Monthly Archives: December 2013

Holiday Quiz

Thanks to everyone for visiting the site since we started in October. It’s been a busy schedule. So, we are going to take a little time off from blogging. We will be back on Monday 6 January, 2014. However, we will be posting to the Facebook page throughout the holiday period.

Between now and then we are running a holiday quiz. At the top of this page, there are pictures of presidential residences from 14 different countries. Can you name them, starting with the top line and going from left to right?

We think this is pretty difficult. So, we are going to try to arrange a small prize if anyone can name them all. If more than one person gets all of them right, then we will have a tiebreaker.

If you want to enter the quiz, then the closing date is Friday 3 January at midnight GMT. Please feel free to post your answers as a comment here or contact me directly at

Good luck and, if you’re having them, then happy holidays.

Turkmenistan – Legislative election result released

The election of the deputies of the National Assembly of Turkmenistan took place on Sunday 15th December.  More than 90% of the Turkmen registered voters turned out to cast their votes in the first-ever multi-party election in the history of this post-Soviet country. The 125 members of the Parliament are elected for a 5-year term with majoritarian system in 125 single-mandate constituencies, each returning one deputy. In total, 283 candidates were competing for election. Candidates were regrouped in the Democratic Party, which has dominated the political scene of Turkmenistan since national independence in 1991, and in the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Beyond these two main parties, “independent” candidates were also running for the Organization of Trade Unions, the Women’s Union and the Youth Organization of Turkmenistan. As reported by the national Central Electoral Commission, the pro-presidential Democratic Party won 47 of 125 seats, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs won 14, and independent candidates won 64. Human rights and advocacy groups highlighted that all parties running in the election are loyal to the incumbent president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, thus hardly represented a genuine political choice for voters.

Turkmenistan is a presidential republic, with executive powers exerted by the government, led by the president. The current government is led by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which until today was the only party sitting in the Parliament along with independent representatives nominated by public associations. However, the Turkmen Parliament passed a new law on political parties in January 2012, introducing a multi-party system which attracted some international credibility and praise. Subsequently the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which Amnesty International described as a government’s ally rather than as a real contender to power, was established. Nevertheless, the new law is quite restrictive as it limits party membership to citizens permanently residing in Turkmenistan, requires that parties should have at least one thousand members, and prohibits parties to be formed on ethnic or religious grounds. Moreover, political parties are obliged to permit representatives of the Ministry of Justice to attend or take part in their activities, such as for example the party’s internal process of selection of candidates for elections.

Despite formally having a multi-party system, Turkmenistan’s credibility is questioned when it comes to its capability of engendering a genuine electoral and political competition. This is so not only because no political party seems to be willing to challenge Berdymukhamedov’s hegemony, but also because of the state monopoly over the media sector, where no private or independent media can be found, and the restricted access to civil liberties in the political sphere, which human rights groups describe as characterised by an “all-permeating fear”. Moreover, access to the Internet is very limited and state television remains the main source of information for the population.

Taiwan – Public support, corruption, and the President

A recent survey in Taiwan shows that even as the government has earned points across several measures capturing performance on human-rights and liberties– such as enhancing religious freedoms, electoral freedoms, and freedom of movement – it suffers on the issue of corruption control. On that front, the government received a score of 1.8 out of 5 – the lowest among the survey-questions – indicating substantial dissatisfaction with the government in the control of corruption.

What has this to do with the President? In particular, given that President Ma is constitutionally prohibited from running for another term, is public support a meaningful constraint on president’s agenda or powers?

In two regards, the answer is: Yes.

First, public support affects the legislative success of a president. In particular, studies show that presidents’ legislative success is highly tied to public satisfaction.[1] That is, legislatures are highly sensitive to public approval of the president in passing the president’s bills, so that a low public approval may signal a legislature’s greater willingness to challenge the president’s policy agenda. It is probably not surprisingly that legislators are even less constrained to toe the president’s lines when faced with a term-limited president in the final term. Thus, in terms of pushing his policy agenda, notwithstanding his final term as President, it behoves President Ma to pay attention to public approval and, correspondingly, the issues that engender public disapproval.

Second, the particular area of public disaffection – corruption – should also be a source of concern for the President. Corruption – defined as the failure to exercise impartiality of government authority [2] – has galvanized widespread protests in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia, and studies show that it is at the root of the Colored Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.[3] As an emergent democracy, Taiwan can ill-afford such protests that take time, effort, and other resources away from the key tasks of institution-building and policy-performance upon which political and social stability – not to mention democratic consolidation – rests.[4] Again, it behoves President Ma, who has seen his share of protests this year, to take clear steps in demonstrating efforts at controlling corruption to avert its potential to galvanize protests.

Interestingly, the survey was commissioned by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, whose current chair is Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng. That is the same Speaker embroiled in the ongoing and public political dispute with President Ma Jing-yeou since September, 2013, when the President moved to expel Wang from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party – which would also end Wang’s position as speaker – for alleged influence-peddling. Wang has won public sympathy as well as a court injunction against his ouster from the legislature, pending the outcome of his legal battle against the KMT’s decision to revoke his membership. In contrast, the President has seen his approval plummet as a result of the case, partly due to public suspicion of wiretapping used as evidence for the case, the President’s overstepping of constitutional separation of powers in Taiwan’s semi-presidential system, and Ma’s discharge of a rival.


Tajikistan – Parliament approves new government

The Tajik National Assembly approved the new government after the current President, Emomali Rahmon, was confirmed in office for the seventh time in last November’s presidential election. On Monday, the representatives of the President read before the Parliament the presidential decrees appointing the new Prime Minister, his deputies and ministers. According to the Tajik Constitution indeed, the government have to resign following every presidential election, in order to allow the newly elected President to form a new executive. However the resigned members have to fulfil their duties till a new government is appointed by the President. Thus, in November and December, Rahmon has replaced former ministers and appointed a new Prime Minister, whose powers however become effective after the national assembly’s approval. The Parliament endorsed the new government and the President’s new appointments by the majority of votes. Nine members of the Parliament’s Upper Chamber had to resign in order to take over their new governmental roles. Beyond being deputies of the National Assembly, some of them also hold positions in the business sectors or in the public administration. As reported by the Central Asian News Service, the new government consists of 22 members. This is the composition of the new government:

  1. Kohir Rasulzoda – Prime Minister;
  2. Saidov Davlatali Shomahmadovich – First Deputy Prime Minister;
  3. Murodali Alimardon – Deputy Prime Minister;
  4. Jabborova Marhabo Tuhtasunovna – Deputy Prime Minister;
  5. Azim Ibrokhim – Deputy Prime Minister;
  6. Mengliev Rustam Shomurodovich – Minister of Justice;
  7. Qosimov Qosim Rohbarovich – Minister of Agriculture;
  8. Rakhimov Ramazon Hamroevich – Minister of Interior Affairs;
  9. Aslov Sirodjidin Muhridinovich – Minister of Foreign Affairs;
  10. Saidov Nuriddin Saidovich – Minister of Education and Science;
  11. Tagoeva Sumangul Saidovna – Minister of Labour, Migration and Employment;
  12. Kurbonov Abdusalom Karimovich – Minister of Finance;
  13. Sherali Mirzo – Minister of Defense;
  14. Asoev Hairullo Asoevich – Minister of Transport;
  15. Sharif Rahimzoda – Minister of Economic Development and Trade;
  16. Salimov Nusratullo Faizulloevich – Minister of Health and Social Welfare;
  17. Orumbekov Shamsiddin Shodibekovich – Minister of Culture;
  18. Usmanov Usmonali Yunusalievich – Minister of Energy and Water Resources;
  19. Boboev Shavkat Boboradjabovich – Minister of Industry and New Technologies;
  20. Yatimov Saimumin Sattorovich – Chairman of the State Committee for National Security;
  21. Zokirov Mahmadtoir – Chairman of the State Committee for Land Management and Geodesy;
  22. Kodiri Qosim – Chairman of the State Committee for Investments and State Property Management.


Two grand coalitions formed – Austria and Germany

During the past week, Conservatives and Social Democrats in both Austria and Germany finally agreed on the formation on so-called ‘grand coalitions’. While a coalition of the two largest parties has been nothing new for Austria (since WWII both parties have only ever not been in a coalition between 1966-1986 and 2000-2006), in Germany it is only the third pairing of this kind since 1949 and the second since German unification in 1990. Nevertheless, the government formation process turned out to be lengthy not only in Germany, but also in Austria.

Seat distribution in the Austrian National Council and German

In Austria, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) have been the senior partner in a coalition with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) coalition since 2007. Both parties suffered losses in the elections and despite the announcement of the ÖVP to also hold talks with the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ; a coalition of ÖVP and FPÖ had resulted in international outrage in 1999/2000) a continuation of the grand coalition was the only practicable option. The main difficulties in the negotiations were not only policy differences between parties but also the budgetary deficit and the SPÖ’s insistence on a leading role (despite having won only 5 more seats than the ÖVP). In early December, ÖVP even appealed to President Heinz Fischer to ease coalition talks (a surprising step given the largely ceremonial role of the Austrian president and the fact that Fischer himself is a SPÖ member).

In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian counterpart, the Christian and Social Union (CSU), fell only four seats short of an absolute majority and it was thus clear that they would be part of the next coalition. After their previous junior coalition partner, the (economically & socially) liberal Free Democrats (FDP) failed to enter parliament, CDU/CSU held talks with both the Social Democrats (SPD; second largest party in parliament) and the Greens, yet eventually opted for coalition talks with the SPD. Here, too, the insistence of the CDU/CSU to impose their policy proved to be a hindrance, although the most controversial topic turned out to the – overall less significant – introduction of tolls on German motorways that would only apply to foreigners (a measure proposed by CSU chairman Seehofer). Eventually, the SPD moved to ask its 475,000 members for approval of the coalition treaty (the threat of which had allowed them pursue a two-level bargaining strategy and arguably push through more of their demands) which further lengthened the process. As 76% of voting members (70% turnout) voted for the coalition, the SPD emerges from the risky manoeuvre with new strength.

duration of government formation process_Austria_Germany
Source: Diermeier, D., P. Van Roozendaal.(1998) “The duration of cabinet formation processes in western multi-party democracies.” British Journal of Political Science 28.4: 609-626; own additions

In effect, coalition talks in both countries lasted much longer than the average of years past. In Germany, the formation took almost twice as long as the average duration of post-election government formations (and still 21 days longer than the formation of the last grand coalition in 2005). In Austria, the formation process only lasted a good three weeks longer than the post-WWII average (although it needs to be noted that the average in the last 20 years has been 82 days, so that the formation of the new government appears to have been accomplished slightly faster than this more recent average).

As shown below, the final distribution of ministries largely confirmed Gamson’s Law (the nominal under-representation of the SPÖ and CDU is balanced by the fact that their candidate becomes chancellor; the over-representation of the CSU as the smallest party also belongs to the known exceptions to the law). 

government party seat share and portfolio allocation

In Austria, the nomination of 27 year-old Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) as foreign minister came as a surprise to many (the ministry had previously been headed by ÖVP chairman and deputy chancellor Spindelegger who became finance minister). The fact that there will be no minister exclusively responsible for science and research has also prompted some discussion among and resistance from academics. In Germany, most speculations about ministerial nominees proved true (although parties waited with the official announcement until the SPD members’ vote on the coalition treaty had passed), the only real surprise being the nomination of the potential Merkel successors Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) as minister of defense. For a full list of cabinet members see below:

Chancellor: Werner Faymann (SPÖ, male, 53)
Deputy Chancellor/Finance: Michael Spindelegger (ÖVP, male, 53)
Family & Youth: Sophie Karmasin (ÖVP, female, 46)
Justice: Wolfgang Brandstetter (ÖVP, male, 56)
Foreign Affairs & Integration: Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP, male, 27)
Agriculture: Andrä Rupprechter (ÖVP, male, 49)
Economy & Science: Reinhold Mitterlehner (ÖVP, male, 58)
Interior: Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP, female, 49)
Social Affairs: Rudolf Hundstorfer (SPÖ, male, 63)
Education & Women: Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek (SPÖ, female, 52)
Infrastructure: Doris Bures (SPÖ, female, 51)
Defence: Gerald Klug (SPÖ, male, 45)
Health: Alois Stöger (SPÖ, male, 53)
Special tasks/Head of the Chancellor’s Office: Josef Ostermayer (SPÖ, male, 52)

Chancellor: Angela Merkel (CDU, female, 59)
Deputy Chancellor/Economy & Energy: Sigmar Gabriel (SPD, male, 54)
Foreign Affairs: Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD, male, 57)
Finance: Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU, male, 71)
Interior: Thomas de Maizere (CDU, male, 59)
Defence: Ursula von der Leyen (CDU, female, 55)
Labour: Andrea Nahles (SPD, female, 43)
Health: Herrman Gröhe (CDU, male, 52)
Justice & Consumer Protection: Heiko Maas (SPD, male, 47)
Family, Youth & Pensioners: Manuela Schwesig (SPD, female, 39)
Science & Research: Johanna Wanka (CDU, female, 62)
Environment: Barbara Hendricks (SPD, female, 61)
Infrastructure & Internet: Alexander Dobrindt (CSU, male, 43)
Foreign Aid: Gerd Müller (CSU, male, 58)
Agriculture: Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU, male, 56)
Special tasks/Head of the Chancellor’s Office: Peter Altmeier (CDU, male, 55)

Chile – Michelle Bachelet wins Presidency

Michelle Bachelet, of the Partido Socialista (PS) and Nueva Mayoría alliance, has emerged as the winner of yesterday’s presidential run-off race against Evelyn Matthei of the right-leaning Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). A recent poll from Ipsos and the University of Santiago estimated that Bachelet commanded support from 63.7 per cent of the electorate, in comparison to just 36.3 per cent for Matthei. With nearly 92 per cent of ballots counted, Michelle Bachelet currently has 62.32 per cent of the national vote.

With penalties for not voting abolished, turnout for the run-off race, at 5,174,624, was even lower than the first round of the election, thereby depriving Bachelet of a commanding mandate for change. Nonetheless, Bachelet and her new government will now press forward with major education reform together with an increase in corporate tax from 20 to 25 per cent. However, proposed constitutional changes, and a pledge to reform Chile’s infamous binomial electoral system, will prove very difficult for the new president.

Significantly, for the wider region, Sunday’s election was the first ever presidential run-off race in Latin America where both candidates were women. Michelle Bachelet re-joins the growing list of women who have been elected to the presidency across the region: Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina), Mireya Moscoso (Panama) and Violeta Chamorro (Nicaragua).[1]

In a region noted for its culture of machismo, this is an important, albeit gradual, change. A number of Latin American countries have adopted gender quotas to increase women’s participation in politics. In 1991, Argentina was the first country to do so, introducing legislation, which stipulated that women had to comprise at least 30 per cent of the list positions on party ballots for legislative elections. Thirteen other Latin American countries followed suit and adopted similar laws stipulating gender quotas for legislative elections.

Recent research has demonstrated that while gender quotas have notably increased women’s representation in elected office, they have done little to address the marginalization of women in mass political participation across the region.[2] Latin America still has a very long way to go to address long-standing and entrenched gender inequalities.

In Chile, Michelle Bachelet will assume residency of the Palacio de la Moneda next March.

[1] Rosalia Arteaga also served as interim president of Ecuador for two days in February 1997. Lidia Gueiler Tejada was interim president of Bolivia from 1979 to 1980. Isabel Perón, the first ever woman president in Latin America, assumed office following the death of her husband Juan Domingo Perón in 1974. None of these women were directly elected to the office of the president.

[2] See Leslie Schwindt-Bayer (2012) ‘Gender Quotas and Women’s Political Participation in Latin America,’ available at

Libya – The Repercussions of Political Instability

Voices of concern are growing rapidly over Libyan instability. During the past few months, it has become readily apparent that the failure to draft a constitution and hold legislative elections as scheduled, thereby providing the post-Qadhafi political system with a measure of popular legitimacy and political clout, has had serious negative implications not only for Libya, but also much further afield.

The inability to craft and consolidate strong political institutions is arguably the crux of the matter. Several critics[1] contended that it was much too soon for the Libyan electorate to head to the polls in parliamentary elections already in July 2012, that is, barely a year after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, which paved the way for the legalization of political parties for the first time in more than forty years.[2] However, concerned with the institutional vacuum in the country, domestic and international actors alike were keen to see competitive elections take place as soon as possible. The hope was that a popularly elected parliament, a so-called ‘government of national unity’, and a cabinet free from members with ties to the ancien régime would assist in bringing political stability to Libya following the civil war.

Judging on the basis of recent events, it appears the critics were right to warn against hasty voting. While Libya now has an elected parliament, this institution enjoys very little legitimacy, whether amongst the electorate or various rebel groups – democracy is certainly not ‘the only game in town’ and Linz and Stepan (1996) have so famously phrased it. Ever since the elections of July 2012, parliament has been marred by inefficiency. First there was Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur’s inability to form a government, which led to his dismissal following a vote of no confidence and the appointment of current Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.[3] Lately, the elephant in the room has been the drafting of the new constitution scheduled for 2013 along with a new round of parliamentary elections. With significant segments of society boycotting the committee tasked with drafting the new constitutions, the country’s democratization process has again come to a halt.[4] With each incident like this, the newly forged democratic institutions, including the very feeble political parties and the de facto head of state and president of the General National Congress (Nouri Abusahmain), haemorrhage what little legitimacy they have, a reality which, in turn, contributes further to political instability as other non-democratic actors step in either to fill their shoes or provide an alternative vision of how politics should be conducted, and much of the country remains in a state of lawlessness, effectively being ruled by various militias, including some state-affiliated and Islamist groups.[5]

Particularly the latter have been of concern to the international community. The attack by militant Islamists on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya in late 2012 became a considerable problem for President Obama in the run-up to the American presidential elections that year. Reflecting U.S. concern with the direction in which things are going in Libya, the Defense Department pledged support to the North African states, most notably Libya, in building up and/or strengthening their police and military forces.[6] This move was undoubtedly welcomed not only by Libya, whose prime minister recently called for international support[7], but also by the neighbouring countries as Islamist militants opposing the regimes in Algeria and Tunisia have found harbour on the Libyan side of the border, and with Niger’s president warning only this week that ‘Libya risks becoming like Somalia’.[8]


Linz, Juan and Alfred Stepan (1996) Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


[5] For a brief overview of the militias, please refer to

Venezuela – Mixed Result for Maduro and PSUV in Municipal Elections

On Sunday December 8th, Venezuela held local elections for 335 municipalities and two metropolitan districts. These elections were widely touted, at least by the major opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), as a plebiscite on the rule of Nicolás Maduro and public support for the ‘Bolivarian Revolution.’ The results were not as damning for Maduro and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) as the opposition might have hoped.  The PSUV and their allies won over 49 per cent of the total vote, with the MUD  (and allies) claiming 43 per cent, and independents accounting for the remaining votes. This means that, according to the latest count from the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the PSUV now hold power in 196 municipalities, in comparison to 53 municipalities controlled by MUD.[1]

However, this is not to suggest that all is rosy for President Maduro. Although support in the rural strongholds of the PSUV held steadfast, the urban support base of the party has clearly been diluted. The MUD now controls seven of 23 state capitals, including: Maracaibo (Zulia state), Valencia (Carabobo state), Iribarren (Lara state), San Cristóbal (Táchira state), Barinas, the hometown of Hugo Chávez, (Barinas state), and the capital Caracas, where the incumbent mayor, Antonio Ledezma, just held on.

Without a doubt, the erosion of this urban support for the PSUV partly lies in Maduro’s economic woes. Despite his recently passed ‘Enabling Law,’ Maduro has failed to tame inflation, now at 54 per cent. With price controls across the economy doing little to address the problem, diminishing support for the PSUV in the big cities is clearly related to the traditional aversion of the urban middle and (formal sector) working classes in Latin America to price instability.[2]

This election also clearly highlights the continuing polarization of the Venezuelan electorate and political classes. The opposition have raised questions about the extent of electoral malpractice during these elections. Vicente Díaz, a member of the board of CNE, denounced the government abuse of state media to undermine the opposition. The government deny this.

Finally, if the considerable levels of political polarization in Venezuela have any positives, it is probably the increased political participation it drives. Turnout on Sunday was over 59 per cent, a rather impressive figure for municipal elections anywhere.

[1] Up from 46 municipalities in 2008.

[2] See Andy Baker (2010) The Market and the Masses in Latin America: Policy Reform and Consumption in Liberalizing Economies, Cambridge University Press, for an excellent discussion on the importance of inflation for the Latin American electorate.   

Latvia – President Berzins and the difficulties of forming a new government

On 27 November, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned from office taking the political responsibility for the collapse of a supermarket roof which killed 54 people. Since then, president Andris Bērziņš has played a surprisingly active role in forming a new government, yet until now with little success.

The resignation of Valdis Dombrovskis, who has headed three different cabinets since March 2009 (his most recent coalition of three-party centre-right parties had been in office since October 2011) [1], came as a surprise to many observers and was met with criticism from commentators and fellow members of government. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the tragedy some had blamed his government for loosening building regulations and thus being indirectly responsible for the tragedy. Dombrovskis’ justification for his resignation (“Latvia needs to have a government that will supported by the Saeima majority and deal with the current situation in the nation”), however, highlights another, likely more important factor for his resignation. Only two weeks earlier and following a number of conflicts within the coalition, Dombrovskis refused to dismiss a disgraced party member of his coalition partner VL-TB/LNNK (National Alliance) from the position as Justice Minister. While the the National Alliance’s other representative remained in cabinet, the coalition was effectively terminated and the government has been without a clear majority since.

Latvian president Andris Bērziņš | photo via wikimedia commons

President Bērziņš put pressure on parties to quickly form a new government, yet until now he appears to be a hindrance to the process himself. The Latvian Constitution leaves the president much leeway in appointing a prime minister, yet the established practice has been that the president plays a purely formal role in confirming the outcome of party negotiations. President Bērziņš has taken a different approach by becoming actively involved in the search of a new prime minister (and it is even rumored that it was him who put pressure on Dombrovskis to resign). All four centre-right parties in parliament (i.e. the three coalition parties + Bērziņš’ own ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ which together command 63% of seats) have vowed to work together in a new coalition government but have not started negotiations yet. Despite being the largest party in parliament, the left-wing ‘Harmony Centre’ is unlikely to be included in any coalition (both due to the policy distance and its identification with the country’s Russian minority) and the four centre-right parties thus present the only viable option for a majority government.

Dombrovskis’ ‘Unity’ Party has proposed three possible candidates who were all rejected by president Bērziņš on the basis that they were not the ‘strongest possible candidates’. He has also turned down the candidates of his own party and of the National Alliance, although no specific reasons were made public. On the other hand, both candidates suggested by the president – EU Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and speaker of parliament Solvita Aboltina – declined to take on the role. 

Bērziņš’ activism is not only interesting in so far as it deviates from established political practice, but also because his predecessor, Valdis Zatlers, failed to be re-elected after confronting the government about its refusal to lift the immunity of an MP accused of corruption (thus illustrating that indirectly elected presidents are very much agents of the assembly rather than independent actors). It is possible – but in now way confirmed – that Bērziņš is trying to forge a stronger cooperation between his ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ (which was part of Dombrovskis’ second cabinet from November 2010 to October 2011) and the other parties in order to ensure his own re-election in 2015.

The parties’ patience with the president is likewise noteworthy, yet the reasons seem to be more straightforward. First and foremost, the 2014 budget has already been passed meaning that the current government can still fulfill its duties. As Bērziņš appears to prefer a political rather than technocratic cabinet (although he has not outright rejected ‘Harmony Centre’s suggestion to form one), coalition parties also do not have to fear to be excluded from the spoils of office any time soon. Furthermore, elections to the European Parliament will take place in May and the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2014. As all centre-right parties can be expected to fare worse than in previous elections and because amendments to the budget are not possible for the time being (meaning that there is no potential for pork barrels), parties are naturally not too eager to join a new government whose duty it would be to merely continue the increasingly unpopular policies of its predecessor.

In the short term, this situation plays in favour of the president and parties might eventually even be quite content to be able to leave the choice of successor for Dombrovskis to the president. Should the 2014 parliamentary elections produce an unclear majority situation, Bērziņš might again play a crucial role in assembling a new (centre-right) government. However, he still runs the risk of becoming too involved and being replaced with a candidate promising to be less active come re-election.

[1] Sikk, Allan (2011) Baltic Governments 1990-2011.

For further background on the Latvian political landscape in the wake of the supermarket tragedy see: Cianetti, Licia. 2013. ‘The Latvian government after the Riga supermarket tragedy has exposed deep divisions in the country’s political system’. LSE EUROPP Blog 10/12/2013.

South Korea – Presidential powers amid opposition boycotts

President Park Geun-hye may have her work cut out for her: the failure of the government to pass a legislative bill for three months between September and December, culminating in the delayed passage of the budget bill for the 11th consecutive year, highlights the effectiveness of the opposition to challenge and even upend the government’s agenda.

The main opposition party – the Democratic Party – had boycotted parliamentary proceedings for 101 days since September over the role of the National Intelligence Service in the 2012 presidential elections. The DP returned briefly to the legislature in November but has continued to periodically boycott the Assembly.

President Park’s response has been two-fold. On the one hand, her government has extended conciliatory gestures towards the opposition. Thus, for instance, the ruling Saenuri party has agreed to opposition demands to install special committees to reform the National Intelligence Service and local elections respectively, in order to return the main opposition party, the Democratic Party, to parliamentary proceedings and out of its boycott of the legislature. The President’s budgetary speech to the National Assembly in November – decked in blue, the Blue House color and also the main opposition party’s official color – also promised compromise with the opposition.

On the other hand, the President has pressed ahead with senior official appointments over the objections of the opposition while her government is looking for ways to temper the National Assembly Advancement law. The Assembly Advancement Law, approved in 2012 and operative this year, requires a three-fifth majority to bring bills from standing committees to the plenary, and limits the Assembly Speaker’s ability to bring a bill to passage to three situations: national disasters, wartime conditions, or with agreement between the ruling and opposition parties. While this has limited the ability of the ruling party to bulldoze the opposition – and, consequently, reduced the physical altercations in the parliament that often followed ruling-opposition party clashes over legislative railroading – the ruling party has also been stymied in its efforts to legislate, as the no-legislation-in-3-months condition illustrates.

If approval ratings provide any indication, President Park’s mixed approach is the way to go. In particular, approval ratings taken a week after the failed three-way talks with leaders of ruling and opposition parties showed the President with over 60 percent approval, and with more respondents blaming the opposition for the legislative stalemate than the President or the President’s party.

The foreign press was quick to label President Park as Korea’s Iron Lady when she was elected in 2012. Perhaps President Park’s two-fold approach is better captured by the Asian open-hand-over-closed-fist approach: trained and able to fight but would prefer not to.