Historic presidencies and their legacies – Weimar Germany and the German Democratic Republic

No other date in modern Germany is as laden with significance as 9th November. While two events from the darkest chapters of German history – Hitler’s unsuccessful ‘beer hall putsch’ in 1923 and the Reichspogromnacht (often called ‘the night of broken glass’) in 1938 – took place on this date, the day is also associated with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the proclamation of the first Republic in 1918. In this blog post, I take the recent anniversary of the latter two as the occasion to look more closely at the presidencies of the Weimar Republic and the German Democratic Republic. Political scientists are largely aware of the (powerful) Weimar presidency, not least due to the fact that Maurice Duverger included it as an example of semi-presidentialism in his seminal book and article. However, the fact that the German Democratic Republic likewise had a single-person presidency for the first eleven years of its existence is relatively unknown.

Weimar Republic (1919-1934): The president as an ‘Ersatzkaiser’

The first German president Friedrich Ebert in 1925 / (c) Bundesarchiv

The presidency of the Weimar Republic was the first instance of a non-hereditary head of state in Germany. Thus, the discussions in the constitutional convention focussed among others on the French experience, although it was rather seen as a warning against concentrating too much power in the presidency than genuine inspiration, and other republics. Nevertheless, the convention eventually decided against a collegiate head of state and created a comparatively powerful single-person presidency. In hindsight, it was often seen as too strong and was therefore labelled ‘Ersatzkaiser’ – ‘substitute emperor’. Nevertheless, not all relevant powers are necessarily captured by contemporary approaches to measure presidential power. The president appointed the Reichskanzler (chancellor) and the cabinet ministers, yet these had to step down if the Reichstag (parliament) passed a vote of no-confidence. The constitution clearly gave the chancellor the right to determine the general direction in policy-making, yet presidents also claimed such a right for themselves, especially in foreign and defence policy. The president had no formal veto power (interestingly, the possibility of a particular type of pocket veto existed even then) but could put a bill to a referendum. The president could also dissolve the parliament at any time; however, at least officially this was only possible once for the same reason. Last, the president was able to force individual states to meet their obligations to the federation – even with military force. Shugart and Carey (1992) give the Weimar president an overall score of 16, largely driven by his prerogatives in government formation and dismissal and parliamentary dissolution, which is more than the current Russian presidency (14) but less than the Belarussian one (19).

Package veto Partial veto Decree Excl. intro. Legislation Budgetary powers Referenda TOTAL Cabinet formation Cabinet dismissal Censure Dissolution TOTAL
0 0 2 0 0 2 4 4 4 0 4 12

The election of the presidency contained a number of additional notable quirks. The first president Friedrich Ebert (Social Democrats) was still elected by the constitutional convention for a seven year term; the following two contests were held by popular vote. Thereby, a candidate needed to win an absolute majority in the first round of voting or, failing that, a relative majority in the second round. The second round was however not a run-off – any candidates from the first round could run again and even new candidates could be proposed. In fact, the second president, Paul von Hindenburg, did not compete in the first round of the 1925 election but was only a nominated by the national-conservative ‘Reichsblock’ after its initial candidate was considered not to be sufficiently appealing to beat out a popular opponent. Contrary to most modern semi-presidential systems, the Reichstag also had the right to initiate a recall referendum to dispose of the president (requiring an absolute 2/3 majority of deputies). However, if the recall failed, the Reichstag was to be dissolved and the president considered elected for another seven year-term.

The presidency of the GDR

Portrait of GDR president Wilhelm Pieck on a wallhanging commemorating 10 years of the GDR / (c) LEMO

In October 1949, a little less than five months after the establishment of the (West) German Federal Republic, the German Democratic Republic was founded and enacted a new parliamentary constitution that had already been drafted a year earlier. The GDR was a real-socialist people’s republic and thus naturally not a democracy. However, looking at its institutional structure is nonetheless interesting as it diverges from other countries of the Eastern bloc. In particular, until 1960 it was organised as an archetypical parliamentary democracy and surprisingly similar to its new West German counterpart. The president was elected indirectly by the Volkskammer (people’s chamber – lower house) and the Länder Chamber (states’ chamber – upper house) for a four year-term. Only a relative majority was necessary to elect the president, yet an absolute 2/3 majority in both chambers was needed to recall the president. The president appointed members of the government, yet the constitution stipulated that the largest party group in the lower house nominated the minister-president (prime minister), that each party group of at least 40 MPs was part of the government, and that parliament confirmed the government before it took office. The president had no right to veto legislation; however, he was allowed to voice concerns over the constitutionality of acts and ask the lower chamber’s constitutional commission to investigate these concerns. The president could also not dissolve parliament – the constitution only allowed for self-dissolution (or automatic dissolution in case parliament passed a vote of no-confidence in a new government). The fact that all acts of the president required the countersignature of the prime minister or the respective cabinet minister furthermore highlights the presidency’s subordinate position. Thus, when we apply Shugart and Carey’s (1992) scheme to measure presidential power, we only arrive at a score of just 1 (thanks to the stipulation on a constructive vote of no-confidence).

Package veto Partial veto Decree Excl. intro. Legislation Budgetary powers Referenda TOTAL Cabinet formation Cabinet dismissal Censure Dissolution TOTAL
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1

The legacy of historic presidencies

After the death of Paul von Hindenburg in 1934, Adolf Hitler as Reichskanzler became acting chancellor and merged the functions of chancellor and president – a move confirmed shortly after in an only moderately democratic referendum. The office was only revived for three weeks when Karl Dönitz took over the office after Hitler’s suicide until the German surrender and then ceased to exist. In the GDR, the office of president was similarly abolished with the death of its officeholder – after Wilhelm Pieck, who had held the position of president since 1949, died in 1960, the presidency was transformed into the ‘Staatsrat’ (State Council). The State Council still had a president who acted as de-facto head of state and head of the executive, but it was legally a collegiate organ. Although there were plans to revive the presidency of the GDR after the fall of the Berlin wall, this never happened due to Germany’s reunification in 1990.

The legacy of the Weimar presidency is much stronger, although it largely served as a negative example. During the West German constitutional convention, delegates quickly agreed that the strong and popularly elected presidency of the Weimar republic had been one of its greatest problems. Consequently, they created a weak, indirectly elected office, and placed responsibility for governance in the hands of the chancellor. Even today, calls for the introduction of popular presidential elections are regularly answered by referring to the Weimar experience and the dangers of populism (as such, arguments often resemble Juan Linz’ ‘Perils of presidentialism’). German presidents are now rarely called upon to provide political (rather than moral) leadership; yet, the Weimar experience and reflections at the constitutional convention continue to influence the way in which incumbents interpret and perform their role as head of state.

Uganda – Opposition to President Museveni grows but Uganda’s opposition parties are in flux

Bobi Wine, musician-turned-opposition leader, punctuated his latest concert with calls for the thousands of fans attending to register for voter ID cards. This is obviously not your typical way of hyping up a crowd. But Bobi Wine’s youthful following appears as committed to his music as to his “People Power” movement and his prospective 2021 presidential bid.

Bobi Wine’s rise

The 36-year-old Wine has succeeded in capturing national—and international—attention, forming a new centre of gravity in Ugandan politics. After winning a by-election to become an Independent MP, he emerged last year as a key figure in the fight against the removal of presidential age limits, a constitutional reform eventually passed by Parliament in a bid to extent the septuagenarian President Museveni’s stay in office. This year, Wine led street protests against unpopular new taxes on mobile money transfers and social media use. He also campaigned in several parliamentary by-elections, contributing to a string of victories for his preferred candidates, many of whom started out as underdogs.

During one of these campaigns, in Arua last August, Bobi Wine was detained and tortured while in custody, causing an international outcry and driving his rising political star still higher. He had, by then, all but eclipsed the long-time opposition stalwart, Kizza Besigye, whose own preferred candidates—from his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party—were losing to Wine’s, mostly independents or else hailing from smaller opposition parties.

Wine’s political pull was on show again in late September when former FDC party president, Mughisha Muntu, announced he was leaving FDC to lead his own “New Formation”. Muntu had worked alongside Wine in several previous by-elections, and part of the appeal of his new group was the promise of its aligning with Wine in the 2021 elections. Drawing on a division within FDC, between himself and Kizza Besigye, Muntu also brought several prominent FDC figures with him, including former party Secretary General Alice Alaso and an array of local leaders. Several FDC MPs are rumoured to be planning to join as well, but only after 2020 to avoid losing their parliamentary seat and triggering costly by-elections.

Undermining parties, or more of the same?

Taking a step back, these recent developments present something of a paradox. Even as excitement grows in some quarters about a rejuvenated, energetic opposition, opposition parties are in flux. The FDC—the largest such party—is in a very precarious position indeed. While it may well be “too early to write off FDC”, as one observer proclaimed, the party’s deputy Secretary General was less sanguine, declaring, “People Power has swallowed us.” Meanwhile, Uganda’s second-largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, may try to gain from FDC’s loss, but it has its own internal differences to manage.

Even as the main opposition parties find themselves in a tricky situation, critical observers have been quick to point out that neither Bobi Wine’s “People Power” nor Muntu’s “New Formation” have anything like a party organisation of their own. They have “rebranded” the opposition, but “Bobi Wine has not been tested to show if he has the capacity and structures to simultaneously influence numerous victories countrywide.” Muntu similarly lacks organisation at the “nuts and bolts level”.

There is another point to be made, though. As some People Power sceptics concede, Ugandan party organisation is generally weak, not only among the opposition parties but for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) as well. Ad hoc networks of political leaders often appear more significant in shaping political organisation than do formal party structures. Notably around nominations, factional competition dominates within all the major parties, undermining their internal coherence while also blurring the boundaries between them. For instance, in the last election, some FDC candidates were seen as close to NRM leaders while NRM candidates were branded FDC-leaning. Meanwhile, the Ugandan Parliament now has more Independent MPs—most of whom previously lost their party nominations but ran anyway—than it does MPs from opposition parties.

Given the weakness of the existing party system, the politicians of all stripes now coalescing around Bobi Wine are not an aberration; their style of loose alliance is not something new. The only striking feature is the range of actors involved. As briefly noted, these include Independents and MPs from smaller parties like DP and Jeema. Some FDC are also sympathetic as are a considerable number of NRM MPs, 27 of whom have been excluded from NRM parliamentary caucus meetings after voting against the lifting of presidential age limits.

Political coordination through Parliament, not parties?

These politicians, in addition to turning out for by-election campaigns, are also using Parliament as a space from which to coordinate their actions. Of particular note is the Parliamentary Forum on Human Rights, Rule of Law and Constitutionalism, which unites a broad cross-section of MPs. It is currently organising rallies countrywide where crowds chant slogans associated with Wine and “People Power”. As the chair of the Forum assured, “We are expanding the frontlines”, campaigning in opposition-held areas but also targeting to “constituencies that have been considered no go for the opposition.”

Like Wine’s loose cross-party formation, though, this mobilisation via Parliament is not a new phenomenon; rather, it recalls the pre-2005 “no-party” period when the Young Parliamentarians’ Association (YPA) and later the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) were at the heart of opposition activity, and even—in the case of PAFO—contributed directly to the formation of the FDC.

Given the weakly institutionalised party system that emerged post-2005, it is not surprising that individual MPs are again seeking to coordinate via a shared platform in Parliament. It has yet to be seen how effective they will be, but the aim is as clear as it is ambitious: for the new  Forum to reach out and  create “an alliance with the masses.”

The 2018 U.S. Midterms: Unstable Majorities Continue

The results of the Nov. 6 midterm elections extend a level of political instability in the United States not seen since the post-Civil War era more than a century ago. Democrats won at least 34 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives by 228-199 over the Republicans, with winners not yet declared in seven additional races. However, Republicans increased their narrow Senate majority with a net gain of two seats, bringing their majority there to 52-47 over the Democrats. (Republicans will likely hold a 53rd seat when Mississippi concludes its runoff race on November 27.) This means that, when the 116th Congress is sworn in next January, a divided legislature will share control at the national level with a Republican president. As this table demonstrates, the power-sharing arrangement will be the seventh of the eight possible configurations of institutional control of the Presidency, House and Senate the U.S. has experienced since 2001.

What explains this recurring pattern of instability? It is the culmination of a long-term process of partisan sorting and polarization, in which the two major political parties have shed their more ideologically moderate members. The result is a Congress composed of two internally homogeneous parties whose respective ideological centers of gravity are moving apart. In addition to being deeply polarized, the parties are electorally quite evenly matched. This means that when either controls the Senate or House, they see little reason to compromise, and instead seek to take advantage of their brief window as the majority to pass as much of their partisan legislative agenda as possible. Witness the Republican effort, with President Trump’s active support, to roll back Obamacare, including its politically popular coverage of pre-existing illnesses during Trump’s first two years as president. Such legislative overreach elicits the predictable response by the more moderate public: it votes the offending party out of majority control. And so the cycle perpetuates.

In addition to continuing this pattern of instability, the recent midterms also perpetuated the midterm loss phenomenon. Since 1938, the president’s party has lost seats in every House midterm election save two: 1998, when Bill Clinton was fighting an unpopular impeachment effort by Republicans, and 2002, the first midterm after the 9-11 terrorist attack, in which Americans rallied to support the Republican administration. Including these exceptions, the average House loss for the president’s party across all midterms during this period is 29 seats. A similar pattern affects the Senate – on average since 1938, the President’s party has lost four seats during the midterm.

What explains the midterm loss phenomenon? Political scientists have developed three related explanations. The first is the “surge and decline” theory, which posits that, compared to a presidential election year, the midterm turnout is smaller and less likely to contain the same proportion of voters who supported the President and his party two years earlier. A related explanation suggests that midterms often serve as a referendum on the president’s accomplishments to date. From this perspective, as the newly-elected president’s “honeymoon” with the voters inevitably erodes, his approval drops and midterm voters react by voting against his party. The third explanation is that the midterm provides Americans with an opportunity to “balance” control of the major governing institutions, by giving the non-presidential party greater representation in Congress. Of these explanations, the balancing hypothesis probably carries the most weight in an era of deeply-polarized and ideologically well-sorted parties, but there is evidence that all three factors were in play during the latest midterm. At an estimated 49% of eligible voters, turnout was the highest seen in a midterm in more than a century, and much of that was driven by increases in Democratic-leaning voters, including Latinos and younger voters. Trump’s approval rating, meanwhile, which is mired in the low 40’s, also likely contributed to Republicans’ seat loss. Moreover, it is likely that the largely moderate, centrist public sought to balance Republican extremism by handing control of the House over to Democrats.

After the tempestuous 2016 election and first two years of the Trump presidency, with many pundits and even political scientists expressing alarm at Trump’s apparent willingness to break norms of presidential behavior, it is perhaps reassuring that, at least when it comes to the midterm, the conventional electoral dynamics seem still to govern outcomes. As with presidential elections, political scientists have developed forecast models that – although simple in construction – are effective at predicting aggregate House and Senate midterm seat changes. Typically, these models focus on “fundamentals” – how long the president’s party has held on to the White House, how many seats the president’s party has exposed, the president’s approval rating and some measure, such as the change in disposable income, of how voters are doing economically. Note that the most of these variables are in place long before the events that cable news pundits proclaim as “game changers”, such as the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, or the media focus on the “caravan” of immigrants heading toward the United States’ southern border. Despite slight differences in the variables utilized, all the political science models correctly predicted the Democrat House takeover, with the median forecast predicting a 30-seat gain, and the average of the forecasts at 36 seats. These were quite close to the mark. The same models forecast the Republicans making modest 1-2 seat gains in the Senate, however, primarily because of a historical quirk that found Democrats defending 26 Senate seats, including 10 that voted for Trump in 2016. This was the most Senate seats ever defended by the “out” party since direct popular election of the Senate began in 1914, and it was enough to offset the normal seat loss experienced by the president’s party.

What will the next two years of divided government bring? Already many newly-elected Democrats, reacting to pressure from their more progressive base, are threatening to launch multiple investigations of the president and his administration. This is a potentially risky strategy. With some notable exceptions, progressive Democrats did not do well in the midterms, with most of the Democrats’ gains coming by electing relatively moderate candidates, and some Democrats believe the party would be better positioned to regain the presidency and Senate if it showed it could pass a more centrist legislative agenda, perhaps by working with Republicans in areas like immigration reform and reining in health care costs. Unfortunately, recent history suggests it is more likely that the next two years will bring more partisan bickering, legislative gridlock, and deep dissatisfaction among voters. And if Democrats win the presidency in 2020, while retaining control of the House, and Republicans hold on to the Senate, the country will have cycled through every possible permutation of government control in only two decades. Contrary to the constant claim that Americans are hopelessly divided, it seems instead that a significant number share a deep conviction that both major parties are out of step with the public’s more moderate ideological and policy preferences, and that these centrist voters trust neither party enough to let them govern for very long.

Zambia – Lungu doubles-down on dissent

Following a period of democratic backsliding, President Edgar Lungu stands accused of seeking to extend further control over civil society and repressing critical discussion – even when it is not focussed on the question of his leadership.

Church leaders in Zambia are used to playing a fairly high profile role in political discussions, especially where the budget is concerns. The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection is well known for conducting the “Rural Basket”, a quarterly survey that measures poverty and social service delivery in rural parts of Zambia. The Catholic Church also has a history of speaking out in favour of “pro-poor policies”, for example through the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. Clergymen in Ndola were therefore taken aback when a meeting to discuss the government’s proposed 2009 budget, which had been organized with the Centre for Trade Policy and Development, was disrupted by police on 19 October. Not only was the meeting abruptly ended, but Pastor George Palo, who had helped to put the event together, was detained.

The meeting was held at the Ndola Central Baptist Church, but was attended by church leaders from different denominations, and so has been interpreted as an infringement on the rights of Christian groups more generally. According to Pastor Brian Chanda, the actions of the police were unjustified: “how are we as the clergy going to particular in national development. If we shun such meetings, we will be called names. Now we come so that we can contribute, the police arrest us and disrupt our meeting. Then what role should we play in the governance of the country? We are stakeholders”.

However, despite considerable public criticism including from other religious leaders, the police were unrepentant. Speaking the day after the incident, Charity Katanga, the Copperbelt Police Commissioner, stated that five pastors and three officials from the Centre for Trade Policy and Development would be charged with the offence of unlawful assembly. The charges were justified, she claimed, on the basis that the meeting had been “political” and the group had not applied for a police permit. While it is common – though not necessarily democratic – for partisan political events to need police clearance, this has not been applied to discussions of national development.

While the initial disruption of the meeting might have been a simple mistake – over eager police men and women jumping the gun in the context of a charged political atmosphere – the decision to charge the eight individuals is strong evidence that the harassment of the clergymen is in line with government policy, which is becoming increasingly intolerant of any form of dissent.

Criticism of the budget is particularly sensitive for the government this year, as the state of the country’s economy remains highly controversial. On the one hand, the Patriotic Front ruling party has been accused by opposition leaders of contributing to an unsustainable debt burden through corruption and economic mismanagement. While the government would normally attempt to dismiss this as rhetoric, doing so has become considerably harder after four of the country’s most important international donors suspended their support of government projects when it was revealed that almost $5 million in donor contributions are missing. The funds, which were given to the departments of health, education and local government, were intended to provide assistance to 632,000 people.

On the other hand, the stated priority of the Finance Minister with this budget – namely bringing expenditure under control and balancing the books – seem implausible given than one-third of the budget is scheduled to be raised from foreign funders. According to economist Trevor Simumba, this will “will lead to even more debt and fiscal deficits”. A growing consensus is emerging that the country’s economy is only likely to get back on track if a proposed rescue package with the IMF said to be worth $1.3 million can be agreed. But that seems further away than ever as a result of the government’s profligacy and economic mismanagement. In August, an IMF spokesperson told Reuters that: “There are no discussions on a possible Fund-supported programme given that the authorities’ borrowings plans compromise the country’s debt sustainability, and undermine its macroeconomic stability”.

This backdrop helps to explain why President Lungu is so sensitive about criticism of the budget. As a result of the corruption accusations and the repeated failure of the government to secure IMF support, a debate over the budget is, in a very real sense, a debate about the quality of the president’s leadership. As a result, public criticism of the budget process threatens to undermine his ability to secure a third-term – a controversy that some have argued will trigger regime change – and win re-election in 2021. In this sense, Lungu is caught in a Catch 22 situation; he does not want to agree to the conditions laid out by the IMF because the reduction in government expenditure this would involve would undermine popular support for the his leadership. But by allowing the economy to die a slow death, he is driving voters into the arms of the opposition.

For his part, United Party of National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema has done his best to take advantage of the Lungu’s economic woes, and to position himself as standing shoulder to shoulder with the victims of government repression. Following the detention of the clergymen in Ndola he released the following statement: “To the church, we say remain strong because history records show that you, together with all of us gave hope when our country was under siege by such elements … And to the civil society organisations, as a party we would like to encourage you to place the interests of our country first and ensure those plundering both public and donor funding in this case the PF are held accountable.”

He continued: “We condemn the arrest of members of the clergy and some from the civil society organisation on Friday 19th October, 2018 in Ndola. This was after they had gathered to discuss the budget and the debt crisis, and corruption. We call on the PF to stop abusing the police in hiding their corruption and debt crisis.”

While this may be good politics – and an important step in resisting the trend of autocratization – it is also dangerous for civil society. The more that those who speak out on issues such as the budget are seen as UPND sympathisers trying to bind the president’s hands, the worse the repression is likely to get.

Czech Presidential Politics in the Fall of 2018

There are two essential factors which facilitate understanding of the real power of Czech presidents and which make them relatively weak in relation to the government or parliament. First, none of them has managed to create a solid and strong party backing in the parliament.  This holds true also for Miloš Zeman, who has repeatedly attempted (and failed) to form a presidential party.[1] Thus, the October municipal and Senate elections[2] and their results had no specific and direct consequences for President Zeman. Second, the Czech president is endowed with few significant powers. Probably the most important one is the power to appoint the Prime Minister and, on the basis of his proposal, other members of government[3]. Hence, once the second cabinet led by Andrej Babiš had been appointed in July 2018, President Zeman had a much smaller influence on Czech governmental as well as parliamentary politics.

Despite these stable features of the Czech democratic regime, Miloš Zeman has constantly been able to create a stir in the Czech politics, an ability attributed to him both by his supporters and critics. First, even though Babiš’ cabinet was appointed and won a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, the President kept influencing the cabinet’s composition, blocking Miroslav Poche, the Social Democratic (the junior coalition partner’s) nominee for the position of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Poche was refused by Zeman, officially because of the former’s positive stance to EU migration quotas. However, there were rumors that other reasons might have played a role in the rejection. For example, Poche supported Zeman’s rival, Jiří Drahoš, in the 2018 presidential contest. In addition, Zeman’s move was a tool to humiliate and weaken the Social Democratic party[4].

Be it as it may, Prime Minister Babiš did not insist on Poche, as he did not want to risk a conflict with President Zeman. As a result, the Social Democrats tacitly gave in and nominated another person – Tomáš Petříček. This was a surprising choice, because Petříček was Poche’s assistant without much political experience. Thus, only after three months, Czech political elites managed to provide a full-time leader for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Until that time, the ČSSD’s leader, and minister of the interior, Jan Hamáček had been in temporary charge.

Second, seeking his own foreign policy, to a large extent independently of the cabinet, President Zeman has made many other politicians uneasy. Zeman kept emphasizing an orientation to the East, notably to Russia and China, promoting “economic diplomacy” over human rights issues (the one-time the flagship of Czech foreign policy). This policy is to a certain extent consistent with Zeman’s predecessor, Václav Klaus, but is in stark contrast to Václav Havel, who is widely remembered as a vociferous advocate of human rights anywhere on the globe. Despite the fact that occasionally presidents and governments clashed over foreign policy issues, the major pillars of the Czech foreign policy of the 1990s were clear and major political representatives were consistent in supporting them: pro-Western, pro-EU orientation as well as promoting human rights issues. However, these pillars of the Czech foreign policy have been undermined by practical steps taken by both branches of the Czech executive over the last decade or so. Miloš Zeman is one of the most influential proponents of Russian interests in Europe, for example, advocating Russia’s position towards the affair of poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, calling for lifting anti-Russia sanctions, supporting the Russian state corporation, Rosatom, and its effort to win a tender to  enlarge the Czech nuclear power plants.

Whereas Zeman has rarely been accepted by Western political leaders, he has repeatedly visited Russia. Zeman has also been to China four times, meeting top Chinese leaders, supporting their idea of reviving the Silk Road. It seems that this clear Eastern orientation, legitimizing authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere, is not sufficiently balanced by other Czech foreign policy makers, some of whom take a similar position, whereas others are pragmatic and lack any orientation in foreign policy issues (such as Andrej Babiš). All in all, Czech foreign policy has been incomprehensible, especially vis-á-vis the EU. Thus, the person of the Minister of Foreign Affairs proves to be of key importance for the future of Czech foreign policy and its major goals, notably in the era of great debates on the future of the EU following Brexit.

Tomáš Petříček outlined the goals of his efforts as follows: “I would like to clearly delineate our country’s position in the European Union and the wider transatlantic area. Our core priorities are that our foreign policy has continuity, that it is consensual and that it is coherent.” This position was probably a reaction to varying standpoints on Czech foreign policy. This lack of consensus was visible within the executive over the past year and which made the Czech foreign policy unclear. As far as the migration crisis is concerned, Petříček adopted a very similar stance to Prime Minister Babiš: instead of letting refugees come to Europe, Petříček claims that migrants should be supported in their countries of origin: “We can do more in countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to help refugees and improve their living conditions in refugee camps. Our target should be to stabilize the countries they are fleeing in order to ensure they can stay in their home countries.”

In general, the appointment of Tomáš Petříček as the Minister of Foreign Affairs was a clear disappointment for many observers, because Petříček is an inexperienced minister whose views on foreign policy had not been known in public before he became the Minister. Petříček’s efforts to take the initiative as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and set the agenda will probably be very difficult given his lack of experience, lack of political authority, lack of authority of his own party (which is also divided on key foreign policy issues) and also with regard to the assertive position of Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš, the two dominant figures in Czech politics and who are likely to outshine Petříček in Czech foreign policy.

Third, the Czech Republic celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Czechoslovak state, which was established in 1918. The celebrations and various public events commemorating the ups and downs of the Czechoslovak and Czech state peaked with the traditional state decorations ceremony at Prague Castle. This was a special moment to award distinguished citizens, historical figures (honored in memoriam), artists, sportsmen and like. The ceremony was tainted by a bitter dispute between president Zeman and his opponents. This dispute dates back to origins of Zeman’s presidency when he came into conflict with various people, notably with academics and presidents of several Czech universities who were not invited to the state decorations ceremony. In addition, a few leading political figures were not invited either, whereas others rejected to attend the ceremony in protest against – what they labeled as – a private Zeman party. The dispute was also accompanied by a critique of persons who were decorated. Besides uncontroversial personalities (such as anti-Nazi fighters or Olympic gold medalists), critics reproached President Zeman for decorating his close friends, people who collaborated with the Communist secret police, or controversial businesspeople.

It is highly unlikely that Miloš Zeman will cease to be a provocative and controversial politician, constantly attracting media attention and giving cause to anger. On the other hand, the Czech presidents are generally trusted political figures. Even Miloš Zeman, who has always been a polarizing figure in Czech society, enjoys support/trust of about half of the Czech population, much more than the government or parliamentary chambers (but less than mayors or local governments)[5]. More than four years remain until the end of his second presidential mandate. Only health problems, which the media often speculate about, may become an effective stop to his political style.

 Notes

[1] For details see Brunclík, Miloš, and Michal Kubát. 2018. Semi-presidentialism, Parliamentarism and Presidents: Presidential Politics in Central Europe. London and New York: Routledge.

[2] Several Zeman’s rivals from the 2018 presidential contest were elected senators, such as Jiří Drahoš, Pavel Fischer or Marek Hilšer.

[3] Art. 68 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic

[4] Zeman was once the party’s chairman and even prime minister between 1998 and 2002. However, since a significant portion of social democratic MPs did not support Zeman in the 2003 presidential elections, Zeman’s relationship to his party changed for the worse and this event has plagued their relationship since then.

[5] Červenka, Jan. 2018. Confidence in constitutional institutions and satisfaction with the political situation. October 2018. Praha: CVVM. (Full text is available in Czech only).

The Philippines – The Road (Blocks) to Constitutional Changes

Among President Duterte’s campaign promises was his pledge to adopt constitutional reforms to change the country’s unitary system into a federalism, with some powers devolved to the local governments for a more responsive government. The path to the constitutional change has been highly favourable to the President: he enjoys a super-majority support in the House and remains highly popular among the voters. Indeed, until recently, the progress looked good for the President: the 25-member constitutional consultative commission that he created through Executive Order No 10 to review the Constitution and recommend amendments to Congress, comprising 19 appointed by the President himself, approved a draft for submission to the President on July 3, 2018. The draft has since been submitted to Congress, with the House and the Senate agreeing on separate votes over the draft. Here, I look at how the draft came to be and the obstacles that may stand in the way of the President’s delivery on this promise.

There are three ways to amend the Constitution: through a vote of three-fourths of the members of Congress; a constitutional convention, where the House and Senate will propose changes; and by direct petition of at least 12 percent of total registered voters, of which every legislative district has three percent signatories. All revisions must then be ratified by a majority of the votes cast between 60 and 90 days of the approval of the amendment.

The President was predisposed towards a constitutional assembly: in December 2016, he signed the Executive Order No 10 to create a constitutional commission, comprising 25 members, to review the Constitution and recommend amendments to Congress, where Congress would then act as a constitutional assembly to review and debate the amendments. The House and the Senate were split, with the 297-seat House – where the President enjoys a super-majority – favouring a constitutional assembly while the 24-seat Senate – where the President has faced his toughest critics, including two whom he has arrested – supports the constitutional convention. The House and the Senate agreed to set aside the mode of change on January 24, 2018; President Duterte announced the appointment of 19 members of the constitutional commission on January 25, 2018, headed by former chief justice Reynato Puno

The President has endorsed the draft for Congress. Significant changes contained in the draft include:

At the President’s insistence, the draft contains a provision that bars him and Vice President Leni Robredo from a second-term, to assure critics that he is not intent on extending his tenure in office. Critics charge that the draft, nevertheless, contains provisions that are considered highly controversial, particularly the creation of the Federal Transition Commission to oversee the political change to the federalist system.

Will the President be able to fill this promise? Polls show that a majority of the voters – 67 percent – are opposed to the constitutional revision; however, 74 percent also have little or no knowledge of the current constitution. This may explain the President’s optimism that the country will eventually pass the recommended changes. It may also explain why several hundred academics, including several university presidents, have signed a statement against the constitutional assembly, in favour of more participatory process such as through a constitutional convention.

Ironically, the greatest obstacle to constitutional change may be the House of Representatives. The previous house speaker, Representative Pantaleon Alvarez, had called for the postponement or even cancellation of elections in 2019 to make way for the constitutional change, in his zeal to advocate for the President’s constitutional plans. In a leadership challenge in the House, the speaker was ousted and replaced by former President and current Representative Gloria Arroyo, who was pardoned by President Duterte and seen as an strong advocate for shepherding the president’s agenda. Speaker Arroyo has led the House to develop a draft of constitutional changes that was submitted to the President on September 19, 2018. The draft, which contains provisions to extend terms limits for other elected offices, diluting the anti-dynasty provisions, and, perhaps most controversially, removes the Vice President from the line of presidential succession, is clearly different from the one submitted by the Constitutional Commission. Indeed, the Constitutional Commission has since formally written to the President to assail the House draft as “questionable” and be made public in the interest of transparency. It seems that the President’s strongest supporters, more so than other obstacles, may lead to the undoing of constitutional changes.

 

Magna Inácio – The 2018 Presidential Elections in Brazil: A Turning Point?

A far-right president, Bolsonaro, was elected in Brazil, propelling the most radical political shift in Brazilian politics since the redemocratization. In the runoff election, Bolsonaro secured 55.8 million votes (or 55%), a 10% margin of victory ahead the leftist candidate, Haddad.

The former army captain, Bolsonaro, successfully turned himself into the mouthpiece of the politically dissatisfied. Under the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone”, his strident rhetoric echoed nationalistic, conservative and identity-based issues against corruption, crime, and moral crisis. To broaden his electoral appeal, he won over markets by pledging a deep policy shift toward market-friendly reforms under the charge of his ultra-liberal economic advisor, the would-be minister of finance. Even without clear proposals, and by means of contradictory signs, he successfully packaged all the issues into a promise of an alternative government, expressing not only a rejection of leftist administrations headed by PT, the presidential party for 13 years, but of the whole political system. Branding himself an outsider, Bolsonaro spiced up his anti-establishment appeals with controversial remarks about basic democratic tenets. His statements signalled little tolerance for political opponents and activists, and his proposal to change the Constitution raised concerns of authoritarian threads put forth by his government.

The exceptionality of this presidential election partially explains the electoral success of Bolsonaro, a backbench deputy, nominated as a presidential candidate by a small party and managing limited campaign resources. This election had a frontrunner candidate, former president Lula, deemed ineligible by the electoral courts due to his conviction for corruption crimes. At the same point of the campaign, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally and campaigned from his hospital bed and from his home until Election Day. The commotion caused by this violent event restrained his rivals’ negative ads against his electoral platform and political discourses. He did not take part in TV debates with other candidates, a contest highly valued by Brazilian voters. Instead, he broadcast himself extensively using social media and, at the same time, he blocked his running mate and economic adviser from taking a public position on sensitive issues of his electoral platform. In addition, the electoral process was heavily poisoned by misinformation, rumors and fake news disseminated through social media by campaigners and extremist supporters.

But, is this only an exceptional election, or a turning point in Brazilian politics? We are probably witnessing a more radical change than occurred with the first victory of a leftist party at the presidential level in 2002. This is signaled not only by Bolsonaro’s profile and his path to the presidential seat. He is the most visible face in this process. Other electoral effects reveal a shift far beyond that.

First, the political polarization has assumed a centrifugal dynamic in this election. The political divide evolved into voter fury against the political establishment, mainly the most presidentialized parties. These anti-system feelings and strong rejection of established parties has spread to legislative and subnational races. Electorally, it boosted the Bolsonaro candidacy, but also changed the face of the legislative branch. The electoral volatility showed a considerable transfer of votes to right-wing parties. Although Bolsonaro´s party was the most rewarded, several small parties also gained seats. The seat-shares of the centrist parties reduced considerably, raising concerns about their pivotal roles in moderating legislative decisions in the next legislature. On the left side, parties maintained their legislative strengths, given the coattail effects of their presidential candidates, ending the presidential race in the second and third positions. However, it shadows the future of a stronger, united opposition to Bolsonaro’s government.

It led to a second consequence, a higher legislative fragmentation. The effective numbers of the parties (EFN) was raised to 16.5 and 13.5, in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, respectively. It showed not only changes in the interparty competition within the congress. The anti-establishment feelings also triggered a tsunami of legislative turnover, skyrocketing to 52% and 48% of legislators in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, respectively. It greatly benefited conservative outsiders and freshmen candidates, mostly affiliated with right-wing parties. The conservative-leaning seat-shares has increased considerably with the election of religious-minded and military deputies. However, it is still not clear how aligned they are with the liberal reforms in the economic policy area. Thus, the next congress will be not only more fragmented, but also populated by cross-pressured legislators.

It raises the cost of forming political majorities, even if the president decides to walk away from coalitional presidentialism and govern through ad hoc coalitions. Thus, the expectations that 2018 elections would foster the conditions to overcome five years of political and economic turmoil in Brazil seems to be unrealistic.

Gubernatorial elections in Russia

In a post for this blog on 12 September, I provided an early review of the 9 September regional elections in Russia. This was a real mix of races, including ballots for regional legislatures, by-elections for the State Duma, and contests for regional heads. The last set of elections – for regional executives – has proved the most interesting, as no candidate secured more than 50 percent of votes in four of the first-round gubernatorial races, forcing run-off votes. What has happened since – and what can this tell us about politics in general at the start of Putin’s fourth presidential term?

 

Opposition-party victories

Of the four interesting gubernatorial races, opposition-party governors have already been elected in two regions. The second-round gubernatorial vote took place in Vladimir Oblast’ – a region to the east of Moscow – on 23 September. The sitting, Kremlin-backed governor, Svetlana Orlova (United Russia), lost to Vladimir Sipyagin – a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – who secured 57 percent of the vote. Similarly, an LDPR candidate, Sergei Furgal, beat the United Russia incumbent, Vyacheslav Shport, in the second-round vote in Khabarovsk Krai – a region in Russia’s far east – on 23 September, with 70 percent of the vote. Commentators have wondered whether this might be a moment when merely nominal opposition actors become real critics of the Kremlin, emboldened by electoral successes.

We should bear three things in mind when making sense of these opposition wins. Firstly, these losses for the Kremlin come in the context of the decision to implement a deeply unpopular pension reform – a policy change that has resulted in a sharp drop in support for United Russia. Rather than a positive vote for LDPR or KPRF (the Communist Party of the Russian Federation), therefore, many Russians were using their votes in the 9 September elections (and subsequent ballots) to protest against this particular policy. Secondly, even though members of nominally opposition parties have become regional heads, that certainly does not mean that they will be combative with Moscow and Kremlin-backed actors. It has been reported, for instance, that Sergei Furgal has suspended his membership of LDPR in order to appease, and work with, members of the regional elite. Thirdly, and relatedly, these are not the first opposition governors in Russia. In Irkutsk Oblast’, for example, a KPRF politician – Sergei Levchenko – has been regional head since 2015. And LDPR’s Aleksei Ostrovskii has been the head of Smolensk Oblast’ since 2012. We should not, therefore, lose perspective on these opposition wins, regardless of whether they were a surprise for the Kremlin.

 

Unfinished contests

Two other regions have unfinished gubernatorial races. In Khakassia – a region relatively near Russia’s borders with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia – the second-round vote was scheduled to take place on 23 September. However, the incumbent governor – Viktor Zimin (United Russia) – withdrew his candidacy on 21 September, meaning that the ballot had to be postponed. In the run-up to the new voting date of 7 October, the “Just Russia” party candidate, Andrei Filyagin, also withdrew his candidacy, resulting in another postponement. The “Party of Growth” candidate, Aleksandr Myakhar, also withdrew on 15 October. The second-round vote is now scheduled for 11 November, with only one candidate, KPRF’s Valentin Konovalov, who secured 45 percent of votes in the first round on 9 September. One obvious explanation for the multiple postponements is that the authorities want to do all they can to frustrate another opposition-party victory – an explanation that fits with attempts to disqualify Konovalov from the race. Konovalov has a chance to win, but there have been further recent attempts to block his pathway to power.

The final gubernatorial vote is scheduled to take place in Primorsky Krai – a region in the far east – on 16 December. In the first-round vote on 9 September, the Kremlin-backed incumbent, Andrew Tarasenko, won 47 percent of the vote, with the KPRF candidate, Andrei Ishchenko, achieving 25 percent. In the second-round vote on 16 September, Ishchenko looked certain to win. However, a dramatic surge for Tarasenko during counting of the final votes resulted both in his provisional victory and accusations of vote rigging. Indeed, these electoral fraud allegations resulted in the official invalidation of the voting results – something that deprived Tarasenko victory, but that has been challenged by Ishchenko in the courts, as he sees himself as the rightful winner. In light of this voting scandal, Tarasenko resigned and was replaced by Oleg Kozhemyako – until then head of Sakhalin Oblast’ – who will run as an independent in the 16 December ballot (although United Russia has declared its support for his candidacy).

The picture in Primorsky Krai has become even more complicated. On Saturday 3 November, the Primorsky regional KPRF branch voted not to field Andrei Ishchenko as its candidate in the December election. There are a number of reasons why this decision might have been taken. One possible consideration relates to reports of Kozhemyako’s rising popularity – something (if true) that will have been supported by the activities of Kremlin-funded political technologists dispatched to the region. Ishchenko’s withdrawal is, therefore, a pre-emptive move in anticipation of expected electoral defeat. Another possible reason relates to doubts about whether Ishchenko could clear the ‘municipal filter’ – a mechanism whereby electoral candidacy is only possible with the support of a specified number of municipal deputies. In practice, this provides a way for the authorities to block particular politicians from participating in elections. Indeed, there were reports that some municipal deputies in Primorsky Krai had complained of pressure not to vote for Ishchenko’s candidacy. The withdrawal decision might also signal the KPRF’s reluctance to incur the costs of opposing the Kremlin too publicly and meaningfully. As a member of the so-called ‘systemic’ opposition, the KPRF elite has to find the right balance between Kremlin loyalty and maintaining the semblance of an opposition political stance. It could be that the campaign leading up to the 16 December vote – never mind the prospect of an Ishchenko victory – upset that balance too much for comfort.

 

Not the end for Putin

Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term began six months ago, and should run until 2024. Do these regional election results constitute flashes of democracy in Russian politics – or signs that the Putin regime is in crisis?

No. But the electoral setbacks were not welcome for Putin’s team. A number of United Russia officials were fired following the regional race setbacks. This has been followed by moves to strengthen the party’s capacity in Russia’s regions. The reason is obvious: the Kremlin is keen not to see a repeat of the regional election surprises in 2019. It has been reported that the Kremlin has already begun evaluating the electoral appeal of governors up for re-election next year. Those who do not make the cut will be replaced with acting governors that the Kremlin thinks have better prospects of winning. This means that the Kremlin will reduce the likelihood of embarrassing electoral defeats, as well as giving incumbency advantage to more popular candidates. There is also a debate about whether to amend electoral legislation – a popular battleground for elements of the elite with differing views on how managed Russia’s ‘sovereign democracy’ should be.

Overall, then, the Kremlin was taken by surprise by opposition-party wins, but it is not in panic. Putin’s approval rating certainly took a significant hit as a result of the unpopular pension reform, but the numbers have stopped falling. Now, the task for ‘Team Putin’ is to adjust to the new normal – and to do what it can to prevent further opposition electoral gains. As the early anger resulting from pension reform has subsided, the protest-vote potential relating to this particular policy has certainly declined. But the regional election results will strengthen the position of those arguing for tighter, not looser, control of electoral campaigns – in the short-run, at least. In the longer term, this management might come into closer conflict with the rising importance placed by Russian citizens on democracy and human rights.

Lindsay Robinson – Local and Regional Elections in Côte d’Ivoire: A “Test” for the 2020 National Polls?

This is a guest post by Lindsay Robinson, Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

The October 13 local and regional elections in Côte d’Ivoire were widely considered a test run in advance of the higher-stakes presidential and National Assembly elections in late 2020.

The ruling coalition, the Rally of Houphouëtistes for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), recently saw the departure of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), headed by former president Henri Konan Bédié (1993-99). In 2010, the PDCI backed Alassane Ouattara of the Rally of Republicans (RDR), who went on to win in the second round of the presidential elections against then-incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI). The RHDP was formed in 2005 as a political alliance between the RDR, the PDCI and a number of other, smaller parties. Ouattara’s long-term goal was the creation of a unified RHDP party that would subsume its constituent parties and become the main political force in the country. Bédié’s goal, which he says was agreed upon in 2010, was that a PDCI candidate gain RHDP’s presidential nomination in 2020 once Ouattara’s term was up. Ouattara acknowledges no such deal and wants to see the next candidate come from an internal party primary. This disagreement came to a head in mid-2018 with the official creation of the unified party without the PDCI’s sign-on, and the PDCI’s official withdrawal from the coalition.

Local and regional elections therefore presented the RHDP and PDCI with an opportunity to demonstrate their relative political power across the country, after the split.

So how did they do?

The RHDP was the clear winner. It fielded candidates in nearly every race — for 28 of 31 regional councils and 176 of 200 municipal councils — whereas the PDCI fielded candidates in only 8 and 105 races, respectively. (In two regions, a list was presented as a joint PDCI-RHDP list, despite the official split between the two parties.) RHDP also translated these candidates into more victories; it won 20 regions and 92 local councils, compared with the PDCI’s 8 and 50. (The joint list won in both regions.)

Independent candidates took 3 regional councils and 56 municipal councils. Following the elections, many of them joined one or the other of the two major parties; by October 24, 26 had joined the RHDP and 5 had joined the PDCI. These moves raised allegations of corruption in some quarters, but many of the independent candidates were in reality party members who failed to gain the party backing for candidacy and have now rejoined their original party.

PDCI claims that the distribution of seats is not fair and has called for a redistricting before 2020, saying, “In the north of the country” where RHDP has an advantage, “there are 69 mayors for a population of 469,000 inhabitants, whereas there are 28 mayors for a population of two million inhabitants in the South, where the opposition is stronger.” The graphs below illustrate this discrepancy, which is also exacerbated by the majoritarian electoral system. 1

 

The map below  shows the distribution of regional presidents.

The PDCI is contesting 9 election results in court — while the RHDP is contesting 24. A total of 102 claims have been submitted, significantly fewer than the 187 claims put forward after the 2013 local elections. Two elections were already canceled and will be rerun within the month. Several others, including in the country’s wealthiest commune (Plateau) and in the tourist resort town of Grand Bassam, are making headlines for the allegations of fraud and electoral violence. Five people were killed in areas across the country in election-related violence, including in Daloa, Abobo, Seguéla, and Lakota.

The continued political weight of the FPI is a real question mark. The party has suffered from internal factionalism, and the more “radical” wing of the party headed by Aboudramane Sangaré (until his death on November 3) boycotted these elections, much as they did the local polls in 2013. FPI partisans aligned with Sangaré have said they will not engage in a system they see as stacked against them while the head of their party is at the International Criminal Court for what they see as partisan reasons. Should the party engage in 2020, it is unclear what share of the vote it might attract.

Voter turnout was low — only 36.2% for local elections (a figure that was independently confirmed by the Platform for Election Observation in Côte d’Ivoire – POECI) and 46.36% for regional elections; these numbers were quite similar in 2013. National elections generally draw more voters. This is particularly likely to be the case in 2020 when Ouattara, who is constitutionally term limited, will not be eligible for reelection, and the polls are likely to be highly competitive.

The recent local elections were also a test for the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), and by many accounts there is room for improvement. POECI, which deployed observers to a statistically representative sample across the country, reported that 11% of polling stations failed to have ballot boxes specifically marked to delineate which election’s ballots it should contain (municipal or regional), a potential source of confusion. In around a quarter of polling stations, the biometric voter identification equipment failed at some point during the day and voters were allowed to vote without this verification. Around 19% of polling places did not even have a voter identification kit available. In 6% of the polling stations, observers witnessed incidents of intimidation, harassment or violence.

Conclusion. Many Ivoirian actors, including POECI, other civil society groups, and nearly all opposition political parties (notably PDCI and FPI-Sangaré), have called for broad-based electoral reform. As noted in a past post about Senate elections, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights found in November 2016 that the CEI’s composition was not in conformity with the country’s international commitments to create an impartial body. In August, President Ouattara committed to changing the commission’s composition before the 2020 elections. The success of these reforms will hinge on broad-based and inclusive dialogue. A revised electoral framework that benefits from widespread support and legitimacy will go a long way to reinforcing the credibility of the electoral process and limiting violence around the next elections.

Footnote:

The graphs show the results for heads of list — mayors for local councils and presidents of regional assemblies. The distribution of seats within these bodies is more complicated. The law provides for the party with the most votes to receive half of the council seats, with the remaining half distributed proportionally according to party vote share, including to the majority party.

Georgia – Presidential election: First-round results and expectations for the second round

The last direct presidential election in Georgia before the constitutional change to indirect election was held on October 28. The presidency will be weakened following last year’s constitutional amendments. However, the battle for the presidency has still been intense.

A large number of candidates contested the presidential election, but the results of the first round showed that the main fight was between the so-called Independent Candidate but, in effect, the candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Salome Zourabichvili, and Grigol Vashadze, who was nominated by the United National Movement. Despite claims by the ruling party that its candidate had won at the first round, the Central Election Commission confirmed that a second round would be needed. In the end, the Central Election Commission announced that Salome Zurabishvili had won 38.64% in the first round and Grigol Vashadze 37.74%. Davit Bakradze from the European Union came third with 10.97%.

source: Photo from https://on.ge/elections/2018/results

These results were somewhat unexpected for the ruling party. However, confidence in Georgian Dream is very low as the country’s socio-economic situation has deteriorated significantly and citizens are dissatisfied with the government’s activity. If we look at the election results, we see that just 46.74% of the electorate participated in the elections. The outcome of the election is a protest against the policies of the ruling party. For example, Zourabichvili’s statements regarding relations with Russia and the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 were not supported by a large part of society. Most voters supported pro-Western political parties. In addition, Georgian Dream lost support because they did not have a candidate from their own party. The general secretary of the party said that citizens sent us a message that many things in the country need to be replaced, quickly and efficiently, and taking into consideration the interests of each citizen.[10] However, Gedevan Popkhadze, a member of the parliamentary majority said that if Grigol Vashadze were to win the presidential election, this would be a real step towards the beginning of the civil war.

The second round will be very tense as the opposition candidate has a real chance to win. At the same time, though, Georgian Dream will need to persuade those voters who did not come to the polls to vote at the second round and support their candidate. It is equally important for the opposition forces to support each other. The European Union’s candidate, Davit Bakradze, said that he would support Grigol Vashadze. He was also supported by the Republican Party, which did not have its own candidate in the presidential election. Zurab Japaridze, the presidential candidate of Girchy, said that he would vote for Grigol Vashadze in the second round. The candidate of the Labor Party will not support any candidate. The leader of the Free Democrats, Levan Samushia, called on voters to choose Grigol Vashadze. The Patriots Alliance announced that they and the government are “natural partners” and that they will support Salome Zourabichvili. [1]

One of the nationalist groups, “Georgian Mars”, said that the Georgian Dream needed to take two steps to get their support: announce that there will be no marijuana cultivation law and early parliamentary elections. [2] The position of the Georgian Orthodox Church is important in the elections. The Catholic Patriarch of Georgia met with representatives of the Georgian Dream and then the candidate of the United Opposition Grigol Vashadze. The candidate of the United Opposition said at the meeting with the Patriarch of the meeting that the second round should be held in a democratic environment without any insult and confrontation. [3]

Everybody knows that the fight in this election is not just for a presidential post whose power is formally restricted and whose deliberate weakening and discrediting has been carried out by Georgian Dream since 2013. In the second round, voters will have to make a difficult decision. On the one hand, confidence in the ruling party is very low. On the other hand, the government is threatening voters that if they support the opposition, former President Saakashvili and his government will return to Georgia. One thing is clear. The division of power today is essential and the victory of the opposition candidate in the presidential election will be more useful for the country’s future democratic development.

Notes

[1] ვინ ვის (არ) დაუჭერს მხარს II ტურში  http://netgazeti.ge/news/315636/

[2] ქართული-მარში-მეორე-ტურში-ზურაბიშვილის-მხარდაჭერისთვის-ოცნებას-მოთხოვნებს-უყენებს https://on.ge/story/29685

[3] https://1tv.ge/news/grigol-vashadze-patriarqtan-shekhvedraze-visaubrebt-rom-meore-turi-mshvid-demokratiul-garemoshi-sheurackhyofebisa-da-dapirispirebebis-gareshe-unda-chatardes/