Tag Archives: prime minister

Slovakia – Relations between the President and Prime Minister reach a low point

The surprising victory of Andrej Kiska in the March 2014 presidential elections in Slovakia has, until recently, not had any major negative impact on the stability of intra-executive relations in the country. The main executive authority rests with the government headed by the Prime Minister, who is backed by a parliamentary majority. The directly elected president has important but limited powers, especially in the realm of appointing public officials, including the Prime Minister and government ministers. Nevertheless, his room for maneuver is restricted by the party composition of the parliament. As a result, President Kiska has kept a low profile, respected the agreements of political parties, and appointed (as well as dismissed) all the ministers as proposed by the Prime Minister Robert Fico, whom he defeated in the presidential elections. Following the March 2016 parliamentary elections, Kiska promptly appointed the new four-party coalition government led by Fico’s Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD), and publicly supported its goals of fighting extremism and deepening European integration.

The president has more leeway when it comes to the judiciary. During the first weeks of his presidency, he rejected five out of six candidates proposed by parliament for Judges of the Constitutional Court, thus filling just one out of three vacancies at the Court. Moreover, another spot at the Court became vacant in February 2016. Although the parliament proposed, in line with the Constitution, two new candidates for the post, Kiska again refused to choose either of them, citing their lack of adequate qualifications. The Constitutional Court accepted the constitutional complaints of five unsuccessful candidates for further deliberation but so far has not ruled on the matter.

The conflict over the Constitutional Court has been the most visible exercise of formal presidential powers vis-a-vis the government and the parliament. The president has, on several occasions, invited individual ministers to voice them his concerns over the development of their portfolios. However, he normally uses more traditional tools available to ceremonial heads of states: media statements and speeches at various public events. Since his election, President Kiska has become a vocal proponent of increased transparency and anti-corruption; he regularly criticizes what he perceives to be the systematic failure of the state to take care of its socially deprived citizens. Kiska recently ruled out setting up a new party or joining an existing one in order to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Despite some suggestions that he may not seek reelection, he stated he would announce his decision in September next year. By and large, the relations between government and president seemed cooperative and respectful. In recent weeks, however, tensions between the Prime Minister and President have emerged.

In September, several media outlets anonymously received reports of a 2015 tax inspection in the KTAG firm, which is owned by the President and his brother. As it turned out, the tax authorities concluded in 2016 that the KTAG had violated the law, since it paid some €27,000 less than it should done on taxes. The company did not object to the findings and paid the sum as well as the penalty. In a series of brief statements, President rejected any personal wrongdoing but did not offer any detailed account, thus ignoring allegations that the company may have used the money to finance his 2014 presidential campaign. The head of the tax authority later apologized for the information leak and claimed an “individual failure” was behind it. However, Kiska implicitly accused the government, stating: “If a head of state can be attacked in such a way, no single person in Slovakia can be sure that such gangland-style blackmailing practices will not be used against him or her.”

The Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák called the president “a tax fraudster” and the Prime Minister even accused Kiska of trying to influence the investigation by approaching the Prosecutor General. In response, the Prosecutor General stated he had talked to the President back in 2015 on a whole range of issues but strongly denied the Prime Minister’s allegation that President had intended to influence the investigation or discussed his firm’s problems with him.

the Interior Minister’s remarks, however, should be viewed in a broader context of Kiska’s anti-corruption agenda. Minister Kaliňák has faced a series of allegations for his business with Ladislav Bašternák, an entrepreneur who was recently accused by the police of tax fraud. Kaliňák himself has benefited from business with Bašternák but the police did not start an investigation due to the lack of evidence. In addition, Prime Minister Fico rents a flat from Bašternák himself, for which he has been heavily criticized by the opposition. The opposition parties organized a series of demonstrations throughout 2016 and President Kiska also suggested Kaliňák should step down to give the police free rein to properly investigate the case. In 2017, several anti-corruption marches organized by students took place. One of their key demands was the resignation of the Interior Minister and the Police Corps President.

In November, the Prime Minister attacked the President again, claiming the government was “ready to send the President an invoice” for €1.000.000 to pay for using the government’s plane to fly to his hometown Poprad (where the president’s family lives). The statement came as a surprise, since the President, following an unbinding parliamentary resolution issued in April, stopped using the plane and uses his car instead. When faced with the “airplane problem”, Kiska has always explained that he was using the plane at the Interior Minister’s suggestion. Kaliňák, according to President, asked him to use the plane because the pilots had logged too few flying hours. In April, Kiska effectively accused Interior Minister of plotting against him and suggested the Minister should deal with his suspicious business links instead. In November, when PM Fico re-opened the case against him, Kiska retaliated by saying that he understood the Prime Minister’s frustration over growing tensions within his party and falling public support for his policies.

Why have the relations between President and Prime Minister become so tense? There are several possible interpretations. Firstly, they may be pre-emptive steps to damage Kiska’s chances in the 2019 presidential elections, should he decide to run again. The President’s approval ratings are unmatched by other active politicians, and Prime Minister Fico may feel that a negative campaign against President Kiska will improve the chances of his party’s future candidate. Secondly, following a poor performance of Fico’s party in the November 2017 regional elections, when four out of six Smer-SD-backed regional governors lost to opposition candidates, media attention has focused on how the largest Slovak party will react. Several prominent party members suggested personnel changes at the top should follow, including a possible departure of the increasingly unpopular but powerful Interior Minister Kaliňák. Fico, after a week of silence, claimed that his party, in fact, won the election, gaining a plurality of regional deputies. Reopening Kiska’s “airplane problem” may be an attempt to change the main subject of the public debate. Moreover, Kiska’s past problem with the tax authorities has been a welcome development for Smer-SD, since both Kaliňák and Fico can use it to divert public attention from themselves to the President. Thirdly, it may be a simple tit-for-tat tactic, a reaction to Kiska’s recent criticism of how the Smer-SD-led government has handled several high-profile social policy issues. These include the occurrence of serious flaws in the management of resocialization facilities, leading, among other things, to the unnecessary detention of children, and under-age sex between staff and children. Kiska stated that Slovakia was not a functioning welfare state, by which he effectively questioned the policy record of left-leaning Smer-SD, the party that has been in power for over a decade.

Whatever the true reasons, government and president are entering uncharted waters of open political confrontation. However, any escalation to the levels reached in the mid-1990s between the then President Kováč and Prime Minister Mečiar seems unlikely.

Štěpán Drahokoupil – Czech Republic: Back to instability

This is a guest post by Štěpán Drahokoupil, Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

The Czech Republic has experienced a period of remarkable political stability since the formation of the coalition government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka in January 2014[1]. But the political events of last week once again reminded many people that governments lasting four years – the regular term of the Chamber of Deputies – are very rare. One of the main causes of the recent development is the tense relationship between Prime Minister Sobotka and President Zeman, but also weak political practices during the process of accepting resignations and nominations of Prime Ministers in the Czech Republic.

Here is a summary of what happened in Prague last week: Prime Minister Sobotka held a press conference on Tuesday, May 2, where he was expected to announce a recall of Andrej Babiš, the Minister of Finance, due to accusations of illicit financial dealings. Instead, Sobotka announced his resignation and therefore the end of the whole government. The ceremony, where the President was supposed to accept the resignation of PM, was scheduled for Thursday. However, Prime Minister Sobotka unexpectedly informed President Zeman that he first wished to consult with the president about the next steps without formally handing in his resignation. President Zeman then held the ceremony anyway, even though there was no actual resignation from the prime minister. What is even more remarkable (although not entirely unusual for Zeman) is that the president behaved very disrespectfully towards the prime minister. At the end of the week, Prime Minister Sobotka decided to recall only minister Babiš after all and took back the announced resignation of the whole government. The main reason for this U-turn seems to be that Sobotka did not receive an assurance from the President that he would accept the resignation of the whole government – as is the custom – instead of only the resignation of Prime Minister Sobotka.

After more than two decades of the independent Czech Republic there is no political consensus on the very rules of how to dissolve a government or how to nominate one. When previous Prime Ministers (Václav Klaus, Vladimír Špidla, Stanislav Gross, Mirek Topolánek and Petr Nečas) handed their resignations to the presidents of the day, their government was considered to have resigned. This time, the president openly questioned this political practice – Zeman argued that Sobotka’s resignation could be perceived as  the resignation of only the prime minister not of the whole government. This is also not the first time that President Zeman has interpreted constitutional stipulations and political practice in a way that has suited his own political interests. After the resignation of Prime Minister Nečas in 2013, President Zeman appointed a new government led by Jiří Rusnok. However, he did so without consulting the Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber of the parliament) and therefore without securing a majority for the new govenrment. Subsequently, Jiří Rusnok and his government failed to win the vote of confidence, but the President refused to appoint another candidate for prime minister (although parliament had previously presented an alternative). Therefore the government of Prime Minister Rusnok was in office without the confidence of the lower chamber of the Parliament for several months and was replaced only after the general elections in 2013, which were won by the CSSD leader Bohuslav Sobotka and his allies.

The current political crisis also demonstrates that when there is a stable government, based on a functioning coalition of political parties, the prime minister can successfully challenge the president and his/her actions – irrespective of whether they are warranted by any constitutional stipulations. However, when one government party becomes an ally of the president, it considerably strengthens the position of the head of state. It is well-known that the Minister of Finance, Andrej Babiš, and President Miloš Zeman have made a political pact, resulting in a difficult situation for Prime Minister Sobotka. Moreover, President Zeman is seen as the clear frontrunner in the next presidential elections in 2018, while Andrej Babiš’ political movement, ANO, is polling around 30% (in contrast with PM Sobotka’s Social Democrats at 15 %).  The next general elections are scheduled for late October of this year.

Bohuslav Sobotka has been in office for 40 months as of May 2017. In terms of time in office, this makes him the third most successful Prime Minister in the history of the Czech Republic. Only the current President Miloš Zeman and his predecessor President Václav Klaus finished their whole terms as Prime Ministers, both 48 months (see Table 1 below). No government of the Czech Republic has finished its four-year mandate since 2002. Thus, the recent development seems much more like a norm of Czech politics rather than an exceptional situation.

Table 1: Prime Ministers in office (1992 – 2017)

Prime Minister Term Number of months
Václav Klaus 1992 – 1996 48
Václav Klaus 1996 – 1998 18
Josef Tošovský 1998 6
Miloš Zeman 1998 – 2002 48
Vladimír Špidla 2002 – 2004 25
Stanislav Gross 2004 – 2005 8
Jiří Paroubek 2005 – 2006 17
Mirek Topolánek 2006 – 2007 4
Mirek Topolánek 2007 – 2009 26
Jan Fischer 2009 – 2010 14
Petr Nečas 2010 – 2013 36
Jiří Rusnok 2013 – 2014 6
Bohuslav Sobotka 2014 – 2017 40+ (as of May 2017)

The average time in office of Czech governments is less than two years. The shortest government lasted only four months and the longest four years. When we take into consideration that some of the cabinets were technocratic governments – headed by non-political figures because there was no political majority in the Chamber of Deputies – the “political governments” lasted on average 25.6 months and technocratic governments 8.7 months.

Table 2: Average time of governments, shortest and longest governments (1992 – 2013)

Average duration of all governments 21.3 months
Shortest government: PM Mirek Topolánek (2006 – 2007) 4 months
Longest governments: PM Václav Klaus (1992 – 1996), PM Miloš Zeman (1998 – 2002) 48 months
Average duration of “political governments” 25.6 months
Average duration of “governments of officials” 8.7 months

Note: Since the final number of months of PM Sobotka in office is still unknown, it is not part of the calculations.

Notes

[1] The government was formed by the Social Democrats (CSSD), the political movement ANO and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It had 111 out of 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

____________________
Štěpán Drahokoupil is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Charles University. He graduated in political science from Charles University and his research focus is comparative political science, specifically political systems and the theory of democratic, hybrid and undemocratic regimes.

Petia Kostadinova – Bulgaria elects an opposition candidate as its next President and incumbent PM resigns

This is a guest post by Petia Kostadinova, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Background and participants

With its new democratic constitution passed in 1991, Bulgaria established for the first time in its history the institution of the President of the Republic. Direct elections, with the winner requiring to gather the majority of votes cast, started taking place in 1992. The sixth such elections were held in November 2016 over two rounds, Nov. 6 and Nov. 13. A national referendum on three questions was also took place on Nov. 6. The referendum asked voters to weigh in on (1) introduction of a run-off single member district electoral system for legislative elections, requiring winning candidates to gather the majority of votes cast on the second round; (2) introduction of mandatory voting; (3) state financing of political parties equal to 1 BG Lev (= 0.51 Euro) for each vote received at legislative elections. The presidential elections were also the first under rules stipulating that non-participation in two consecutive elections would lead to voters losing their automatic voter registration. This stipulation was one of the questions addressed in the referendum.

Voter turnout was relatively high, approaching 58% of the electorate at the first round, and over 40% at the run off.[1]  The elections were preceded by an active controversy surrounding the diaspora vote. Initially the Electoral Code, guiding the procedures of these elections stipulated that there would be no more than 35 polling locations in countries that are not members of the European Union (EU). Most Bulgarians living outside the EU reside in Turkey and the United States. The upper limit of polling locations was eventually removed from the Electoral Code, in time for the first round of elections.

Twenty-two sets of candidates were put forward, and for the first time voters had the option to cast a ballot for no candidate, expressing their dissatisfaction with the choices. Five and a half percent of voters marked “I do not support any candidate” at the first round, and 4.71% made such a choice at the second round. The governing party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), was among the last to nominate a presidential candidate, after the current President Plevneliev supported by GERB, chose not to run for re-elections. Eventually, GERB nominated the Chairperson of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva, as their candidate. GERB’s main coalition partner, Reform Bloc (RB), put forward a separate nomination, that of Traicho Traikov, who had been a member of the first GERB government, 2009-2012.

The two main opposition parties, Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), did not directly nominate presidential candidates, instead pledging their respective party’s vote for presidential hopefuls supported through personal ‘initiative committees’. As an effort to increase direct citizen participation in democratic governance, initiative committees allow for at least twenty-one citizens to sign a petition nominating (presumably politically) independent candidates for President and Vice President (VP). Ten of the 22 sets of candidates were put forward through such initiative committees. The Socialists supported Roumen Radev and Illiana Iotova’s candidacies. Radev is a general without political experience and the former head of the Bulgarian Air Force. Iotova is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Group of Socialists and Democrats. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms supported the nomination of former Finance Minister, and later Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski, with Danail Papazov as VP candidate.

Issues in the campaign

While some parties nominated candidates as early as May 2016, the election campaign did not intensify until October, after GERB finally settled on a nominee. Debates among presidential hopefuls have become a norm in Bulgaria, and at least a dozen such events, sponsored by different media outlets, took place among different sets of candidates. The two leading candidates, Radev and Tsacheva, hesitated to participate in debates with multiple participants, and instead debated among themselves. The President of the Republic does not have extensive executive and legislative functions, although s/he can initiate changes in the Constitution, and can use veto power over certain legislation. In addition to ceremonial functions related to foreign affairs, the office of Head of State in Bulgaria has prerogatives focusing on national security. Fittingly, among the main issues that emerged in presidential debates were the country’s communist legacy, foreign policy especially with respect to Russia, and Turkey, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the EU’s handling of the refugee crisis, and domestically – the stalled reform of the legal system. Radev is widely considered a pro-Russian politician, and has called for the lifting of the EU sanctions on Russia. Tsacheva also called for warming up relations with the Russian Federation, and indicated that if elected, she’d invite President Putin to visit Bulgaria. Due to the limited constitutional powers of the President in Bulgaria though, s/he does not participate in European Union decision-making processes. It is unlikely that the election of a pro-Russia President alone would lead to a change in the country’s foreign policy direction.

Outcome and implications

At the first round of elections, Radev, supported by the Socialist Party, won the plurality of votes (25.44%), followed by GERB’s Tsacheva with 21.96%. The candidate of three nationalist parties under the label of United Patriots Karakatchanov gathered 14.97% of the vote. A regional businessman, owner of a pharmacy chain, Mareshki, nominated by one of the nearly dozen initiative committees received 11.17% of the vote. The candidate supported by the Movement of Rights and Freedoms came in fourth with 6.63% of the vote.

Sunday’s run-off between the first and second ranked at the first round was decisively won by Radev with 59.37% of the votes cast. Tsacheva gathered 36.16% of the vote. Exit polls suggest that at the second round of elections, Radev attracted votes from DPS, as well as the majority of those who voted for the candidate of the nationalist parties. Tsacheva was supported by half of those who voted for the candidate of the Reform Bloc.

At the start of the election campaign, Prime Minister Borisov made it explicit that if the GERB candidate did not win the presidency, he would resign, turning the presidential elections into a proxy vote of no confidence for his government. When Tsacheva came in second after the first round, Borisov hesitated to step down but reiterated that GERB would not participate in government if she lost the final vote. Radev’s win in the second round led to Borisov’s resignation. The composition of any future government as well as the timing of new elections remain unclear at the time when this report was written. The outgoing President can approach the second largest party in the National Assembly – BSP – to form a (coalition) government in the current legislature. But the Socialists have already announced that they are not interested, and that they would seek to win the forthcoming legislative vote. The timing of the latter is yet to be determined. The outgoing President does not have the right to dissolve the legislature within three months of his term ending in January 2017. Thus, it would have to be the incoming President Radev who would call for new elections that can take place in April 2017 at the earliest. In the meantime, with GERB out of office, current President Plevneliev and president-elect Radev have agreed to work together on appointing a caretaker government until the next elections take place. Leading politicians have also indicated that despite the referendum failing to gather the minimum number of votes to be binding, there is interest in introducing a majoritarian single member district electoral system before the next elections, thus significantly changing the country’s political landscape.

Notes

[1] As of the writing of this piece, the Central Election Committee had not reported the final numbers on voter turnout.

References

http://www.parliament.bg/bg/const
https://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/Президентски_избори_в_България_(1992)
https://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/Президентски_избори_в_България_(1996)
https://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/Президентски_избори_в_България_(2001)
https://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/Президентски_избори_в_България_(2006)
http://pvr2006.cik.bg/results_2/index.html
https://results.cik.bg/tur2/prezidentski/index.html
https://results.cik.bg/pvrnr2016/tur1/aktivnost/index.html
http://www.dnevnik.bg/bulgaria/2016/10/27/2851855_prezidentut_podpisa_promenite_v_izborniia_kodeks/
http://www.lex.bg/laws/ldoc/2135636485
https://www.president.bg/cat72/54770482851643602/
http://www.mediapool.bg/radev-stana-prezident-pravitelstvoto-si-otiva-news256418.html
http://www.mediapool.bg/plevneliev-i-radev-shte-opredelyat-zaedno-sastava-na-sluzhebniya-kabinet-news256514.html

Kyrgyzstan – Another Year, Another Prime Minister

Temir Sariev, the former Minister of Economics, assumed the post of head of government in Kyrgyzstan on April 30, a week after the resignation of Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev. Sariev is the fifth prime minister since Kyrgyzstan became a self-styled “parliamentary republic” in June 2010 and the 26th prime minister since the emergence of an independent Kyrgyzstan at the end of 1991. On departing office, Otorbaev noted that the cabinet needed to be “shaken up,” but Sariev will lead a government with only three new members, and they fill existing vacancies in the portfolios for finance, transport and communications, and economics.

Unlike the previous two prime ministers, who were technocrats, Temir Sariev is a prominent politician who has served as a parliamentary deputy, minister, deputy prime minister, and founder and head of a political party, Ak Shumkar (White Falcon).   He ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against Kurmanbek Bakiev in 2009. Associated with northern politicians who vigorously opposed Bakiev’s rule–and helped to overthrow it in April 2010–Sariev is one of the few Kyrgyzstani politicians who has sought to build a base of support in the nascent middle class. An entrepreneur who achieved considerable success in business in the 1990s, Sariev combines an understanding of, and degree of sympathy toward, market-based economics with a pro-Russian orientation in foreign affairs. He is also an astute observer of Kyrygzstani politics and the author of one of the best political memoirs of the post-communist era.[i]

Because he was brought in from outside the ranks of the three parties in the ruling parliamentary coalition, and because parliamentary elections are scheduled for October of this year, Sariev had to agree as a condition of his appointment that neither he nor his party would contest the forthcoming elections. Facing a term of less than six months as prime minister, Sariev’s willingness to assume the post may appear puzzling. However, his party, Ak Shumkar, stood little chance of crossing the relatively high threshold of seven percent in national list voting, and a successful stint as prime minister could position Sariev to reclaim the prime minister’s office after the election or to run for the presidency in 2017, when President Atambaev’s single six-year term expires.[ii]

Sariev will certainly have every opportunity to prove his mettle as prime minister in the coming months.[iii] Kyrgyzstan is in the midst of a legal and political battle over Kumtor, the foreign-owned gold mine that provides the country with much of its revenue, and it is on the verge of accession to the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union.[iv] Having overseen much of the preparatory work for admission to the Eurasian Economic Union, and having enjoyed good relations with the political leadership in Moscow, Sariev is in many respects a logical choice for the post of prime minister.

Kyrgyzstan’s constitution limits the president’s formal role in government formation to the nomination of the party that seeks to form a ruling coalition, but the politics of Sariev’s appointment provides evidence that Kyrgyzstan’s president exercises a degree of patronage influence not normally associated with a head of state in a “parliamentary republic.” For example, after Prime Minister Otorbaev’s resignation, a leader of the ruling coalition in parliament, Felix Kulov, stated that “the coalition will only propose its [replacement] candidate with the approval of the President.”[v] In fact, both the formal and informal powers of Kyrgyzstan’s president suggest that the country has something closer to a semi-presidential rather than a parliamentary model of government.

Designed by a politician who was opposed to the strong presidencies characteristic of the post-communist world, the 2010 constitution sought to limit the accumulation of presidential power in two primary ways: by making the prime minister’s selection and survival dependent on the parliament and by preventing the creation of a pro-presidential “party of power” that could amass a supermajority capable of amending the constitution. The 2010 constitution’s unusual protections for the opposition included not only a restriction on the number of seats held by any single party–65 out of a total of 120 in the unicameral legislature–but also the allocation of the chairs of the Budget and Law and Order Committees to opposition parties.

The 2010 constitution left in place, however, many of the features of the previous semi-presidential order in Kyrgyzstan. Besides enjoying a direct popular mandate, the president of Kyrgyzstan continues to exercise direct control and appointment authority over the “power bloc” in the cabinet, which includes ministers and their deputies in the fields of defense and national security. An indication of the relative ranking of the offices of president and prime minister in Kyrgyzstan was the decision by an incumbent prime minister, Almazbek Atambaev, to run for the single six-year term as president in the fall of 2011 rather than remain as head of government. Thus, whereas the prime minister is traditionally the center of political gravity in a parliamentary system, in Kyrgyzstan the president continues to be the executive figure that exercises greater pull.

Notes

[i] Temir Sariev, Shakh kyrgyzskoi demokratii (Kyrgyz Democracy under Threat). Bishkek: Salam, 2008. Speaking to me in the summer of 2010, Sariev argued that even under favorable conditions it would take 15-20 years to develop genuine political parties in Kyrgyzstan. Interview with Temir Sariev, Bishkek, 20 July 2010.

[ii] Ak Shumkar received 2.6 percent of the votes of registered voters and 4.7 percent of those voting in the previous parliamentary election, in October 2010. Eugene Huskey and David Hill, “The 2010 Referendum and Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan,” Electoral Studies, vol. 30, no. 3 (2011). The recent shift of the threshold from five percent of registered voters to seven percent of actual voters seemed unlikely to increase Ak Shumkar’s chances of success in the October 2015 elections.

[iii] An indication of the punishing schedule facing the new prime minister was his comment on assuming office that government officials would be working weekends and holidays. Grigorii Mikhailov, “V Kirgizii–integratsionnyi shok” (The Shock of Integration in Kyrgyzstan), Nezavisimaia gazeta, 13 May 2015, p. 7. http://www.ng.ru/cis/2015-05-13/7_kirgizia.html

[iv] Accession documents for Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Eurasian Economic Union were signed by the heads of state of member countries in Moscow on 8 May 2015, but formal admission awaits ratification by the parliaments of member states. Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Union poses serious political, technical, and economic challenges for the country, which has been divided over the move.

[v] “Koalitsiia bol’shinstva predlozhit Atambaevu nazvat’ kandidata v prem’ery” (The Ruling Coalition invites Atambaev to name the candidate for Premier), Vechernyi Bishkek, 24 April 2015. http://www.vb.kg/doc/311246_koaliciia_bolshinstva_predlojit_atambaevy_nazvat_kandidata_v_premery.html

Women in Power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide

Penetrating the Labyrinths – Women are slowly gaining top positions

Torild_Skard

This is a guest post by Torild Skard, Senior Researcher, Norway. Her most recent book is Women of power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, published by Policy Press.

In 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister in what was then Ceylon, it caused international concern. How could a woman cope with such a demanding task?

Half a century later the woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, received the Peace Prize from an impressed Nobel Committee for her contribution to ‘ensuring peace, promoting economic and social development and strengthening the position of women’.

From 1960 until the end of 2010, a total of 73 women have held the position of president or prime minister in 53 countries. In 2010 there were 18 women in these positions – or 6 per cent of the world’s top leaders. This is more than before, but there is certainly a long way to go to attain gender balance.

All over the world national political institutions are dominated by men. Everywhere, politics is considered a male domain. How did 73 women manage to rise to the top, and what happened when they got to power? These are themes of my new book “Women of power”, the first to give a comprehensive overview of national women leaders in the period since World War II.

Women in Power

Male partners
From 1960, a total of 32 women became presidents and 41 prime ministers around the world.

Many countries, in fact most of them in 2010, had only one politically elected top leader, whether a president or a prime minister. Some countries had a strong president who combined the position of head of state and government. In countries with a parliamentary system the prime minister was head of government and there was an appointed head of state (monarch or Governor General) with mainly a ceremonial role. Other countries elected both a president and a prime minister, who then were respectively head of state and government with a somewhat variable distribution of power.

Of the women top leaders two-thirds, 50 (68 per cent), rose to the top in countries with both a president and a prime minister. This is a clear overrepresentation. There were two top positions to compete for, so the chances of success could be greater, and it was perhaps reassuring that something as unusual as a woman top leader necessarily had to collaborate closely with a male colleague. Women obtained roles both as president and prime minister, and it was particularly in industrialized countries, Asia and partly Africa south of the Sahara, that they were part of a ‘top leader pair’.

Only 23 women (32 per cent) acquired top positions alone, and of these only 15 became strong executive presidents. They lived in Asia and Latin America. The others (8) were executive prime ministers, mostly in Western countries. Thus, it was extremely rare that women held political leadership positions with the most executive power and greatest autonomy.

Variable influence
The titles ‘president’ and ‘prime minister’ cover varying realities. In some countries the president is usually the country’s most powerful person, and the prime minister – if the role exists at all – functions mostly as an advisor. In a parliamentary system the roles are reversed. There the president – if the role exists – usually performs ceremonial duties, while the prime minister has executive power. In dual systems executive power is more or less evenly divided between the president and prime minister.

At the beginning of the 2000s, democratic countries with a strong president were more common than parliamentary systems around the world, but women more often rose to the top in countries with parliamentary systems. However, the difference was not great. 24 women (33 per cent) became national leaders in countries with a strong president and 28 (38 per cent) in parliamentary systems. Only a few, 10 (14 per cent), were leaders in dual systems. These systems were not very common, though. 11 (15 per cent) came to power in authoritarian or transitional regimes. There were most women leaders in presidential systems in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa and in parliamentary systems in Western and Eastern industrialized countries and Asia.

But women did not necessarily hold the most powerful positions in these different countries.
In countries with a strong president, 17 women were presidents and 7 prime ministers, while 7 were presidents and 21 were prime ministers in parliamentary systems. Apart from the three presidents of Switzerland, where there is a collective leadership, 35 women (48 per cent) held executive positions with considerable power, while 17 (23 per cent) held mainly ceremonial or positions with limited power, while 10 (14 per cent) shared power more or less evenly with a president or prime minister in dual systems. In authoritarian or transitional regimes 5 women had relatively strong positions, while 6 were clearly limited.

Why do women rise to the top in some countries but not others?

Rich Countries in the Forefront
In 1945, the United Nations emphasised that women and men should have equal rights. In the following years, the number of nation states increased dramatically and economic and technological developments gave women and men across the globe greater income, more education and better health. Living standards were highest in industrial countries and about 40 per cent of such countries had one or more women as heads of state or government. In developing countries this was the case for only about 20 per cent of countries. Thus conditions in industrial countries were more favourable for female leadership. People’s health, education and income were important, though they were not necessarily the only factors of importance.

Democracy
It has been an advantage for women in politics that the number of democracies increased. Democracy is based on the principle that people are equal, and it is the people, not a limited elite, that should govern. This entails that women should participate in decision-making bodies.
In non-democratic systems women generally did not become national leaders. Only two women were prime ministers in authoritarian countries (Elisabeth Domitien in CAR 1975 and Milka Planinc in Yugoslavia 1982), while nine women rose to power in turbulent transitions where democratic systems were not in place or did not work, and/or where there were uprisings or civil war (Isabel Perón in Argentina 1974, Lidia Güeiler in Bolivia 1979, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl in GDR, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot in Haiti and Kazimiera Prunskiene in Lithuania 1990, Sylvie Kinigi in Rwanda and Agatha Uwilingiyimana in Burundi 1993, Ruth Perry in Liberia 1996 and Roza Otunbayeva in Kyrgyzstan 2010).

The great majority of women presidents and prime ministers obtained their positions in countries characterized as ‘democracies’. There were 62 women leaders in 48 countries. Most women leaders (23) rose to the top in liberal democracies in Western industrial countries, while some (10) did so in emerging democracies in Eastern industrial countries. Moreover, they were scattered over different regions. In Latin-America 8 rose to power in liberal democracies and 5 in emerging, in Asia 6 in liberal democracies and 5 in emerging and in Africa south of Sahara only 5 in emerging democracies.

Women’s Movement
If a democratic system is necessary for women’s political participation, it does not follow that it is sufficient. After World War II, Western industrial countries mostly had liberal democracies with political rights for women. But the systems were based on long-lasting male dominance, and women were not mobilized and welcomed in political institutions.

An international women’s movement arose during the 19th century in industrial countries and their colonies, among others in Sri Lanka and India where Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi became prime ministers. Inspired by a new wave of feminism in the 1970s, more women started to participate in formal politics. Parties and governments were put under pressure to let women in, and especially from 1975 the United Nations and the international women’s movement supported each other mutually. The women’s movements presented demands and formulated policies, while the UN promoted change, collected data, organized debates and set standards. In many countries political institutions became more open for women, women’s influence increased and woman friendly decisions were made. Generally, the number of women increased in parliaments and governments.

When they rose to the top, at least half of the women national leaders benefitted, directly or indirectly, from women activists requiring more women in leading positions. This was the case also for Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher, though they were seen as very critical to feminism. In Israel, women activists got gender equality as part of a socialist Zionist ideology, so Prime Minister Ben Gurion felt it was necessary to have at least one woman in the government. In the UK, pressure on the Conservative Party was created not only by the women’s movement, but also by the competing Labour Party, that took Barbara Castle into the cabinet as the first woman. Then the Conservative Party leader Edward Heath included Thatcher in his inner circle of men. At the time Meir and Thatcher were of the few women available who were qualified for a top position in politics.

Extraordinary Qualifications
In all regions the women top leaders had varied economic and social background. But regardless of their parents’ occupations and economy the daughters went to school and became an exceptionally well-qualified group. Practically all went not only to primary and secondary school, but also to higher education at college and university. They very often studied law, economics and political science in addition to other subjects.

Most of the women top leaders had far more education than the average person in the population. Many had long professional careers before they became political leaders, and thirty achieved very high positions. Reneta Indzhova in Bulgaria, for example, was head of an agency, Vaira Vike-Freiberga in Latvia was head of an institute, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot in Haiti was a supreme court judge, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese in Ireland were university professors, Luisa Diogo in Mozambique was a director, Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua edited a newspaper, Maria Pintasilgo in Portugal was an ambassador and Chandrika Kumaratunga from Sri Lanka a researcher. It was unusual that men got high-level jobs, and even more that women got them. But more women top leaders had such positions than their male predecessors. More than men, women had to have high status to succeed.

At the same time as the women had employment, nearly all of them married and three quarters had children to take care of. Most had one, two or three, but Sylvie Kinigi in Burundi, Cory Aquino in The Philippines and Agatha Uwilingiyimana in Rwanda had four each and Ruth Perry in Liberia seven.

Struggling upwards

Penetrating Labyrinths
It has almost become a standard expression that a ‘glass ceiling’ blocks women’s way to leadership. But the study of women top politicians shows that the image of a glass ceiling is not only too simple, but also misleading. It gives the impression that there is only a single barrier, not that women encounter obstacles all the way, and it says nothing about what it takes to reach the ceiling. The metaphor also gives the idea that one can break the barrier with a blow, once and for all. But in fact, complex interactions between different factors make it possible or impossible for women to reach the top. Various barriers must be overcome, perhaps one barrier several times in different ways, and when one is overcome there are new obstacles.
Most men also have to go through a labyrinth to advance to the top in politics. But labyrinths for men are usually simpler than those women have to go through, with fewer dead ends, nooks, crannies and barriers and more support. Women most often start with a handicap and encounter more resistance of different kinds due directly or indirectly to their gender.

Tough Party Ladders
Most women presidents and prime ministers achieved political power through political parties. In addition to their professional careers they were active party members, climbed upwards in the party hierarchy and acquired various positions: executive board members, party leaders or deputies, Members of Parliament, Speakers, ministers, vice presidents or deputy prime ministers. It was neither fast nor easy. Although the vast majority of top women leaders acquired extensive political experience, the political credentials of male top leaders were generally greater. The women who nevertheless came to power, benefitted among others from support from a male mentor and their appeal to women voters, from unexpected events (such as the death of a prominent leader or disagreement among the male candidates) and times of crisis (such as armed conflict, transition from authoritarian to democratic rule and economic depression with unemployment and social unrest).

In Asia and Latin America several women based their careers on family relations, aiming to take over the position of a deceased father or husband. Chandrika Kumaratunga in Sri Lanka 1994 and Cristina Fernández in Argentine 2007 took over while their relatives (mother and husband respectively) still were alive. In addition, some women came to power as ‘outsiders’, due to their special occupational status or participation in organisations outside the political parties. Vigdis Finnbogadottir, for example, was director of Reykjavik theatre in Iceland and a well-known personality from TV, while Claudette Werleigh in Haiti was secretary general of the Catholic development organization Caritas.

Solitary Swallows
Parliaments are central bodies in a democratic system. In addition to being important decision-making forums, they provide arenas for training and influence and form recruitment bases for national leaders. However, with the partial exception of the Nordic countries, the representation of women in parliament in the 1980s and 1990s was generally below ten per cent. It was only after the new millennium that the proportions on the average began to rise. But by 2010 there were still not more than 19 per cent women in parliament globally.

Countries with women top leaders generally had relatively high percentages of women in parliament. In these countries women’s rights were relatively strong and living conditions good. But there was no systematic relationship whereby a country had a woman national leader as the result of a certain representation of women in parliament, or that a top woman leader automatically led to an increase in the number of women MPs. For a woman to become a top leader many factors had to fit together, and even if they could have a positive effect, there was no automatic ‘trickle up’ or ‘trickle down’ between the national leader and parliament. Most of the female heads of state or government were therefore more or less solitary swallows as women in their role as leaders.

Openings or Obstacles
Recruitment to different political positions took place in different ways. There were usually direct elections to parliament, but the recruitment of women was hampered by little goodwill in the parties, few women candidates and unfavourable electoral systems.

The electoral system is a key factor. Majority vote in single-member
constituencies and proportional representation on the basis of party lists have been the most widespread systems, majority vote being most prevalent by the turn of the millennium. But proportional representation has generally been more favourable for women. Among the women national leaders considerably more rose to the top in countries using proportional representation (42 women or 58 per cent) than those using majority vote (15 or 21 per cent). The rest had other arrangements (5), were in a difficult situation of transition or did not have elections (11). Majority vote could thus inhibit not only women’s access to parliament, but also further advancement, particularly in parliamentary systems where top leaders had to pass by parliament.

Do women make a difference?

The women in question did not become top leaders primarily because they were women, but because they felt they should lead the nation. Some also acted in the same way as their male colleagues, fighting on their terms and becoming the first among equals, without being engaged in ‘women’s issues’, whatever they might be. Examples are Margaret Thatcher in the UK elected in 1979, Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua 1990, Tansu Çiller in Turkey 1993 and Megawati in Indonesia 2001. Nearly half of the women tried to compromise, however, looking after both men’s and women’s interests. These include among others Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina 2007, Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh 1996, Angela Merkel in Germany 2005, Indira Gandhi in India 1966, Mary McAleese in Ireland 1997, Zinaida Greceanii in Moldova 2008 and Luisa Diogo in Mozambique 2004. And one third, among them Gro Harlem Brundtland in Norway 1981, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan 1988, Helen Clark in New Zealand 1999 and Michelle Bachelet in Chile 2006, challenged male domination and explicitly promoted women friendly or feminist policies. So, some of the top women leaders did more, some less, but the vast majority did something to improve the status of women. It made a difference that a woman rose to the top instead of a man.

Towards the future

Institutional Change
Overall, a small, but growing number of women have become heads of state and government in the world during recent decades. There is still a long way to go to obtain gender parity in the leadership of nations. It will take over two hundred years to get 50/50 men and women in the world’s governing bodies if the pace is as slow as hitherto.

To strengthen gender equality, a woman friendly democratization process must continue. In research and efforts to develop ‘democracy’ and ‘good governance’ the role of women and gender equality must have a central place. Woman friendly democratization is a complex process that requires institutional changes:
– To ensure that women can promote their interests on equal terms with men, focus must be put on the political culture and the political parties: recruitment to the parties, internal processes, elections and decision-making, training and policy development, financing of political activities and forms of political competition. Here the mass media play an important role.
– Parliament and government must become more representative. In many countries, the electoral system must be changed, and ‘critical measures’ such as quotas must be adopted to increase the recruitment of women.
– Further, ‘good governance’ must mean democratic governance with emphasis on participation, human rights and social justice. If women are to participate on a par with men, the status of caring work must be increased and men must assume their share.
– Finally, there must be an efficient state that can safeguard the interests of the community, protect human rights and promote social equality.

Vision
The women national leaders who met at the UN on 19 September 2011 underlined the following:

“Women’s political participation and decision-making across the world is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace in all contexts – during peace through conflict and post-conflict and during political transitions.”

With more women as presidents and prime ministers with the support of women activists and men who promote equality, these aspirations are more likely to be met.

Torild Skard is a Senior Researcher in Women’s Studies at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in Oslo, specialising in women in politics. A pioneer in the women’s movement nationally and internationally, she was formerly a MP and the first woman President of the Norwegian Upper House. She has also been Director for the Status of Women in UNESCO Paris, Regional Director in UNICEF West- and Central Africa and Director General in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has written numerous books and articles on women’s issues, particularly women in politics and travels widely studying and promoting the status of women.

Peru – Congress (finally) ratifies Humala’s new cabinet

Last Tuesday, Peru’s congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s proposed new cabinet.[1] However, this was the third time that Congress voted on this issue, and it was a very close call: 55-54 in favor, with nine abstentions. Somewhat dramatically, Humala’s cabinet was only saved by Ana María Solórzano, the President of Congress, who was the last to vote and tipped the balance in favor of the government.

Humala and his party, Gana Perú, do not have a majority in the legislature, and the government has been relying on the support of a number of smaller parties, primarily comprised of a conservative block of legislators, affiliated with former presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, for their legislative initiatives. However, support for the government has haemorrhaged following the stagnation of the economy, and amidst criticism of prominent members of Humala’s cabinet.

The new cabinet, to be led by Ana Jara Velásquez, only managed to receive approval third time round because the embattled Humala agreed to suspend new rules for private pension funds and withdraw his nominee for the Organization of American States (OAS). The weakness of Humala’s government is evident. This is Humala’s sixth cabinet and his last President of the Council of Ministers was only approved on the third vote. This was the first time in ten years that Congress has refused to ratify the president’s cabinet.

This conflict between the legislative and executive branch provides us with an important insight into the variation in regime type across Latin America. There is a general tendency for people to treat all Spanish-speaking South American democracies (and Brazil) as pure-presidential. This however, is not accurate. At least one democracy in South America is a hybrid regime – Peru. Argentina is a possible second although this is a slightly more contentious case (see this discussion over at the Semi-Presidential One). In fact, Peru is what David Samuels and Matthew Shugart class as ‘president-parliamentary’, that is when the prime minister and the cabinet are dually accountable to the president and assembly majority (p. 30).[2]

The current conflict in Peru revolves around the legislature’s refusal to approve the Presidente del Consejo de Ministros (or President of the Council of Ministers), in this instance, the aforementioned Ana Jara Velásquez. To all intents and purposes, this position is akin to a prime minister, and together with the cabinet is ‘dually accountable’ to the president and Congress. Clearly, given it was ten years since the last time Congress refused to accept the president’s cabinet, this rarely occurs, but that misses the point. It can happen, as constitutionally, the prime minister and cabinet are accountable to the legislature and so this is an important distinction between Peru and pure-presidential regimes, because in the Peruvian case, this confidence vote places Congress in a powerful position, particularly in the context of a weak and unpopular president.

Although Humala has a fixed term, the refusal of Congress to ratify his cabinet further undermines his political legitimacy and weakens his popular support. This leaves Humala looking like a lame duck.

[1] Thanks to John Carey for suggesting this post and highlighting the importance of the confidence vote in Peru.

[2] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart. 2010. How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge University Press.

Georgia – President/PM relations

On 17 November 2013 Giorgi Margvelashvili from the Georgian Dream coalition took office as President of Georgia, having won the presidential election at the first ballot the previous month. On 20 November, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of Georgian Dream, stepped down as Prime Minister. He was succeeded by Irakli Garibashvili, who is technically non-partisan, but who is close to Ivanishvili and who was nominated for the post by the Georgian Dream group.

This series of events ended the highly conflictual period of cohabitation in Georgia. When the Georgian Dream coalition won the parliamentary election in October 2012, Prime Minister Ivanishvili and his government were faced with the incumbent President Mikheil Saakashvili from the National Movement. Saakashvili, who had been in power since 2004 and who was term limited, refused to go quietly. The year-long period of cohabitation saw no fewer than 12 presidential vetoes, all of which were overridden, as well as many other highly public conflicts, notably over appointments to the judiciary, the armed forces, foreign ambassadors, as well as potentially destabilising conflict over the size and control of the presidential security services.

The onset of unified government has marked a fundamental change in political practice. There have been no presidential vetoes since November 2013. Moreover, following the 2013 presidential election, the 2010 constitutional reforms came into force. These amendments shifted the balance of power firmly towards the prime minister. The president does retain some powers, but is now little more than a constitutional figurehead. Not only is the period of cohabitation in Georgia well and truly over, so too is the era of superpresidentialism.

Yet, there are underlying tensions within the executive. Unlike President Margvelashvili, who now has little independent political authority, PM Garibashvili remains a close confidante of former PM Ivanishvili. This leads to the common perception that Ivanishvili is still running the government from behind the scenes. Certainly, the president seems barely involved in any key decisions. For example, last week there was a major government reshuffle. Partly for constitutional reasons, the president played no role in the process. More than that, since November 2013, the president has not held a single meeting of the National Security Council (NSC). This would have been unheard of previously. The first meeting of the NSC was scheduled to be held last week, but was postponed because of the reshuffle. Most bizarrely of all, President Margvelashvili was not even invited to attend the jamboree that surrounded parliament’s ratification of the EU Association that took place last week. Officially, there was not room for him. However, the president took it upon himself to attend the meeting uninvited. As he sat down, he said ” “See, I have fit, haven’t I?” This very public spat was just the latest incarnation of a dispute between the president and the PM as to who has the power to sign treaties under the amended constitution.

Fundamentally, though, President Margvelashvili is in a weak position. Constitutionally, he has few powers. Politically, he has lost the confidence of Ivanishvili. Moreover, the Georgian Dream coalition continues to do well at the polls. Having won the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, the group has now done well in this year’s local and regional elections. Up to now, the opposition National Movement continued to control most local offices. However, Georgian Dream’s impressive first round performance in June’s local elections has just been followed up by second-round successes earlier this month. For example, the Georgian Dream candidate will become the mayor of Tbilisi. Generally, Georgian Dream has won about two-thirds of the vote in the local contests.

Georgian Dream is a coalition. However, it increasingly resembles a unified force. Following the local elections, Georgian Dream now controls almost all aspects of Georgian representative government. Within the movement, former PM Ivanishvili still dominates. Within the formal constitutional system PM Garibashvili is the key player. President Margvelashvili has been sidelined. Paradoxically, this may increase the likelihood of tension within the executive as the president tries to use the few remaining powers that he does have. With the collapse of the National Movement’s political presence, perhaps the president will emerge as the de facto leader of the opposition?

Peru – New Prime Minister and Cabinet Reshuffle

Previously on this blog, I have discussed the Peruvian political tradition of frequent cabinet reshuffles. Well, it continues apace. On Monday, the Peruvian Prime Minister, César Villanueva, tendered his resignation in Latin America’s only semi-presidential regime, just four months after his appointment by President Ollanta Humala. Villanueva was Humala’s fourth prime minister since he became President in July 2011, and his resignation this week precipitated yet another reorganization of Humala’s cabinet.

Villanueva’s departure appears to be the result of a disagreement he had with the Finance Minister, Luis Miguel Castilla, over increasing the minimum wage. Last week, Villanueva publicly floated the possibility of the government raising the floor of the minimum wage in Peru, but a couple of days later, Castilla rejected Villanueva’s statement, and insisted the government was not planning any changes to the minimum wage. What is more, the First Lady of Peru, Nadine Heredia, also publicly contradicted Villanueva, and re-iterated Castilla’s denial.

When he arrived in office, Humala, elected on a vaguely left-leaning, economic nationalist platform, raised Peru’s minimum wage to 750 soles (US$268) a month. However, given the recent slow-down in economic growth, and an increasingly unhappy and fractious private sector, particularly the all-important mining industry, an increase in the minimum wage right now would be too politically costly for Humala.

Consequently, Villanueva’s statement received no support from Humala’s inner circle, and he was left with little choice but to tender his resignation. In his stead, Humala has appointed René Cornejo, previously Minister of Housing. Cornejo is Humala’s fifth prime minister.

At the same time, Humala replaced a further seven cabinet ministers. Ana Jara, formerly Minister of Women and Vulnerable Populations became Minister of Labor; Carmen Omonte replaced her. The former Minister of Agriculture, Milton Von Hesse, was made Minister of Housing, while Juan Manuel Benítez Ramos became the new Minister of Agriculture. In addition, Paola Bustamante was appointed Minister of Development and Social Inclusion; and Piero Ghezzi Solis is the new Minister of Production.

Apparently, Luis Miguel Castilla also offered his resignation to Humala this week. Nonetheless, he retains his post, perhaps no surprise given Castilla’s importance as a signal of economic stability and orthodoxy. However, Humala did accept the resignation of Jorge Merino, formerly the Minister of Energy and Mines. Eleodoro Mayorga Alba replaced Merino.