Monthly Archives: May 2014

Uncertainty mounts over President Sata’s health in Zambia

As yet unconfirmed reports suggest that at some point around Tuesday 27 May the Zambian President, Michael Sata, collapsed and was immediately flown for emergency treatment in South Africa. At present, the story is being denied by the official presidential spokesman, George Chellah, but it is consistent with reports that the president’s mental and physical health has deteriorated significant in recent months.

Sadly, Zambians are well used to speculation and controversy around the health of the president. The final days of President Levy Mwanawasa were marked by a public debate over his illness, in which opposition parties alleged that he was incapacitated and possibly already dead, while government figures claimed that the president was in fact conscious and in control. Mwanawasa’s untimely death on 19 August 2008 suggests that the opposition was closer to the mark, but the whole episode left a bad taste in the mouth of many Zambians.

One reason that the status of the president is so eagerly watched and ruling parties are so keen to deny clear evidence of the ailments of their leaders is that the Zambian constitution contains an unusual clause that requires a presidential by-election to be held within 90 days of the official declaration of death or incapacity. In the case of Levy Mwanawasa, his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party struggled to come to a consensus over his replacement, which created significant challenges for his successor, Rupiah Banda. Although Banda narrowly won the presidential by-election, the MMD lost ground to its main rivals, and was ultimately defeated by Sata and the Patriotic Front (PF) in the 2011 general elections.

There are good reasons for thinking that an unregulated succession battle would cause similar problems for the PF. The internal battle to replace Sata has already begun, and it has become clear that there is no consensus within the party on who should lead it into the next election if Sata is unable to run. In part, this is because there is no ideological cohesion within the PF – it is essentially a collection of individuals who defected from other parties in the hope that Sata’s powerful leadership. Most of the governments MPs are united by little more than their ambition. In the event of a succession contest, this ambition could prove to be divisive as rival leaders battle for top position.

The uncertainty surrounding the president thus has far-reaching political and economic implications. Evidence of President Sata’s ill-health comes from a number of different sources. In addition to rumours that he had to be brought back to life after collapsing at his residence, his day-to-day behaviour appears to have become more erratic than usual. Known for his “man of action” leadership style, Sata has always been an idiosyncratic and unpredictable politician.

But his recent appearance at a court case in which he is suing the Daily Nation, a privately owned Zambian newspaper, surprised even long-term Zambia watchers. The president is demanding K 500,000 in damages for an article published in on 16 May 2012 which alleged that he ordered the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ), a government parastatal, to terminate the contract of its lawyers, Vincent Malambo and Company, in order to prevent the DBZ from suing some of his closest allies: Mutembo Nchito and Fred M’membe.

The DBZ had started the action in order to recoup K 14 million that Nchito and M’membe borrowed when they were directors of the now defunct Zambia Airways. Although the High Court sided with the DBZ, the Supreme Court subsequently ordered a re-trial, and the DBZ subsequently fired Malambo and Company, sparking accusations that the president had deliberately lobbied to have the case postponed and the lawyers dropped.

The case provides a fascinating insight into the way that the PF political elite protect and promote their own. Neither M’membe nor Nchito have been punished for their profligacy or the embarrassing fallout from the court cases. Instead, Nchito has been promoted to Director of Public Prosecution, while M’membe remains the editor of The Post Newspaper.

Indeed, rather than allow the incident to fade into the background, Sata has aggressively pursued those who have sought to expose the corruption at the hart of government. Even so, few people expected him to walk into the courtroom on 21 May to press his complaint against the Daily Nation – the newspaper that initially ran the story – in person. In a statement to the Court, the president alleged that the defendants were liars and had made up their story in order to persecute him. Critics of the president have already pointed out that he failed to answer a question about his age correctly. Some have suggested that this is because he wishes to trick Zambians into thinking that he is younger than he is, in case the new constitution – currently being debated – imposes an age-limit of 75 on presidential candidates (Sata is 76). But others have claimed that it is evidence of his growing senility.

However, the president’s surprise appearance may prove to have been a major miscalculation, because he has opened himself up to a cross-examination which defense lawyers have threatened to use to challenge the president’s physical and mental health in order to discredit him as a witness. Sata now finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if he appears before the Court, he will be forced to answer embarrassing questions about his health. On other hand, if he fails to show many will interpret it as evidence that the rumours are true and that he had to be flown to South Africa for emergency treatment. Recent reports in the Zambian blogosphere suggest that the Office of the President is well aware of the challenges that the president’s appearance has generated, and is now trying to settle matters out of court.


Nauru – Suspensions, standoffs and the perpetual question of confidence

The suspension of three opposition MPs from parliament has resulted in a dramatic standoff in the Pacific nation of Nauru where the Speaker called on the police to remove one of the offending members – Dr Kieren Keke, the other two were out of the country – from the chamber. Protestors later gathered outside the parliament building in support of Dr Keke.

The rationale given for the suspension by Minister of Justice David Adeang was that the three members were ‘talking too much to foreign media’ to the extent that their critical commentary was damaging Nauru’s development. The presence of foreign media has become increasingly controversial on the island since the Australian government reopened its asylum seekers detainee facility for 2012. In mid-2013 a number of detainees rioted, bringing heightened interest from overseas observers. Along with raising the cost of visa applications for foreign media, the government recently dismissed the chief magistrate and barred the chief justice from returning to the country.

The alternative, and perhaps more insidious, explanation for the suspensions is that the government was facing dwindling support and potentially a motion of no-confidence and so needed to shore up its numbers until the current session of parliament was completed.

The question of confidence is a perpetual problem for many Pacific democracies (last week Vanuatu was the most recent example of a government brought down in this fashion). And, as I have outlined in previous posts (here and here), Nauru has more experience with these types of standoffs than most. In part, this is because prior to 2010 the parliament had 18 seats and so always faced potential gridlock. The addition of an extra seat ameliorates this tendency but the absence of political parties means that the President, currently Baron Waqa, who is elected from the floor of parliament, relies on the fluctuating support of ten MPs to retain government.

In other Pacific countries – namely PNG – protections have been introduced to prevent no-confidence motions in the early period of a government’s term. In Nauru, Waqa’s government is barley one year old.

In either case, these are tense times for Nauru where, despite (or perhaps because of) the financial fillip provided by the detention centre, disagreement over who and how the nation should be governed remains shrouded in controversy.

Colombia – Presidential election to be decided in second-round on June 15th

Only last week, I discussed the rather dramatic events surrounding the presidential election campaign in Colombia. Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of former president Álvaro Uribe’s new Centro Democrático party, was implicated in a scandal, which saw one of his advisors, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, arrested on a charge of intercepting the emails of President Juan Manual Santos. Santos was Zuluaga’s main competitor in this election, and was in the midst of conducting peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, talks that Uribe and Zualaga vehemently opposes. The scandal saw the resignation of Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos and last Sunday, despite Zuluaga’s protestations that he was unaware of Sepulveda’s activity, news magazine Semana published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing the illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

However, the scandal did not unduly damage Zuluaga’s frontrunner status. Zuluaga finished first with 29.3 per cent of the vote, while Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional finished second with 25.7 per cent. Martha Lucía Ramírez, the candidate of the traditional Partido Conservador Colombiano, and Uribe’s former defense minister, finished third with 15.5 per cent, while Clara López, of the left-leaning Polo Democrático Alternativo, came fourth with 15.2 per cent. Enrique Peñalosa, the candidate of Colombia’s green party, the Partido Verde Colombiano, finished last with 8.3 per cent of the vote. This means that the outcome will be decided in a second round run-off on June 15th.

This run-off will largely act as a plebiscite on the peace talks Santos is conducting with the FARC. In fact, the policies of Zuluaga and Santos differ little except for their stance on this peace process. Zuluaga and Uribe have been intensely critical of Santos’ initiative, and have accused the president of treason. The peace talks have been reasonably successful and agreement has been reached on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking, with only victim reparations and transitional justice to be agreed upon.

However, the legitimacy of this election has been somewhat undermined by a very low turnout. The abstention rate in Sunday’s election was 59.93 per cent, garnering sharp criticism from the Organization of American States (OAS), which suggested that the poor turnout was partly driven by the aggressively negative nature of the campaign. To put this into perspective, only 40 per cent of Colombia’s 33 registered voters took part in this election, meaning only 11.4 per cent of all voters actually supported Zuluaga.

If abstention proves to be an issue for the run-off in June, this could deprive the eventual victor of a democratic mandate. In the meantime, it makes it even more difficult to identify the potential winner of this race.

Ukraine – Petro Poroshenko claims presidency in the first round, but faces many challenges ahead

On May 25th Ukraine held presidential elections. With more than 90% of the votes counted, Petro Poroshenko is leading the race with 54% of the vote. His main competitor, Yulia Tymoshenko, is a distant second with 13%. Deemed to be country’s most crucial election, the vote followed months of mass demonstrations, which eventually ousted the former president, Viktor Yanukovych; Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and on-going separatist insurgency in the eastern regions of the country. Holding an election in Ukraine was a challenge in itself but the new president will face even more tests when he assumes office.

As usual in Ukraine, the contest was a crowded affair with 21 presidential candidates. Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire confectionery magnate, emerged as an early favorite and it appears that he will be the first Ukrainian president since independence to avoid a runoff.

Given the exceptional political context, commentators questioned the likelihood that the elections could achieve domestic compliance as well as international recognition, especially from Russia. Electoral compliance is a recurring issue in Ukrainian presidential election campaigns. In 2004, Viktor Yushenko refused to recognize the outcome of the second round, which led to the Orange Revolution; in 2010, Yulia Tymoshenko challenged the results of the presidential runoff but later withdrew her appeal. This year, however, the main challenge came from the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where currently the Ukrainian Army is battling separatists. To address the pressing issues of peace and security, Petro Poroshenko announced that his first trip would be to the East. However, he did not say what exactly he would do there to end the conflict.

Poroshenko’s other main priorities are the fight against corruption and the achievement of an association agreement with the European Union. He will also inherit a failing economy but, most importantly, a divided parliament infamous for its infighting. In February 2014, Ukraine returned to the 2004 constitution, which curtails the powers of the president, empowering the parliament to form and dismiss the government. Poroshenko does not have his own party. He is backed by the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), but this party commands few seats in the current parliament. The new president may have a lot of ambition but he may not have many tools to realize it. Given the recent return to the 2004 constitution, an important question concerns how the president will be able to work with the existing parliament and, if parliamentary elections take place, what the composition of the new parliament will be.

Lithuania – Incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaite elected for second term in office

On 25 May 2014 Lithuania held the second round of presidential elections. After incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaite had already dominated the first round of voting, she also won the second round as expected. Nevertheless, she was not able to significantly increase the total number of votes and her opponent Balčytis finished with more than just a succès d’estime. lithuania presidential elections 2 In the first round of voting, Grybauskaite won 45.9 % of the vote, compared to only 13.6% won by runner-up Zigmantas Balčytis, leading many analysts to predict a victory close to the 69% that earned her the presidency in 2009. Given these prospects both candidates hardly engaged in any further campaigning during the last two weeks. In their last TV debate President Grybauskaite continued her rather aggressive rhetoric with regard to Lithuania’s security interests and criticised the government for not setting a higher defence budget. Balčytis tried to defend the government and overall presented himself as the more conciliatory candidate. The eventual result is in so far surprising as Grybauskaite was only able to increase the number of votes by 88,009 (a 14% increase), while Balčytis was able to attract an additional 304,276 (167% increase). Nevertheless, it also reflects the fact that Grybauskaite was the only credible candidate from the beginning. Not only because of Grybauskaite’s certain victory, Balčytis motivation to actively engage in the campaign was somewhat limited. Already two days after the first round of elections, the Prime Minister Butkevicius sparked speculations about Balčytis becoming Lithuania’s candidate for EU commissioner. Although the approval of parliament and president is needed before Balčytis can be nominated as an official candidate, given his background as former minister of finance and MEP (as well as the good election result) his nomination seems very likely.

Detailed election results can be found on the website of the Lithuanian Electoral Commission

Malawi’s president faces tough challenge

On May 20, Malawians headed to the polls to vote in the most hotly contested presidential election since the return to multiparty politics in 1993.

In a crowded field of 12 presidential hopefuls, four lead candidates stand a chance of winning as election results continue to trickle in. Incumbent Joyce Banda from the People’s Party (PP) has campaigned aggressively to consolidate her popular mandate after first acceding to the presidency upon the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, in 2012. The brother of the former president, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is Banda’s main rival. The two remaining lead candidates are Atupele Muluzi from the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

Some observers view this tight presidential race as cause for celebration, a sign that Malawi is overcoming its authoritarian past. As noted by the editor of the online newspaper, Nyasa Times, “We never thought that one day we will be in a situation where we cannot actually tell who is going to be our next president.”

Other commentators are more circumspect. For one, all of the lead contenders come with a heavy load of political baggage. Banda started her presidency on a high. One of three female heads of state in sub-Saharan Africa, she made every effort to appeal as a strong and transparent leader. She, for instance, made a show of selling the presidential jet, a symbol of political excess in a country with a GDP per capita of $800 (2012 est.). She further appealed to donors by implementing economic reforms which saw the value of Malawi’s currency, the Kwacha, fall by 25 percent. The rosy glow quickly dissipated, though, as Banda engaged in the same political strong-arming as her predecessors, fuelled run-away inflation through her currency devaluation, and fumbled her response to “cashgate”, a corruption scandal that has brought to light the loss of $40m worth of public funds.

Banda’s rivals offer no clear alternative. Mutharika has promised to put the country on more stable economic footing, but fears abound that his primary aim is to secure his brother Bingu’s legacy by consolidating the Mutharika family hold on power in Malawi.

Muluzi, too, has dubious family ties to account for, despite being the youngest and seemingly least encumbered candidate. His farther, Bakili Muluzi, served two terms as president starting in 1994 and is currently on trial for corruption charges. Muluzi the son has consequently had to shake off allegations that he is benefiting from the family’s misappropriated wealth to fund his campaign.

Finally, Chakwera of the MCP is heading up the party of the former dictator, Hastings Banda. Although he has a fresh cohort of politicians leading his campaign, the memory of atrocities perpetrated under the former MCP regime is still a sore point among Malawi’s older voting population.

The electioneering tactics of these various candidates have raised additional concerns. Banda in particular has come under fire for distributing maize and cattle to voters in rural regions. Malawi’s independent Human Rights Commission has filed a suit with the High Court demanding that Banda account for the funds used to finance these giveaways, which appear to surpass the amount Malawi’s informal patronage norms generally sanction. As one commissioner put it, “Handouts are typical in our politics, but this is so much stuff.”

Violence also marred a campaign season that often more closely resembled a hard fought turf war than an open election contest. Historically, voting in Malawi follows regional lines, but Banda, Mutharika and Muluzi all come from the southern region, which is also the most populous. This situation has raised the electoral stakes considerably. Responding to reported fatalities at a Banda rally held in an opponent’s stronghold, one commentator remarked, “If every partisan grouping declared their area or location a no go zone for rival parties, this country would be divided into hostile territories that will make the practicing of democracy and multi-party politics impossible.”

The bitter campaigns stoked further tensions ahead of Tuesday’s elections as fear spread of possible rigging and more violence. Already on Sunday May 18, protest broke out in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe as crowds responded to rumours of an unidentified vehicle ostensibly carrying marked ballots. Widespread irregularities on election day fuelled additional violence, particularly in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial hub, where military vehicles were deployed to maintain peace.

The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) initially affirmed all was under control. By Thursday, however, the MEC concluded it was in “no rush” to announce results amidst allegations of a police raid on a “rigging” house spread. President Banda has joined in the chorus, denouncing “some serious irregularities” and calling for calm. Beyond a simple goodwill call for transparency, this cry for help appears to be a rare sign of an incumbent African president running scared; early reports suggest that Mutharika is in the lead. This is worrying, because it raises the prospect that Banda may be laying the groundwork to reject the election results on the basis that they were manipulated in favour of the opposition.

Whoever emerges the winner, though, it seems clear that heightened electoral competition and uncertainty are not, in and of themselves, synonymous with democratic consolidation in Malawi. There is of course a temptation to celebrate the absence of a dominant incumbent figure with a clear hold on power. However, the elite fragmentation and political tension that has come in its stead carries its own set of liabilities, potentially jeopardizing the prospects for a peaceful transition and for effective future governance capable of addressing Malawi’s many development needs.

Guinea-Bissau – José Mário Vaz wins Presidency

José Mário Vaz has won Sunday’s presidential run-off, according to preliminary results announced by the country’s electoral committee on Tuesday. Vaz, the candidate of Guinea-Bissau’s largest party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), won 61.9 per cent of the vote, defeating Nuno Nabiam, an independent, who garnered 38.1 per cent. Voter turnout was 78.1 per cent, indicating a drop in participation from the nearly 90 per cent recorded in the first round. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared the second round of the presidential elections free, fair and transparent.

Since the PAIGC won a majority of seats in the national assembly in the April parliamentary elections, the party now controls both the presidency and the assembly.

Political stability at last?

Since the introduction of a multiparty system in 1994, Guinea-Bissau has had four elected presidents, five transitional presidents and three military heads of state.[1] No elected president has completed a five-year term. In addition, the country has experienced 15 prime ministers during the same period.[2] According to Guinea-Bissau sociologist Miguel de Barros, the future president should not have the power to influence the formation of the government.

Guinea-Bissau’s president-parliamentary constitution[3] authorizes the president to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and to dissolve parliament (Art. 68). In the literature, president-parliamentary systems are often associated with political instability.[4] Conflict between the president and assembly, it is argued, would prompt the head of state to dismiss the prime minister or to dissolve parliament. Guinea-Bissau constitutes a textbook example of the dangers of president-parliamentarism for political instability. For instance, late President Kumba Ialá dismissed no fewer than three prime ministers and dissolved parliament in the period 2000-2003. Equally, his successor, late President João Bernardo “Nino” Vieira of the PAIGC party, fired three prime ministers in the period 2005-2009. It is important to note that the three prime ministers belonged to President Vieira’s party. So the fact that President-elect José Mário Vaz and Prime Minister-designate Domingos Simões Pereira are party members does not imply the end of institutional conflict and political instability per se.

Another potential source of political instability is Guinea-Bissau’s powerful military. The military has exercised substantial power and interfered repeatedly in civilian leadership since 1994. In the past 20 years, the country has experienced two coups d’état, a civil war, an attempted coup, and a presidential assassination by the military. On 18 May 2014 the Chief of the Armed Forces, António Indjai, pledged his support for a return to constitutional order. Indjai is accused of being involved in the April 2012 coup against presidential candidate and PAIGC member Charles Gomes Junior. Like Gomes Junior, Vaz does not have a good rapport with the soldiers. Despite the fact that the PAIGC has full control over the presidency and the assembly, it still faces the army whose prominent members may fear lawsuits and reforms that could undermine its interests. The army could therefore interfere in political affairs and disrupt government action.

[1]See (assessed May 21, 2014)


[3]In president-parliamentary systems the government is dually accountable to both the president and the assembly majority.

[4]Moestrup, S. (2007) ‘Semi-Presidentialism in Young Democracies: Help or Hindrance?’, in Elgie, R. and Moestrup, S. (eds) Semi-Presidentialism Outside Europe: A Comparative Study, London: Routledge, 30-55; Elgie, R. (2011) Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

South Korea – The President and Credible Apologies

A month ago, President Park and her ruling Saenuri Party appeared invulnerable: polls showed her approval ratings in the high 60-70% range. The opposition party alliance, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) – considered a potent threat when it first coalesced – failed to materialize as a peril to her government. Even the backtracking of her election-pledge to reform the party-nomination process did not dent the president’s popularity. Indeed, rather than pushed onto the defensive regarding the party-nomination reform, President Park’s resolve on maintaining some form of party-nomination forced the NPAD to abandon its campaign for reform and, instead, field party-nominated candidates for the local elections in June. President Park looked set to plough ahead through the rest of the year, with many anticipating a reinforced government-base from an unmatched, if not unprecedented, mid-term election success for a governing party in Korea.

Yet, the President’s fortunes have seen a dramatic reversal: following the ferry disaster on April 16, 2014, that saw more than 300 dead or missing, the President’s approval rating has fallen below 50 percent. Public anger at the government’s slow response and subsequent failure to save the victims – mostly high school students on an organized trip to the resort island of Jeju – has ignited protests, sit-ins, and rallies against the government. Further, it has unleased a storm of criticisms against the media for positive coverage of the incident, and a general backlash against the ruling Saenuri Party so that the previous solid electoral victories are now on the line for the June 4 local elections. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered his resignation to accept responsibility for the government’s poor performance, but that did not tamper public anger. Instead, social media and public forums remarked on the lack of an apology from the President. 13 days after the ferry sinking, President Park apologized to the families of the victims during a cabinet meeting. Yet, rather than provide comfort, the apology seemed to ignite more public displeasure with the government. President Park’s second apology only days later fueled further public disfavour. 34 days after the incident, the President apologized again in a televised address as her approval ratings tumble down into the low 40s. Clearly, the public is looking for a credible apology. What does a credible apology comprise?

Studies of credible apologies note that two processes are integral to apologies: (a) increase in monitoring of the government, i.e., review and assessment by committees comprising non-government citizens; and (b) government accountability and responsibility for the incidents.1

Increase in monitoring of the government – through review and assessment – makes clear that the President and her administration have a commitment towards transparency, accountability, and capacity-building. Further, the inclusion of non-government personnel in these committees is directly relevant to the government’s credibility: in particular, it provides integrity to the process and ensures that the government accountability in part (b) does not merely represent scapegoating or efforts to placate the disaffected.2 Government accountability and responsibility means that government officials and representatives are dismissed, replaced, or demoted, or government ministries and agencies are downsized or eliminated. This government accountability, then, acknowledges the impact and devastation on lives and livelihood and demonstrates a commitment to preventing similar devastation.

More than a month after the ferry disaster, the President is taking steps in the direction of credible apologies with the televised national address and the disbanding of the Coast Guard. Importantly, in this renewed effort to rehabilitate public trust, there must be diligence in including private sector in monitoring and reviewing changes so that integrity in the accountability process is ensured. Thus, for instance, it is one thing for the Prime Minister to take responsibility, but another for the resignation to resonate as credible accountability.

Too often, public confidence in the government is relegated as a natural offshoot of work to be accomplished or scuttled to the sidelines for a later date. Hopefully, it is clear that purposeful rebuilding of public confidence through credible apologies is key to short- and long-term stability and success.

[1] The concept of credible apologies draws in part on the strategy of “tit-for-tat with apologies.” See Randall Calvert, “Communications in Institutions: Efficiency in a Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma with Hidden Information,Yap (2005).

[2] See Yap (2003).

How competitive are indirect presidential elections in Europe? Part 2

In a recent article, I presented figures for the competitiveness of direct presidential elections in democracies around the world.[1] In a contribution to a new volume, I report figures for the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in Europe.[2] The editor of the volume, Professor José M. Magone, has allowed me to build on the information in a couple of Tables in the book prior to publication. I am very grateful to him.

In the previous post I looked at the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in terms of the number of ballots it took to elect the president and the time taken to do so. In this post, I look at the number of candidates at the election.

Unlike direct presidential elections, one of the characteristics of indirect presidential elections in many countries is that new candidates can enter the contest after the first ballot. So, just as the share of the vote in direct presidential elections is reported on the basis of the first ballot, here I am reporting figures for the number of candidates at the first ballot of indirect presidential elections. Obviously, this can be misleading. For example, if a candidate is sure that a successful election will not take place at the first or subsequent ballots, s/he can wait until a later ballot to stand in the hope of being able to portray himself/herself as a unifying figure. While this scenario is possible, it is difficult to capture in cross-national comparisons. So, I report the figures the number of candidates at the first ballot in the Tables below. (The range of elections covered is reported in the previous post).

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Albania 1.3 2 1 2
Estonia 2.8 4 1 1
Germany 3.3 8 1 1
Greece 2 6 1 4
Hungary 2.25 3 1 1
Italy 11.5 18 5 0
Kosovo 1.5 1 1 1
Latvia 2.2 4 1 2

Notes: No systematic information is available for Malta. The figures for Hungary are from 2000 (inclusive). The figures for Italy exclude so-called ‘voti dispersi’.

Here are figures for countries that used to hold indirect presidential elections, but that have since shifted to direct elections.

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Czech Rep. 3 4 3 0
France 5 8 3 0
Slovakia 3.5 4 3 0

The most striking finding is that, with the exception of Italy, the average number of candidates at the first ballot is relatively low. Indeed, relative to direct presidential elections (see figures below), the number is much smaller. This is obviously the result of ballot rules, the nature of party discipline in the legislature, and relatively small number of parliamentary groups. By contrast, in direct presidential elections there is usually some way that non-party or dissident party candidates can find their way on to the ballot.

In addition, whereas Iceland and Ireland are the only countries with directly elected presidents that have some tradition of uncontested elections, we find that in parliamentary republics uncontested elections have occurred in a higher proportion of countries. It should be remembered, though, that in parliamentary republics an uncontested election does not necessary mean a successful election. Sometimes opposition parties will refuse to stand a candidate, leaving the candidate of the largest party as the sole candidate but one who does not necessarily have a large enough majority for election, especially if there is a super-majority requirement. So, uncontested elections do not necessarily signify low political stakes in parliamentary republics.

If there is variation in the average number of candidates across indirect and direct presidential elections in Europe, the figures are fairly similar if we compare the average number of candidates at indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections. This calculation adjusts for the candidates at the first-round of direct presidential elections who compete but who only win a small fraction of the vote. Are there only a small number of candidates who realistically stand a chance of winning, or are votes dispersed relatively equally across a lot of candidates? Arguably, this is a better comparison because it controls for the very different type of ballot rules in the two systems. There are figures for the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections in the previously cited article.[1] Here, I report figures by country for the average number of candidates with the average effective number of candidates in brackets:

Austria 3.1 (2.1); Bulgaria 13 (3.1), Croatia 11.3 (4.2), Cyprus 5.3 (2.3), Czech Rep. 9 (5.7), Finland 7.2 (3.7), France 10.6 (5), Iceland 1.9 (1.5), Ireland 2.3 (1.9), Lithuania 7.6 (3.4), Macedonia 4.5 (3.5), Montenegro 4 (2.9), Poland 11.8 (3.4), Portugal 4.6 (2.4), Romania 13 (3.9), Serbia 10.5 (4.8), Slovakia 9.7 (3.3), Slovenia 7 (3).

So, from these two posts what could we conclude?

In terms of differences, I think we can say that there is the potential for indirect presidential elections to take a very long time and for them to result in stalemate. This is rare, but it has happened.

In terms of similarities, I think we can say that even if there is the potential for stalemate, in most cases the process of electing the president in parliamentary republics takes around the same amount of time as the process of voting at two-ballot direct presidential elections. I think we can also say that the number of candidates is relatively similar if we compare the average number of candidates in indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections.

Overall, perhaps what this suggests is that the difference between the two systems lies predominantly in the manner of elections and their effects – the length of campaigning, the degree of television coverage, the involvement of citizens, the presidentialization of parties – rather than their competitiveness in terms of the average number of ballots, time, or candidates.

[1] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.[1] Robert Elgie, ‘The President of Ireland in comparative perspective’, in Irish Political Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 502-521, December 2012. A slightly revised version was also published in John Coakley and Kevin Rafter (eds.), The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2013, pp. 17-39.Next week, I will look at competitiveness in terms of candidates.

[2] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.

Colombia – The Politics of Peace Talks and Presidential Elections

On May 25th, Colombia will go to the polls to elect a new president. The race is primarily between two candidates: Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, and the candidate of the right-leaning Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga. The latest polls suggest that there is very little between both candidates.

However, this election is a somewhat complicated affair, and provides a good insight into Colombia’s insider-outsider political system. The current incumbent, Santos, was formerly defense minister during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. Uribe, the former two-term president who left the traditional Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security, became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate this March. Uribe, a consummate insider, has risen to the highest political offices in Colombia by cleverly portraying himself as a political outsider, who rails against corrupt and inefficient political elites.

Centro Democrático was only established in January 2013 to compete in the legislative elections this March and its platform, “no to impunity”, was largely centered on opposition to peace talks Juan Manuel Santos is conducting with the FARC in Havana. In fact, Uribe and Santos have had a rather acrimonious public falling-out. The candidate of Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was formerly Minister for Public Credit during the Uribe presidency, and a former cabinet colleague of the current incumbent, Santos. With me so far?

Well, it gets more complicated. The backdrop to this election campaign is the peace talks Santos’ government has been conducting with the FARC and on Friday, it was announced that negotiators have now reached agreement with the guerillas on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking. Only victim reparations and transitional justice remain to be agreed upon.

Zuluaga, who has vowed to suspend the peace process, which he and Uribe believe represents national treason, has gradually managed to pip Santos in the polls. However, the presidential campaign has taken a rather dramatic twist. Earlier this month, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, an adviser to Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was arrested and accused of intercepting the emails of President Santos and Luciano Marin, the chief negotiator for the FARC in the peace talks. Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, also quit after broadcaster, RCN, claimed they had been offered confidential information about the peace talks. Zuluaga has always vehemently denied any knowledge of Sepulveda’s activity. But today howver, news magazine Semana, has published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

With just a week to go until voters go to the polls, this throws everything up in the air. What effect, if any, this will have on Colombia’s somewhat incestuous political system remains to be seen. Regardless, remember to check back here next week for the election results.