmental and presidential seat shares, too, showed the expected effects. Echoing findings from the study of presidential veto use in the United States, president also vetoed more frequently the more bills were passed by parliament. Contrary to my expectations, however, coefficients for parliamentary fragmentation did not reach statistical significance.

Use of presidential vetoes in CEE 1990-2010 - (C) Philipp Köker 2015

The statistical analyses of presidents’ use of judicial review requests and legislative initiatives unfortunately brought less striking results. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that they are only relatively rarely used or only few presidents have the right to use them which complicated statistical modelling. Nonetheless, the results for presidential vetoes provided a sufficient basis for proceeding with so-called ‘model-testing small-N analysis’ – a second step in the nested analysis approach that is aimed at verifying the results of the quantitative analysis, further testing the robustness of the model, and illustrating the causal mechanisms at work.

Presidential activism in practice
Based on the predictions of the statistical models of presidential vetoes, I selected 12 president-cabinet pairings in four countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) for qualitative analysis. The guiding principle of the selection of countries (two directly, two indirectly elected presidents; two powerful, two weak presidents) as well as the the selection of president-cabinet pairings was to achieve a well-balanced mix of cases for in-depth analysis. Due to the results of the statistical models, the case studies focussed on presidential vetoes and the degree to which the factors included in my statistical models could explain instances (or the lack) of the use of vetoes. They also included a section on presidential activism in government formation which – given the lack of appropriate data – could not be adequately analysed statistically and was intentionally left for the qualitative part.

The in-depth analysis of presidential activism, which was greatly facilitated by the insights gained through interviews with those involved, generally confirmed my hypotheses and provided strong evidence that the hypothesised mechanisms actually insist. In particular, the mode of presidential election emerged as one of, if not the most important factor in explaining presidential activism. The popular mandate gained through direct elections gave presidents significantly more freedom in their actions but also required them to be more active to ensure their re-election – this was not only confirmed through my interviews with presidential aides but also evidenced by a number of presidents’ public statements. Indirectly elected presidents on the other hand acknowledged their dependence on parliament and therefore used their powers less often as not to interfere in the work of their principal. The relationship between president and government as well as the government’s strength in parliament were equally shown to be key determinants in presidents’ decisions to use their powers. Yet the qualitative also demonstrated that the size of presidents’ support base in parliament only becomes relevant when their party participates in government or when high thresholds are needed to override a veto. In addition, the qualitative analysis suggested an additional explanatory factor for presidential activism not included in my theoretical and statistical models – divisions within and between government parties provided additional opportunities for activism and could explain vetoes under otherwise unfavourable conditions. Last, my (albeit brief) analysis of presidential activism in government formation, censure and dismissal called for re-thinking the use of non-partisan cabinet ministers as a proxy for presidential involvement. Not only were non-partisans often appointed without presidential involvement but presidents were also very actively involved in placing co-partisans in the cabinet.

Conclusion & look ahead
Comparative work on the actual use of presidential powers – particularly in European political systems – is still rare. My study could provide one of the first large-scale studies of presidential activism in these systems and thereby confirm a number of assumption which could previously only insufficiently be tested. The nested analysis approach furthermore ensured a better understanding of both statistical results and qualitative findings which will help to inform future studies and further theory development. My study however only produced limited evidence on the influence of factors related to presidents as individual (‘president-centred’ factors) – a group of factors particularly prominent in the case study literature on European presidents. While it appeared that these variables certainly have the potential to enhance the understanding and explanation of presidential activism, more research based on strong theory is needed to further examine their effect. In addition, it would seem sensible to analyse the use of presidential vetoes using data on individual bills which would allow to take those factors that could not be adequately addressed in the statistical models used in this study into account.

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References:
Tavits, Margit. 2008. Presidents with Prime Ministers: Do direct elections matter?. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Notes:
[1] The full study can be downloaded from UCL Discovery by clicking here. If you are interested in the interviews I conducted with presidential advisors (and other political elites), a paper on these appeared last year in SAGE Research Methods Cases and will soon also be adapted as a video for SAGE‘s new teaching collection.
[2] I defined CEE as those countries that joined the EU in 2004/2007, i.e. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Due to the fact that the Slovenian presidency does not possess any legislative powers, it was excluded from this study.

Malkhaz Nakashidze – The Changing Face of Semi-presidentialism in Georgia

This is a guest post by Malkhaz Nakashidze of the Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia

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From October 2012 to November 2013 there was a period of cohabitation in Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili from the United National Movement (UNM) was opposed to PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream Coalition. In November 2013 this period of cohabitation ended when Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate of the Georgian Dream Coalition and a close ally of Bidzina Ivanishvili, won the presidential election. It was expected that the president and the new PM, Irakli Garibashvili, also from the Georgian Dream Coalition, would cooperate smoothly. However, this has not been the case.

In May 2013 former PM Ivanishvili strongly criticized President Margvelashvili for using the presidential palace that was built during the presidency of Mikhail Saakashvili, arguing that it was a symbol of violence, evil and indecency. He stated that before being elected as president, Margvelashvili himself was strongly opposed to using the palace. After the election, though, Margvelashvili held several meetings there, including the appointment of various ambassadors. President Margvelashvili was also criticized for appointing Vano Matchavariani, who was the brother of the new leader of UNM, Mikheil Matchavariani, as a foreign policy adviser, though he later resigned from the post. Margvelashvili was also criticized when he considered vetoing a criminal procedure bill in late December 2013. The bill had been opposed by the UNM and civil society organisations. In fact, President Margvelashvili’s first veto was issued in October 2014 on a bill relating to the power of the security services. This generated considerable criticism from the government. What is more, unlike the situation during cohabitation, by this time the government did not have the required super majority of votes in parliament to overturn the president’s veto. In short, the president is no longer perceived to be supportive of the ruling coalition.

The conduct of foreign policy has been a particular source of tension over the last year. The Constitution states that the President of Georgia represents Georgia in terms of foreign relations, but it also states that the Prime Minister and ministers shall represent Georgia “within the terms of their competence”. Given the difficulties with President Margvelashvili, the government has challenged the powers of the president in foreign affairs. For example, President Margvelashvili said that it would be appropriate if he, as head of the state, were to put his name to the Association Agreement with the EU on 27 June 2014 instead of the Prime Minister. The presidential administration claimed that signing the agreement fell under the authority of the president, who has the constitutional right to sign international treaties upon agreement with the government. However, the government claimed that the prime minister was entitled to sign the agreement and refused to allow the president to do so. In this context, the president announced that he delegated his right to sign the treaty to the prime minister. However, he did so by way of a presidential order that required the prime minister’s countersignature. The prime minister’s office claimed that the government and not the president had the right to decide who should sign the agreement. In the end, the prime minister signed the treaty.

Another difficult issue has concerned the National Security Council. According to the constitution, the National Security Council is responsible for organizing the military development and defence of the country and is headed by the president. The composition, powers, and rules of operation of the National Security Council are determined by an organic law. The government has tried to restrict the power of the National Security Council and move some of its responsibilities to the new, non-constitutional State Security and Crisis Management Council headed by the prime minister. On 1 August 2014 President Margvelashvili scheduled a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the NATO summit to be held in Wales in September 2014. The meeting was held, but PM Garibashvili did not attend. That said, the prime minister did attend the second meeting of the National Security Council, which was chaired by President Margvelashvili, on 28 October 2014 because it was convened to discuss the highly sensitive issue of Abkhazia and the PM could not be seen to be absent.

There has also been conflict between the president, the prime minister and the parliamentary majority regarding the appointment of Supreme Court judges. According to the Constitution the president is entitled to nominate candidates to parliament. However, on 1 August 2014 parliament voted down two of the president’s nominations. They were only approved at a second attempt in October 2014.

Against this background, major changes have also taken place within the Coalition. In the first week of November 2014 the Free Democrats, one of the parties of Georgian Dream Coalition, left the government. The departure was triggered by the arrest on October 28 of one former and four serving officials from the procurement and general staff’s communications units in the Ministry of Defense. Irakli Alasania, the then Minister of Defense and leader of Free Democrats, announced he was confident that the officials were innocent and that he would wait for the results of the investigation. However, on November 4 a separate investigation against three army medical officials and three employees of a state-owned food provider company was also instigated. At the time, Minister Alasania was visiting France and Germany and the chief of general staff of the armed forces, General Vakhtang Kapanadze, was also visiting Washington. In response, Minister Alasania spoke out against the ruling coalition, stating that the investigations were an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice. He resigned a few hours later. The next day the Free Democrats announced that they were leaving the coalition. They had two other posts in the coalition government: the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Minister of Justice. However, while the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration did step down, the Minister of Justice decided to remain in the government. By contrast, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maia Panjikidze, did resign even though she was not a member of the Free Democrats. This was not a surprise, though, because she is Alasania’s sister-in-law.

The Free Democrats were the second largest group in the Georgian Dream parliamentary party with 10 members. With their departure, the Georgian Dream Coalition had 73 members in the 150-seat parliament. Another member of the Georgian Dream Coalition, the Republican Party, with nine members in parliament, officially supported the Free Democrats, but announced that they were not going to leave the coalition. Faced with the threat of not having a majority, the Coalition leaders met with the non-partisan members of parliament. On November 10, six non-partisan deputies, and former members of UNM, joined the Georgian Dream Coalition. At the same time, the “Non-partisan” parliamentary fraction announced that they would also join the Coalition majority. Given three members of Free Democrats did not leave parliamentary majority, Georgian Dream Coalition ended up with the support of 87 deputies.

In this context, the role of President has become very significant. It was during this time that the president used his veto. President Margvelashvili also made a statement in Vienna, where he was attending the second UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, where he said that the crisis was a threat to the efficient functioning of the institutions in the country, a threat to the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration, and a threat to the Georgian army. Immediately after returning in Georgia, President Margvelashvili asked the cabinet to convene a session where the Euro-Atlantic issue could be discussed. He also asked parliament to convene a special session where he would make an address. This was agreed.

One of President Margvelashvili’s most significant statements was when he said that “We have stressed a number of times that the country should be ruled by strong institutions and not from the backstage”. This was a clear reference to former PM Ivanishvili. There has been a lot of discussion as to whether Ivanishvili was wielding any influence behind the scenes. PM Garibashvili initially denied this idea, but later he confirmed on television that he had consulted Ivanishvili, saying that it was normal he should seek the advice of a former PM. Ivanishvili’s influence was further confirmed when the former PM gave a long interview with the Georgian Public Broadcaster on November 8 during which he discussed the country’s political issues. He said that the prosecutor’s office could not turn a blind eye if there was a suspicion of wrong doing in the Ministry of Defense and mentioned that he had many questions about the case. He also criticized President Margvelashvili for vetoing the security services bill. He also criticized the President for his visit to Vienna and concluded that his actions and interests were consistent with those of the National Movement. If further proof were needed of Ivanishvili’s role in the coalition he attended the meeting of the political board of the Georgian Dream Coalition that was held one day after resignation of Minister Alasania.

In general, the relationship between the president and the government and indeed between the government and the majority remains difficult and perhaps increasingly so. The president, who was elected under the banner of the Georgian Dream coalition, is no longer seen to be supportive of the coalition. Moreover, the coalition itself is no longer as cohesive. In the background, former prime minister Ivanishvili still has considerable influence over the government and the prime minister. Overall, the practice of semi-presidentialism in Georgia has changed considerably over the last year.

Malkhaz Nakashidze is the Founder & Managing Director of The International Institute for Academic Development and Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia

São Tomé and Príncipe – Legislative elections: clear victory, uncertain future

Local, regional and legislative elections were held in the archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe on 12 October. The opposition Independent Democratic Action party (ADI) under the leadership of Patrice Trovoada secured an absolute majority in parliament. The Prime Minister-in-waiting is, however, not a newcomer to politics and his relationship with incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa is far from cordial.

São Tomé and Príncipe has a unicameral parliament with 55 seats. MPs are elected every four years in general elections. The last legislative elections were held in 2010.

Distribution of seats

Political Party 2014 Change
ADI (Partido Aliança Democrática Independente) 33 +7
MLSTP/PSD (Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe/Partido Social Democrata) 16 -5
PCD (Partido da Convergência Democrática) 5 -2
MDFM/PL (Movimento Democrático das Forças da Mudança/Partido Liberal) 0 -1
UDD (União para a Democracia e Desenvolvimento) 1 +1

Patrice Trovoada is the son of former President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001). In the first years after independence, a power struggle between President Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada, then Prime Minister, culminated in the detention of the latter without charge or trial from 1979 to 1981. Since that time Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada have been considered as arch political rivals in the archipelago.

The relationship between Patrice Trovoada and President Pinto da Costa is equally problematic. In December 2012 Pinto da Costa dismissed Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against the ADI minority government. The President then appointed a ‘government of presidential initiative’, a move which was considered ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’. In the aftermath of the censure motion, ADI mobilised street protests in support of Trovoada and temporarily boycotted parliament.

Since then, ADI has been at loggerheads with opposition parties MLSTP/PSD, PCD, and MDFM/PL. In early June 2013, PCD filed a criminal complaint against the former Prime Minister for his alleged role in money laundering practices. For its part, on 16 June 2014, ADI filed a criminal complaint at the International Criminal Court against the President, Prime Minister and other government officials, accusing them of ‘political persecution’ and of ‘violating the constitution’. In a communiqué ADI also asked for an official investigation into crimes committed during Pinto da Costa’s dictatorship from 1975 to 1991.

Trovoada told reporters he will transform his country into ‘Africa’s little Dubai’ and to achieve this goal he plans to start by attacking the problem of extreme poverty and unemployment. ADI has significant backing among the poorer parts of the islands. The Prime Minister-elect also promised to bring political stability to the country.

São Tomé and Príncipe now faces a period of political uncertainty that is likely to continue until the presidential elections of 2016. Officially, President Pinto da Costa is non-partisan. So, the result of the election will not lead to a formal period of cohabitation. However, the President is expected to be particularly active in the legislative area, using veto powers to slow down decision-making.

Timor-Leste – President Taur Matan Ruak sends ‘repressive’ media bill to the Court of Appeal

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Until recently, President Taur Matan Ruak made little use of his legislative powers. Yet that changed when Timor-Leste’s National Parliament approved a ‘repressive’ media bill that reportedly poses a serious threat to press freedom in the country. The President requested the Court of Appeal to undertake an anticipatory review of the constitutionality of the parliamentary bill.

President Taur Matan Ruak has largely refrained from using (non)legislative powers to change policy since he took office in May 2012. Unlike his predecessors, Gusmão and Ramos-Horta, he has not criticized government policies in official communiqués, returned bills to Parliament, nor vetoed legislation. Indeed, no major institutional conflicts have occurred between President Taur Matan Ruak and incumbent Prime Minister Gusmão.

Yet the President refused to promulgate the controversial media bill. The bill has been wending its way through the tiers of government for over a year. Timor-Leste’s Council of Ministers approved a draft of the media law in August 2013 and Parliament passed it on 6 May this year, without a dissenting vote. The President however refused to sign it. Instead, he sent it to the Court of Appeal, to ensure that it “will not excessively limit the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the constitution.”

The media bill came under fierce criticism from human right organisations, civil society and journalists’ unions. The bill would create a licensing system for journalists administered by a five-member government-funded press council. Media organisations would be prohibited from employing uncertified journalists. The licensing system would apply to domestic and foreign media outlets, giving the press council the power to deny access to Timor-Leste to foreign correspondents.

Several provisions in the law also allow the government to impose severe constraints on reporting. For instance, it obliges journalists to “promote the national culture” and to “encourage and support high quality economic policies and services.”

On 20 August the Court of Appeal ruled that certain provisions in the bill are in breach of the Constitution. Prime Minister Gusmão, who has been a key promoter of the media bill, is believed to be furious with the Court’s ruling. The Prime Minister had become increasingly irritated by criticism of his government and especially by the local media’s accusations of corruption. He accused them of being unruly, unprofessional and disloyal.

Parliament now has three options:

  1. Do nothing. In this case, the bill “dies”.
  2. Revise it in order to address the Court’s objections, and perhaps make other changes, and pass it again.
  3. Re-pass the bill without any changes. To pass a bill over the President’s and the Court’s objections requires a two-thirds vote of members present in Parliament.

It is believed that the parliamentary majority will accept the ruling of the Court and the President. President Taur Matan Ruak has strong support among local journalists and he seems convinced not to allow the law to pass as it stands or risk alienation from the press which is an important ally he has and may be needed in the future to advance his claims.

The President can still veto a revised bill on political grounds. Parliament, however, can override a political veto with a simple majority.