Category Archives: Europe

Preparing for regional elections in Russia

Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has taken a hit within the last year. From an 82 percent rating in April 2018, the figure now stands at 64 percent.[1] Not disastrous, you might say – but it’s all relative.

The proximate cause of this fall is no secret: a set of unpopular changes to Russia’s pension system. Specifically, the ages at which men and women start receiving their pension will be raised – from 60 to 65, and 55 to 60, respectively.

Putin initially tried to keep a safe distance from this deeply unpopular change. He finally intervened publicly to amend the legislative initiative during its second reading on 26 September 2018 in the State Duma – the lower chamber of the Federal Assembly (the national-level parliament) – revising down the retirement age for women from 63 to 60. This ‘softening’ did little, however, to dampen public anger, as seen in protest activity and sentiment.

This unpopular policy change also contributed to electoral upsets for the Kremlin in the 9 September 2018 regional elections. (For an early review of the results, see my post for this blog.) Of most concern to Russia’s political leadership were the victories for opposition-party candidates in three gubernatorial races. (See my discussion of this in another post for this blog.)

The Kremlin doesn’t like losing elections. But that’s no surprise: displeasure with losing is neither distinctive to modern-day Russia nor other polities, regardless of their democratic credentials. What is worthy of note, however, is the set of measures being implemented now to make sure – or, at least, increase the likelihood – that the Kremlin gets its way in the next set of regional elections that will take place on 8 September this year. (According to Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, this will involve more than 5,000 electoral campaigns in 82 federal subjects (regions), including 16 gubernatorial elections.)

The Kremlin is currently taking at least five steps to help make sure it gets its desired results in this next round of elections.

1. Allowing independent gubernatorial candidates

In many Russian regions, gubernatorial candidates are required to be ‘party candidates’ – that is, politicians cannot run as independents (unlike, it must be said, presidential candidates). The worry for Kremlin-backed figures, however, is that the party of choice – the ‘party of power’, United Russia – is currently toxic by association. In April 2018, approval for the party hovered at 50 percent; the figure now is around 32 percent.[2] As with Putin’s approval rating, the reason for the fall is found in the pension reform. Now that the party brand is more a liability than a benefit, legislation in a number of regions is being changed to allow gubernatorial candidates to run as independents. Thus, for example, Aleksandr Beglov – Acting Governor of St Petersburg – introduced a bill to that effect on 20 November 2018; the initiative was approved by deputies of the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly on 19 December.

2. Changing the electoral rules for regional assemblies

Many regions in Russia fill seats in their regional legislative assemblies using a mixed electoral system. Like elections to the national-level State Duma, half the seats are filled through ‘first-past-the-post’ races, with the other half filled through party-list proportional representation.[3] So, voters make two votes: one for a particular candidate and one for a particular party. A number of regions have approved, or are considering, changing the proportion of seats filled through ‘first-past-the-post’ races to 75 percent. The reason for the change is clear: campaigns focused on individuals rather than the party will help shift the focus away from the unpopular ‘party of power’. In addition, ‘administrative resources’ – the advantages held by being Kremlin-backed, such as favourable state media coverage – are more easily deployed in candidate-centred, rather than party-centred, races. Unsurprisingly, opposition party leaders are not keen on a change that will likely benefit United Russia.

3. Removing governors before the elections

The easiest way to win an election is to field a genuinely popular candidate. The Kremlin has, as a result, been polling citizens in the regions to gauge the popularity of incumbent governors. If there are doubts about these incumbents’ chances of winning, then they are replaced with an individual with better prospects. Thus, for example, Grigorii Poltavchenko – Governor of St Petersburg since 2011 – was replaced by Aleksandr Beglov in October 2018. This is a prime example of ‘sovereign democracy’: popular opinion still plays a role, but the Kremlin uses this information to try to avoid embarrassing electoral defeats, thus depriving Russians of the opportunity to ‘throw the rascals out’ at the ballot box themselves. (See this interview of Alexander Kynev by Maria Lipman for an excellent discussion of the recent reshuffling of governors.)

4. Carrying out an information campaign against opposition politicians

Getting elected is only one hurdle faced by opposition politicians. Once in office, they not only need to deal with local elites, but they also need to develop a working relationship with Moscow. Even if they do establish a pragmatic arrangement with the Presidential Administration, this doesn’t guarantee a quiet life. Take, for example, Sergei Levchenko – the Communist Party (KPRF) governor of Irkutsk Oblast’, elected in 2015. In September 2018, footage was uploaded on YouTube of the governor shooting a hibernating bear at point-blank range. The footage might be shocking, but the timing of its release is telling: although the hunt apparently took place in 2016, its upload to YouTube coincided with legislative elections to the Irkutsk regional assembly. Moreover, a criminal case was initiated on 29 December regarding ‘illegal hunting’ – something that might continue to dog Levchenko, in addition to more recent accusations of embezzling budget funds. The Irkutsk governor is up for re-election in 2020, so the point is not that the Kremlin is trying to frustrate an election campaign running up to 8 September. Rather, this case of ‘black PR’ appears part of a broader attempt to smear opposition politicians in general.

5. Blocking attempts to soften registration requirements for election candidates

A Presidential Administration working group – headed by First Deputy Chief of Staff, Sergei Kirienko – has been tasked with exploring ways to amend electoral legislation, including softening the ‘municipal filter’.[4] Given the Kremlin’s desire not to see a re-run of opposition wins, however, these liberalisations are unlikely to be implemented, especially before the 8 September elections. Another sign that reform is unlikely comes in the planned rejection of a legislative initiative (introduced into the State Duma by senator Vladimir Lukin) to make passing the ‘municipal filter’ easier. Opponents of the change have branded it ‘populism’.

*

These five steps are some of the ways in which the electoral playing field is being tilted in the ruling elite’s favour, not to mention methods of outright electoral fraud. If the rules don’t suit, then just change the rules. This basic message is not new, but it’s worth emphasising that the long-term effects of this legal instability are unlikely to help the development of a rule-of-law state in Russia.


[1] Data from the Levada Centre – an independent polling organisation.

[2] Data from VTsIOM – a Kremlin-friendly polling organization.

[3] The 2007 and 2011 State Duma elections did not use a mixed system, involving only party-list ballots.  

[4] The ‘municipal filter’ requires politicians to collect a certain number of signatures from municipal deputies in order to register their electoral candidacies. Such ‘municipal filters’ did not prevent the candidacies of the opposition-party politicians who ended up winning gubernatorial elections in 2018, as the Kremlin – in another manifestation of ‘sovereign democracy’ – approved their participation as ‘technical’ candidates. Frustratingly for the Kremlin, however, they ended up proving more popular than anticipated, if only, or largely, through votes cast as protests, rather than cast as positive endorsements of opposition electoral platforms.

The Yellow Jerseys and the Macron paradox

This is the first blog for a few months.  Not that there is any diminishing interest in French politics on my part, on the contrary. But the speed of events has proved somewhat overwhelming. Too much has been written about the gilets jaunes, referring to the yellow jerseys that drivers are obliged to carry in their cars and wear in the case of accidents. Too much fake news has circulated on the social networks, feeding the conspiracy theories that have reached the core of the gilets jaunes themselves. The normal mediators – journalists, politicians, academic commentators – have been contested to such an extent that mediation and authoritative interpretation have been challenged as core principles. The degree of routine violence in the streets of Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse and other French cities (and even small towns) leaves a bitter taste. The outbreak of open fighting between rival groups of ‘yellow jerseys’ in Lyon, my city for the past five years, demonstrates how the gilets jaunes movement  can be captured by ideologically charged groups of extreme left and extreme right protesters, with only the detestation of the orthodox centre in common. Attempts to force entry into the Elysée and – more recently – the Parliament bear worrying echoes of earlier periods in French history.

The French and foreign press has been replete with articles and special issues attempting to define historical precedents for the gilets jaunes movement and to set the events in historical context. The French weekly Le Point reminded readers, in its edition dated 13th December 2018, that most significant revolutionary events had been sparked by tax protests, including the most famous of them all, the French revolution of 1789. More recent explosions that came to mind were those of May ’68, or the protests of November – December 1995 that brought France to a standstill.  None of these comparisons were entirely satisfactory: for example, the 1968 movement had been one of students and workers,  while the gilet jaunes movement is better described, sociologically,  in terms of the mobilization of the lower middle classes haunted by the fear of downward social mobility, economic hardship and the descent into poverty. One general lesson of the gilets jaunes movement has been the need not to over-interpret the events in relation to past French events, or an ill-defined revolutionary tradition. But there are worrying precursors – and none of them bode well for democratic institutions.

The problem with over-interpreting the gilet jaunes movement lies in the changing and multiform nature of the movement itself. What started as a form of anti-fiscal protest has become a camouflage for the hard right and hard left and the nihilist designs of the casseurs, the specialists in urban disorder. To recall: on 17th November 2018, the gilets jaunes demonstrated for the first time in Paris (and certain cities), in the main peacefully. Successive weeks saw their numbers diminish, but the violence of the conflict increase. The protests spread from central Paris – the object of struggle in the French revolutionary tradition – to small towns and secondary cities.  Multiple interpretations of the gilets jaunes  are, of course, possible: for example, as an anti-fiscal protest, a concrete manifestation of territorial fracture, a quest for new forms of social relations in a world of anomie and alienation (the ‘roundabouts’ replacing the rural cafes), as a camouflage for social disorder and anti-parliamentary protest.

The gilets jaunes movement shook the presidency to its foundation. Many interpretations of the gilets jaunes movement have focussed on the challenge to Macron’s authority- and the fall from grace of an over-arrogant leader, caught up in hubris and undermined by demeaning one-liners. By mid-December 2018, Macron’s poll ratings seemed to be approaching the catastrophic levels of his predecessor Hollande after 18 months in office. But are these interpretations the right ones?  My argument is that the gilets jaunes movement is in the process of demonstrating that Macron is more resilient than recent French Presidents.   The anti-politics movement might have broken out under previous presidents. There are reminiscences of the period back in 1995, when President Chirac campaigned and was elected on the diagnosis of a ‘social fracture’ in France. Chirac set the standard for politicians saying one thing – and doing another. The former Gaullist President had u-turned by October 1995 and lost the election as a result in 1997.  Closer to the present day, Chirac was re-elected in 2002 only because he faced the far-right’s Le Pen on the second round. His successor Sarkozy was forced to change course to deal with the impact of the 2008 economic crisis. Though a highly active reformer, not much remained at the end of his presidency.  President Hollande (2012-2017) suffered almost from day one from his inability to narrate the sense of his presidency,  along with the sense of drift and decline.

In comparison Macron’s leadership has appeared as disruptive (breaking with norms and expectations), robust and, in some senses transformational.  A more modest President Macron might be emerging. Macron has no real choice, if he is to survive and eventually gain a second term. Macron’s reactions to the crisis have been moderate and tempered.  It is still too early to conclude definitively that this crisis is over. But Macron has ridden the wave of unpopularity and is starting to recover. He has demonstrated an astute capacity to respond. The major concessions made in December 2018 certainly had the ring of previous Presidents trying to buy off social discontent by reaching for the cheque book (President Macron announced 10 billion euros of new spending in his December 2018 address to the people). But he has also demonstrated the capacity to stand firm against popular pressure and continue his reform programme. Moreover, his launching of the Great National Debate is an astute move, renewing with the early innovation of the marcheurs, the supporters of Macron who knocked on doors across France to ask electors what their priorities were. The  Great National Debate is opposed by many yellow jerseys – but it is difficult to refuse to engage in public debate when the sense of exclusion was one of the main factors driving the movement in the first place.  Macron has personally demonstrated energy and commitment in animating debates across France: inter alia, with rural mayors in the Lot, with mayors from the Paris suburbs in Seine-St Denis; with young people in the Monts d’Or. Finally, though organised political parties have had great difficulty positioning themselves in relation to gilets jaunes, the two forces to emerge strengthened from the movement are, firstly, the National Rally of Marine Le Pen (former FN), who appears in pole position for the 2019 European election, and – rather paradoxically – Macron himself, as the seriously embittered President recovers from the ashes as a result of skilful manoeuvring and direct contact with the citizens.  The ultimate Macron paradox is that the gilets jaunes movement has undermined what remains of the ‘old’ world (the Republicans, the Socialists, even Mélenchon’s France Unbowed) except the privileged opponent, Marine Le Pen. The game is a dangerous one, but the calculation that a face to face clash between Macron and Marine Le Pen will, once again, turn in favour of the former is a hypothesis that rests on serious foundations.

Latvia – The Government is formed by Krišjānis Kariņš

The 13th Parliament (Saeima) elections in Latvia took place on October 6, 2018. According to the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme), Article 56, the Government shall be formed by the person who has been invited by the State president to do so.

The formation of government took more than three months after the parliamentary elections.

On October 18, 2018, on the twelfth day after the elections and one day before the official election results were announced, State president Raimonds Vējonis convened meetings with elected political parties. On October 30, the State president held meetings with three Prime minister candidates from political parties (Artis Pabriks from the Development/For! alliance, Jānis Bordāns from the New Conservative Party, and Aldis Gobzems from the KPV LV party). Meetings with those candidates continued November 7, one day after the 13th Saeima began to work. On that day, the State president invited Jānis Bordāns, the New Conservative Party, to form the government and gave him two weeks to set up the government with the notice, that if it fails, another candidate will be invited. After unsuccessful government-building talks, on November 14th, the State president withdrew the invitation. 

On November 14, and then further on November 20 and 26, the State president continued to have meetings with three Prime minister candidates from the elected parties and with other members from other elected parties.

On November 26, the State president invited Aldis Gobzems from the KPV LV party to form the government, but on December 10 due to the lack of majority support in Saeima, Gobzems withdrew his candidature from the Prime minister position.

On December 10 and 11, the State president continued to have meetings with elected parties and on December 21, the State president met with Krišjānis Kariņš, New Unity, as a potential candidate to form the government. Meetings with elected parties continued December 28, 2018 and January 4, 2019.

On January 7, 2019 the State president invited Krišjānis Kariņš to form the government. On January 21, one day before the Saeima approved new government, there was a meeting between Krišjānis Kariņš and the State president.

On January 22, 2019, the Saeima approved the new government. The five-party coalition (New Unity, the New Conservative Party, the Development/For! alliance, the National Alliance and most of the KPV LV party) is now headed by the Latvian-American dual citizen Krišjānis Kariņš. Previously, the newly nominated Prime Minister was a Member of the European Parliament. Krišjānis Kariņš holds a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware, USA in 1964. His party, New Unity, represents the smallest party elected in the Saeima, holding just 8 mandates out of 100. Meanwhile, the largest party in Saeima, Harmony, was not even included in coalition formation talks after all other parties refused to cooperate with it.

The coalition might be characterized as centre-right. 61 Saeima deputies voted in favor of the government and 39 voted against. The complicated government formation talks were the longest in the history of Latvia.

Switzerland – The difficulties of speaking with one voice: intra-executive coordination in a collegial presidency

Our blog only rarely covers Switzerland – in fact, it has been only been covered in four of our over 1000 blog posts to date (three of which were cross-country comparisons). This is largely due to the fact that the Swiss presidency differs considerably from the other presidencies discussed here. Rather than the incumbent of a unipersonal office, the Swiss president is the chairperson ‘Federal Council’ – a seven-person collegial executive elected for a fixed four-year term in a joint session of the houses of parliament – and rotates annually among the members of the council.[1] As first among equals, Swiss presidents are effectively the country’s highest representative; yet, they have no authority over their fellow councillors. Given that the Federal Council is a voluntary all-party/grand coalition (its party composition is determined by a largely stable ‘magic formula’) and acts ‘in corpore’ (as one body), it is often presented as a unitary actor. However, a range of issues and discussion have highlighted a very interesting phenomenon in this respect – the lack of coordination between different councillors and the difficulties of the collegial presidency to speak with one voice.

Official portrait of the Swiss Federal Council © Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei 2019

Newly elected Federal Council president Ueli Maurer irritated national and audiences at the World Economic Forum in Davos two weeks ago when he remarked that the Swiss government had “long since dealt with the Khashoggi case. We have agreed to resume the financial dialogue and to normalise relations [with Saudi Arabia].” This assessment was however not shared by his fellow councillors, and particularly those leading the foreign relations and trade departments were quick to stress that relations had all but normalised (and that trade restrictions remain in place). At the same time, the finance department, led by Maurer himself, is continuing its ‘finance dialogue’ with Saudia Arabia. Thus, Maurer’s remarks not only highlight a lack of coordination within departments, but also between the council and its highest representative.

A similar pattern emerged with regard to the new framework treaty between Switzerland and the European Union. The results of five-year long negotiations had been presented in December 2018, eliciting contradictory comments from federal councillors – while Ingazio Cassis (heading the foreign affairs department) praised the draft agreement, his colleagues criticised the deal and the Federal Council failed to present a common position (this had already been an issue in early 2018 during before the last phase of negotiations). Eventually, Maurer called for re-negotiations, despite clear signals from the EU commission that there would be no leeway to renegotiate the current agreement.

Last, parliamentarians have increasingly voiced their discontent with the lack of coordination among councillors and their government departments in important areas. Most recently, this was illustrated the lack of a common political and economic strategy on investments from and engagement with China – although promised over ten years ago, policy differs greatly among the departments which hold various responsibilities in this regard.

These examples show the problems of coordination in a collegial presidency in which there is only a first among equals, yet none above (primus inter pares vs primus supra pares). Nevertheless, none of these is (yet) sufficient to change the council’s modus operandi. Nevertheless, the new EU treaty may force councillors to adopt a more cooperative approach – both among each other as well as between the Federal Council and parliament. To date, such questions as well as that of political leadership of Federal Councillors has yet received little scholarly attention. Although the Swiss presidency is relatively unique (the closest comparable example are the Captains Regent in San Marino), the above examples demand further investigation and could well mirror patterns of intra-executive conflict in other regime types.


[1] Although the president is formally elected by parliament, the order of rotation is strictly based on the length of time that councillors served on the Federal Council.

Bulgaria – President Radev is shaping a political alternative

Russian President Vladimir Putin receives pro-Russian counterpart Rumen Radev. On this occassion, President Radev declared that the purpose of the visit is “to reinstate the dialogue at the highest level after a multi-year interruption”. Source: novinite.com

Bulgarian president Rumen Radev is increasingly feeling the constitutional constraints over his ability to influence the politics of his country. In the last year of cohabitation, the ambitious politician has accentuated his anti-governmental rhetoric and showed his willingness to fight the limited role he is offered by the institutional set-up of Bulgaria. He is efficiently chipping away at the popularity of prime-minister Boyko Borissov and the ruling party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria). However, the independent Radev’s measured potential for electoral success is restricted by the absence of a supporting party. The following text is an overview of the alternatives offered by president Radev to his Bulgarian supporters and the ensuing institutional conflicts he is likely to run into.    

Internal Politics: An All – Male Fight Club

The Bulgarian president is directly elected, cautiously placing Bulgaria among semi-presidential regimes (Elgie,1999). However, the Constitution of Bulgaria clearly states that the country is a republic with a parliamentary form of government (Constitution, Art. 1).This puts the Bulgarian president in a weaker institutional position than heads of other semi-presidential republics in the region (Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine). Faced with such limitations to his own understanding of how much authority the presidential office should provide him, president Rumen Radev is increasingly making the case that he should have increased powers within the state. Most recently, he suggested changing the regime to a presidential republic, concurrently claiming that Bulgarian ‘democracy is jeopardized’.   

President Radev also made use of his institutional powers. In his second year of mandate, he resorted to vetoing Parliament bills seven times (e.g. higher taxes for oldercars, State Property Act).Parliament overturned six such decisions and agreed to strike down the vetoed provisions in just one case. In a different case, he refused to sign a decree that would open the way for the appointment of a new interior minister, which he finally had to accept. This limited effect achieved through the use of constitutional powers has not been sufficient for the ex-Army General Radev, who resorted to intensifying his anti-governmental rhetoric on economic, defense, energy efficiency, anti-corruption, the Macedonian issue and many other subjects. In turn, GERB accused him of waging a ‘political war’.  Prime-minister Borissov retaliated in this game of institutional power politics by announcing that it will be him, not the president, who will address the UN General Assembly in September 2018.  This signified an important change from previous years and a symbolic win for PM Borissov.

President Radev is joined in his opposition to the government by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which also supported his independent run for president. However, Radev distanced himself from the BSP, who continues to fall in the preferences of the Bulgarian electorate and has not proven credible or inspired enough to become an alternative disillusioned citizens might vote for. In the poorest EU country, with a low living standard and the world’s fastest shrinking population (see Figure below), general dissatisfaction with the government’s activity is increasing, providing space for political alternatives.

According to UN Projections, the population of Bulgaria will decrease by 23% by 2050. Source: World Population Prospects – un.org 

As the coalition around prime-minister Borissov shows signs of disunity and references to a possible early election in 2019 become more often, the question remains who is going to benefit from Radev’s high approval ratings.

Bulgarians have a long history of supporting parties built around a charismatic figure. The former king Simeon Saxe- Coburg-Gotha created the National Movement Simeon the Second (NDSV) and became prime minister of the Republic of Bulgaria (2001 -2005).The incumbent prime-minister Boyko Borissov was a popular Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and mayor of Sofia, who used his popularity to established GERB. President Radev may well follow in their footsteps. Nevertheless, as the president of Bulgaria, he is constitutionally prohibited to engage in party politics.Consequently, he will either have to be highly stealthy about his actions and set up a non-partisan support group he could later use, wait until the end of his mandate to engage in new political projects or use the existing major opposition force, BSP, to build an internal alternative to prime-minister Borissov’s GERB.  An increasingly combative stance from Radev while in the presidential office would eventually plunge the country in institutional havoc.

Foreign Affairs: An East – West Balancing Act

Bulgaria is engaged in a traditional dance between the politics of the East, personalised by Russian President Vladimir Putin and those of the West, brought about through membership in the European Union. GERB is seen as a pro-EU force. The EU Commission recently commended some of the progress made in tackling organised crime and corruption (see CVM Progress Report for Bulgaria 2018). Prime Minister Borissov is also generally regarded as a pro-European, who accepted the symbolic benefits of withdrawing from joint Bulgarian – Russian projects, including the Belene Nuclear Power Plant and South Stream Pipeline, at the appeal of the EU.

Earlier in 2018, president Radev was welcomed in Russia, where he met President Vladimir Putin. This marked a rare visit from a post-communist European head of state to Russia. According to official accounts, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the deepening of economic cooperation between the two states. In a different statement,President Radev also declared that Europe should not interfere with Russian gas supplies to Bulgaria. Since in office, President Radev confirmed his sympathies for a rapprochement with the Russian state, prompting some to consider that Bulgaria could become a Trojan horse state for Russian politics in the EU.  All this adds to his past statements in support of the Russian annexation of Crimea

Conclusion

Mapping the policies and political plans of the Bulgarian president heightened in relevance in 2018. His personal ambitions, combined with his high popularity, increase the possibility of president Rumen Radev to redefine Bulgaria’s internal politics and foreign policy.  

This blog post was written by permanent contributor Veronica Anghel, PhD in collaboration with Teodora Aleksandrova (PhD Candidate, University of Sofia)

Martial Law and Presidential Powers in Ukraine

This is a guest post by Serhiy Kudelia, Associate Professor of Political Science at Baylor University

Since November 28, 2018 ten oblasts (provinces) in Ukraine have been operating under the provisions of the ‘martial law.’ President Petro Poroshenko introduced it in response to violent seizure of 3 Ukraine military vessels and arrest of 24 sailors by Russian coast guard ships in the Kerch strait. The Ukrainian parliament’s confirmation of the president’s decree followed a day of bargaining during which he agreed to limit the duration of the law to 30 days and restricted its operation only to the provinces neighboring Russia or Russia-controlled territories (such as Transnistria).

Some viewed the exercise of legislative checks on the desires of the president as an example of Ukrainian “messy democracy” at work since the longer duration of the ‘martial law’ or, rather, a ‘state of siege’ would have interfered with the formal start of the presidential campaign and delayed the election now officially scheduled for March 31, 2019. Since then president Poroshenko has sent mixed signals about his intentions. On one hand, he has resolutely dismissed the possibility that ‘martial law’ would be a pretext for canceling election suggesting that it would only be to the benefit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. On the other, he also admitted that ‘martial law’ could be extended as long as Russian aggression continues – setting a very low bar for its possible renewal given ongoing Russian interference in Donbas and occupation of Crimea.

And there is a strong incentive for the president to do so. With the presidential election just four months away only 10% of respondents indicated in the recent poll that they were willing to vote for him in the first round. Also, every second Ukrainian says that they will not vote for the incumbent president under any circumstances. Losing the re-election bid will become not only a political setback for Poroshenko, but represent a personal threat. Over the last few years he was the target of multiple corruption allegations by former political partners and activists. Hence, the loss of power raises the risks that the new institutions established during his presidency may ultimately turn against him.    

 If the president ultimately chooses to demand the extension of the ‘martial law’ and, hence, postpone the election, he is likely to succeed in imposing his preference on the parliament. As I showed in my recent article in Post-Soviet Affairs, Ukraine’s premier-presidential model still allows the president to overpower the parliament on key issues, such as the composition of the cabinet and the tenure of prime minister. Without any formal powers to dismiss the government, three Ukrainian presidents operating under premier-presidentialism successfully achieved a turnover of three governments (in 2007; 2010; 2016) and only one attempt of government replacement by the president failed (2008). In all successful cases Ukrainian presidents had an advantage over other actors in informal powers that allowed them to reach well beyond the establish constitutional limits on their formal power. As long as they had a decisive say over the security apparatus and the courts, presidents could use their informal leverage to achieve favorable outcomes in confrontations with the legislature and the cabinet.

The new emergency powers granted to president Petro Poroshenko extend into three broad spheres and reinforce his informal authority. The first area is the relationship between citizens and the state. Based on the presidential decree the head of state can unilaterally limit some of the fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens guaranteed under the twelve articles of the Constitution. Among them are the rights to privacy and confidentiality of personal data, freedoms of speech, movement and assembly and ownership rights. The president can now rule to expropriate personal property, ban rallies or demonstrations, introduce curfews or restrict individual movement.

The second sphere is the intra-executive relationship with the cabinet and prime minister. The law on the ‘State of Siege’ allows the president to supersede prime minister informing regional executive administrations if they get transformed into military administrations. In this case the heads of military administrations are selected by the president on recommendation of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. He also acquires the full authority to decide on the structure and the staff of the local executive (Art. 4, Sec. 5). This, in effect, excludes the government from exercising any serious influence over the local governments.

The third sphere is the functioning of democratic institutions, particularly media and elections. The law allows the president acting through local chiefs and military commanders in each province to “regulate” the functioning of media outlets, influence its programming and close them down in case of the violations of ‘martial law’ requirements (Art. 8, Sec.11-12). It also unequivocally bans holding any elections or referenda on the national or local levels for the duration of the ‘state of siege’ (Art. 19). The key institutions of accountability of the authorities would thus either become suspended or seriously circumscribed in their operation.

Together these ‘emergency powers’ give the president broad discretionary powers over citizens, state officials and politicians. They also elevate the status of the presidency above other state institutions with the Commander-in-Chief now having a final say on key national matters. The new arsenal of informal powers improves president’s chances of persuading the parliament to extend the ‘state of siege’ beyond the initial 30 days if he chooses to do so.

The extension of the ‘martial law’ may serve a number of purposes. It enables the president to start informal bargaining with the current front runners, particularly Yulia Tymoshenko, on security guarantees following his likely exit. It also allows to shift the focus away from economic problems and increase the salience of national security issues int he campaign. Over the last two weeks Poroshenko frequently appeared in army uniform meeting military personnel and planning defense operations. Finally, martial law may serve as an elite coordination instrument that can help, for now, to prevent potential defections from his party to stronger contenders.

Since the imposition of the ‘martial law’ anywhere in Ukraine automatically prohibits removal of the president, the government and the parliament (Art. 10), Poroshenko will find many allies in key positions of power interested in minimizing the uncertainties related to the upcoming electoral cycle. This strategy, however, can only be a temporary solution for the ruling elites. If Poroshenko decides to choose existing security threats as a justification for extending his power his legitimacy at home and abroad will inevitably suffer creating the potential for even greater instability than following President Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014.

Poland – The president as legislator

On 20 November, Polish president Duda submitted another bill proposal the Sejm (lower chamber of parliament), this time aimed at creating local social services centres. Although presidents have frequently used this prerogative in the past (to the same degree as vetoes and requests for judicial review), Duda has been particularly active and proposed over two dozen separate bills so far. However, the Polish president is only one of four European presidents vested with the power to propose ordinary legislation – interestingly, the other three countries are also from Central and Eastern Europe (i.e. Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania).

Polish president Duda presents the act amending the law on legal aid and education that resulted from his initiative, 30 July 2018 / ® Polish Presidential Office 2018

The president’s right to propose legislation has been included in all Polish constitutions since the fall of Communism, including the heavily amended Communist constitution (it was not, however, part of the Polish interwar constitutions). As the Polish president only possesses a block veto, the provision partly compensates for the lack of agenda-setting power through amendatory observations (as is the case in most other post-communist systems). Nevertheless, parliament is not obliged to consider presidential initiatives and can – once they have received by the appropriate committee – be abandoned without fearing any consequences. Furthermore, as presidents do not have any reserved policy areas for their initiatives, the usefulness of the power depends very much on the composition of parliament and government. If presidents have a majority (or at least strong presence) in parliament and/or government, bills are more likely to be accepted. Presidents without significant partisan support in other institutions should have little chance of seeing their bills become law. Accordingly, when Polish presidents made use their prerogative, they did so with varying frequency and varying degrees of success (see Table 1 below).

Interestingly, the first three Polish presidents (who all experienced longer periods of cohabitation and unified government during their terms) used their powers largely independently of the majority situation in parliament and government. For Lech Walesa, this may largely be explained by the fact that neither the fragmented Sejm, nor the stream of coalition governments had the resources to craft legislation, allowing the president to set the agenda. However, given that less than half of his initiatives were successful, actual implementation of policy can only be part of the reason why he (and his successors) used this power so frequently. On the one hand, we may be able to explain the use of initiatives by presidents’ desire to communicate with voters – more so than ‘reactive powers’ like the veto, legislative initiatives allow presidents to proactively highlight their policy preferences. On the other hand, interviews I conducted with presidential advisors in Poland for my PhD suggest that the presidential legislative initiative can be borne out of cooperation between president and government and provide a shortcut compared to regular parliamentary procedure – presidential bill proposals do not require the same statements or reports from ministries and agencies before they can be discussed (and passed) in parliament. However, the scale of these cases is difficult to ascertain without more detailed knowledge of individual bills.

To date, the use of presidential legislative initiatives outside of presidential systems has hitherto not been subject to much research. Nevertheless, the case of Poland raises a number of interesting questions that go beyond the four European cases mentioned above. First, why would presidents be vested with the power to propose legislation in the first place? Even where they are not formally part of the executive, they are not part of or emanate from the legislature either. Granting presidents proactive legislative prerogatives, particularly in systems where they are not the dominant actor, thus makes little sense. Second, how can we explain the use of this power – especially across varying partisan-political constellations? Furthermore, if bills are more likely to be accepted during friendly/unified relations between president, parliament and government, why would presidents need to propose legislation? After all, their policy preferences should already be implemented. Third, while part of the answer to the last question lies in the publicity potential of the bills, how can we reliably identify those bills that are (informal) collaborations between president and government to circumvent more lengthy parliamentary procedure? The answer to the latter would likely also reveal new information on president-government collaboration in semi-presidential and parliamentary regimes.

Portugal – The memoirs of a president

In Portugal, ever since Mário Soares decided to publish annually his most relevant public interventions as a book, presidents have followed this practice. Soares published ten volumes of Intervenções (Interventions), Jorge Sampaio followed with Portugueses, and Cavaco Silva edited Roteiros(Roadmaps). These are collections of speeches in public occasions, with sometimes an interview or some other journalistic piece, and constitute a fundamental basis to analyse the terms in office of each president.

Cavaco Silva, however, ventured into new grounds when he decided to write his memoirs. Soares published a lengthy interview covering his entire life, including the years as president (Maria João Avillez.MárioSoares, 3 volumes). Sampaio has an authorized biography which also covers his years at the Palácio de Belém(José Pedro Castanheira, Jorge Sampaio, 2 volumes). No one had written individual memoirs centred on the role of the president. Cavaco Silva’s new memoirs come as a continuation of his previous books that covered his early life and his tenure as prime-minister for ten years (Autobiografia Política, 2 volumes), and respond to the need felt by the author to “offer citizens precise and clear information on the actions I undertook while discharging public functions”. In all, we dispose of four volumes of memoirs, a first hand testimony which is invaluable for the comprehension of his political persona. This post aims to discuss some of the issues raised by the most recent volumes, without any intention of exhausting the theme

These recent volumes are called Quinta-feira e outros dias(Thursday  and other days), as they  purport to focus on the relations between the president of the Republic and the government, Thursday being the long-established day of the week in which the prime minister visits the president to inform him on different issues. More than a formality and a gesture of goodwill, keeping the president informed “of all issues pertaining to the conduction of internal and external policies” is a constitutional provision (CRP section 201c). On top of that, the law on the intelligence services requires that the prime minister keep the president informed of major developments. Cavaco Silva would later recall that the prime minister had failed to inform him of the dealings with the EU in preparation for a package of austerity measures in 2011 as a “gross misconduct in institutional solidarity” which he castigated several times. Besides, as it will emerge further down, these meetings allow the president to react to the information received and enter a true bargaining process with the prime minister (something he cannot do directly with parliament). As a result, Cavaco Silva estimated that about one third of all legislation received from the government were amended at his request. Thursday meetings are an epitome to the power-sharing nature of Portuguese semipresidentialism

Of course, Cavaco Silva insists that his exercise of accountability towards the Portuguese is limited by the “secrecy imposed by the safeguard of the highest national interests”, and thus one cannot expect to have full disclosure of every episode that hit the news. However, Cavaco Silva is quite generous in opening up the drawers of his memory. Many references in the press to the facts disclosed in these volumes refer to la petite histoire, episodes that are controversial and still stir the popular imagination and feed gossiping, but on the whole are perhaps not the most interesting way to address the issue of presidential powers and how they were exercised by one particular individual.

The background to the volumes covering the presidency is given by the ten years in which Cavaco Silva was prime minister, which formatted most of his understanding of both presidential and governmental powers. As he says, implicitly criticizing the president with whom he worked as prime minister (Mário Soares), “my time as prime minister was one of fruitful learning about what a president of the Republic should not do”.  Perhaps the most evident sign of a particular reading of presidential powers is referred in the second volume of his Autobiografia Politicawhen he recalls having said this: “To those who spend their time in political manoeuvring and creating obstacles to the government, we say: let us work”. Together with his repeated references to the “forces of blockade”, these words were widely read as a reassessment of the government’s independence from all other organs of sovereignty, be they the Constitutional Court (which had raised several objections to his policies) or – above all – the president of the Republic. It was thus expectable that Cavaco Silva as president would not venture in terrains he had so bitterly criticized while serving as prime minister, and adopt a low profile as president. This was though a difficult task to perform.

The title of his presidential memoirs include the expression “and other days”, which refer to the scope of presidential initiatives that do not depend on the relation with the prime minister.

In the first of these volumes, the “other days” are present in a section he entitled “To Believe in the Portuguese”. He justifies this section by stating: “I defined as one of the goals of my presidency to give voice to good examples” in areas as disparate as science and education, culture and historical heritage, economy and information technologies, Portuguese communities abroad and youth, social inclusion and social institutions, the sea and fisheries, etc. This is not a small realm of intervention. Claiming he always “wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem” (and I would add, active part), he summoned members of government to accompany him and expressed publicly his views on the issues that surfaced in those initiatives. Presidential initiatives do have high media coverage, and this is a form of setting the political agenda inaugurated (against an angry Cavaco Silva) by Mário Soares with his “open presidencies” and to offer presidents ample room to intervene in the process of decision making. In the end of the day “all my initiatives were very welcome by the population, by the institutions and by all those who were involved in them”. Popularity is thus a critical element to gauge the effectiveness of presidential initiatives. In the second volume, the “other days” are mostly dedicated to the “projection of the interests of Portugal in the world”, assuming those to be framed by the concept of “presidential diplomacy” – an equivocal concept that does not derive from the constitutional powers of the president which, in matters of foreign affairs, are reasonably contained (CRP section 135). However, Cavaco Silva considered this to be one of the areas in which his voice could be heard, and independent initiatives taken, so much so that “during my terms in office a reinforcement was felt of the role of the president of the Republic in the realm of foreign affairs”. One of the reasons for this resides in the fact that, as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the president was involved in the deployment of Portuguese soldiers in several UN or NATO sponsored missions throughout the world. It is certainly an aspect that gained roots and is not openly challenged by any major political actor, and which evokes the French case of presidents assuming prominent roles in foreign relations and defence policies. It is interesting to note that at various points in his books, Cavaco Silva mentions several  formal direct meetings with the ministers of foreign affairs and defence, whereas in the case of most other ministers his relations were mediated by the prime minister.

The two volumes combined cover Cavaco Silva’s two mandates and refer to four different governments. When he took office in March 2006, the country had a majority socialist government headed by José Socrates. As is usual in Portugal, the prime minister did not tender his resignation nor did he put his job at the president’s disposal. The understanding is that the parliamentary responsibility of the government was assured, and thus the new president had to live with the existing government – or be determined to take action. It is useful to recall that Cavaco Silva had been the leader of PSD, and when that memory was still fresh he had lost the 1996 presidential election; seeking the presidency in 2006 was based on the affirmation of a clear distance between the candidate and the right of centre parties that supported him, assuming the traditional role of the president as an “independent” figure that should not guide his action by party motivation. Not surprising, Cavaco Silva promised during the campaign he would offer any government “strategic cooperation”.

The narrative of the period 2006-2009 is one of a deteriorating relation with the prime minister, which started on a high note and ended in one of the most sour episodes just before the legislative elections of that year (what he recalls as “the political intrigues of the summer of 2009”). Maybe the highest point of conflict was around a government proposal to change the statute of the Autonomous Region of Azores (unanimously approved in the regional parliament) which Cavaco Silva felt as an attempt to reduce his constitutional powers, which was a theme for discussion for about eight months before Caavaco Silva felt compelled to address the nation. The action of the president, however, was much broader, and included initiatives to reformulate the project for a new airport in Lisboa, a discussion of the high-speed train project, or the decision to recognize the independence of Kosovo (this one was present in sixteen of the weekly meetings with the prime minister), to quote just a few with heavy consequences. In most instances, the president managed to negotiate with the government the final outcome of public policies. Cavaco Silva does not shy away from criticizing by name some ministers, either because one had “little common sense” or another was prone “to speak out too much” – but in no circumstance did he go beyond asking the prime minister “to take adequate action”. If the suggestion was obvious that he would have welcome a change of minister, he stopped short of declaring he had lost political confidence or that the issue threatened the survival of the government.

Elections were held during his first term, and the socialist party won again, although it lost the absolute majority – a situation that, in principle, enlarges the scope of presidential intervention. A minority government was formed that had the difficult task to respond to the crisis that erupted in 2008 and was fast approaching Portugal. The distance and acrimony between Cavaco Silva and José Socrates was now public and evident. In the fall of 2010, when the budget was being prepared, Cavaco Silva realized “the prime minister has been lying to me about the deficit for this year”. The hypothesis of a political crisis was on the table. Still, he decided to use his goodwill to help negotiate a new budget that could be supported both by the minority socialist government and the PSD, the largest opposition party. He suggested one of his closest friends and sometime minister for finance to broker the deal. The deal was made under the auspices of the president.

The second term began with a very critical speech, which had a direct impact on the fall of the minority government a few weeks later. Fresh elections were called, as no solution was viable within the existing parliament. The right wing parties PSD and CDS obtained a majority and formed a post-electoral coalition. An old dream of PSD founder Francisco Sá Carneiro – “a majority, a government, a president” – was now possible (despite continuous claims that the president was “above the party fray”). Eventually, this became a nightmare for Cavaco Silva: for all major purposes, the leader of the majority was the prime minister, not the president. Cavaco as a university professor of public finance had his own views and claimed “I do not harbour doubts and I seldom make a mistake”; the prime minister, who had never had any job in government, and who had a poor formation on economics and finance matters, had to carve a balanced relation in which the weight of government far out weighted that of the president. In some instances, Cavaco Silva came to the rescue of government, as in the case of the huge popular demonstrations against one specific fiscal policy in September 2012, prompting a change of course. Some others, he criticized the government, as in the New Year speech of 2013 in which he raised fears of a “vicious circle of depression” – although he could not elicit any change of policy from the government. Even if many legislative pieces raised issues of constitutional conformity, Cavaco Silva most often decided to sign the bills and ask for the opinion of the Constitutional Court afterwards, thus facilitating the government’s policy, even with the cost of his own reputation (he stepped out of office in March 2016 with the lowest ever popularity rate: -13%, whereas the normal popularity rate for presidents is in excess of 50%).

The final episode of Cavaco Silva’s term in office took place after the legislative elections of October 2015. The right wing coalition won the election with a plurality of the vote; but the left parties soon declared they would oppose their continuation in office. Cavaco Silva disregarded the composition of parliament and installed the former prime minister again in his post, having decided to address the nation on the media to justify his option. However, parliamentary investiture is needed. It can come out of a vote of confidence presented by the government, or by a motion rejecting the government’s program tabled by the opposition. The rejection motion was approved by a large majority, and Passos Coelho’s executive fell. The president could not, in constitutional terms, dissolve the parliament and call fresh elections due to a double principle: presidents cannot dissolve parliaments in the last six months of their term in office, and parliaments cannot be dissolved in the first six months after an election. Cavaco would have three choices: to keep Passos Coelho as a caretaker government, with limited capacities, namely unable to propose a new budget, until the six months had elapsed and his successor could call fresh elections; to try what had been used back in the 1970’s – a government of independents regarded as “government of presidential initiative” – which raised constitutional doubts but not an outright impossibility, as recent examples in Greece and Italy suggest; or to appoint the leader of the largest left wing party, the socialist Antonio Costa, to form his government. He chose the latter solution, after lengthy consultations with several actors of the political arena and civil society, although he considered “It is difficult to believe that one government that depends on political forces that are against the EU, NATO and multilateralism in international trade can become a coherent, credible, stable, and efficient government”. For this reason, Cavaco Silva sent a memo to the socialist leader asking for “the clarification of several questions” and for “guarantees as to the stability, credibility and long-term perspectives” of the proposed new government (i.e., written documents signed by all parties involved in the new majority). When he finally accepted to swear in António Costa, he made a very critical speech in which he set boundaries to the policies the government was allowed to pursue, suggesting the government would be subject to constant presidential monitoring not so much in its institutional capacity, but truly in a sense that comprised political choices.

The question that remains after this episode in which the president is vehemently opposed to the political solution he had to empower, is this: would Cavaco Silva have behaved differently if he was not in the final six months of his term with his powers limited? Would he have behaved differently in there was not a question of the need of a new budget? Would he have behaved differently if he was in his first term with aspirations to be re-elected? All those circumstances must have weighted in the very peculiar situation in which presidents have their powers curtailed. If in full capacity, what would have been the outcome? It must be borne in mind that this example shows that disposing of a parliamentary majority is a facilitating condition for a government to emerge – and then to subsist – but its emergence must pass through a presidential decision – and the president may decide to try his luck if he dislikes the parliamentary majority. Cavaco Silva’s memoirs tell us a dramatic story which shows that there is room for interpretation of the presidential powers regarding the formation of a new government.

A few other comments can now be made. Some authors have referred to the existence of “weak powers” of the president, including under this heading the competence to appoint several public officers under governmental proposals. Cavaco Silva’s memoirs are very illuminating in this particular, as he had to deal with two appointments to the post of Prosecutor General and several top military ones. What emerges from his writings is a that a “methodology” exists – which was certainly present in other similar instances – by virtue of which the president and the prime minister agree to exchange views prior to a formal  governmental initiative (that is, before the constitutional prescriptions come into being), which in most cases consists of a proposal of up to three names from which the president can choose (or indeed reject). His descriptions of the processes leading up to the appointment of two Prosecutors General under different prime ministers shows that the principle is established and warrants presidents more than ceremonial roles, disposing of substantive capacity to influence the choice of top civil servants. The conclusion that emerges from these pages is certainly not one of “weak power”.

The last comment refers to the very last chapter of the second volume in which Cavaco Silva reflects on presidential powers. Arguing that he finds the constitutional powers to be well balanced with the fact that presidents are elected by universal suffrage, he nevertheless ventures to suggest six points that parliamentarians might take in consideration in future revisions of the constitution. Most of those points reinforce slightly the competences of the president without disturbing the overall distribution of powers, as would be the case if the president was given the power to appoint some members of the Constitutional Court or to enlarge the time limit for presidents to send legislation to that court in order to establish its conformity with the constitution, or even the power to appoint the governor of the Bank of Portugal upon a governmental proposal, and following a period of parliamentary vetting . One of Cavaco Silva’s suggestions, however, would significantly enhance presidential powers: he proposes that every legal diploma vetoed by the president should require a 2/3 majority in parliament to be overturned – a situation that occurs in a limited number of cases, and would, if extended, enlarge presidential powers and create a severe limitation to any parliamentary majority.

A final word on what appears to be a paradox. Cavaco Silva states time and again that presidential powers are adequate. On the other hand, he rejects any personal responsibility in the deterioration of the financial situation that took place after the onset of the global crisis of 2008-2009. Commenting on his very aggressive speech against the government in the inauguration of his second term (2011), he claims: “It was indeed a very incisive speech, growing out of my knowledge that the economic, social and financial situation of the country was very serious, and that there were errors in the economic policy of the government, which prime minister José Socrates resisted to change, despite my multiple warnings, both on the meetings that took place on Thursdays, and through the alerts I issued in several public interventions”. How can one be content with an array of competences that does not prevent the development and deepening of a very serious crisis in the country? Or is it the case that Cavaco Silva did not use all the presidential competences to guarantee the regular functioning of institutions beyond a mere formal analysis? Was he a prisoner of a parliamentarian understanding of the distribution of powers that the Portuguese Constitution attributes to the main political actors, neglecting the array of competences he had at his disposal? In the end, he contributed to bring down the minority government of Jose Socrates in 2011 not by taking any decisive action, but merely by speaking out his criticism that was welcome by all opposition parties which filed a non-confidence motion in parliament. The president watched this move in the comfort of Palácio de Belém,not intervening through a dissolution of parliament, the dismissal of the prime minister, nor even by sending a formal message to the parliament  . He simply used his public word – alas, quite a bit late.

Ukraine – Parliament Declares Martial Law

On Monday, November 26th, the Ukrainian parliament approved presidential decree “On Institution of Martial Law in Ukraine.” The measure was passed with 276 votes in favour during an extraordinary session of parliament. The decree was put forward by President Poroshenko on advice of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 23 sailors in Kerch Strait on Sunday.

Before the martial law was approved, the President was forced to compromise on a number of points. First, the initial decree requested that martial law be introduced for 60 days. Lawmakers only agreed to 30 days. It came into effect at 9am on November 28 and will be in place until December 27. Initial proposal also suggested that martial law would be introduced on the entire territory of Ukraine. But per the approved law, it will cover only 10 regions and territories along the Russian boarder, the Sea of Azov and the Black sea.

Second, lawmakers insisted on the relaxation of the proposed limits on the rights and freedoms of citizens. To reassure the citizens, the Parliament voted not to debate the martial law proposal in closed session but instead the debate was televised on national TV. On his website, the President insisted that the decree was proposed mainly as a security measure and assured that he did not intend any restrictions to citizens’ rights. The President also noted that neither partial nor full mobilization was envisioned unless the conflict escalates further.

Finally, during the Parliamentary session, lawmakers demanded assurances that introduction of martial law will not affect the holding of presidential elections early next year. Only 5 minutes after the Parliament voted in favour of martial law, it approved a law officially setting the date of the next presidential election for March 31, 2019.

These recent political events generated two main concerns. First, of course, comes the issue of security, territorial integrity, and independence of Ukraine. Russia has denied any wrong-doing. However, other countries and international organizations have supported Ukraine. During a press conference, NATO’s chief stated that “there is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and military personnel” and demanded that ships and sailors be immediately released. Concerns about what the attack and declaration of martial law could mean for the security in the region are high. President Poroshenko was careful to insist that “martial law does not mean declaring war. It is introduced with the sole purpose of boosting Ukraine’s defense in the light of a growing aggression from Russia.” He also noted that it did not mean that Ukraine either gave up or was not amenable to diplomatic solutions to the crisis, insisting that Ukraine will continue to comply with the Minsk agreement and all other international obligations.

Second, what impact will the introduction of martial law have on the political situation in the country, especially on the upcoming presidential elections? The opposition has accused the President of using martial law to divert public attention from his failing popularity. Some even expressed concerns that martial law will allow the possibility of postponing or cancelling the election complete. According to opinion polls, only 5-10 percent of citizens were ready to vote for him in the last couple of months. Less than 15 percent trusted the President. However, other presidential candidates have similar low levels of support and trust. For instance, 75 percent of those surveys did not trust Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the main candidates running for president next year.

The next couple of months will be critical for Ukraine and its President. On the one hand, it will be important to secure territorial integrity of the country and avoid escalation of the crisis. On the other hand, the President will need to ensure that he keeps his word and that free and fair elections do take place as scheduled on March 31, 2019. In the words of the recent Foreign Policy dispatch: “Martial law is a test. Will Ukraine’s democracy pass?”

Turkey – Is Erdoğan’s Competitive Authoritarian Regime Stable?

Christopher Carothers argues in his recent article “the Surprising Instability of Competitive Authoritarianism” that many competitive authoritarian (CA) regimes have not achieved stability over the past ten years.(1) The data suggest that only a small number of CA regimes seem stable; the rest either democratised or turned into fully authoritarian regimes. According to his observations, there are four factors leading to breakdown in CA regimes: losing elections (national, local/mayoral) due to poor electoral strategies; manipulated elections triggering massive public protests and anger; achieving successful election rigging but turning the regime fully authoritarian out of fear of rising opposition; and finally losing ideological legitimacy for their regime.

Turkey is an interesting case study testing all these theories. Upcoming local elections will be held on 31 of March, 2019 and current polls suggest that the ruling AKP’s vote share is around 34-35%. If the opposition wins mayoral elections in big cities like İstanbul, Ankara, and Kocaeli, this might not only create an electoral alternative as suggested by Carothers, but it would also cut the patrimonial ties controlled by municipal authorities. In the Turkish context understating neo-patrimonial relations as a source of de facto power for President Erdoğan and his party, the AKP, is important to grasp the dynamics of the Turkish regime. (2) Neo-patrimonialism sets hierarchical patronal relations based on transferring collective interests from the big patron to the loyal group in exchange for political loyalty.(3) The selective transfer of collective interests in the forms of public aid, power and even public service is mostly controlled by local authorities, which also possess knowledge about electors in their area. Losing local elections would cut those ties which are already beginning to be severed by the deepening economic crisis.

Allegations of election/referendum rigging have been voiced for quite some time in Turkey without massive public protests.(4) This can be seen especially in the 2017 constitutional referendum, which established a hyper-presidential legal ground for Erdoğan’s patrimonial CA regime. The Higher Election Board accepted unstamped ballots, despite the clear ban in law no. 298, art.10. Furthermore, the fear of massive public protests like the Gezi protests in 2013 pushed the Erdoğan regime into passing repressive laws and being more aggressive. For instance recently 13 liberal academics and human rights activists were arrested and accused of spreading and organizing the Gezi protests, which more than 3 million people attended. Freedom House data confirms Carother’s arguments that the regime is turning seemingly more authoritarian spreading fear among the public in case they decide to take streets again.

As for losing its ideological legitimacy, the AKP’s CA regime faces the same danger. President Erdoğan still claims that Turkey is a democratic and free country where people enjoy basic rights despite overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise. Erdoğan’s regime increasingly compensates for the weaknesses of this argument by turning to Islam as a source of legitimacy, especially at the local level however high corruption rates and patrimonial relations potentially damage the religion and its power as source legitimacy increasingly in divided Turkish society even though it is hard to measure its extent at the moment. Also Erdoğan’s regime has enjoyed performance legitimacy due to its good economic performance in the past. Nowadays high inflation and unemployment, lower economic growth and bad economic performance will test Erdogan regimes’ performance legitimacy.

In short, the immediate state of the Turkish regime points in a towards more authoritarian direction, however it will be very hard for the AKP regime to stabilise it in the long run.

Notes

  1. Christopher Carothers, “the Surprising Instability of Competitive Authoritarianism”, Journal of Democracy, vol.29/4, October 2018, p. 130.

2. Fatih Çağatay Cengiz, “Proliferation of Neopatrimonial Domination in Turkey”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2018. DOI: 10.1080/13530194.2018.15096938.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2018.1509693.

3. Gero Erdman, – Ulf Engel, “Neopatrimonialism Revisited – Beyond a Catch-All Concept”, Giga Working papers, no.16, 2006. P.20.
http://www.giga-hamburg.de/de/system/files/publications/wp16_erdmann-engel.pdf.

4. Koray Çalışkan, “Toward a New Political Regime in Turkey: From Competitive Toward Full Authoritarianism”, New Perspectives on Turkey, vol. 58,2018, p. 12-16.