Monthly Archives: January 2015

Nigeria – President Goodluck Jonathan under fire as election nears

On February 14, Nigeria is set for the closest election since the return to multiparty politics in 1999. The contest pits President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Although in many ways this election appears to mirror the contest in 2011, when the same candidates faced off, in reality there are significant differences. In 2011, the party system was deeply fragmented, with 20 different presidential candidates, four of which had a significant national profile. In the end, Goodluck Jonathan won with 59% of the vote, with the opposition vote largely being split between Buhari (32%), Nuhu Ribadu (5%), and Ibrahim Shekarau (2%). This time round, the opposition is more united, better organized, and for the first time appears to have a credible chance of winning.

Although Buhari has already suffered defeat at the hands of PDP candidates in three presidential elections, he has never enjoyed the support of a political vehicle with such national reach or momentum. In a country where ethnic and religious mobilization is more important that manifesto pledges, it is particularly significant that the APC slate draws together powerful figures from both sides of the north/south divide. Buhari, a Muslim from Katsina state in the far north of Nigeria, has regularly polled well in the areas in which the PDP is currently weakest. His running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Law professor and the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General in Lagos State between 1999 and 2007 is relatively unknown. However, behind Osinbajo lie some of the most influential political figures in the South-West of the country, such as Bola Tinubu, the extremely wealthy former Governor of Lagos State.

In addition to significant geographical coverage, the APC has some genuine reform credentials, as it supported by the highly respected current Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, once described as “A rare good man” in an Economist article on Nigeria’s business capital. This image was enhanced by the holding of relatively transparent party primaries to select the party’s presidential candidate, which encouraged many of the losing candidates to stay with the party, rather than to sell their services to the PDP.

Significantly, Buhari also represents a particular threat to the incumbent because he is strong in some of the areas in which President Jonathan is weak. Although Nigerians have a number of complaints about his previous stint as Head of State (1983-85), which followed his seizure of power in a military coup, they also tend to praise two aspects of his record in office: his crackdown on corruption and his routing of insurgents in the north of the country. Both make him seem to be a leader with the kind of experience that Nigeria desperately needs.

The emergence of a stronger opposition could not have happened at a worse time for President Goodluck Jonathan, whose popularity – even among PDP supporters – appears to be at an all time low. On the one hand, many of the great and the good of the ruling party have deserted Jonathan. Founding member and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has defected to the APC, as have five state governors. A number of other political heavyweights such as former President Olesegun Obasanjo have publicly recorded their criticism of Jonathan, blaming him for the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency and the country’s economic difficulties.

Evidence of continuing corruption has not helped Jonathan’s cause. In March 2013, Transparency International criticized the president for rescinding the pardon given to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of the oil-rich state of Bayelsa, who had been convicted for money laundering and other serious corruption offences in 2007. According to TI, “This decision undermines anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria and encourages impunity. If the government is serious about uprooting public corruption, sanctions against those who betray the public trust should be strengthened, not relaxed”. The president’s record on corruption was called into question once again in early 2014 when the respected head of the central bank, Lamido Sanusi, was suspended after he alleged than $20 billion in oil revenues had ‘gone missing’. The move caused foreign exchange and money markets to stop trading temporarily, increasing the sense of economic uncertainty.

But the biggest problem for the president is undoubtedly the failure of his government to effectively deal with the Boko Haram insurgency. There are reports that the president’s election convoy was stoned by youths in the eastern town of Jalingo, who were angry at the failure of the government to provide security. Feelings were running so high that the government was forced to order soldiers to guard billboards and posters of Jonathan for fear that they would be vandalized, which generated a fresh set of criticisms about the misuse of troops, who appear to be assisting the president’s campaign rather than fighting the insurgency.

It is hard to know exactly how much these kinds of policy failings have undermined support for the PDP, which continues to be an effective patronage machine. However, although opinion polls in Nigeria are notoriously unreliable, the widespread dissemination of a survey conducted by African Independent Television (AIT) that put Buhari on 73.9% and Jonathan on 23.2% has caused considerable consternation among the government. The race is almost certainly closer than this, and the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the PDP mean that many commentators are predicting that the ruling party will retain power, as it has done at every election since 1999. However, despite this there are clear signs that the PDP is worried about losing its grip on power.

Rumours abound. According to the Premium Times, President Jonathan is planning to launch a campaign to force the postponement of the elections in order to prevent an opposition victory. To save appearances, it is claimed that the campaign will be undertaken by others acting as proxies of the president, and will be based on the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has only managed to distribute 42.77 million of the necessary 68.8 million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that citizens require in order to be able to cast their ballots, and may not reach all voters in time.

There is also concern that the government is getting ready to systematically rig the elections in a manner similar to the manipulation of the 2007 polls, described by some election observers as the worst they had ever seen. Geoffrey York, a journalist based in South Africa, has alleged that the government is systematically rejecting the visa applications of over 40 international journalists in what he described as the “latest Nigerian scandal”. A number of commentators have interpreted this development as an indication that the government is worried about electoral malpractices being exposed and communicated. According to Lola Shoneyin, an author from Ibadan, the desire of the government to restrict the coverage of the election by foreign media is a direct consequences of the way in which news stories about the failure of the security forces to combat Bojo Haram have embarrassed the president over the past twelve months.

In the absence of hard facts, such fears are likely to proliferate. There are certainly a number of good reasons to be concerned. If the APC does perform strongly and if this prompts the PDP to intervene in a way that undermines the credibility of the process, the consequences are likely to be far more severe than they were in 2007. Despite clear evidence that those elections were flawed, popular apathy and opposition disunity meant that there protests were limited and the government continued to operate much as it had in the past. Things are very different in 2015. The opposition is more united, opposition supporters are more energized about the potential for political change, and the security forces are stretched to breaking point. Against this background, a poor election would not just undermine the legitimacy of President Goodluck Jonathan’s rule, but could inspire widespread political unrest.

Latin American Presidents and International Capital

Although events in Argentina have grabbed international headlines and in Venezuela, the president of the Assembly (and one of his bodyguards) have become embroiled in allegations about a narco-trafficking ring, I have decided to return to something I discussed last year (and once again engage in some self-promotion – sorry).

As I told you in that post, with two colleagues, Christian Arnold and Nina Wiesehomeier, I have been working on a project that is using the annual addresses of Latin American presidents as data in order to derive some comparative understanding of executive politics across the region.

Every year, Latin American presidents make a speech to the national assembly (akin to the US State-of-the-Address). This is an institutionalized event, where the president is constitutionally obliged to make this speech at an appointed time each year and report on the initiatives of the executive over the last year, and the proposed agenda for the year ahead. We have been interested in who the president is primarily speaking to when they make these speeches, and we suggest there are two audiences: the legislature and the international economy.

We have collected speeches for 68 presidents across thirteen Latin American countries between the years 1980 and 2014 and have employed computational models, based on the scaling algorithm Wordfish, to scale these speeches (relative to each other within each country).[1] The first part our project was interested in the institutional incentives the president may have to move in the policy space, and our research has indicated that this seems to be largely driven by the legislative support of the president and their executive power.

Right now, we have been exploring the effect of international market pressures on the positions that presidents take. Latin American countries face significant pressures from international capital, be it in the form of the IMF, banks or bonds and presidents have switched their policy orientation in response to exchange market crises.[2] We are interested in the effect that international capital has on the behavior of the president. Specifically, does the president change their revealed policy stance on economic policy in response to the preferences of capital? And if so, what effect does this have?

To explore this, we have developed an automated method of extracting the portion of the speech where the president discusses all matters related to the economy. We then re-scale this economic dimension only, with the method I briefly described above. This gives us a reasonable approximation of the economic policy position of each Latin American president (in our thirteen countries) in a given year. Below, you can see two graphs combining the general overall position of presidents, and their economic position, in two different countries. Unsurprisingly, in Venezuela, the economic position is closely related to the overall position. This is what we might expect, given the main political cleavage in Venezuela at the moment probably runs along an economic (redistributive/statist vs. market) dimension. In Colombia, the economic position is less important for the overall position of presidents. Again, this is what we might expect, given the importance of security-related issues for politics in Colombia. compare_econ_ven compare_econ_col

With these measures, we have done some basic analyses to see what shapes the economic positions that presidents assume. Unsurprisingly, presidents in Latin America are highly responsive to international capital. When under IMF programs, presidents assume a position on the right. The higher the level of bank or bond debt, the further right the political position (although this effect is greater for bank debt). And when there is a currency crisis, presidents move to the right, and do so sharply. We interpret all of this as a signaling game, whereby presidents will adopt economic positions favorable to capital when they are in desperate need of short-term inflows of finance (crises); or when they believe doing so might create some space (from banks and the IMF) to pursue policies more amenable to their electorate.

Of course, all of this is all very tentative. Any thoughts or suggestions would be very welcome!

[1] More detail on Wordfish can be found here.

[2] Some excellent recent research has explored this. See Stephen B. Kaplan 2013. Globalization and Austerity Politics in Latin America. Cambridge University Press or Daniela Campello 2015. The Politics of Market Discipline in Latin America: Globalization and Democracy. Cambridge University Press or Erik Wibbels. 2006. “Dependency Revisited: International Markets, Business Cycles and Social Spending in the Developing World,” International Organization (Spring 2006): 433-69.



Yemen – President resigns amidst turmoil

There are few historical coincidences as ironic as the simultaneous occurrence, last week, of the resignation of Yemeni President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

The recent takeover of power by the Shi’a Houthi movement had been one of the major anathemas in Abdullah’s life. After the Houthi’s Ansar Allah (‘Partisans of God’) occupied the Yemeni capital Sana’a in September 2014, forcing the government to resign, their ascendance has been overwhelming. As a result, Saudi Arabia has completely lost control over its neighbouring country, after a long tradition of political indirect patronage, fuelled by personal clientelist relations. Saudi’s last residual share of influence on Yemen withered away with the resignation of President Hadi, the trustworthy man of Ryad.

President Hadi’s resignation came after it became de facto impossible for him to exert his authority, as by now the Houthis control a share of the Yemeni territory stretching from Sa’ada, at the northern border with Saudi Arabia, to the southern province of Thamar. That said, he does not lack popular support. On 24 January around 10,000 people took the streets to protest against his decision to step back, thus formally accepting the Houthis’ coup d’état.

In the meantime, some reported that the international community has already started talks with the young and charismatic leader of the movement, Abdel Malik al-Houthi. If true, this would also explain why President Hadi – once backed by US and Saudi diplomacies – has hastened his resignation. Nonetheless, the political impasse that is afflicting the country is nowhere near approaching its end. On the contrary, new and old dynamics are dangerously merging to create an explosive cocktail.

Ansar Allah’s triumph over Sana’a has been generally depicted as one of the many ‘hot’ proxy wars between the two rival Middle Eastern powers – Saudi Arabia and Iran – that are fighting a Cold War for the regional leadership. Yet, it is not a mystery that the sophisticated weapons in the hands of Ansar Allah militants are of Iranian origin, and that Teheran’s funding of the Houthis  increased tremendously after 2011 at the peak of the Saudi-Iranian Cold War. The Houthis are also depicted as a Yemeni Hezbollah, the main proxy ally of Iran in the region – although their organisation and their ambitions sharply differ from those of the Lebanese ‘Party of God’.

In the same vein, some have provided a sectarian explanation for the current political turmoil in Yemen, claiming that the current impasse is the outcome of the fitna between the Sunnis and the Shi’a in the Middle East.

President Hadi is a Sunni from the southern province of Abyan, among the most active regions of Yemen, reviving irredentist claims of secession from the north. However, it would be reductive to see southern secessionist stances as a mere reaction to Houtis’ advancement. In fact, this claim goes back to South Yemen’s ‘persistent objections’ to the unification of the country in 1990, cyclically reviving during periods of Yemen’s long-standing instability. In addition, what is further exacerbating tensions in the South is al-Qaeda’s attempt to take advantage of the unprecedented weakness of the central authority. The ambiguity of the US, and the general fear over the future of the country, has also pushed many in the Gulf to sustain some radical Sunni Islamist militias, in the hope of pushing back the Shi’a Iran-sponsored Houthis.

The elephant in the room here remains the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In another blog post, we highlighted the pernicious role that Saleh has been playing in fostering and aggravating the current political blockage. Forced to resign from power in 2011, under the pressure of a notorious ‘informal’ US-Saudi joint effort to placate the popular uprisings, Saleh tried to take his revenge, through further destabilizing the country. In so doing, the ex-President has mainly relied on the many military and political figures – his “deep state” – that survived his departure.

Saleh’s political gambling aims at preparing the rise of his son to the presidency. Many officers and key tribal leaders, still loyal to him, still support his project. The paradox is that, in spite of the sectarian narratives, Saleh and his loyal basis have allied with the bitterest enemies (the Houthis) of their new enemies (President Hadi and his Saudi-backed political entourage). This is happening in spite of the fact the Saleh harshly repressed the Houthis during the period of his presidency.

Sectarian narratives are informing the fabric of the current Yemeni domestic conflict, and have undoubtedly played a role in galvanising militants. However, by delving deeper into the layers of a complex reality, what is once again fracturing Yemen seems to be mainly a cynical Machiavelian game, leaving little room for religiously motivated stances, while magnifying pragmatic personal interests.

Zambia – The rise of President Edgar Lungu and the 2015 elections

This is a guest post by Nicole Beardsworth, a South African political analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Warwick.

Nicole Beardsworth (1)-001

On the evening of 24 January the streets of Lusaka erupted with celebrations as Zambia’s 6th president was announced following a heated race between two front runners. Precipitated by the death of President Michel Sata in London on 28 October 2014 after a mere three years at the helm of the small Southern African nation, the election would be the closest in Zambia’s 25 years of multi-party democracy with President Edgar Lungu beating opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema by just 1.66%.

The new president was a relatively unknown entity within the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) until his appointment as Minister of Defence in late 2013. He had been Michael Sata’s lawyer while in opposition and was appointed as Junior Minister in the Office of the Vice-President when the PF came to power in 2011. In 2012 he was made Minister of Home Affairs, but wrangles within the PF pushed this unlikely successor to the top seat of the party. The resignation of Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (Defence Minister) and firing of Sata’s heir apparent – PF Secretary General and Minister of Justice, Wynter Kabimba – in August 2014 led to Edgar Lungu holding a second powerful portfolio. He was allegedly appointed by Sata as a nod to ethnic-balancing and appeared to have the backing of the PF’s Bemba faction spear-headed by powerful finance minister and Sata’s uncle, Alexander Chikwanda.

President Lungu’s campaign began with a shaky start, marred by infighting, intimidation and intra-party violence within the PF. The party was divided over his candidacy, particularly as Acting President Guy Scott attempted to block Lungu’s rise at every turn while trying to position his preferred candidate for the party’s top job.  Following a long string of accusations, suspensions, court injunctions and public spats that played out in the media, the party only united behind Lungu just before the nomination of presidential candidates on 20 December 2014. With only a month to campaign and a relatively unknown candidate for the presidency, Lungu played on President Sata’s popularity and charisma, standing on a platform of ‘continuity’ and positioning himself as the guardian of the late president’s legacy. When asked about his policies and platform during a radio interview in December, Lungu stated “I have no vision,” clarifying that he would merely implement Michael Sata’s policies, acting as caretaker of the former president’s projects. The PF’s campaign materials reflected this, giving Sata’s face prominence and placing Lungu’s smaller image below it in a symbolic sign of deference. During the final weeks before the election, people in Lusaka and across the country frequently referred to Lungu as having been ‘anointed,’ a result of his appointment as PF Secretary General and having been chosen to act as president during Sata’s absences in his final months.

The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party entered government in 2011 on a wave of big promises buoyed by widespread public disillusionment with the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). During their three years in government under President Sata, the PF undertook substantial infrastructure development projects, most notably the Link Zambia 8000 Project which was to oversee the construction of 2300 km of roads in its first phase alone – representing an increase of nearly a quarter of the existing paved road network. As a result, Zambia’s external debt has increased markedly to USD$4.6 billion or 17% of GDP by the end of 2014, from less than USD$1.8 billion in 2010 (11% of GDP). In spite of this, infrastructure development has boosted the PF’s popularity in rural areas, making government visible to citizens who had previously had little interaction with the state and facilitating the movement of goods and people between villages and markets. In urban areas, the road development projects – aimed at reducing congestion in cities – have also been extremely popular with people employed in the country’s burgeoning informal sector, notably bus and taxi drivers who form a substantial part of the PF’s vote base. During the final weeks of the campaign, acting President Guy Scott criss-crossed the country, opening and inspecting development projects with a view to consolidating the PF’s popularity and reminding voters that the party was responsible for the popular programmes.

With limited time and resources, Lungu was unable to cover the country as extensively as the opposition UPND, allowing them to make inroads in PF strongholds. The 11th hour deal between former President Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and the PF candidate was expected to help Lungu sweep the vote in Eastern Province, the home province of both men. Banda campaigned alongside Lungu, providing substantial resources and putting a small fleet of helicopters at the disposal of the relatively under-resourced campaign. Surprisingly, in spite of Banda’s endorsement, turnout in Eastern Province was the lowest in the country at 22.7% with Lungu garnering only 65% of votes cast. The opposition collected a staggering 25% in Lungu’s province (compared to 3.3% in 2011) and 41% in his home district Chadiza (9.25% in 2011); this stands in stark contrast  to the 91 and 95% endorsement of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema in his home province and district respectively. This election is notable for its low turnout, with only 32% of registered voters making their way to the polls, 13% lower than in the 2008 presidential by-election. This was likely due to a number of factors, including the holding of the election during rainy season, making voting both onerous and costly in rural areas; the disaffection of voters due to increased levels of intimidation and intra- and inter-party skirmishes; and dissatisfaction with certain PF policies and decisions prior to the polls that were just enough to dissuade voters but insufficient to push them en masse into the arms of the opposition.

This could almost be seen as an inherited presidency; Lungu benefited from the large store of public goodwill and sympathy towards the PF – and Michael Sata in particular – after 10 years in opposition and only three at the helm. With a margin of a mere 27 000 votes and the next tripartite election only 18 months away, the reconstituted PF government will be under pressure to deliver and ensure their re-election. This may mean the enactment of popular but imprudent policies to buy in support and maintain the party’s base. The party will have to mend its internal fissures and undertake a tricky balancing act to placate different constituencies. The high levels of private funding that flowed to the opposition’s campaign coffers have been attributed in large measure to business’ concerns about the government’s recent introduction of what in their view constitutes a clumsy and hefty new mining tax system – a position from which the PF may have to stand down in order to prevent further private sector defections to the ‘business-friendly’ opposition. The 2015 election marks a surprising shift in Zambian politics; it has seen the demise of the MMD and rapid rise of the UPND but also a change in voting patterns in some areas of the country. What is clear is that the PF will have to work hard in the next 18 months to expand their tiny lead and ensure that they’re able to bring voters to the polls in 2016.

Farida Jalalzai – Gender, Presidencies, and Prime Ministerships in Europe

Farida Jalalzai is an Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Farida Jalazai

Women presidents and prime ministers are increasingly capturing the public’s imagination. We are especially intrigued by the fact that a woman has never been president of the U.S. but that women have held presidencies in places where women as a whole seem to enjoy fewer opportunities such as Pakistan and Liberia. In contrast, we might not be surprised that the greatest quantities of women executives have ascended in Europe. When accounting for paths and powers, however, how much progress have women really made in this region? This is the subject of my new article published in the International Political Science Review. “Gender, Presidencies, and Prime Ministerships in Europe: Are Women Gaining Ground?”

We might intuitively expect women in Europe to have made significant strides in executive office holding, given the more favorable political, cultural, and social conditions women face. To be sure, women have gained top executive offices in nearly half of all European countries, indicating that they have made substantial inroads. Perhaps more surprisingly, Europe lacked women presidents and prime ministers until the late 1970s (nearly two decades after Asian women ascended). Based on my analysis of the most up to date numbers (from January 2015) 42 women have gained power as executives in Europe. In fact, European cases account for 43% of the entire sample of women leaders (98 in total worldwide when examining autonomous countries). The data I collected for this article initially only went from 1960 through 2010. At that time, Europe only had 32 women executives. Five years later, this number increased by another 10! Europe also increased its global share of women leaders (from 41% to 43%). It is, therefore, undeniable that women in Europe have made substantial inroads in executive politics, at least when examining quantities alone.

Readers of this blog, however, know full well that not all executives are created equal and that numbers can only tell part of the story. Most European countries are consensus systems. Consensus systems feature more inclusive, negotiated, and conciliated decision making. In contrast, majoritarian ones involve more exclusive, antagonistic, and competitive governance. For the latter, they rely on appointment to gain power and enjoy less autonomy and security in these positions than would a president in a presidential system (like the United States) or semi-presidential one (like France).

Leadership traits in consensus systems correspond to prevailing feminine stereotypes; we should therefore expect more women executives to arise in Europe. Most European states utilize parliamentary systems, where prime ministers govern with cabinets. Positive perceptions of women’s abilities to negotiate and collaborate aid women in their pursuit of executive office. Western European executives lead within more consensus structures than do their Eastern counterparts. Several women, including Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, have entered power as prime ministers of parliamentary systems.

Dual executive arrangements (where both a president and prime ministers hold office) may indicate executive dependence and power fragmentation. Institutional arrangements simultaneously aid women’s incorporation as political leaders, but stymie women’s progress given their more restricted and collectively based authority. Following the transition from Soviet rule, several Eastern European countries invested presidents with powers far surpassing those of prime ministers. Eastern European women, however, fail to obtain dominant presidential posts since their profile involves masculine stereotypes. Substantial portions hold relatively weak authority as prime ministers under more dominant presidents (such as former PM Julia Tymoshenko of the Ukraine). Women face the most durable glass ceilings in obtaining the most dominant presidencies. To date, there has yet to be a dominant female president of a European country in France or in Eastern Europe, where such presidencies are common.

Women have made important strides in attaining executive office in Europe. At the same time, there are clear limitations. Women still are mainly relegated to weaker positions such as more symbolic presidencies or hold prime ministerships in consensus systems. This does not mean that women don’t lead in a diverse array of systems in Europe, some of which affording substantial. One need not be hard pressed to identify that one of the most powerful and visible women in the world is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany who has now held power for ten years. At the same time, Merkel’s case is actually the exception for women and not the rule. The types of positions and executive institutions common in this Europe are also the very ones that correspond with “feminine” stereotypes, which helps explain why more women have gained a foothold here.

Beyond political institutions political pipeline shapes women’s access to executive positions. Women’s rise in legislative institutions in the 1990s may partly explain women’s gains in presidencies and prime ministerships in the 2000s. Women executives often obtain extensive legislative experience before entering office, though they also regularly first access politics through activist movements. Such combined experiences appear unique to women. While activism offers important opportunities to women in Eastern Europe, it may also constitute an additional stage in the path to power that men do not need to encounter.

Women are also more likely to attain office as non-partisans, particularly the office of heads of state (including Iceland’s Former President, Vigdis Finnbogadóttir). Slightly greater numbers of women rise to power on leftist party labels, nearly all from within multi-party systems. Europe’s tendency to utilize multi-party systems likely explains women’s recent advances in their executive aspirations. Despite the increased number of female presidential candidacies, few women successfully win these contests, an illustration of the continued obstacles to their true incorporation.

Many more questions remain and must be conducted in future research. Do women presidents and prime ministers in Europe act on behalf of women’s policy interests and appoint more women to political positions? Do they heighten women’s political interest, engagement, and efficacy? Women often hold weaker and more dispersed authority, but whether this is due to specific gender stereotypes held by party leaders and the public remains unclear and likely requires experimental research. Since women executives disproportionately govern in Europe, further regional analysis would be most helpful in addressing these questions.

Overall, in assessing powers, women in Europe exercise more dispersed and restricted authority than their male counterparts, although important exceptions exist. Regional differences within Europe also surface, further demonstrating women’s uneven advances. Numbers, pathways and political clout shape women’s advancement in this historically male preserve, resulting in mixed progress overall.

Dr. Farida Jalalzai is an Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her research focuses on women national leaders. Her first book Shattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide (Oxford University Press 2013) offers a comprehensive analysis of women, gender, and national leadership positions. Currently, she is completing a book manuscript examining female presidents of Latin America including Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica) Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Cristina Fernández (Argentina) and Michelle Bachelet (Chile).

New publications

Robert Elgie, ‘Heads of state in Europe’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, Routledge, 2015.

Paul Chaisty and Svitlana Chernykh, ‘Coalitional presidentialism and legislative control in post-Soviet Ukraine’, Post-Soviet Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2014.994941. The journal provides free access to the first 50 downloads of the article at:

Eric Millard, ‘Duverger’s Arguments on Semi-Presidentialism: a Critical Analysis’;
Elena-Simina Tanasescu, ‘Conflicting Revisions to Romanian Constitution Give Rise to Questions about Semi-Presidentialism’;
Bogdan Dima, ‘The European Models of Semi-Presidentialism: the Peculiarity of Romania’s Post-Communist System of Government’;
Da-Chi Liao, Yueh-Ching Chen, ‘Parliamentary Oversight in ‘Atypical Foreign Affairs’ under Semi-presidentialism – a Comparison of the French National Assembly, Romania’s Parliament and Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan’;
All published in Romanian Journal of Comparative Law, 2014

Andrés Malamud, ‘Presidentialist Decision Making in Latin American Foreign Policy: Examples from Regional Integration Decisions’, in Jorge I. Domínguez and Ana Covarrubias (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Latin America in the World, Routledge 2014, pp112-123, available at

Farida Jalalzai, ‘Gender, presidencies, and prime ministerships in Europe: Are women gaining ground?’, International Political Science Review, Volume 35, Issue 5, November 2014.

Bruno Aguilera-Barchet, A History of Western Public Law: Between Nation and State, includes chapters entitled ‘The Return of the Monarchical Principle (I). The Origins of North American Presidentialism’ and ‘The Return of the Monarchical Principle (II). The French State. From Imperial Bonapartism to Republican Presidentialism’, Springer, 2015.

Gabriel Goodliffe and Riccardo Brizzi (eds.), France After 2012, Berghahn Books, 2015.

Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold, ‘Manipulating Term Limits in Latin America’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 25, Number 4, October 2014, pp. 157-168.

Dragoș Cosmescu, ‘The Authoritarian Credentials of Populist Presidentialism’, South-East European Journal of Political Science, Vol. II, No. 1 & 2, 2014, pp. 153-172.

Rafael Silveira e Silva, ‘Beyond Brazilian Coalition Presidentialism: the Appropriation of the Legislative Agenda’, Brazilian Political Science Review, 2014, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 95-135.

Mai Hassan, ‘Continuity despite change: Kenya’s new constitution and executive power’, in Democratization, DOI:10.1080/13510347.2013.853174.

Adrienne LeBas, ‘The Perils of Power Sharing [Zimbabwe]’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 25, Number 2, April 2014, pp. 52-66.

Vlad Perju, ‘The Romanian Double Executive and the 2012 Constitutional Crisis’, International Journal of Constitutional Law (I-CON), vol. 13(1), 2015, available at:

William Crotty (ed.), Polarized Politics: The Impact of Divisiveness in the US Political System, 2014, Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Richard J. Ellis, The Development of the American Presidency, 2nd Edition, Routledge, 2015.

Kenneth T. Walsh, Celebrity in Chief: A History of the Presidents and the Culture of Stardom, Paradigm, 2014.

Heidi Kitrosser, Reclaiming Accountability: Transparency, Executive Power, and the US, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Marcus Mietzner, ‘How Jokowi Won and Democracy Survived’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 25, Number 4, October 2014, pp. 111-125.

US – President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address

One of the biggest political events each year in Washington, D.C. is the president’s State of the Union address. As one of the most anticipated and analyzed of all presidential speeches, it gives the president a unique opportunity to remind both the audience in attendance (Congress) and those watching and listening at home (the American public) of the president’s role in shaping the national agenda. In recent years, however, the event has often become more about political strategy and less about the content of the speech, which is usually a laundry list of potential policy initiatives as opposed to an all-encompassing address about a president’s vision for the country. And while the media build-up and hype over the address might make it seem that presidents use the event to “go big” to announce bold policy initiatives, more often than not, presidents now prefer instead to go small and incremental.

That is exactly what President Barack Obama did with his State of the Union address Tuesday night. With exactly two years to the day left in office (his successor will be sworn in to office on January 20, 2017), and for the first time facing both a House and Senate controlled by Republicans, Obama announced that “the shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong.” He then focused on smaller policy proposals including his recent announcements proposing tax increases on the wealthy, tax breaks for the middle class, making community college free for qualified students, and other policy issues such as cyber security, climate change, minimum wage, paid sick leave, and various foreign policy issues, to name a few. There were no surprises in Obama’s speech, due mostly to the fact that the White House used a new strategy this year; instead of proposing policy initiatives during the State of the Union and then having the President tour the country to promote them, Obama unveiled most of his proposals in a two-week preview tour prior to the speech (a public strategy that prompted Politico to ask a few days ago, “Is Barack Obama killing the State of the Union?”). This allowed Obama, as some pundits surmised after the speech, to get the “what” of the policies out of the way and to instead focus on the “why” during the actual speech.

And while the speech may have lacked big policy initiatives, it did not lack in political strategy—mainly, Obama’s recently stated goal to go on “offense” with the Republican-controlled Congress. The tone of the speech was, at times, defiant, issuing a handful of veto threats and almost daring Republicans to fight him on some of the initiatives (like increasing the minimum wage) which are likely to be popular among many Americans. Obama is also enjoying a small resurgence in popularity. A Washington Post poll this week had his job approval back at 50 percent, the first time at that mark in any poll in almost two years, which many experts believe stems from improvements in the economy (including lower gas prices, something tangible that Americans see on a daily basis). Whether or not Obama can get congressional Republicans to go along with, or even act on, any of the new policy proposals, however, remains to be seen. This late in his presidency, no one—not even the President—expects to get much done legislatively. The window of opportunity to do big things has mostly closed (with the first two years in office having become the traditional time for presidents to embark on major domestic policy proposals), but looking to the Republican-controlled Congress as a policymaking partner right now would probably fall under the category of a fool’s errand.

Still, the State of the Union, even if mostly political theater, is an opportunity for the president to command the nation’s attention. Preparation for the speech always includes jockeying within the administration among the numerous cabinets and agencies to see whose pet policy project will get a mention (usually one or two lines) in the address. The speech also involves an extensive White House communications and media strategy, the goal being to maximize the president’s exposure in news coverage and with the American public through an event where he looks and sounds presidential due, in part, to the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. The use of social media by the Obama White House also played a large role in the lead up to the speech, as well as the post-speech strategy, in helping to gain traction for Obama’s policy proposals among the public.

The State of the Union address, as it exists today, is predominantly a 20th century creation. There is actually a constitutional requirement for the president to give Congress a report on the state of the union. Article 2 section 3 of the U.S. Constitution requires that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the state of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” However, there is no requirement that the president give this information in a speech to a joint session of Congress; for presidents Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) through William Howard Taft (1909-1913), the requirement was met by submitting a written report to the Congress on the state of the union. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) revived the practice of delivering an address to Congress, which has continued most every year since.

The news media do their part in hyping the speech every year. Cable news coverage, for example, includes days of pre-speech analysis from all sorts of political experts; the speech itself, as well as the President’s performance, get analyzed and parsed; and political analysis will continue for several days about the “winners” and “losers” of the event. Compare the coverage to the build-up and hype leading up to, during, and following the Super Bowl on ESPN, and there is not much difference in the style of reporting. The State of the Union as sporting event is probably not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind, but in this current political environment and with an ever-changing news media industry, perhaps Obama’s new strategy of small policy proposals doled out in a two-week campaign prior to the speech may turn out to be the new normal for future presidents when delivering the State of the Union address.

How Fair is Portfolio Allocation in Ukraine?

This is a post by Svitlana Chernykh and Paul Chaisty

Members of new Cabinet seat in parliament as lawmakers greet them during the Dec. 2 evening session. Source: KyivPost

Members of new Cabinet seat in parliament as lawmakers greet them during the Dec. 2 evening session. Source: KyivPost

On 2 December 2014, the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, approved the new Cabinet of Ministers. A total of 20 portfolios have been divided among the 5 coalition partners, which include the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the People’s Front, Batkivshchyna, Self-Help, and the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko. But how fairly were cabinet portfolios distributed among the coalition members and how does this compare to previous cabinets in Ukraine?

Why is this important? Political scientists find that the level of proportionality in portfolio distribution has direct consequences for coalition management. Presidents who compose their cabinets more proportionally can expect a higher degree of satisfaction from allied parties and therefore higher cohesion, whereas presidents who adopt a more monopolistic approach can expect dissent and defections [1]. Given the scale of the problems that currently face Ukraine, the need to form a stable and decisive coalition is of particular importance.

To evaluate systematically how presidents distribute cabinet portfolios, we calculate a measure known as cabinet coalescence, developed by Octavio Amorim Neto. Coalescence refers to proportionality between the distribution of legislative seats and the allocation of cabinet portfolios. It varies between 0 (no correspondence between ministerial payoffs and legislative seats) and 1, which indicates a perfect correspondence between the cabinet seat share of parties and their legislative weight in the coalition [2].

According to our calculations, the current Ukrainian cabinet is the most fairly composed cabinet in post-Soviet Ukrainian history, registering a high 0.9 score on a 0 to 1 index. Such a high score indicates that all of the parties have received portfolios in proportion to the number of seats they have contributed to the coalition [3].

This has not always been the case. Under Leonid Kuchma, for instance, cabinet coalescence was as low as 0.25 in July 2002. However, over time the level of cabinet coalescence has increased systematically. As the figure below shows, there has been a notable shift from low to high coalescence over the January 2000 to October 2012 period.

Cabinet coalescence in Ukraine, 2000–2012.  Note: Excludes the period of premier–presidentialism, 2006–2010.

Cabinet coalescence in Ukraine, 2000–2012.
Note: Excludes the period of premier–presidentialism, 2006–2010.

In our recent paper, we argue that this pattern highlights the growing importance of coalitions in Ukrainian politics. Much of the extant literature has downplayed Ukrainian coalitions as ad hoc and situational. Scholars have questioned their authenticity and have drawn attention to the limited tools available to presidents to bind them together. In our paper, we use cabinet data and interviews with 50 Ukrainian MPs to explore these important arguments. Our analysis of these data finds that coalitions are indeed meaningful to MPs, and that presidents in Ukraine draw on an extensive toolbox of resources to solidify their coalitions within the assembly. These tools include, inter alia, cabinet appointments, legislative benefits, and the informal exchange of favours.

Whether the fair distribution of portfolios in the current cabinet will help President Poroshenko to solidify his support in parliament remains to be seen. But, Poroshenko appears to have taken the steps to ensure that his coalition is well managed and that his coalition partners are satisfied.

The paper outlining our full analysis has just appeared in Post-Soviet Affairs and is available here.


[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycles, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil” in Scott Morgenstern and Benito Nacif, eds. Legislative Politics in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2006. “The Presidential Calculus: Executive Policy Making and Cabinet Formation in the Americas.” Comparative Political Studies 39 (4): 1-2; Raile, Eric, Carlos Pereira, and Timothy J. Power. 2011. “The Executive Toolbox: Building Legislative Support in a Multiparty Presidential Regime.” Political Research Quarterly 64, 2 (June): 323-334.

[2] To calculate the coalescence rate for a given cabinet in Ukraine, we summed up the absolute value for each party of the difference between the percentage of ministries held by that party and its percentage of legislative seats in the coalition, and then divided the sum by 2. An index was then obtained by subtracting the sum from 1.

[3] One downside of the measure is that it assumes that all portfolios are equally important, which of course is not true in any country.

Kiribati – What does it take to become President?

2015 shapes as an important year in Kiribati politics as it will be the last of current President Anote Tong’s tenure in office. First elected Beretitenti [President] in 2003, Tong has served the maximum three terms allowed for under the Kiribati constitution and so he cannot contest the next ballot. Taking up where I left off in this post about the profile of Presidents in FSM, here I look back at the people who have been President in Kiribati and cast my eye over possible contenders for the top job this time around.

As outlined here, Kiribati is somewhat unique among Pacific Island countries in that it has enjoyed relative political stability since independence in 1979. There have only been four Heads of Government, for example, which is a marked contrast to other Pacific countries, especially in neighboring Tuvalu or Melanesia. Like nearby Marshall Islands and Nauru, the President of Kiribati is both Head of State and Head of Government. One distinguishing feature is its two-round runoff electoral system in which the Parliament nominates up to four of its members after each election to contest a nation-wide ballot for the Presidency.

All four Presidents of Kiribati are currently still Members of Parliament (MP), although, as I will discuss further below, this may well change at the next election. The first President, Sir Ieremia Tabai, was New Zealand educated and took the country to independence at just 29 years old. On the completion of his three terms his Vice President, Teatao Teannaki was elected, although some commentators believed that Tabai continued to wield considerable influence behind the scenes before and after his appointment as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum in 1992. Teannaki, who incidentally is much older than the other three (he was born in 1936 whereas the others were born in the early 1950s), was educated in the UK and only served one term as President. His successor, Teburoro Tito, was educated in Fiji and came from the opposite side of politics to Tabai and Teannaki (although the membership of parliamentary coalitions is fluid in Kiribati). He is also the only one of the four to be elected from a Tarawa constituency. Tarawa is the capital of Kiribati and is home to around 50% of the population. Tito was eventually defeated in a no-confidence motion, which led to the election of Tong in 2003 after a brief caretaker period. Educated in the UK, Tong has been especially vocal on climate change issues during his Presidency, which has led to his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

While the sample is obviosuly tiny, many of the patterns identified in the FSM post are also apparent in Kiribati. Presidents tend to be male, overseas educated from professional backgrounds, which means that even if they are not born in Tarawa they have spent most of their lives living there or overseas. It also means that they have the financial resources to compete in election campaigns. Campaigning is increasingly expensive in Pacific Island countries and the two-round runoff system means that prospective Presidents have to fund both an initial parliamentary contest and then a later nation-wide Presidential campaign. Kiribati is a geographically large country (21 inhabited islands spread across more than 3 million kilometers of ocean) and so having a national profile, often developed by performance in parliamentary debates that are widely broadcast on radio, helps. The backing of local members from each of Kiribati’s atoll constituencies is also important.

Keeping that in mind, who might vie for the top job this time around? The fluid nature of Kiribati politics makes any outcome hard to predict but we might expect that the two losers in the last Presidential campaign, Dr. Tetaua Taitai and Rimeta Beniamina, might contest again. Taitai heads up the main opposition party, of which Tito is a member, while Beniamina is a former government MP but is now leader of his own party. Taitai, who was born in 1947, is of the Tabai/Tito generation whereas Beniamina, who was born in 1960, would represent a changing of the guard. This shift would be especially significant if other independence generation politicians like Tabai, Tito and Teannaki chose to step down or lost at the next election. The current Vice President, Teima Onorio, is another possibility. Hers would be a remarkable result, however, as no women has ever been elected Head of State in the independent Pacific. For this and other reasons her candidacy is unlikely.

No doubt others will emerge throughout 2015. What makes the outcome so difficult to predict, however, is that candidates and their supporters must first win their constituency seats and in a country where political parties have little bearing on voter preferences – family and church allegiances are more important – this is not an insignificant hurdle.

Stanley W. Samarasinghe – Sri Lanka: A Vote For Change

This is a guest post by Stanley W. Samarasinghe, Adjunct Professor at the Payson Center for International Development at the Law School in Tulane University

Sam Samarasinghe

Sri Lanka’s 7th Presidential Election – A Vote for Change

Sri Lanka voted for change in the country’s 7th presidential election held on Thursday January 8th. The common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena (MS) won the presidency polling 51.3% of the vote to United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate and incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa’s (MR) 47.6%. This was a swing of 10.3 percentage points against MR who polled 57.9% in 2010. The latter was first elected president in 2005. He was contesting the presidency for the third time having made a controversial amendment to the constitution in 2010 that removed the two-term limit.


Sirisena was a senior member of Rajapaksa’s cabinet and served as the Secretary General of the UPFA. His crossover to the opposition on November 21, about three weeks prior to the date of nomination took the country by surprise. The common opposition backing Sirisena consisted of the main opposition party United National Party (UNP) and several minor parties. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that represents the Sri Lankan Tamils (12% of the electorate) and the two parties that represent the Muslins (9%) and the radical People’s Liberation Front (JVP) also backed Sirisena.

Development vs. Good Governance

Winning the war in 2009 defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), continued vigilance against a recurrence of “terrorism” and mega development projects launched mainly with Chinese loan funds were the main arguments of the Rajapaksa for requesting a third term.

Sirisena rejected the possibility of a recurrence of terrorism. He argued that the Rajapaksa family and his main supporters were guilty of unprecedented corruption, that the mega development projects were largely wasteful, and that the regime abused power, violated principles of good governance and undermined democracy in the country.

Rajapaksa who deployed state machinery and misused state resources on an unprecedented scale for his campaign was confident of victory. According to reliable opinion polls Sirisena started the campaign at the end of November as the underdog with about 20% of the vote to Rajapaksa’s 44%. Over the next five weeks Sirisena gained on Rajapaksa who was stuck around 45%, the lavish campaign spending and deployment of state machinery in his favour notwithstanding.

Opinion polls that were conducted in the five weeks prior to the election showed an overwhelming 80% of the electorate recognized the 2009 war victory against the LTTE and the peace that it brought to the daily lives of people as a major benefit for which MR got most credit. About 36% of the voters also gave credit to MR for the mega development projects.

However, the voters were also concerned about three issues that stood against Rajapaksa. These were the high cost of living, inadequate income and corruption.

In the first three weeks of the campaign in December the opposition was relatively successful in keeping the focus of the voter on the cost of living and other economic woes of the voters. They also tried to tie the cost of living to two glaring shortcomings of the government. One was corruption. The second was waste of funds on unproductive mega projects such as the Mattala international airport costing $209 million and the Hambantota Port (Phase 1) costing $361 million.

In the last two weeks of the campaign Rajapaksa made a serious bid to move the debate to the issue of terrorism and national security where his credentials remain unmatched. The opposition’s argument that Rajapaksa was merely trying to resurrect an old-issue that has already been settled, in order to cover other shortcomings of his admiration resonated with many voters, especially those who belonged to the minorities, and the more educated urban Sinhalese voters.

Broad-based Win

Rajapaksa who polled 5.8 m. (47.6%) won the vote of the majority ethnic group Sinhelase (75% of the population) 52% to 48%. However, Sirisena who won 6.2 million votes (51.3% of the valid poll) did exceedingly well among the minorities polling as much as 80% of the vote. He also did very well in Colombo and some of its suburbs and in some of the provincial capitals. Sirisena’s win was broad-based. He not only won the endorsement of the minorities but he also did very well among the Sinhalese majority community.

Change in Action

In the one week that Sirisena has been in office he has appointed his cabinet that consists of members from all the parties in parliament except two, TNA and JVP. Both turned down offers to join the cabinet but have pledged to support Sirisena.

Some officials of the Rajapaksa regime who have been accused of bribery and corruption have fled the country. Some have resigned from office or have been removed.

Most countries have welcomed Sirisena’s victory. India and USA are likely to be particularly pleased because the heavy dependence of the Rajapaksa regime on Beijing would have caused them some anxiety.

Sirisena has a One Hundred Day Program. It includes, among other things, relief for consumers who are suffering from the high cost of living. Sirisena also wants to establish of a series of commissions to depoliticize the investigation of bribery and corruption, and make the police, judiciary, public service, and the conduct of elections independent and free of poltical interference. He also wants to amend the constitution to scale down the powers of the executive presidency, increase the powers of parliament, and reform of the electoral system.

There is considerable enthusiasm for the “change” that has occurred. But Sri Lankans also realize that the nation’s politics are in uncharted waters. President Sirisena expects to complete this One Hundred Day Program in three months and call for fresh elections to form a government of national unity. Whether such a government would be possible depends on the final outcome of the realignment of poltical forces that is currently taking place in the country following Sirisena’s victory.

Stanley W. Samarasinghe is Adjunct Professor at the Payson Center for International Development at the Law School in Tulane University. Prominent in the fields of Economics, International Development, and Conflict Studies, Professor Samarasinghe designs and teaches post-graduate courses in International Development, Development Economics, International Health and Ethnic Conflict. Previous positions include Director of the Payson Center’s office in Arlington, VA, and over 20 years of teaching at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. In 2005 he visited the Tsunami countries in Asia for the UN and co-authored a UN report titled “Coordination of International Humanitarian Assistance in Tsunami-Affected Countries.” He is currently researching and writing on “Female-headed households in the former war zone of Sri Lanka.” He is also preparing a monograph on the “Political Economy of Development in Sri Lanka”.