Tag Archives: Succession

Claudia Generoso de Almeida and Benja Satula – Only one man for two jobs: the leadership transition in Angola

This is a guest post by Claudia Generoso de Almeida – Researcher at the Center for International Studies of the University Institute of Lisbon (CEI-IUL) – and Benja Satula – Law Professor and Coordinator of the Center for Research in Law at the
Catholic University of Angola (UCAN)

Since the legislative elections on 23 August 2017, Angola has been experiencing a new political era. Power transferred from the incumbent President José Eduardo dos Santos (JES), the second-longest serving president in Africa, to Joao Lourenço (JLO), the former defense minister.

For the first time since independence, the two sources of power – the presidency and the MPLA party – are not controlled by the same person, as JES still holds the ruling party leadership. This watershed moment in the country’s political history has stimulated the debate on the so-called dual power (poder bicéfalo) and on the cohabitation of these two strong men. However, this “two strong men” situation will not last long. JES will no longer be the MPLA leader after the party’s Extraordinary Congress, which is already scheduled for September of this year. The process of leadership transition in Angola shows us the puzzling relationship between strong presidents and strong parties in presidential and dominant party systems in Africa.

Angola’s two sources of power: the party and the presidency

Angola is ruled by the MPLA, a former liberation movement which has been shaping the political trajectory of this oil-rich country since its independence in 1975. The MPLA was able to consolidate its hegemonic power with “uncompromising mastery” and with a close symbiosis between the party and the state, despite the long civil war (1975-1991; 1993-2002).[1] Today, the country has a dominant party system, as the MPLA has won every election since the end of civil war in 2002 with more than 60% of the votes.[2]

The country not only has historically dominant party, but also a president with reinforced powers. Until 2017, the two leaderships (party and presidency) have only known two names: Agostinho Neto and, after his death in 1979, JES. The end of the war through MPLA’s military victory combined with an economic boom based on oil prices allowed JES to create a parallel neopatrimonial state gravitating around his presidency and Sonangol, the state-own oil company. This gave the president the power to control and distribute state resources and revenues to his entourage, in particular his family members. Nevertheless, this Big Manruler still needed the party to ensure and strengthen his power, which happened in 2010.

The presidential power boost: the 2010 constitution

 On 21 January 2010 the National Assembly, which was dominated by the MPLA,[3] passed – with the boycott of the main opposition party (UNITA) and subject to severe criticisms – a new constitution, which extended the president’s formal powers. Angola no longer has a semi-presidential system, but rather a presidential one. The president is now not only the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, but also the head of the executive, as the post of prime minister was abolished.[4]Moreover, this constitution allowed JES to legally remain head of state until 2022.

One of the great changes within this constitution is that the president is no longer directly elected. Instead, the person that heads the list of the party or coalition of parties that receives the most votes in the general election will automatically become president.[5]Although the president “controls everything“, there is one very important detail to keep in mind: the president depends on the support of the majority party which selects him as the head of the party list, and consequently owes obedience to the party and to the party’s leader. In short, the party leadership is very important to the state leadership.

The presidency plus the party:  the superpower formula or the only way to govern?

Under the current MPLA statutes, the party has a great influence on the executive. In fact, it is the party that establishes and is responsible for guiding and monitoring the government programme.[6] Also, the composition of the president’s executive team and the appointment to other positions in the state administration need the endorsement of the party’s Political Bureau, which is chaired by the party’s president.[7]

As the MPLA has itself acknowledged, the party is experiencing an unprecedented and historic moment: a leadership transition while the current party president is still alive. According to some anonymous sources, this transition has been anything but smooth: 1) JLO was not JES’ first choice as a successor[8], 2) JES attempted to revert to the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections, 3) JES was almost absent during JLO’s electoral campaign, 4) JES’ last acts of governance, in particular to control the security sector[9], 5) JES tried to interfere with the composition of the new executive team and with the appointment of provincial governors by the new president, and finally 6)  JES intended to postpone the Extraordinary Congress to April 2019 to supposedly supervise the preparation of the local elections, which caused discomfort within the party.

All of these aspects consolidated the fear of a dual power (Bicefalia), which would hamper JLO’s governance, and there was a need to remove JES from the party presidency as soon as possible in order to reconfigure the party chessboard in favor of the new president and to empower his capacity of action. However, this removal has been helped by JES’ own promise and with the MPLA’s insistence that the president keep his word. In March 2016, JES publicly announced his intention to leave active political life in 2018. This announcement was made during a period of a severe economic crisis, low popularity levels of both the president and the MPLA, and with a president who was distant from the party.

Surprisingly, JLO, as the new MPLA head-of-list candidate for the 2017 elections, was enthusiastically received by the population, especially thanks to his speeches against corruption. This enthusiasm increased as soon as the new president started to govern. Indeed, the so-called JLO “bulldozer” made a great deal of changes in several strategic areas, affecting JES’ close circle.[10]

“The September Spring”, but still a dangerous hegemonic logic of power

The leadership transition started with the 2017 elections and will culminate in September of this year with the consecration of the MPLA Vice President JLO as the new MPLA president during the VI Extraordinary Congress, as announced on the 25th of May at the end of the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the MPLA Central Committee. In this Extraordinary Congress, there will be no competition, only a leadership succession.

However, this unique moment in the political history of Angola shows us the primacy of a dangerous hegemonic logic of power – only one man for two jobs (presidency and party) – and the lack of checks and balances. Contrary to several cases such as in the ANC (South Africa), in the MPLA as well in the FRELIMO (Mozambique), the leadership transition started first at the state level and then culminated at the party level. This reminds us of the importance of controlling the dominant party, which in turn has a symbiotic relationship with the state.

The “September Spring” is awaited with great expectations by both MPLA militants and Angolan society: will it constitute a real change, or will it be the same old thing? Will JLO restore semi-presidentialism and/or promote intraparty democracy? Well, for now, JLO seems to need the power that is provided by the state and party leaderships to govern with minimum constraints for two mandates and leave a legacy.

Notes

[1]See Christine Messiant, 2007, “The Mutation of Hegemonic Domination: Multiparty Politics without Democracy,” in Angola, the Weight of History, edited by Patrick Chabal and Nuno Vidal, 93-123, London: Hurst, and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, 2015, Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola since the civil war, London: Hurst.

[2]2008, 2012, and 2017 elections.

[3]The MPLA had 191 of a total of 220 parliamentary seats.

[4]Art. 108 of the constitution. The president also appoints the judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the Court Audit (art. 119).

[5]Art. 109 of the constitution.

[6]Art. 86 (3) (k) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[7]Art. 86 (3) (b) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[8] JLO was the MPLA’s general secretary between 1998 and 2003, and he was removed from office due to his public declarations on JES’ announcement in 2001 of his non re-election to the presidency in the second multiparty elections. JLO then declared that JES should keep his word and leave power voluntarily.

[9]The presidential decree of 11 September 2018 determined on that same date the beginning of the term of office of the commander general of the National Police and the chief of intelligence service and military security until 2025.

[10]In Angola’s central bank; in the diamond sector (Endiama); in the oil sector, removing JES’ daughter Isabel dos Santos from presidency of the state oil company Sonangol; in the police and security sector, replacing the chiefof police and the headof the intelligence service; and in the media sector (TPA, RNA, Edições Novembro, and Angop), putting end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a company whose partners are both sons of José Eduardo dos Santos. Also, José Filomeno dos Santos, JES’ son who has been head of the national sovereign wealth fund since 2013, is accused of the looting of US $500 million from Angola’s central bank.

Turkmenistan – Grooming the successor: Constitutional theory and political practice

None of the post-Soviet constitutions adopted between 1992 and 1996 allowed presidents to serve more than two terms in office. However, by now seven of the twelve post-Soviet countries in Eurasia have (or had) presidents in office who have for as long as they wished. The forerunner of this “life-long presidency” phenomenon was Turkmenistan, one of the most authoritarian and isolated countries in the world. As early as 1999, Saparmurat Niyazov, leader of Turkmenistan’s Communist Party since 1985 and the country’s first president after independence, was proclaimed “president for life.” As if this were not enough, the constitutionally mandated two-term restriction was scrapped.

Other Eurasian countries followed the lead, but adopted only one of these strategies. Thus, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev and Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon were personally exempted from re-election restrictions based on their status as “Leader of the Nation.” By contrast, in Belarus and Azerbaijan, the question was resolved systematically by abolishing any re-election restrictions in 2004 and 2009 respectively. Of the seven countries in post-Soviet Eurasia, only two chose different solutions: Uzbekistan’s President Islom Karimov, who died in 2016, had created a “groundhog day” routine by using even the smallest constitutional amendment as a reason to reset the presidential term count. In the well-known case of Russia, the two-term restriction is formally intact but has been circumvented by the president swapping with the prime minister, the latter being the second-highest government official.

However, even a life-long presidency does not eliminate the question of regime continuity. As presidents get older and weary of their office, the “succession problem” becomes a hot issue everywhere. Again, the strategies to tackle this problem are different, and not all of them are successful. Thus, in 2003 a smooth succession in power from father to son was effected in Azerbaijan. However, the first presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan passed away in 2006 and 2016 respectively, without leaving a designated successor. It is remarkable that in both cases the problem was solved after only several days without violent regime breakdown.

Like Belarus’ Lukashenko (almost 64) and Azerbaijan’s Aliyev (57), Turkmenistan’s Berdymukhammedov (soon 61) seems determined not to leave this question unresolved, but to pave the way for a family member. Since 2016 the signs have multiplied that his only son, 36-year old Serdar, is the chosen successor. In late 2016, Serdar, then an almost unknown person, ran for office in Dushak electoral district No. 25 during a by-election, the announcement of which made at extremely short notice and did not even include the names of the candidates. By March 2017, Berdymukhammedov junior was heading the parliament’s committee on legal affairs. Then on 25 March 2018, he successfully “defended” his seat in the Mejlis against his rival, a deputy director of the local school, with 91.42 percent of the vote.

At the same time, Akdja Nurberdyeva, the Chairman of the Mejlis since 2007, lost her mandate. More to the point, she disappeared from the list of registered candidates three weeks before the election took place. This fact led Western observers to speculate that Serdar was about to fill this position, which had become the second-highest in Turkmenistan’s state hierarchy after the 2016 constitutional reform. Its holder takes over the duties of the presidential office if the incumbent is unable to perform them for whatever reason. However, Serdar did not become the new speaker of the parliament. Instead, Gulshat Mamedova was elected—a woman who had been appointed Deputy Chairperson (“Vice-Premier”) for Culture two years ago, replacing a predecessor who had been fired for “bad work.”

The point is that the constitution does not allow acting presidents to run for office. Thus, a designated successor would be totally misplaced as the chair of Turkmenistan’s rubber-stamp parliament. Preferably, the post should go to a person who is very, very loyal not only to the incumbent but also to his heir. In short: the best choice is a person who does not feel tempted to break the constitutional rules the way Berdymukhammedov himself did in 2006 when he stepped into the presidency after having acquired the post of acting president following Niyazov’s death. Thus, Serdar’s electoral campaign may have served to increase his public visibility and popularity, but was not meant to secure him the position of parliamentary chair. While the “operation successor” might well be underway already, things are different from how they appear to be, as we will now see after taking a closer look at Serdar’s biography and some recent developments.

Young Berdymukhammedov is an expert in foreign affairs. From 2008 to 2011 he studied at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation while simultaneously working as a consultant to Turkmenistan’s ambassador in Moscow. From 2011-2013 he continued his education at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), this time providing advice to his country’s head of the diplomatic mission to the United Nations. In 2013 and from 2016 to 2017 he headed two departments of Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2017, Serdar visited Russia several times as an official representative of his country.

President Berdymukhammedov was missing from the March 2018 meeting of the five Central Asian presidents in Astana, Kazakhstan—their first in almost ten years. He was on a visit to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. This is a remarkable fact on its own. More to our point, in his place Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev officially received Serdar. Why wasn’t it Turkmenistan’s official representative, the same Mejlis chairwoman who was about to lose her mandate in the parliament? It is certainly not too far-fetched to interpret this clear move against diplomatic protocol as Serdar’s strategic introduction to Nazarbayev as Berdymukhammedov’s “crown prince” and his symbolic recognition by the most important and eldest of the Central Asian leaders.

What followed just two weeks later was the appointment of Serdar Berdymukhammedov as Deputy Foreign Minister. The catch is that this brought him very close to Rashid Meredov, the current Foreign Minister, one of the ten Deputy Vice-Premiers and perhaps the most influential political figure after the President. In fact, as members of the inner power circle of the Niyazov regime, only Berdymukhammedov and Meredov have survived at the highest levels of the power pyramid until today. Moreover, in 2006 it was initially Meredov who was expected to be the most likely successor to the late president. He is also the Methuselah among the more than 100 Turkmenistani Deputy Vice-Presidents who have at some point been in office since the early 1990s. In the current government, Meredov is the only official who has served for more than a decade. All the other Deputy Vice-Premiers were appointed between 2017 and 2018.

Therefore, it is highly likely that the 2006-2007 power transfer was based on a power-sharing deal between Berdymukhammedov and his foreign minister. In the same vein, one has every reason to suspect that Meredov’s time is about to expire. Young Berdymukhammedov, his deputy minister, is hard on his heels. A week after his appointment, Serdar headed an official delegation to a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers in Minsk. When he replaces the veteran, he will lose his seat in the parliament becoming the most important of all Deputy Vice-Presidents instead – but he will also be exempted from their rivalry over succession, thanks to his status as the President’s son and designated heir. Whether these events will unfold over a short or long time, and whether Meredov will be ousted in shame or retired with honors remains to be seen—as well as if and when the ongoing “operation successor” will be completed. At least, the idea behind the 2016 constitutional amendment has now become more explicit.

Côte d’Ivoire’s Senate Elections: The Next Move on the 2020 Elections Chessboard

This is a guest post by Lindsay Robinson, Senior Program Officer at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

Many aspects of Côte d’Ivoire’s March 26, 2018 senate elections were surprising, from the results to the decision to swear in only two-thirds of the body. Many Ivoirians were surprised that the polls even took place at all. The elections put in place the country’s first-ever senate; the institution was introduced in the new 2016 constitution. It was one of the more controversial provisions of the document, with the opposition claiming that there was no need for an expensive (“budgetivore”) new senate and claiming that the mode of selection gave the president far too much power over the legislative process — only two-thirds of 99 senators are elected and the remaining 33 are chosen by the president. However, the National Assembly still takes “precedence” over the Senate, as it can pass legislation on its own if the two chambers cannot reach an agreement.

The Senate’s main role is to counterbalance the Assembly’s constituency-focused members, as senators are beholden to constituents at a regional level — senators (at least 66 of them) are elected indirectly by regional and local councilors. The remaining, appointed senators are intended to be chosen from among underrepresented constituencies. For example, activists promoting women’s political participation have called on President Alassane Ouattara to appoint women to these seats.

No one expected these elections. Côte d’Ivoire’s new Constitution stipulated that any first cohort of senators would be elected only through 2020, at which time fresh elections would be called along with the next National Assembly elections. Article 90 states that an “organic law” will outline the Senate’s membership, eligibility criteria, and election procedures; this type of law is passed by the National Assembly. When no law was passed in the year after the constitution’s promulgation, many Ivoirian analysts assumed that the elections would not be called until 2020, thus avoiding a short two-year term. It therefore came as a surprise to many when on February 14 President Ouattara issued an executive order that served the same purpose as the “organic law” but without being passed through the legislature, followed a week later by an announcement of the election date. The administration justified the urgency by pointing to the constitution’s requirement that the senate be seated seven days after the start of the National Assembly’s first annual session, which in 2018 fell on April 2. But it is unclear why there was not similar urgency ahead of the 2017 session.

No candidates or voters from the opposition participated. The opposition contested the government’s reasoning. They had counted on participating in local elections in mid-2018 and winning enough seats on local and regional councils to influence the outcome of the Senate’s indirect races. Instead, the voters in the March senate elections were the local and regional councilors whose mandates expire in April 2018, and who were elected in 2013 local elections that the opposition boycotted. Thus there were no voters in this election from the country’s main opposition parties.

Furthermore, the opposition has been increasingly vocal about its lack of confidence in the independent electoral commission (CEI) and called for a new dialogue and consensus about its composition. The president of the main opposition party the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI), Affi N’Guessan, deplored that “today the governance in our country is the product of illegitimate institutions that have come from an illegitimate CEI.” Opposition parties refuse to acknowledge the validity of any elections (including this Senate race) that the CEI organizes with its current composition, which between the RHDP and the government is controlled by partisans of the majority. The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights found in November 2016 that the composition was not in conformity with the country’s international commitments to create an impartial body and ordered it be reviewed within a year, which has yet to happen. The lack of both opposition voters and candidates paved the way for an overwhelming victory by the ruling coalition, the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), which took 50 of the 66 seats up for election.

The RHDP ran unopposed by a competing party — but it still lost nearly a quarter of the seats to independent candidates. These were not political newcomers — the independents almost all come from the ruling coalition. There were major upsets in Côte d’Ivoire’s political capital  Yamoussoukro, where a member of the Rally for Republicans (RDR, President Ouattara’s party) and of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI, the second-largest coalition member) ran together as independents and won against the list presented by the RHDP. In Bouaké, the country’s second most populous city, PDCI members did the same. This echoes the National Assembly elections in 2016, when more than a third of all elected legislators had run as independents. At the root of this  phenomenon is an Abidjan-based candidate selection process that leaves many locally popular candidates sidelined. As happened in the National Assembly, the elected “independents” are likely to retake their party names and join the RHDP for votes.

Only 8 women were elected despite the new constitution’s call for greater women’s political participation. It is somewhat ironic that the ruling coalition that paved the way for the 30% gender quota law that will soon be introduced into the legislature only presented 8 female candidates out of 66 (or 12% of its candidates).

RHDP leadership is uncertain ahead of landmark 2020 elections. So why did President Ouattara proceed with the senatorial elections at this time? The indirect nature of the Senate elections means there is little benefit to be had from electing senators now so that they might have incumbent advantage in the 2020 elections. The impact on the president’s legislative agenda of having a friendly senate will also be fairly minimal; the National Assembly will retain primacy in passing legislation.

Instead, the reasons for this move likely have to do with the president’s plans for the RHDP coalition ahead of the 2020 elections. The RDR and PDCI, as well as a faction of RHDP headed by the National Assembly President Guillaume Soro, are vying to control who will select the coalition’s presidential candidate in 2020. Soro has clear ambitions for the post, while the PDCI believes it is “their turn” to provide the nominee after Ouattara’s (RDR’s) two terms. Meanwhile, Ouattara professes to want a unified party that presents its best candidate, regardless of party origin — although there are a number of RDR members he likely thinks fit the bill.

The Senate helps President Ouattara on a number of fronts in this battle over succession. It is a counterbalance to the politically powerful Soro, who no longer speaks for the entire legislative branch. President Ouattara’s close ally Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio was elected unanimously as Senate president. Ahoussou also comes from PDCI, which helps improve relations there. Ouattara also has an opportunity to nominate 33 individuals and turn potential rivals into allies; he chose not to appoint these senators before the senate opened, justifying the delay by a desire to provide only elected senators a say in the leadership election. These seats can be powerful “carrots” in the effort to create a unified party.

Kazakhstan – A New Move Towards Succession?

Succession in power is the Achilles heel of non-monarchic authoritarian regimes. Since their leaders are not elected through open electoral competition, the incumbent will most probably either die in office or be removed violently. Hence, authoritarian leaders must juggle coping with potential competitors, coopting them into their power pyramid or containing them otherwise, while selecting and preparing an heir.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has so far been extremely successful in securing his hold on power. The only remaining president in post-Soviet Eurasia who came to power during the old communist days, he is now the seventh in a global list of non-royal long-term leaders alive. Appointed by Gorbachev to the position of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Kazakh Socialist Soviet Republic in June 1989, he has been popularly elected and re-elected since December 1991 for five times. Last time this happened, in April 2015, official sources reported that nearly 93 of every 100 voting-age citizens in the country had cast a ballot for him at the polls. However manipulated these figures may be, domestic and international observers all concur that most people indeed see no alternative to the almost 78-year-old “First President-Leader of the Nation.”

Some of the more competitive regimes in the post-Soviet region, such as Georgia (“Rose Revolution” 2003) and Ukraine (“Orange Revolution” 2004), have been hit hard by the inability of “lame duck”-presidents to pave the way for successors enjoying elite consensus and mass support. By contrast, the two most repressive regimes, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, survived the unexpected death of their former leaders in 2006 and 2016, respectively, without the breakdown, clan wars and chaos some pundits had feared. Instead, new presidents Berdymukhammedov and Mirziyoyev, formerly having only been persons of trust but not designated successors to their deceased predecessors, both managed to renegotiate the commitment of influential elite networks. During the first one or two years, they consolidated power by removing potential rivals and winning elections by the same margins as their precursors.

On the one hand, Kazakhstan is in a similar situation as were these two countries when succession was looming. Nazarbayev sits firmly in power. The political regime is centered on him. Speculation about succession has been rampant for years, but there is no obvious heir, even if rumors circulate about his daughter Dariga or his son-in-law Timur Kulibayev and others. On the other hand, there are significant differences compared to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, especially regarding the structure of the elites. Thanks to a more developed economy, in Kazakhstan there are more numerous groups of vested interests having much to win or to lose when policies or politicians change.

Nazarbayev is a master at balancing these elite networks. One of his visible reactions to their hidden competition is a policy of frequent personnel rotation. While some members of the political elite fall out of the president’s favor, most are simply appointed to other positions just to return after a couple of years being awarded for loyalty and devotion. Observers, stressing the high risk of political instability due to intra-elite quarrels, see these personnel reshufflings as a means to create the conditions for a smooth power succession within the extended Nazarbayev family.

The President himself has addressed the question on several occasions. In 2013, during an interview for a national TV channel, he declared that “one who initiates reforms always faces risks,” and “therefore (…) always thinks of what might follow later on.” He suggested creating “a sustainable system” that would not be shaken by a new leader’s arrival, citing Singapore and Malaysia as role models. In a 2016 interview, he revealed plans to retire by 2020 without handing over power to his children.

In fact, in addition to a “cadre policy” that is hard to decipher from the outside, Nazarbayev also tinkers with the institutional foundations of his regime. He seems to carry out piecemeal constitutional reforms aiming at a smooth transition of power that ensures regime continuity.

During the first two decades of post-communist Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev invested in the postponing of any succession problem to the farthest possible future. Initially, he had faced a restriction to two five-year consecutive terms in office as most of his post-Soviet fellows did. However, in 1995, he orchestrated a referendum, which substituted re-election with an ad hoc prolongation of his tenure. Gradually, Nazarbayev’s enduring overstay in power became institutionalized. In 2000, the Constitutional Court ruled that his 1999 re-election effectively started his presidency anew, since the first post-Soviet Constitution, adopted in 1993, had been replaced in 1995. Finally, a 2007 Constitutional Law exempted the First President-Leader of the Nation from any term constraints at all, paying tribute to his merit for Kazakhstani state- and nation-building. A 2011 constitutional reform added the competency to declare preterm elections to the office at will. As a result, Nazarbayev became entitled to run for the presidency as long as he wishes to, but also to retire at any convenient point in time.

Recently, signs have multiplied that the “operation successor” is about to be set in motion. First, constitutional amendments in 2017 redistributed some powers to the Majilis, the Kazakhstani parliament, and strengthened the role of political parties, at least on paper. Still, even if pitched as an important measure to further democracy, these amendments did not abolish presidential supremacy, the cornerstone of the political system. However, the reform might narrow the formal scope of action for a future office-holder of less political weight than Nazarbayev. For example, the president became obliged to interact with the parliamentary parties when the cabinet is to be formed or the assembly to be dissolved. In the same vein, the upgrading of the Majilis as well as that of political parties could be seen as an attempt to enhance the attractiveness of these arenas for elite cooptation. Possibly, it allows for some degree of interest group pluralism, thereby channeling competition over power on the eve of and during transition.

Second, in June 2017, amendments to the Law on Elections were introduced. Most notably, they demand that any would-be candidate to the presidency prove having no less than five years of work experience in public service or as an elected politician. Apparently, this rules out any regime outsiders from the competition, if there will be any at all.

The third dimension of law-making addresses Nazarbayev’s position after a possible retirement. In addition to lifelong legal immunity, the 2010 revision of the Constitutional law on the Presidency assigned the First President-Leader of the Nation the eternal right to submit “initiatives on major issues of state construction, domestic and foreign policy and national security” for mandatory review by the power branches. Also, he got entitled to personally address parliament, government and other bodies for “important issues.” Reciprocally, these bodies will be obliged to coordinate their activities “in key areas of domestic and foreign policies” with pensioner Nazarbayev.

The most recent move of “operation successor” is currently under parliamentary consideration. It consists of a draft Law on the National Security Council. Founded by presidential decree in 1991, the Council has been reformed since 2006 as many as seven times without gaining major attention or importance. However, in early 2018, Nazarbayev proposed to transform it from a presidential consultative council into a constitutional body, consisting of the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief of the Presidential Administration, the Speakers of both Chambers of the Parliament, leaders of the law enforcement system and several ministers.

Most importantly, Nazarbayev himself shall be appointed Chairman of the Council. He will be entitled to give instructions to all members of the body, including the elected president-to-come. Thus, the First President will have the “final say” on all major political issues, no matter who serves under his guidance. Consequently, Nazarbayev’s future position has already been compared with that of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei.

Obviously, the new Law is meant to be an important building block within the imagined Kazakhstani “sustainable system.” It will create an institutional tool for implementing the somewhat lofty prerogatives of the First President enshrined in the 2010 Law on the Presidency. If that plan works out, Nazarbayev could retire from his post as president in the not-so-far future, proclaim early elections, back a candidate for succession, and then groom him or her until the end of his days. With his death, Kazakhstan would return to “normal” presidentialism, since Nazarbayev’s super-presidency is a constitutional position tailored exclusively to him.

If adopted and executed, this institutional reform may perhaps secure Nazarbayev’s lifelong dominance over politics in Kazakhstan and help to introduce a successor who will learn to run the country under the First President’s supervision. However, it is questionable whether the new Council can effectively secure the survival of the regime: should a crisis emerge, Nazarbayev could be tempted to turn the Council into a kind of junta if he is still strong and popular enough by then. Even if this were not to happen, the new incumbent could face a “real” succession crisis and “clan war” the moment the First President will eventually be gone for good.

Thus, the new design of the Council would probably help to solve Nazarbayev’s individual problem, i.e., how to retire without giving up power. It might also allow gaining time to accustom the elites to a new leader. However, whether this will guarantee regime continuity depends on whether the new president can generate credibility under the restricted conditions of “supervised learning,” being simultaneously forced to remain completely loyal to Nazarbayev while striving for building a genuine power base.

Côte d’Ivoire – Newly reelected President Ouattara turns his attention to the question of succession

President Alassane Ouattara was reelected for a second five-year term on October 25, 2015. He won convincingly in the first round of the poll, with 83.7% of the vote. Voter turnout was 52.9%, according to the independent election commission (CEI). Contrary to 2010 where more than 3,000 people lost their lives in post-election related violence, this year’s presidential election was peaceful and the stakes much lower. With former President Laurent Gbagbo at The Hague, awaiting trial, Ouattara ran against a divided opposition and was favored to win. Attention now shifts to preparing for a peaceful succession in 2020.

The major wager in this election was the voter turnout, which in 2010 was more than 80% for both rounds of the presidential race. Some opposition leaders had called for a boycott to protest against “an electoral masquerade,” in their words. A victory with voter participation below 50% would have been somewhat tarnished, as reckoned by former president of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the ECOWAS observation mission to Côte d’Ivoire. The first turnout figure announced by the CEI on October 27th as results were still being counted was “around 60%,” a figure immediately derided by opposition leaders who claimed the number was in the order of 18%. A civil society coalition that did an independent parallel vote tabulation of the electoral process, POECI (Plateforme des organizations de la societe civile pour l’observation des elections en Cote d’Ivoire), found that voter participation was 53%, with an error margin of plus/minus 1.8%. When the CEI announced the election results on October 28th, an error in the final calculations of the turnout rate led the CEI chairman to announce that turnout had been 54.6%, a number that within hours was corrected downward to the final figure – 52.9%.

The drama around the voter participation rate reflects the deep divisions that persist within Côte d’Ivoire, rooted in political exclusion and an ongoing battle for power between three key leaders – Ouattara, Gbagbo and former President Henri Konan Bedie – since the death of founding father Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993. Despite five years of sustained economic growth during President Ouattara’s first term, little has been done to heal the wounds left by the post-election violence in early 2011 that saw civil warfare in the streets of Abidjan. The three leaders represent Côte d’Ivoire’s three major political parties, the FPI (Gbagbo), the PDCI (Bedie) and the RDR (Ouattara). In Gbagbo’s absence, Affi Nguessan ran as candidate representing a faction of the FPI. Bedie had declined to stand and for the PDCI to present a candidate, supporting Ouattara instead as part of a broader coalition – the RHDP (le Rassemblement de houphouetistes pour la democratie et la paix). Some PDCI stalwarts contested this decision and decided to run as independents instead. With Gbagbo and Bedie not in the running, the real test of Ouattara’s legitimacy lay in the degree to which voters would actually chose to participate in the vote.

With a respectable 50%+ voter turnout rate, President Ouattara now has the mandate to move forward with political reforms that could help heal the rifts among Ivorians and pave the way for a peaceful succession at the end of his second and last term in 2020. Ouattara has indicated that constitutional reform will be an immediate priority. Notably, he wants the infamous article 35 of the constitution removed, which states that to be eligible, both of a candidate’s parents have to be “of Ivorian origin”. This was article was thus worded in an expressed effort to exclude Ouattara himself from standing for election in 2000, when the constitution was adopted. Another possible change is the introduction of the position of vice-president in Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential constitution.

Succession is squarely on Ouattara’s mind: “Je ne pense qu’a cela” (I’m constantly thinking about it). The peaceful transition of power to the next generation would be an important measure of his success at the helm of the state. Introducing a vice-president position could be an attractive means of grooming his successor. Ouattara has even said he could consider stepping down before ending his second term and handing over the reins to a vice-president, if things are going well.

Stabilizing Côte d’Ivoire for the long term would require the development of democratic practices and norms that go beyond patronage (a page from Houphouet-Boigny’s playbook which Ouattara by some accounts has copied). It would require the development of a party system that channels and mediates competing interests, with competing societal programs. Ouattara’s challenge is not just to groom a successor, but to turn the RDR/RHDP coalition into a party/coalition with strong internal democratic norms and practices that can help the rise of a new generation of democrats.

Kazakhstan – Nazarbayev re-elected as president. What’s ahead.

Hardly surprisingly, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been re-elected as Kazakhstan’s president on Sunday April 26. According to the Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan, there had been a record turnout of 95.11% for the poll and the votes in favour of Nazarbayev have been almost 98%. His two token-opponents gathered 2.3% the vote. The president, who is 74 years old and has ruled the country since independence in 1991, is now starting a new term, his fifth, in office. The Central Asian country has a semi-presidential system, and several constitutional reforms have been passed in order to ad hoc extend presidential terms or allow Nazarbayev to run for consecutive terms. Despite not being surprising, this election features some elements of interest to the observers. Kazakhstan has indeed gone through tough times recently, with both the economic situation being worsening as an effect of the Russian economic crisis; and an unclear future plan in terms of the post-Nazarbayev succession being increasingly a concern for the national elite and foreign investors. A sign of the impact of such growing concern and uncertainty was given by the government itself in first instance, when in March it called for early presidential election. During a TV appearance, Nazarbayev explained that ‘In the interests of the people… and for the sake of the general and strict implementation of the law, I have taken a decision and signed a decree calling an early presidential election for April 26.’ A more attentive analysis reveals how the Ukrainian crisis, the falling of the oil prices internationally, the constant devaluation of the national currency and the calls for the implementation of economic reforms can better explain the rush to re-confirm Nazarbayev as the leader of the executive in the country. Nazarbayev’s re-election has the benefit of solving all issues in one time, delaying the question of succession and reassuring the international finance community that the leader is firm in power and will keep the situation, politically and financially, stable.

Strengthening the economy and reforming the political system

The economic crisis in Kazakhstan has hit badly and the future is rather unclear considering the enduring difficulties that Russia, to whom Astana is diplomatically and economically very close, is currently going through. In January, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development cut the country’s growth projection for 2015 to 1.5% from 5.1%. In the meanwhile, prices of goods are rising, producers are having hard time in competing with foreign products from Russia and China and the national central bank is rumoured to be likely to devaluate the national currency, the tenge, again. It is worth mentioning that the tenge has lost almost 20% of its value in one day last year, triggering popular protests in a country known world-wide to be protests-free. Considering this situation, the decision of calling for early election has the goal of avoiding preparing for election in 2016 in order, on the contrary, to focus on strengthening the economy and prevent the crisis to further hit the country. Nazarbayev has acknowledged this difficult situation, and declared in November 2014 that “Kazakhstan, as a part of the global economy and a country close to the epicentre of geopolitical tension, is feeling the negative effects” adding that “the next years will be a time of global tests for the world, and for us too,” concluding that “not all the states will be able to adequately go through this stage. This frontier will be crossed only by the strong, united nations and countries.” The strategic plan that will constitute the backbone of the Kazakh exist strategy from the crisis is advanced in a document titled “The Path into the Future” which was presented by Nazarbayev in November and that involves the diversification of the economy and the active development of the non-oil sector as the main goals to be attained.

Nazarbayev also intend to reform the political system by the means of pro-democracy and meritocratic reforms after the economic situation will be stabilised. He is proposing a well-known rhetorical pattern sweeping through Central Asian authoritarian systems, whereby political pro-democracy reforms are to be carried out once the economy is strong enough. For instance, Karimov in Uzbekistan has adopted a number of liberal and democratic-minded documents, which set out the need of strengthening democratic and accountable good governance, civil society and the rule of law – liberal buzzwords that usually constitute authoritarians’ international discourse. Karimov, who ironically was re-elected last month and who is as old as Nazarbayev and faces similar succession challenges, has been an inspiration to Nazarbayev who declared that “first – a strong state and economy, and then – politics”. At the right time, then, Nazarbayev intends to tighten requirements for judges and law-enforcement bodies, and secure the rule of law. Also, he plans to create a modern, professional and autonomous state apparatus, with no room for nepotism, protectionism and corruption. Along with such changes, a new system will be introduced for paying the wages of officials in line with the efficiency of their contribution to the administrative process; and talented expatriates will be called back in Kazakhstan and offered a position in civil service. In order to start implementing these reforms, Nazarbayev intends appoint a special commission. Along with such themes, Nazarbayev’s electoral campaign has been much characterised by usual refrains of national harmony, celebration of national identity and condemnation of ethnic sectarianism.

Nazarbayev’s re-election also helped to easy the concerns for another issue, namely succession. The question of “who will come next” is particularly pressing now since no clear leadership is emerging. Many candidates have passed by, such as the president’s son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, but the appointment of Karim Massimov as Prime Minister in April 2014, may signal an ambition of succeeding Nazarbayev. In fact, his nomination could indicate Nazarbayev’s willingness to counterbalance the growing power of Astana mayor, Imangali Tasmagambetov, or an attempt to weaken Timur Kulibayev’s influence, his son-in-law, another likely candidate for succession. After all, Turkmenistan has opted for this pattern of succession, with the former president Niyazov appointing the then little known Prime Minister Berdimukhamedov as his successor. Nevertheless, the president Nazarbayev has consistently avoided indicating any preference and he is still doing so: in a recent piece in the Financial Times, he portrayed Kazakhstan as a country navigating from despotism to democracy and therefore referred to the polls as the appropriate venue to select the national leaders.

Uzbekistan – The struggle for succession

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On Saturday November 15, the Uzbek president’s grandson Islam Karimov, named after his grandfather, released an interview to the BBC to bring attention to the case of his mother Gulnara, who has been held unofficially under house arrest since last March. This is only the latest episode of a family saga (Presidential Power Blog reported on this case here and here) whereby the members of the presidential family are fighting for power ahead of the presidential election scheduled for early 2015 – however in a situation where the incumbent president does not seem willing to leave power.

The young Islam Karimov had already lobbied for his mother’s release at the end of June 2014, when he gave an interview to the Russian channel Ren TV. During the interview he made clear that his mother was the victim of ‘powerful individuals’ who want to get rid of her fearing that she will standing for president. In his latest BBC interview, the young Karimov also made an appeal to his grandfather to ‘understand the extent of the manipulation’ around him and to understand that ‘we would never go against you and do what they say we would do, and I hope you fix the situation, as I know you have the power to do so’. The young Karimov indeed proposes a reading of the current situation consistent with his mother’s, who has claimed for over a year now that she is the victim of a conspiracy plotted by her mother, her younger sister and Rustam Inoyatov (the head of the powerful National Security Agency) behind the president’s back. According to Islam Karimov, the president is prevented from having any information about the current events. In late 2013, Gulnara accused her mother and sister of keeping the president in a state of ignorance and claimed to be the victim of judicial and physical persecution orchestrated by Inoyatov.

Aside from the gossipy interest that a Gulnara-like character raises among observers (a glamourous pop singer, businesswoman, politician, diplomat, philanthropist and fashion designer), experts are carefully watching for Karimov’s moves in search of information about his succession. According to an analyst, and contrary to what the young Karimov claims, the hypothesis that the president is unaware of what is going on is rather unlikely and, according to the Russian political scientist Alexey Malashenko, Gulnara’s arrest is relevant to the issue of succession because it clearly underlines that President Karimov is neither ready nor willing to leave power. Not only is it the case that Gulnara Karimova now has no chance of succeeding her father, but, according to Malashenko, her fall from grace indicates that Islam Karimov is tired of all the speculation about his successor. In addition, the president also seems to be demonstrating to the public that all are equal in the eyes of the law, even his own daughter, who was accused of corruption and fraud in Switzerland and Sweden. Moreover, Gulnara went as far as to criticise some of the human-rights abuses committed in Uzbekistan under the reign of her father, a move that Karimov deeply disliked and that brought about a strong reaction on the part of the president. Furthermore, analysts contend that even Karimov’s decision to back constitutional amendments that would transfer some power from the presidency to the legislative and executive branches is a tactical move and is not a sign that he is stepping back from politics.

With the president still in power, the choice about succession seems to remain uncertain. Indeed, Uzbekistan may be moving towards a presidency-for-life model. In that case, Malashenko argues, ‘neither Prime Minister Mirzieev nor Minister of Finance Rustam Azimov stand a chance of succeeding while Islam Karimov is still alive’.