Monthly Archives: March 2014

Slovakia – Independent Andrej Kiska wins presidential elections, turbulent times ahead

On Saturday 29 March Slovakia held the second round of presidential election. After Prime Minister Robert Fico had still emerged as the winner of the first round, he was now clearly defeated by independent candidate Andrej Kiska. As Kiska lacks both political experience and a support base in parliament, conflicts between the president and other institutions appear to be inevitable.

Results 1st and 2nd round Slovak presidential elections2

Robert Fico’s bad performance in the first round had already come as a surprise as all polling firms had predicted at least a 10% lead for the Prime Minister. No polls for the second round were made public, yet the fact that candidates from the political right (including Kiska) claimed the majority of the vote in the first round made Kiska’s victory over Fico (leader of of the leftist SMER-SD) more likely.

The two weeks leading up to Saturday’s election were largely characterised by Fico’s aggressive and negative campaigning. He and his team repeatedly raised accusations that Kiska was a member of (or had at least close contact to) Scientology in a bid to win over conservative voters and tried to shed doubt on Kiska’s business success. At the same time, Fico tried to present himself as an internationally recognised and experienced candidate with the backing of Czech president Zeman, French president Hollande and European Parliament speaker Schulz to highlight Kiska’s lack of political experience. He even tried to increase his appeal with ethnic Hungarian voters by putting up bilingual billboards. However, in 2009 Fico and his then-coalition partner, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), had mobilised voters to elect president Ivan Gašparovič for a second term by telling them ‘not to let the Hungarians elect their president’. It is therefore questionable how successful this move was but it can defintely be interpreted as a sign of desperation on Fico’s part.

Andrej Kiska, an entrepreneur and philantropist, on the other hand stayed relatively uncontroversial. The direct confrontation with Fico in several TV debates demonstrated that he is less eloquent than the experienced Prime Minister, yet this might have rather added to his appeal as a true outsider (previous presidents Schuster and Gašparovič had officially run as independent candidates yet were both still leaders of their own parties during the campaign). Kiska also managed to receive the official (albeit less than whole-hearted) backing of the third- and fourth-placed candidates from the first round, Radoslav Procházka and Milan Kňažko. 

In the end, the second round drew 290,000  (7%) more voters to the polls, yet it was mostly Kiska who profited from this. He could almost triple his absolute number of votes, whereas Fico failed to even double his number of votes from the first round. Fico only received a majority of votes in the strongholds of his party SMER-SD, yet these electoral districts also tended to be those with the lowest turnout.

The question is now how – to use one of Kiska’s campaign slogans – ‘the first independent president’ will change the politics of the presidential office once he is inaugurated on 15 June. At the moment, a scenario similar to the clashes and conflicts between president Schuster and Prime Minister Dzurinda in 1999-2004 seems most likely. Even though Schuster had been the government candidate, he cut all ties with his party (which participated in the government until 2002) and started to challenge the government and almost every occasion. Lacking a parliamentary support base (and thus bargaining weight vis-a-vis parliament and government), Schuster soon became isolated and resorted to his veto power with unprecedented frequency.

Kiska faces similar problems: He has never held a political office before and maintains no affiliation with any party. While the latter might allow him to garner support from a wider range of right-of-centre parties, the fragmentation of the political right in Slovakia will make it difficult for him to build alliances. Given the limited powers of the Slovak presidency, Kiska will have problems to implement his electoral promises and is thus limited to highlight his policy positions by returning bills to the assembly where – at least until the 2016 parliamentary elections – his vetoes will inevitably be overturned by the absolute majority of Fico’s SMER-SD government.

More information about the elections is available on the website of the Slovak Statistical Office (in English):

New publications

Steffen Ganghof, ‘Is the ‘Constitution of Equality’ Parliamentary, Presidential or Hybrid?’, Political Studies, early view, doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.12124.

Josep Colomer ‘Elected Kings with the Name of Presidents. On the origins of presidentialism in the United States and Latin America’, Revista Lationamericana de Politica Comparada 7 (2013), pp. 79-97. Available at:

Manuel Guțan, ‘Romanian Semi-Presidentialism In Historical Context’, Romanian Journal Of Comparative Law, Volume 3 (issue 2) 2012, pp. 275-303.

Štěpán Drahokoupil, ‘Reflections on the current political crisis in the Czech Republic: The introduction of direct presidential elections and the operation of a semi-presidential system’,

Štěpán Drahokoupil, ‘Appointing a government under the shadow of an institutional controversy over the role of the president’, available at:

In Asian Survey (vol.  54, no. 1, 2014), there are annual reviews on politics in 2013 for the following countries with presidents: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste

In Electoral Studies (vol.  34, no. 1, 2014) there are election reports on presidential and/or parliamentary elections in the following countries with presidents: Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Chile, Ecuador, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Nicaragua, Romania, South Korea, and Venezuela!

Jacques Gerstlé and Raul Magni Berton (eds.), 2012, La campagne présidentielle: L’observation des médias, des électeurs et des candidats, Paris: L’Harmattan/Pepper, 2014.

Special issue of Est-Europa with annual reviews on politics in 2012 for the following countries with presidents (in French): Albania, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, and Slovenia. Plus, there is a colloquium on the introduction of the direct election of the president in the Czech Republic and a comparison with France. Available at:

Marshall Islands – A question of confidence

President of Marshall Islands, Christopher Loeak, last week survived his second motion of no confidence in six months. In this case, the opposition brought forward the motion on the grounds that the government had ignored proper process in its attempt to appoint Jamil el-Sayed, a Lebanese national, as its representative to UNESCO. Specifics aside, the incident raises numerous interesting questions about the nature of presidential politics in Marshall Islands, and the Pacific region more generally.

The Marshallese constitution is commonly known as a ‘hybrid’ of Westminster and Presidential systems. In reality, however, it is more Westminster or Parliamentary than it is Presidential with the President – who is also the head of state – elected by parliament and answerable to it for all government decisions. Should a motion of no confidence – passed by a simple majority on the floor of parliament – be successful then the President is deemed to have tendered their resignation.[i] Historically, this has meant that both the Speaker and the judiciary have had a significant influence on when these motions are brought forward and the procedures by which they are resolved.

What regular readers of this blog will note is that in definitional terms the Marshallese constitution does not quite fit the established typologies. In a broad sense we might call it a Semi-Presidential system but with the added feature that the functions usually ascribed to either the President or the Prime Minister are effectively undertaken by the same person. In practice, however, the Marshallese system works in much the same way as a Westminster system does, thus begging the question of whether, aside from the name of the office, it is really Presidential at all.

Definitions aside, one of the interesting features of this type of arrangement is that while, in theory, the standard Westminster formula allows political parties to guarantee the executive numbers on the floor of the house, in practice the opposite often occurs. The main reason is that while political parties exist in the Marshall Islands, they have tended to function as loose blocs rather than institutionalised machines. When combined with the relatively small size of the Marshallese Nitijela [parliament] – it has 33 members – a decision by a few parliamentarians to switch sides can bring down the government whose position is perpetually precarious.

The Marshallese experience is not unique as this feature of political life is common to both standard Westminster and hybrid constitutional systems across the Pacific. Indeed, Marshall Islands is relatively stable when compared with neighbouring Nauru, which has similar constitutional arrangements, where more than a dozen successful motions of no confidence have resulted in changes of President since independence in 1968.

To solve this instability, several countries have attempted to introduce legislation that stops MPs crossing the floor. However, it remains to be seen whether this will increase stability, as, in some cases, these mechanisms have been deemed unconstitutional. What does seem certain, however, is that the regularity of these no-confidence events will continue to sharpen calls across the region for constitutional reform that either alters Westminster to suit the Pacific context or ushers in full Presidential regimes.

[i] Stege, K. 2009. “Marshall Islands.” In Pacific Ways: Government and Politics in the Pacific Islands, ed. S Levine, pp. 112-120. Wellington: Victoria University Press.

Senegal – Towards a new constitution?

The National Commission for Institutional Reform (Commission Nationale pour la Réforme des Institutions – CNRI) submitted its report to President Macky Sall on February 13, 2014. Unexpectedly, the commission headed by former Unesco director general, former minister of culture and university professor Amadou Mahtar Mbow, presented a complete new draft constitution to go with the report. The 154-article long CNRI draft constitution received mixed reactions and less than a warm welcome from President Sall’s party, the APR, which claims the CNRI overstepped its mandate. The APR notably opposes the constitutional provision that would inhibit the president from retaining the chairmanship of his party.

Other constitutional changes contained in the CNRI draft constitution (which maintains a semi-presidential system) include:

  • Reduction in the duration of the presidential mandate from seven to five years; a two-term limit is maintained.
  • An age limit of 70 years for presidential candidates [there was no upper age limit before – and former President Wade was well past 70 when he ran for his last mandate].
  • The interdiction of any direct family members of an incumbent president to succeed him/her [a direct stab at Wade and his son Karim].
  • If the presidential and parliamentary majorities differ, the president must appoint a prime minister from a list of three candidates submitted by the parliamentary majority; and the power to determine national policy and to initiate legislation shifts to the prime minister – an interesting innovation aimed at governing situations of cohabitation.
  • Reduction in the legislative majority required to override a presidential veto from three fifths of the members of parliament to a simple majority.
  • Limitations to the president’s power to dissolve parliament.
  • A cap on the size of the cabinet at 25 ministers, and
  • A three term-limit for deputies.

The CNRI was mandated by President Sall to make recommendations aimed at improving institutional functioning, consolidating democracy, deepening the rule of law and modernizing Senegal’s political regime. The CNRI has its origins in the Assises nationales, a one-year long consultative process, from May 2008 to June 2009, conducted by parties and civil society organizations in opposition to then President Abdoulaye Wade, and headed by none other than Prof. Mbow. President Wade’s party refused to participate in the consultations that went ahead nevertheless and produced a somber evaluation of the socio-political-cultural development of Senegal and a Charter for Democratic Governance (Charte de gouvernance démocratique) that outlines the signatories’ vision and aspirations.

Many of the specific constitutional changes included in the CNRI draft constitution are outlined as aspirations for a truly democratic constitution in the Charter produced by the Assises nationales.  As one of the original signatories of the Charter, Macky Sall should perhaps not have been surprised by Prof. Mbow’s bold initiative.

President Sall – who was backed by a large opposition coalition with roots in the Assises nationales – has remained remarkably silent on the proposed draft constitution.

The Maldives – Parliamentary election

The Maldives held parliamentary elections on Saturday. These were ‘honeymoon’ elections in that they followed relatively closely after the presidential election that was finally finished on 16 November. At the presidential election, Abdulla Yameen was victorious. He represents the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The final results have not yet been confirmed, but reliable results seem to be available here. They show the following:

  • Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – 34 seats
  • Jumhoory Party (JP) – 16 seats
  • Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – 5 seats
  • Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) – 24 seats
  • Independents – 5 seats
  • Adhaalath Party (AP) – 1 seat

President Yameen’s PPM party should be able to rely on the support of its coalition partners, the Jumhoory Party (JP) and the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA). This would give the president the support of at least 55 seats in the 85-seat legislature. The opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) gained only 24 seats.

The PPM, JP and MDA had previously agreed to distribute candidates in the different single-member constituencies so as to maximise the chances of defeating the MDP. So, even though members of parliament do cross the floor, the likelihood is that the result of the election should provide President Yameen with a strong working majority. That said, the Jumhoory Party (JP) was involved in a last-ditch attempt to delay the election. Moreover, independent PPM candidates stood in some constituencies reserved for the JP and vice versa. So, there are tensions within the coalition.

The Islamist Adhaalath Party (AP) had supported President Yameen in the second ballot of last year’s election, but has since broken with the President and the PPM party.

International observers have welcomed aspects of the election, but have also expressed concerns about other elements. In the days before the election, the Supreme Court dismissed members of the Electoral Commission, putting itself in opposition to the parliament. In addition, there are reports of vote buying. There are also problems of political communication and voter eligibility.

The Philippines – Political parties and Presidential power

Vice president Jejomar Binay recently left his party of 30 years, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), to form a new party in preparation for his run at the 2016 presidential elections. VP Binay was a member of the Laban (Laban ng Bayan) Party when it was headed by former senator Benigno Aquino. The Laban Party joined forces with the Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas (PDP) in 1986, and has enjoyed significant electoral success – winning the presidency under Corazon Aquino in 1986 – as well as lacklustre performance – in the last 2013 elections, it won one seat in the Senate and 2 of the 231 seats in the House.

With VP Binay’s departure from the PDP-Laban, the party has announced that it will leave the main opposition coalition, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). The UNA was an electoral alliance formed in part with VP Binay’s support as national chair of PDP-Laban. However, PDP-Laban President Senator Aquilino Pimentel III was opposed to the coalition and did not run under the UNA banner for his senatorial seat but, instead, under the administration’s Team PNoy, which he successfully secured.

The situation with the PDP-Laban and the UNA underscores changeability in political parties in the Philippines and renews the question: how does this changeability affect presidential power and policy performance in the country? The answer – discussed at greater length below – is not hopeful: the changeability undermines programmatic political development and fails to displace personalistic money-centric politics.

Studies identify at least three fundamental roles for political parties:[1] (1) as vehicles to mobilize support for elections; (2) as a political pillar encapsulating regularized patterns, such as programmatic political contestation rather than personalistic politics or candidate-centered politics; and (3) undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance.

Do political parties perform as vehicles to mobilize support for elections in the Philippines? On the one hand, thus far, presidential candidates have continued to run under party labels; on the other hand, it is debatable if this represents a rallying under political parties or if political parties are rallying around strong candidates. Thus, for instance, the 2013 elections for the senate are not necessarily indicative of political party performance as much as Team Pnoy’s success.

Are political parties in the Philippines encapsulating regularized patterns? The answer to this is less ambiguous than the previous: studies show that political trust remains low in the Philippines, and the electorate remains sceptical of political institutions and representatives of Congress, Senate, and political parties.[2]

Do political parties undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance? As the PDP-Laban and UNA situation indicate, and the rebuilding of the Liberal Party under President Aquino III suggest, political parties are still working out their coalescence. While this process is underway, executive-legislative relations continue to ride on personalistic relations. This means that successful policymaking generally carries high transaction costs.

Clearly, political party institutionalization in the Philippines will benefit the country in the immediate term and the long run. There is reason for hope: as executives and legislators become increasingly cognizant of the significant political and social costs in running personalistic campaigns and as the anticorruption efforts deepen, the trends will converge towards greater institutionalization.

Kyrgyzstan – President Atambaev to support new government coalition

On Tuesday the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Jantoro Satybaldiev, and his government were forced to resign after the withdrawal of the Fatherland Party (Ata Meken) from the ruling coalition. The government had been in office since September 2012. Despite being the smallest of parliament’s factions, Ata Meken’s support was crucial to Saybaldiyev’s majority bloc and, after accusing Satybaldiev of corruption and misappropriation of public funds, it left the governmental coalition.

On Thursday, President Almazbek Atambaev met with representatives of the parliamentary factions to urge them to form a new parliamentary majority, the first step towards the establishment of a new government. President Atambaev gave the mandate to form a new parliamentary majority within three weeks to the SDPK faction leader, Chynybay Tursunbekov. According to the Constitution, if the Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament) fails to elect a new premier, the president can disband it and call an early election.

Jantoro Satybaldiyev, the former Prime Minister, is a technocrat and presented himself as a non-partisan political personality. He has been a key figure in talks with Canada’s Centerra Gold, Kyrgyzstan’s main foreign investor, during negotiations to form a new joint-venture to develop the Kumtor gold mine near the border with China. Satybaldiev was blamed for not resolving the problems surrounding the gold mine, in which the Kyrgyz government has been seeking to gain a greater stake throughout the negotiation. He has rejected the opposition’s calls to nationalise the mine, which alone accounts for nearly 8 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s economic output, 24 percent of industrial production and 36 percent of all exports last year. Last February, the Parliament gave the government up to four months to complete a draft deal with Centerra Gold on forming a new, 50-50 joint venture, a task which was never completed. Beyond accusing the former Prime Minister of negotiating not at the benefit of Kyrgyzstan, Ata Meken and other political factions accused him of misappropriation of state and foreign funds when he headed the State Directorate for Reconstruction and Development of Osh and Jalal-Abad between July 2010 and December 2011. The Directorate was in charge of reconstruction work in the southern part of the country, which was recovering from the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010 and ethnic conflict.

In the last decade, Kyrgyzstan has twice experienced popular disorders leading to the ouster of the President. In 2005, the ‘Tulip revolution’ overthrew President Akayev and his government and in 2010 the same fate befell President Bakiyev. This last event was followed by increased ethnic tension involving Kyrgyz people and Uzbeks in the south of the country, notably in Osh and Jalal-Abad. The violence ultimately led to a constitutional referendum, which established a more balanced form of semi-presidentialism.

Serbia – Will the outcome of the snap election affect intra-executive politics?

A snap general election was held in Serbia on March 16th. President Nikolic’s Serbian Progressive Party obtained a strong parliament majority and its current leader, Aleksandar Vucic, is sure to secure the prime minister position. The snap election could also affect the intra-executive relation between the president and the new prime minister, due to the latter’s extensive authority over the government and ruling party.

According to the results reported by the National Electoral Commission based on nearly all votes counted, four electoral lists passed the 5% threshold necessary to get into parliament:

  • SNS (Serbian Progressive Party) – led coalition: 48.34% of the vote and 158 seats
  • SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia) – led coalition: 13.15% of the vote and 44 seats
  • DS (Democratic Party) – 6.04% of the vote and 19 seats
  • New Democratic Party – 5.71% of the vote and 18 seats

Three parties of ethnic minorities will also be represented in the parliament:

  • Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM) – 2.11% of the vote and 6 seats
  • Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Sandzak – 0.95% of the vote and 3 seats
  • Party for Democratic Action-Riza Halimi – 0.68 % of the vote and 2 seats

The snap election was called by the Progressive Party, less than two years after the last general election held in July 2012. The SNS-led coalition topped the polls in 2012 and obtained 73 seats in the 250-seat parliament. However, the prime minister position went to Ivica Dacic, the leader of the Socialist Party. With 44 seats in the parliament, SPS emerged as the kingmaker of the election, as plans for a Grand Coalition between the Progressives and Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party holding 67 seats in the parliament fell through. What followed was a year of political speculation about the timing of the next snap election that would allow the SNS to improve its parliamentary support and to secure the prime minister position.

In the meantime, Aleksandar Vucic, the SNS deputy PM and Ivica Dacic’s main challenger for the prime ministership, strengthened his position within the cabinet and his party. Due to a very active anti-corruption campaign, which drew wide public support and weakened his political opponents, Vucic emerged as the most powerful and popular minister in the Serbian cabinet. The Progressives were also able to capitalize on the government’s popularity, which increased as a result of the successful conclusion of the Serbia-Kosovo agreement, the organisation of local elections in Northern Kosovo in November 2013, and the official start of EU accession talks in January 2014.

There are concerns that Aleksandar Vucic, who does not necessarily have to share power in a coalition government, might use his party’s outright parliamentary majority to strengthen his personal hold over the society. Moreover, his tight grip over the Progressive Party could also reduce the president’s influence over the political system.

Although the presidency enjoys few constitutional powers, Serbian presidents have maintained a relatively high profile in national politics. One reason for their influence over the political system is related to the authority they have preserved over their former parties. 

For example, under the leadership of Boris Tadic, the Democratic Party succeeded to win both presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004 and returned to power following the 2007 and 2008 general elections. In 2012, Tadic resigned as head of state ten months before the end of his term so that concurrent presidential and parliamentary elections would allow the Democrats to capitalize on his coattails. His defeat in the presidential run-off by Tomislav Nikolić, the SNS candidate, played an important role in the Socialist Party’s decision to drop their coalition with the Democrats in favour of a coalition with Nikolic’s Progressives.

Tomislav Nikolic contested the 2012 presidential contest as a de facto leader of the Progressive Party, which broke away from the Serbian Radical Party in 2008 under his leadership. However, he is unlikely to preserve his authority over the party in the face of Aleksandar Vucic, who succeeded him as party president. Vucic ran unopposed for the leadership position in September 2012. To strengthen his legitimacy as a de facto party leader, he was unanimously reconfirmed as party president at a special conference convened in January 2014, where the decision to bring forward the general election was also taken.

Although President Nikolic expressed his support for early elections and endorsed Vucic as future prime minister, they are known as long-lasting political rivals. To prevent the emergence of party divisions and limit presidential influence on intra-party politics, Vucic also used the 2014 party convention to remove the president’s supporters from the party leadership.

Overall, we can expect the results of the 2014 snap election to have an impact on intra-executive politics and reduce the president’s role to its strict constitutional responsibilities. However, the actual relation between the president and the prime minister will depend on the type of cabinet that Aleksandar Vucic will form and on whether the political rivalry between the two political actors will translate into an increased level of presidential activism and/or intra-executive conflict.

Uzbekistan – Constitutional reform to be considered

Last week, the legislative commission of the Uzbek Parliament (Oliy Majlis) drafted a law reforming the powers of the President and the Prime Minister of the country. The proposal for the constitutional reform came from the President, Islam Karimov, who is 76 years old now and has been ruling the country as president since national independence. Indeed, Karimov outlined a broader reformist project on the occasion of the 21st anniversary of the constitution of Uzbekistan in December 2013, including an expansion of the rights and powers of the Parliament, increasing the responsibility of the Cabinet of Ministers and, in general, the strengthening of public and parliamentary control over executive bodies. Furthermore, the move is also in line with the President’s ‘Concept of further deepening democratic reforms and establishing civil society’ as adopted and promoted since 2010.

The draft law advances a number of amendments and additions to six articles of the constitution. Such changes deal with the system of checks and balances, deepening the control of the Parliament and the public on the government, and increasing powers and rights of the Cabinet of Ministers. Some executive powers of the President are transferred to the Prime Minister, whose election procedure is also amended

All political parties and factions in the Parliament praised the draft law as a significant step forward towards the ‘establishment of a modern, democratic, strong civil society, sustainable development of the state and society, the economy of the country, high growth rates of level and quality of life, the formation of harmoniously developed and healthy generation and the expansion of the public and citizen control’. The same opinions were also expressed by different NGOs and civil society actors that met with the Parliamentary commission for reviewing the legislative draft.

However, there are several reasons for being skeptical of the reform’s characteristics as no detail about what powers would exactly be transferred, or about the implementation strategy of public and parliamentary control over the government has been released. The constitution was first adopted in 1992. Since then, it was amended in 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2011, constantly strengthening the President’s power despite the pro-democratic rhetoric. Nevertheless, given Karimov’s precarious health condition, advanced age and unclear plans for succession, this might be his last consitutional reform and therefore he might be willing to really change the balance of power among state institutions.

Burundi backsliding as 2015 presidential poll approaches

Previously hailed for its success in bringing peace and stability to the country, Burundi’s power-sharing arrangement is rapidly unraveling. The 2005 constitution that brought an end to the 1993 civil war between Hutus and Tutsis, instituted a complex set of power-sharing provisions, including a stipulation that the president of the republic shall be assisted by two vice-presidents belonging to different ethnic groups and parties (art. 124). The constitution also mandates that parties must not be established exclusively on ethnic or regional bases.

By some accounts, these power-sharing arrangements have been successful to the extent that: “Today, political competition in Burundi no longer coincides with ethnic cleavages. Furthermore, the dominant party CNDD-FDD, while rooted in a Hutu rebel movement, is no longer perceived as an exclusive Hutu party. In fact, most Tutsi members of parliament are members of the CNDD-FDD and many presidential advisors are Tutsi” (Vandeginste, 2009 p. 75).

The power-sharing provisions have not succeeded, however, in creating a fertile ground for consolidating democratic practices. The opposition boycott of the 2010 legislative and presidential elections following allegations of fraud in local elections earlier in the year, left the political system dominated by a single party, the CNDD-FDD. Leaders of Frodebu (a Hutu-led party) and FNL (ex Tutsi-rebel movement) went into exile as politically-motivated violence mounted.

Uprona (a Tutsi-led party) participated until recently in government, occupying the position of first vice-president. However,  the power-sharing arrangement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords collapsed as Uprona joined the opposition in February of this year, protesting the apparent intention of President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term. Nkurunziza sought to maintain constitutional appearances by appointing a new vice-president and three ministers from a smaller wing within Uprona – a move immediately rejected by Uprona leadership.

The argument advanced by the CNDD-FDD justifying a third term for Nkurunziza is that “The constitution provides for two terms by universal suffrage. The first term was not a direct vote [Nkurunziza was appointed by parliament in 2005]. It’s a matter of interpretation of the constitution.” 

In addition to the tensions around another term for Nkurunziza, the opposition and Burundian civil society organizations worry about the government’s unilateral push for constitutional amendments that would do away with many of the power-sharing provisions of the 2005 constitution, including: substituting a simple majority vote for the current two thirds majority requirement in parliament; replacing the two vice-presidents with a largely ceremonial vice-president and a powerful prime minister that does not have to be from a different ethnic group than the president; and raising the threshold for party representation in parliament from 2% to 5% of the votes cast.

With the June 2015 presidential poll looming large on the horizon as a potential trigger for further violence, the UN Security Council recently voted to extend the UN political mission in Burundi, despite the government’s initial opposition.

So while power-sharing may have succeeded at least partially in blurring ethnic divisions in Burundi, as seen by the FNL and Frodebu joining forces in opposition, it clearly has not effectively served to strengthen democratic institutions and practices.