Tag Archives: Term Limits

Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part III: Progress and Possibility in South Korea

Talks of constitutional reforms are sweeping across the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East Asia: the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. Constitutions capture the principles – some say, the most sacred principles – around which institutions, legislation, rules, and processes of a country are built.[1] Constitutional reforms, then, are generally significant and painstaking undertakings, often requiring supermajorities in the legislature or the electorate or both to ratify. And, this may be rightfully so: if they are to amend or revise principles that underpin the political, economic, and social structures of a country, the process should not be based on changeable and changing attitudes. Given the significance, the concomitant grip of constitutional reforms across several of the East Asian with a president as head or co-head of government is interesting, if not curious. What level of public support is there for these reforms? And, how likely are these reforms to pass?

In previous instalments, I discussed the level of public support in the Philippines and Taiwan for constitutional reform.[2] In this article, I examine the level of public support for reforms in South Korea. Article 130 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, enacted in the 1987 Constitution, which is sometimes referred to as the 1987 constitutional amendments, stipulates that constitutional revisions require two-thirds support of the total members of the National Assembly; once approved, the revisions must be submitted to the Korean electorate for approval in a referendum within 30 days. Constitutional revisions are passed if approved by a majority of more than 50 percent of eligible voters.

Calls for Constitutional revisions have ebbed and flowed in the country since the 1987 Constitution was adopted. This partly reflects the dissatisfaction among the leading political candidates and parties at the outcome of a single term, five-year non-reelectable presidential system with legislators elected every four years: although the Constitution was passed by an overwhelming 93.3 percent of the turnout, the constitutional committee constituted in 1986 to recommend changes ended in deadlock and the discussion was suspended before resuming again in July 1987 to create a document within an accelerated time frame. The frequent revival of the possibility of constitutional revisions also reflects dissatisfaction with the effect of the term-limited president and unmatched terms on executive-legislature relations and policymaking in the medium- and long-term.

Former President Park Geun-hye’s tenure illustrates these policy effects and executive-legislature tensions in practice. For instance, prior to the 2016 general elections, the executive-leader – in the tradition of presidentialized parties in South Korea – refused to cede the nomination process to the party in order to maintain her personal agenda rather than shift focus away to the party’s agenda.[3] It may be probably surprising to learn that she – together with the other presidential candidates – made a multiparty pledge during the 2012 campaign to reform the nomination process. She also stonewalled her party on the issue of constitutional reforms, which she had also pledged to change on the campaign trail, citing the need to tackle urgent or pressing tasks such as economic recovery for the country over longer-term considerations such as constitutional reforms. These tensions and conflicts between the executive and her party in the legislature that were often resolved in favour of the executive served to undermine party-development and institutionalization.

President Park’s impeachment has flung open the door for constitutional changes: immediately following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in support of her  impeachment, three parties in the legislature tried to bring constitutional reforms for the presidential election in May. The tight timeline doomed that discussion, but current President Moon Jae-in has maintained a commitment to actualize reforms: the President has set a timeline for constitutional reforms to be brought up for referendum by the next local elections in June 2018. The good news is that public surveys and polls of the legislature report high support for constitutional revisions: almost 69 percent of the public and 94 percent of the legislature are in favour of changes. Less clear is what reforms will be adopted. Nevertheless, given the commitment of the president, support from the legislature, and public support, there is reason to believe that constitutional changes will be adopted in Korea before the next presidential election.

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[1] Strauss, David. 2010. The Living Constitution. New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2017. “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part I: Progress and Possibility in the Philippines.”  “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part 2: Progress and Possibility in Taiwan.

[3] Elgie, Robert. 2011. “Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Semi-Presidentialism: Bringing Parties Back In.” Government and Opposition vol 46 no 2: 392-408; D. J. Samuels and M. S. Shugart. 2010. Presidents, Parties, Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bolivia – Evo Morales Loses Referendum to Extend Term Limits

Term limits have frequently been challenged in Latin America, particularly in those countries in the Andes that Steve Levitsky and Lucan Way have labelled ‘competitive authoritarian’ regimes.[1]

Last month, in Bolivia, President Evo Morales of the left-wing Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) attempted to change the country’s term limits via a popular referendum. This would have enabled Morales to be elected for a fourth consecutive term. However, with a turnout of nearly 85 per cent, Morales’ proposed reform was rejected by 51.3 per cent of the electorate. This now means that Evo Morales will be unable to run in the 2019 presidential election and will have to leave office in early 2020. Morales is already Latin America’s longest-serving president currently in office, having previously won elections in 2006, 2009 and 2014.

The result was somewhat unexpected as Morales is massively popular, having overseen growth of 5 per cent per annum over the last decade and expanding social benefits to big tranches of previously unrepresented groups. Only this week, a poll suggested that his approval rating was approximately 58 per cent. Although Morales highlighted his economic success during the referendum campaign, he was dogged by a corruption scandal involving a former relationship from 2005 with the then eighteen year-old Gabriela Zapata, which saw him father a child with her. Zapata now holds an important position with the Chinese construction firm, CAMC, which has been awarded state contracts worth over US$576 million. When all this emerged during the campaign, Morales’ opponents accused him of influence peddling and corruption, allegations that were thought to severely dampen enthusiasm for his proposed constitutional reform.

Morales has overwhelming support for his reform in the national assembly. Last October, the house overwhelmingly voted in favour of legislation to allow the referendum to go ahead (the MAS hold 88 of 130 seats in the house) although Morales’ opponents have repeatedly challenged his right to run in recent elections. The Bolivian Constitution, the current version of which was adopted in 2009, states that presidents are only entitled to two consecutive terms in office. On this basis, Morales’ opponents challenged his right to run in the last election in October 2014. Morales was first elected in 2006, before being re-elected again in 2009 and as such, his opponents claimed he has already held two consecutive terms, and so was constitutionally barred from running again. The Supreme Court disagreed. In 2013, they ruled that his first term in office was not applicable in this instance as it occurred before the new constitution when the two-term limit came into effect.

As I have repeatedly noted in this blog however, Morales is not alone in his quest to alter constitutional term limits in Latin America. Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism and prevent the long-term concentration of power in the hands of a few, limited presidents to one term in office. In fact, in 1990, the Dominican Republic was the only country that allowed presidential re-election.

However, beginning with Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori, Latin American presidents began to broker deals with legislatures and the electorate to allow for an extension and/or redefinition of term limits. The trend continues. In 2010, Álvaro Uribe received support from the parliament to hold a referendum, proposing to change the constitution to allow him run for a third consecutive term. In April 2014, Rafael Correa indicated support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits in Ecuador. Correa already oversaw a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term and last November, Daniel Ortega oversaw the abolition of term limits in Nicaragua to join Venezuela in allowing indefinite presidential election.

[1] See Levitsky and Way. 2013. Populism and Competitive Authoritarianism in the Andes. Democratization. Vol. 20(1).

DRC – President Kabila and an extension to the presidential term

President Joseph Kabila’s second term comes to an end in December 2016. With the presidential election still nearly two years away, his supporters have already tested various options for a possible extension of Kabila’s mandate beyond the constitutional two-term limit. The term-limit issue is, however, proving to be highly divisive, including within the ruling coalition.

A simple revision of term-limits – similar to what Blaise Compaoré attempted in Burkina Faso – is not an option in the DRC: the constitution (Art. 220) stipulates that “the number and the duration of the mandates of the President of the Republic … cannot be made the object of any constitutional revision.” To revise term-limits would require adopting a new constitution or, alternatively, changing regime type by amending Arts. 70 and 71 to provide for indirect rather than direct election of the president, as in South Africa. Changing the mode of designation of the president would, arguably, reset the term clock to zero, allowing Kabila to present himself for election by the legislature for two new terms.

The adoption of a brand new constitution has the support of some stalwarts within the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) who consider the existing fundamental text an illegitimate compromise between belligerent parties in the DRC’s civil war. Thus, in March 2014, the National Secretary of the PPRD, Claude Mashala, initiated a petition for a new “dynamic” constitution, better reflecting the needs for “national cohesion.” Undeterred by the Burkina experience, Mashala reportedly declared in November having attained the 100,000 signatures required to initiate a referendum, with his team working on regrouping the signatures by province before submission to the legislature. There are, however, also opponents within the presidential coalition to constitutional change, including prominent figures such as Senate President Kengo Wa Dondo and the powerful governor of Kabila’s home province of Katanga, Moise Katumbi.

On a separate track, in September the government introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for the indirect election of provincial councilors (Art. 197). The proposal was met with staunch resistance by the political opposition, civil society and the Catholic Church, who saw this move as a ploy to change the mode of election of the president by the same stroke.

Still pending, this proposed constitutional revision was overshadowed by the adoption on January 17, 2015 by the National Assembly of electoral reform that could have led to a sliding of the presidential election into 2017 or later. The bill provided for a new census to be completed before the poll, to serve as the basis for the voter list. The government spokesperson, Lambert Mendé, admitted that if passed into law by both houses of the legislature, the bill could entail a delay of the presidential election “without the sky falling on our heads.”

In an already tense environment, the prospect of Kabila playing for overtime triggered widespread demonstrations in Kinshasa as well as Bukavu and Goma in eastern DRC. Police forces and the Republican Guard cracked down violently on protesters, killing as many as 42 people according to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), a number contested by the government. The protest dynamic was distinct this time from previous demonstrations mainly initiated by political parties, as argued by Jason Stearns. Notably, the manifestations were more decentralized, university students played a greater role in both Kinshasa and Bukavu, and the homes of individual Kabila supporters were targeted. Social media also played an active part. This protest dynamic is reminiscent of the Burkinabe uprising that brought Compaoré down. The stand-off moreover shone a full light on divisions within the ruling elite.

In a declared move to respond to the people’s demands, the Senate removed the contentious language from the bill referring to the need for a census ahead of the presidential poll and included reference to the election taking place in accordance with the constitutionally mandated timetable. Senate President Kengo Wa Dondo used the opportunity of the directly televised Senate session to take on the mantle of savior of the constitution. Ultimately, the final version of the bill that was passed into law on January 25 by both houses makes no mention of the census requirement, but also does not include direct reference to the timetable laid down by the constitution.

The coming months are likely to see more of such tug-of-war between those who do and those who don’t favor an extension of Kabila’s stay in office. The diplomatic community has come out clearly against changing term limits, but the real test will lie in the internal balance of forces and tactics on either side.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
CAR July (TBC) TBD
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
DRC TBD
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Congo Brazzaville – To change or not to change the constitution? That’s the question

President Denis Sassou Nguesso cannot stand for reelection in 2016. At least according to the current constitution which caps presidential terms at two seven-year terms in office.  Also, the 2002 constitution has an upper age limit of 70 years for presidential candidates, a limit reached last year by Sassou Nguesso.  Amending the constitution would not seem to be an option, as article 185 mandates that presidential term limits cannot be changed.

So for more than one reason the constitution is clearly ‘outdated’ (depasseé), according to Juste-Desiré Mondelé, secretary general of the Party for Unity and the Republic (PUR), established by Guy Wilfrid Nguesso, Sassou Nguesso’s nephew. The solution proposed by supporters of the incumbent head of state is, therefore, to simply replace the current with a brand new constitution, which would usher in the 8th republic. The 8th republic would, according to the president’s supporters, benefit from a return to semi-presidentialism (as in 1992) from the current presidential constitution. According to Sassou Nguesso himself, the question is whether the constitution should be changed in order to ‘strengthen institutions and democracy,’ or not.

Sassou Nguesso has been around for a while. He first came to power in a 1979 coup. He gave up the presidency in 1992 after losing in the country’s first multiparty presidential poll. After five years, in 1997, he came back through a civil war that split the Congolese military in two: the majority of southern officers stood behind then President Pascal Lissouba, while most northern officers (and Angolan troops) backed Sassou Nguesso. In 2002, Sassou Nguesso was elected for the first of his two presidential terms under the current constitution, in a poll where his chief opponents were hindered from standing. In all, the sitting president has spent more than three decades in the presidential chair. Sassou Nguesso has, like Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, played an important role in the resolution or regional conflicts, most recently in the Central African Republic.

Speaking of Burkina Faso, recent events there have given an energy boost to opponents of constitutional change in Congo Brazzaville which the government has quickly tried to dissipate. On November 4th, four days after Compaoré’s fall in a popular uprising against his attempt at changing constitutional term limits, police broke into the home of Clément Mierassa, chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Congo (PSDC). Mierassa was hosting a meeting of the Citizen Movement for the Protection of the Constitution that the authorities claimed had not been authorized; 32 people were arrested, of whom 20 have since been freed. This clampdown did not discourage the Congolese opposition, however, who see the November 4th incident as proof of Sassou Nguesso’s ‘panic’ in the wake of Compaoré’s fall, according to Mathias Dzon, chairman of the Alliance for the Republic and Democracy (ARD).

The Burkina events may, conversely, have cooled the ardors of the ruling Congolese Labor Party (PCT). The PCT had on October 29 announced the holding of an extraordinary leadership meeting on November 7 to discuss and announce its position on a constitutional change ahead of 2016. The expectation at the time was probably that by then Compaoré’s constitutional amendment would have been adopted by the Burkinabe National Assembly, setting a nice example for the Congolese. Instead, on November 9th, the PCT announced it would set up a committee to ‘engage in further reflection’ on the issue of the 2002 constitution. According to the secretary general of the PCT, Pierre Ngolo, the Burkinabe example should not stifle debate in Congo Brazzaville. Compaoré mistakenly tried to force through a constitutional change, circumventing the will of the people. The PCT would never do that, assures Ngolo – if the constitution were to be modified, it would be through a referendum.

In the already politically charged environment of Brazzaville, a former ally of Sassou Nguesso, Deputy Head of Security Services Col. Marcel Ntsourou, was sentenced to forced labor for life on September 11, 2014. Ntsourou was found guilty of the death of at least 22 people in an incident at his residence last year where his guards resisted his arrest by the police. Ntsourou and more than a 100 others, mostly soldiers, are suspected of plotting a rebellion. So there is more than one reason for Sassou Nguesso and the PCT to tread carefully and avoid a frontal attack on the constitution, however outdated they consider the fundamental text to be.

Presidents and Populism in Latin America

Last week, Ecuador’s constitutional court decided to allow a constitutional reform, which would effectively remove term limits and allow President Rafael Correa to run for re-election in 2017, go forward for a vote in congress. Given Alianza Pais controls 100 of the 137 seats in the Assembly, it looks almost certain that this reform will pass.[1] Correa has already overseen a constitutional reform to allow him run for a third consecutive term.

Attempts to reform term limits in Latin America are becoming a recurrent theme in my blog posts. Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism and prevent the long-term concentration of power in the hands of a few, limited presidents to one term in office. In fact, in 1990, the Dominican Republic was the only country that allowed presidential re-election.

But this has changed. In the 1990s, presidents such as Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori brokered deals to allow for an extension and/or redefinition of term limits. The trend has gathered pace in recent times. Under Hugo Chávez, term limits were abolished in Venezuela. In 2010, Álvaro Uribe received support from the parliament to hold a referendum, proposing to change the constitution to allow him run for a third consecutive term (this was stymied by the constitutional court). Last November, Daniel Ortega oversaw the abolition of term limits in Nicaragua. And this year, the Bolivian electoral council allowed Bolivia’s incumbent president, Evo Morales, to run for a third consecutive term in presidential elections this October, which Morales duly won with an impressive 61 per cent of the popular vote.

Is there any pattern here? Well, there does appear to be one thing that unites all of these leaders – they have all been accused of being populist, from the neo-populists of the 1990s such as Menen and Fujimori who began the process of dismantling term limits, to the present day left-leaning populism of Chávez and Correa, and the security-orientated populism of Uribe.[2] Populism is a term frequently bandied about in the context of Latin American presidents. One widely used definition views populism as the ‘top-down political mobilization of mass constituencies by personalistic leaders who challenge elite groups on behalf of an ill-defined pueblo, or ‘the people.’[3]

Within this context, it makes sense for these leaders to attempt to abolish term limits. If they are acting on behalf of a discontented population, who view political elites as venal and corrupt, and by extension the institutions they have established, then the reform of these institutions is a logical next step, particularly the abolishment of term limits, as the populist, as the true agent of the people, should not be constrained by such institutions. So it comes as no surprise that we tend to see constitutional reform and the reform of term limits go hand-in-hand with populism.

Having said that however, a caveat. Although it is something of a trope to suggest populism in Latin America is a much-debated concept, I had the pleasure of attending a recent talk here in Oxford by Kirk Hawkins, where Kirk highlighted the ongoing conceptual debates surrounding populism and proposed an ideational definition of the concept. Kirk’s definition has important implications. It suggests that populism is actually not that recurrent a feature of Latin American politics, despite a popular interpretation to the contrary. Secondly, Kirk’s definition eschews the organizational or political overtones to be found in the definition above (in addition to Dornbusch and Edwards’ classic economic conceptualisation of populism). Nonetheless, this definition also focused on how populists use a discourse to critique existing political elites (or actors). Again, even here, constitutional reform and the abolishment of term limits would seem to naturally follow such signals.

Of course, when presidents win three or four consecutive terms, it becomes much more difficult to rail against the established political order, given they are now the political elite. That however, is an issue for another day.

[1] The court ruled that this proposal did not need to be approved by a popular referendum, but given Correa’s very high approval rating, this would most likely have been passed anyway.

[2] E.g. see Roberts, Kenneth M., 2007. “Latin America’s Populist Revival,” SAIS Review, Vol. XXVII (1), pp. 3-15.

[3] Roberts, 2007, p. 5

Bolivia – Latin American Presidents and Term Limits

Last week, the Bolivian electoral council announced that Bolivia’s incumbent president, Evo Morales, will run for a third consecutive term in presidential elections due to be held on October 12th of this year. This is by no means inconsequential, as this most likely clears the way for Morales’ re-election. Morales, of the left-wing Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), is the clear favorite to win this election with polls suggesting he commands roughly 44 per cent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rival, the cement tycoon, Samuel Doria Medina, of the center-left Frente de Unidad Nacional.

Opponents of Morales however, accuse him of abusing the constitution. The Bolivian Constitution, the current version of which was adopted in 2009, states that presidents are only entitled to two consecutive terms in office. Morales was first elected in 2006, before being re-elected again in 2009. As such, his opponents claim he has already held two consecutive terms, and so is constitutionally barred from running again.

The Supreme Court disagreed. In 2013, they ruled that his first term in office is not applicable in this instance as it occurred before the new constitution when the two-term limit came into effect. This paves the way for Evo Morales to potentially hold office until 2019.

Whether or not you agree with Evo Morales’ interpretation of the Bolivian Constitution, he is by no means alone in Latin America in fudging the lines between the constitution and term limits, a topic I have touched upon before in this blog.

Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism and prevent the long-term concentration of power in the hands of a few, limited presidents to one term in office. In fact, in 1990, the Dominican Republic was the only country that allowed presidential re-election. However, beginning with a number of ‘neo-populists,’ such as Carlos Menem and Alberto Fujimori, Latin American presidents began to broker deals with legislatures and the electorate to allow for an extension and/or redefinition of term limits.

And this trend has continued apace. In 2010, Álvaro Uribe received support from the parliament to hold a referendum, proposing to change the constitution to allow him run for a third consecutive term. The Colombian Constitutional Court however, thwarted his efforts. In April, Rafael Correa indicated support for a constitutional amendment that would largely abolish presidential term limits in Ecuador. Currently in Ecuador, the president is allowed to hold office for three consecutive terms and in fact, Correa already oversaw a constitutional reform to allow him run for this third consecutive term. Last November, Daniel Ortega oversaw the abolition of term limits in Nicaragua to join Venezuela in allowing indefinite presidential election.

Although this trend is widespread, as the Colombian case demonstrates, it is likely to be slower and more muted however, in those Latin American countries with activist and independent judicial branches.

South Korea – Local elections and the President

The results of the June 4, 2014, mayoral and gubernatorial elections for South Korea show the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy with a slight edge of nine of 17 races, with the ruling Saenuri Party taking the remaining eight. Attention has turned to the interpretation of the results: do they constitute a win or lose, and for whom or which party? Without partaking in the horse-race evaluation of the outcomes, I underline two considerations related to Korea’s local elections that are useful for further examination: first, the significance of local elections for term-limited executives; second, what the outcomes indicate of party-building in South Korea.

One important consideration regarding local elections is the significance of local elections for term-limited presidents. Local elections are often used as barometers of public support for the ruling government, notwithstanding the generally low turnout for these elections that may dent interpretation of how the election outcomes relate to public support. For term-limited presidents – such as in South Korea – these mid-term, off-year elections may take on added significance. On the one hand, they may be useful for rallying legislative support for the remainder of the presidential term to complete the presidential- or party-agenda. On the other, they may also open the door for disenchanted party-members to consider full revolt: witness former President Lee Myung-bak’s difficulties particularly in the latter part of his term, when the president’s declining public support reopened the door for current President Park Geun-hye to return to party leadership and reconstitute the Grand National Party into the Saenuri Party. To the extent that public support affects the legislative success of a president – studies show that presidents’ legislative success is highly tied to public satisfaction1 – a low public approval may lead a legislature to be more willing to challenge the president’s policy agenda. Given this consideration, term-limited executives may need to do more to incorporate public demands onto the presidential agenda to fend off such battles.

Another relevant consideration regarding the local elections is: what do the outcomes reveal about party-building in South Korea? A previous blog post discussed the roles for political parties, and those should certainly be used towards understanding the outcomes. In this post, a narrower question is raised: do the local election results signify a role of political parties as vehicles to mobilize support for elections? The answer, it seems, is: No. Instead, the unexpected turn in the outcome – six weeks ago, the ruling party was expected to make a sweep in the local elections because of the then-high popularity of the president – suggests that political parties remain embryonic. That may be the bigger problem and tougher issue to resolve: almost 27 years since embarking on the democratization process, political parties continue to face challenges in their institutionalization.

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NOTES

[1] Wrone and De Marchi 2003 

Calvo (2007)

 

Burkina Faso – Mounting Opposition to Another Term for President Blaise Compaoré

President Blaise Compaoré’s pillars of support are quickly eroding, as the 2015 presidential election approaches. In early January, 75 members of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), abandoned the party, including three political heavyweights – former chair of the National Assembly Roch March Kaboré, former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo. The three had been sidelined as Blaise’s brother François gradually took over control of the CDP, over the past two years. Their example was followed by 14 more desertions last week, including the high profile stepping down of CDP-member of parliament Victor Tiendrebeogo – a leading traditional chief and representative of the Moro Naaba, the king of the Mossi (Blaise himself is a Mossi).

The reasons put forward by those who have resigned include complaints about lack of internal democracy within the party, and the apparent intention of the sitting president to run again – after nearly 27 years in power. The current constitution, last amended in January 2002, includes a two-term presidential term-limit (Article 37). Blaise Compaoré was elected for the second time under that constitution in December 2010 and should therefore not be eligible to stand again. However, the CDP has been pushing for a revision of this article of the constitution, and the president himself has not excluded the possibility of asking the ‘sovereign people’ of Burkina Faso for their opinion on the matter, through a referendum.

A related matter is the seating of the recently created Senate. Political opposition parties have long argued that this institution is another convenient tool for pushing through a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term-limits. Opposition parties have cleverly crafted their criticism of the Senate in terms of budgetary concerns, striking a chord with many Burkinabe citizens who suffer under “la vie chère” (the high cost of living).

Joining forces with other opposition leaders, the ex-CDP barons organized the country’s biggest demonstration in decades, on Saturday, January 18, taking place simultaneously in the capital, Ouagadougou, and the country’s second largest city, Bobo Dioulasso. Opposition party activists were joined in the streets by civil society members belonging to organizations such as “Balai citoyen” (“the citizen broom,” a reference to sweeping away corruption) – a citizen movement led by two singers and inspired by the Senegalese youth movement “Y’en a marre.” The protests remained peaceful, as marchers chanted slogans against the Senate and against revising Article 37 of the constitution.

The next presidential poll in Burkina Faso is still 22 months away. Tentatively scheduled for November 2015, the election is already starting to feel like a race, however, with opposition to President Blaise Compaoré steadily gathering steam. The loss of support by the traditional chiefs and by respected CDP leaders is a heavy blow to Compaoré. Against what appears as mounting popular opposition to his staying on for another term, he may choose to nurture his statesman’s image earned through his role as mediator in regional crises. Compaoré may also remember how quickly things got out of hand only three years ago, when popular protests against rising prices combined with a military mutiny spreading to barracks all across the country to severely threaten his rule. He may have more to win by stepping down, than by insisting on another term. After all, the legislature already passed an amnesty law in 2012, granting Compaoré and all other presidents of Burkina Faso since independence from France in 1960 immunity from prosecution.

Nicaragua – Daniel Ortega Seeks Major Constitutional Reform

Last Wednesday, Daniel Ortega, the President of Nicaragua, and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN or Sandinista) party, sent a proposal to the national assembly to reform the constitution. The proposal is to go before a seven-person Constitutional Commission, which has 60-days to determine the viability and legality of the proposal, before it returns to the legislature for final deliberations.

Ortega is seeking reform of 39 articles in the constitution, the most significant of which would abolish presidential term limits; alter the election of the president; and increase presidential power. Specifically, the proposal would change article 147, and remove the prohibition on consecutive presidential terms and the current, two-term limit. The reform would also award presidential decrees the status of legislation (article 150), and allow the appointment of military officers to the cabinet. The other major change includes the abolition of the current 35 per cent minimum electoral threshold for candidates in presidential elections, which would be replaced with a requirement for a simple 5 per cent lead over the next nearest rival.

Daniel Ortega, previously President of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990 and a former member of the revolutionary Junta Provisional de Reconstucción Ncaional that overthrew the Somaza dictatorship in 1979, re-gained office in 2006 and in 2009, sought to alter the constitution to allow him run for a third term. At the time, Ortega and the Sandinistas lacked the necessary 60 per cent majority in the Assembly, and so were forced to turn to the Supreme Court, which overturned the constitutional ban on consecutive re-election, thereby enabling him to return to power in 2011.

Given that the Sandinistas currently control 63 of the 92 assembly seats, this time around, the requisite majority should not prove a problem. However, as the Supreme Court has already overturned the constitutional ban on consecutive terms, the proposed reform has largely been interpreted as an attempt to bolster legitimacy for Ortega’s re-election. Opponents of Ortega have also alleged that the reforms will provide undue leverage in national politics for groups, such as the Catholic Church and domestic business, whom the Sandinistas now court.

Of course, in Latin America, Ortega is not alone in his desire to reform his country’s constitution. Initially, most Latin American constitutions, to avoid the perils of presidentialism, limited presidents to one term in office. Beginning with Carlos Menem in 1993 however, Latin American presidents have sought to alter their constitutions with alarming frequency in order to allow for their re-election and to increase their presidential power. So common has this trend become, that Latin Americanists now speak of the judicialisation or constitutionalisation of politics across the region.[1] Even in the last few years, we have witnessed a swathe of presidents, from Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, alter and re-write their constitutions to allow for multiple presidential terms.


[1] See for example, Sieder, Rachel, Line Schjolden, and Alan Angell (eds.). 2005. The Judicialization of Politics in Latin America, Palgrave MacMillan.