Tag Archives: prime ministerial appointment

Romania – An Underused Presidency?

Can the president of a semi-presidential republic build a politically independent and effective check-and-balance on government and parliament? The question continues to instil both scholarly and general interest debates. Recent political developments in Romania have once again brought to the public eye the matter of whether a president can actively and constructively contribute to government formation, the policy making process and agenda setting. And should s/he do so? In the present text I discuss what tools the current president has chosen to use from his ‘toolbox’, and what he stays away from.

  1. The Newest Government Formation

On 29 January 2018, Iohannis nominated his third prime-minister from the Social Democrat Party (PSD) in the course of approximately one year. The exclusive prerogative of nominating the prime-minister shines a spotlight on the president. The government was once again formed without his own National Liberal Party (PNL), prolonging a period of cohabitation. His supportive part of the public expected the president to lead the opposition in extensive negotiations for an alternative government formation. However, he quickly accepted the proposal of the parliamentary majority. Bargaining duration was of one day only. Consequently, he not only contradicted public expectations, but also some of the most recent empirical studies claiming that presidents have an interest in seeing their parties succeed and are willing to act to facilitate their success (Savage, 2017; Anghel, 2017). For the time being, the president has chosen not to instrumentalize his constitutionally prescribed role in cabinet formation to influence its outcome.

Iohannis shows a loose connection to his party (PNL), from whose ranks expectations of support and leadership have always existed. The PNL itself has a weak performance in the role of the main opposition party, which could incentivize the president’s doubts regarding its coalition potential or ability to assume governance.  Coupled with what his supporters perceive as a disengagement from public life, this might bring into question the interest of the president in pursuing a second mandate.

  1. Veto Power

The president of Romania has the right to veto legislation on constitutional grounds by reference to the Constitutional Court or for any other grounds by returning the bill to parliament. MPs may repass a bill through ordinary majority, and the president cannot veto it a second time. The table below shows the number of times president Iohannis made use of this prerogative (see Koker, 2017 for a comparison with the veto use in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe). The third column shows how many laws passed with his consent. When comparing figures, we could infer a working relationship between parliament and president, and a consensus oriented elite. Most of the laws sent back to parliament have actually undergone a process of re-examination and have not been repassed in their exact initial form.

The major source of tension between the president and the parliament is the set of laws on justice reform supported by the government and the majority of MPs. In the proposed bills, the president’s own institutional role in the anti-corruption fight has been watered down. Iohannis has constantly shown a different approach to the government’s plans and even joined street-protests against a government ordinance that would have decriminalised some forms of public office abuse. He is expected to use this ‘tool’ and veto the justice laws once they reach him for promulgation. This prospect, coupled with some anticipation of a severe societal backlash, has so far influenced the government’s actions and is delaying a resolution.

President Klaus Iohannis and PM Sorin Grindeanu (18/01/2017) Iohannis appeared unexpectedly during a cabinet meeting where an emergency decree to pardon certain detainees and amend the Penal Code was to be discussed. PhotoSource: A3 Press

The same issue related to anti-corruption prompted the president to use two more of his executive attributions: calling for national referenda and taking part in the cabinet sessions when matters related to national security or foreign policy are discussed. Iohannis successfully prevented the government’s first attempt to pass the draft emergency decree to pardon certain detainees and amend the Penal Code by unexpectedly attending a would be decisive cabinet meeting in January 2017. He also announced his (unfulfilled) intention to call for a national referendum concerning this amnesty bill, should it not be withdrawn. Iohannis’s use of formal presidential ‘tools’, in the context of recurring mass street protests, has so far delayed the government’s plans to reform the justice laws.

  1. Informal Powers

Most investigations on the powers of the president in multi-party systems agree that the president has a formally more or less limited role, in accordance to the Constitution.  Scholars have so far provided few inquiries into the informal aspects of presidential authority. The few studies that exist are focused on the USA and showed how presidents rely on their electoral legitimacy and visibility to influence the policy process via their public positions and symbolic actions (Strauss and Sunstein, 1986; Ashley and Jarmer, 2016). We should expect it to be the case for any directly elected president, and expand our research agenda.

In the case of Romania, the president’s public appearances are an underused tool. He is reactive in his (e.g) public statements, does not engage in unscripted dialogue with media representatives and mostly limits his activities to technical or ceremonial appearances. His priorities appear locked in preserving the status quo in the justice system, and does not appear willing to set other directions to the public agenda and use his own electoral legitimacy to get people to think about new issues or believe in particular actions. Three years in his (five year) mandate, we could conclude that informal powers are not among his preferred tools of action.

Conclusion

When compared to years of presidential activism by former president Traian Băsescu (2004 – 2014) and the symbiotic relationship he had with his Liberal-Democrat Party (PDL), we can conclude that the mandate of president Klaus Iohannis turned Romania away from a path of increased presidentialization (Samuels, Shugart 2010) and party presidentialization (Passarelli, 2015).

The present text acknowledges that formally, a major effect of the president on the political life is conditional on the inclusion of his or her own parliamentary party in the cabinet. Institutionally, he or she has a limited number of tools to use as effective check-and-balance on government and parliament. Nevertheless, the question remains whether the willingness of presidents to use informal powers (symbolic actions, visibility, leadership abilities, electoral legitimacy, and a working relation with their own party) may not also condition the final output. The use of informal powers by popularly elected presidents in presidential and semi-presidential systems[i] to affect government formation, policy making and agenda setting would benefit from further empirical research.


[i] This blog also suggested that even presidents who are not directly elected can make a constructive contribution in government formation. See the case of Germany.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name

 

Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation

 

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

(NEW PORTFOLIO)

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

Source: Author’s research.

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

Semi-presidentialism – Can presidents influence coalition outcomes?

This post is based on my article ’Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ The Coalition Potential of Presidents in Semi-Presidential Republics—Insights from Romania” in East European Politics and Societies.

The research article published by East European Politics and Societies sought to investigate the basis of the power of presidents to shape coalitions in semi-presidential systems, using the case of Romania. The findings put forward by the article contribute to the weakening of the theory that semi-presidential systems are inherently affected by a process of growing presidentialization.

Throughout my study of coalition governments more generally, the question about the potential systematic influence of presidents in their formation and evolution has often risen. To know who has the upper hand and the final say in the process of government formation is of chief importance to the students of political institutions. However, previous research on coalitions rarely addressed the topic related to the powers of the president, with recent findings claiming that in European democracies presidents have a substantial ability to induce their preferred governments. The case of Romania disputes these claims and shows that the mechanisms of a multiparty regime mostly limit the president’s exclusive bargaining advantage to nominating the prime minister and then, much as in a parliamentary democracy, render him or her dependent on the coalition potential of his or her own party.

President Klaus Iohannis, prime minister Mihai Tudose and Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the dominant party in the coalition, the Social Democrat Party (PSD) (2017). Although a ‘friendly’ government is not always in the president’s cards, more often than not, he finds himself dancing to their tune.

Romania is a young, consolidating, semi-presidential European democracy and a fertile ground for the presidentialization of politics, according to the measures proposed by previous research. Samuels and Shugart use the Romanian presidential elections of 2004 to open their 2010 seminal volume and highlight influence of presidents on government formation in semi-presidential republics: “The results of the direct presidential election thus not only took government formation out of the hands of the largest parliamentary party and the largest parliamentary coalition, but also served to break a pre-election agreement, altering the partisan balance of forces that parliamentary coalitions and parliamentary elections had established.”(p.2)[1]

Nevertheless, an in-depth, qualitative investigation of the same case generated surprising insights by showing this outcome to be rather the exception than the rule and entails certain conditions to be met. Overall, the study shows that when the president and prime minister (or a plausible designate prime minister of a presidentially “unfriendly” majority) enter a competition to shape a coalition in this institutional format, they enter as equals. The weight of their supporting parties makes the difference in deciding the winner.

Methodologically, the article supports the need for more in-depth qualitative study of such matters, mostly since there are insufficient accounts for the informal aspects of presidential authority in government formation. Ignoring such aspects, which we can only uncover through elite interviews, could lead to incomplete results.  Although there are limitations linked to respondents’ subjectivity when asked about the direct involvement of the president in off-the-record negotiations for government formation, including accounts of first hand participants is a valuable addition to our understanding. The article relies heavily on semi-structured discussions with prime –ministers, ministers or important witnesses at sensitive moments linked to the role of the president in coalition formation.

Firstly, the article makes a distinction between cases when coalition cabinets and presidents were in a situation of partnership (whether the president and the prime minister were from the same party or not) and cases of coalition cabinets and presidents in a situation of conflict (Table 1). It proceeds with a selection of a case where the president played an important role in government formation and could make use of his prerogative to name the prime minister from his loyal party, which thus became a formateur, and compared it with one where he could not (Romania has only had male presidents). The conditions to induce a preferred government are highlighted with the case of the 2004 parliamentary elections and the active involvement of president Traian Băsescu in government formation. In contrast, while maintaining the same actors and the same institutional design, the analysis goes on to show a different situation following the 2012 elections.Finally, it emphasises how, all things considered, the coalition appeal of the party behind the president makes the final difference in government formation, regardless of his or her exclusive prerogative to name the prime minister.

The implications of this study go beyond uncovering the dynamics of coalition formation in Romania. The study shows that although a president could find within the semi-presidential system the institutional incentives to try to increase his or her influence in government formation, he or she remains firmly limited by the coalition potential of his or her party, regardless of context-driven peaks of increased informal authority. It also argues that in choosing cases for a comparative analysis of coalition formation and administration, there is reason to go beyond a differentiation between semi-presidential and parliamentary regimes.

Notes

[1] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart, Presidents, Parties and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Power Affects Party Organization and Behaviour (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 2

Kosovo – Still awaiting a new government and presidential choice(s) for the prime minister post

Three months after a snap parliamentary election was held in Kosovo on 8 June, the country’s parliament has not started to work and a new government is yet to be formed. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has been called upon twice to rule over who should be nominated as prime minister and what is the correct procedure for the election of the speaker of parliament.

A previous post explained how government formation became a difficult constitutional matter in the aftermath of the general election.

Atifete Jahjaga, the non-partisan head of state elected by the parliament with cross-party support in 2011, had to decide whether to nominate outgoing prime minister Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which topped the polls and held 37 seats in the 120-seat parliament; or to nominate Ramush Haradinaj of the opposition Alliance for Future of Kosovo (AAK), which signed a post-election coalition agreement with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the newly established Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), and claimed to have secured the support of the parliamentary majority. She asked the Constitutional Court to clarify the president’s role in government formation on 19 June.

The Court decided in favour of the PDK nomination. In its 1 July ruling, the Court argued that the president should nominate for prime minister the candidate proposed by the political party or coalition that was registered in the general election under one name and obtained the highest number of seats in the assembly. Thus, the Court specifically ruled out the possibility of nominating as prime minister a candidate put forward by a post-election coalition and opened the way for Hashim Thaci’s third appointment as prime minister.

In the meantime, the battle between the ruling PDK and the anti-Thaci coalition moved on to the election of the speaker of parliament. Under Article 67.2, “the president of the assembly is proposed by the largest parliamentary group and is elected by a majority vote of all deputies”. While PDK holds 37 seats in the new parliament, the opposition LDK, AAK and Incentive for Kosovo control 47 seats. To ensure that they will be able to propose the speaker of the parliament, the three parties formed a joint parliamentary group on 11 July. However, PDK still argued that the right to nominate the speaker of parliament belongs to the party that won the most votes in the election.

In accordance with Article 66.3, President Jahjaga decided that the parliament should convene on July 17. Following the parliament’s constitutive session and the election of the new leadership, she was also supposed to appoint the new prime minister.

However, things took a different turn. The chair of the first parliamentary session held on 17 July refused to recognize the LDK-AAK-NISMA group. The argument was that parliamentary groups could only be formed after the election of the president and deputy presidents of the assembly. As a result, the opposition parties boycotted the session and left the room when PDK’s proposal for the speaker of parliament was put to vote. In the absence of quorum, the meeting was suspended. However, the opposition returned later on and elected Ifa Mustafa, LDK’s proposal, as President of the Assembly in the absence of PDK. Naturally, PDK contested the election and asked the Court to rule on its constitutionality. President Jahjaga also decided to wait for the Court’s verdict before appointing the prime minister.

In its 22 August ruling, the Court found the election of speaker unconstitutional both procedurally and substantially. On the first ground, the meeting called after the adjournment of the Constitutive Session due to lack of quorum was declared illegal. On the second ground, the Court referred to its previous decision regarding the parties entitled to be consulted first about the appointment of the prime minister. The final ruling was that the Constitution prioritizes election results as a criterion for recognizing the largest party or coalition in the new assembly with the right to nominate the next speaker of parliament.

The constitutive session of the Assembly will be resumed on 12 September. Both the opposition and the ruling PDK are claiming the post of the speaker of parliament and are hoping to form the government. The opposition parties have announced that Self-determination will vote against the PDK nominees and are expecting to elect Ifa Mustafa as president of the assembly once again. The ruling party is counting on the support of the ethnic minorities, who do not want new elections to be called.

President Jahjaga is likely to play an important role in this context. Provided that all four opposition parties vote against Thaci, whom the president is expected to appoint as prime minister first, she will need to make a second nomination within ten days. The Constitution is however silent on whether the president should appoint a second candidate from the same party or not. Nevertheless, if the government fails to win majority support for the second time, the president needs to announce new elections, which should be held within the next forty days (under Article 95.4). In its first ruling, the Constitutional Court acknowledged that the president has full discretion in making the second nomination. In a more peculiar fashion, though, the Court also underlined that the president’s main responsibility is to find a solution that avoids new elections.