Monthly Archives: February 2015

New publications

Miloš Brunclík, ‘Patterns of Government Formation in Europe: The Role of the Head of State’, Czech Journal of Political Science (1/2015), pp. 26-42.

Paul Furlong, ‘Silvio Berlusconi and the Italian presidency: accordions, triangles and constitutional change’, Modern Italy, Volume 20, Issue 1, 2015, pp. 77-90.

Jai Kwan Jung and Christopher J. Deering, ‘Constitutional choices: Uncertainty and institutional design in democratising nations’, International Political Science Review 2015, Vol. 36(1) 60–77.

Ranjith and A.G.T.S. Somarathna, ‘Sri Lanka’s Executive Presidency: A Critical Analysis of Its Powers and Functions Under the Constitutions of 1978 and Subsequent Constitutional Amendments’, Social Sciences and Humanities Review, vol. 1, no. 1, 2013, available at:

Tyson L. Roberts, ‘The Durability of Presidential and Parliament-Based Dictatorships’, Comparative Political Studies 0010414014565888, first published on February 1, 2015 as doi:10.1177/0010414014565888.

Mark Tushnet, Thomas Fleiner, Cheryl Saunders (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Constitutional Law, Routledge, 2013, with a chapter on Governmental systems by Denis Baranger and Christina Murray.

Oleg Zaznaev, ‘Measuring Presidential Power in Post-Communist Countries: Rectification of Mistakes’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 6, No. 1 S1, January 2015, available at:

Clarissa Heisig, ‘Die exekutive Gewalt in Mexiko: Präsidentialismus’, in B. Schröter (Hrsg.), Das politische System Mexikos, Springer, 2015, pp 123-140.

Ludger Helms, ‘Is there a presidentialization of US presidential leadership? A European perspective on Washington’, Acta Politica 50, 1-19 (January 2015), doi:10.1057/ap.2013.20.

Whitney L. Court and Michael S. Lynch, ‘How Presidential Running Mates Influence Turnout: The Risks and Rewards of Revving up the Base’, American Politics Research, DOI: 10.1177/1532673X14566069.

James Bilsland, The President, the State and the Cold War: Comparing the foreign policies of Truman and Reagan, Routledge, 2015.

William F. Grover and Joseph G. Peschek, The Unsustainable Presidency: Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Beyond, Palgrave, 2014.

Barbara Norrander, Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics, 2nd Edition, Routledge, 2015.

New Caledonia – As Pro-France Unity Disintegrates, What Next for New Caledonian Politics in the Lead-Up to the Independence Referendum?

The election of June 2014 set the stage for the upcoming independence referendum, due to take place in the next three years. The subsequent collapse of the Government six months later put on display the deep divisions amongst the pro-France political parties, who according to one pro-independence politician “apart from wanting to stay with France…cannot agree on anything.”[1] After the fall of the Ligeard Government, subsequent attempts to re-elect an administration have failed. Cynthia Ligeard, leader of the pro-France party Front pour l’Unité (FPU) and New Caledonia’s second female President, has continued in a caretaker capacity since her government fell in mid-December.

In New Caledonia, power-sharing provisions are in place to ensure multiple parties are represented in the Government. Crucially, any party’s resignation from the Government triggers its fall. Neither the Government nor Congress has the power to call a new election; that lies with the French High Commission, which has shown its unwillingness to call fresh elections in the way it dealt with a previous crisis in 2011.

New Caledonia is a divided society, with residents split between those favouring independence – primarily the indigenous Kanak community, who make up about 40 per cent of the population – and those who advocate remaining part of France – mainly the caldoche (New Caledonian-born residents of French descent) and French-born migrants. A protracted struggle for self-determination led to a peace agreement, signed in the late 1980s, that guaranteed a future referendum on independence. The Noumea Accord, signed in 1998, delayed the referendum by 15-20 years. This means that, in the absence of another agreement to again delay the referendum, the independence question will be decided by 2018.

The Accord also granted New Caledonia a unique political status in the French Constitution, and established new political institutions: three provincial assemblies and a Congress. Elections are held every five years. The members of the Government are elected by Congress according to the proportion of seats held by each party; the Government then elects a President and Vice-President.[2]

Historically, the primary political cleavage in New Caledonia has been over the issue of independence. The power-sharing mechanisms set out in the Noumea Accord are intended to promote collegiality and cooperation between the two sides of the debate, although resignations have happened before, most significantly in 2011. That crisis was prompted when the French Government, on advice from the pro-France politician Pierre Frogier, mandated that the Kanak flag be flown alongside the French flag on municipal buildings in New Caledonia. This move spurred protests from both side of politics, amongst those who supported a new flag to represent New Caledonia, and when some municipalities refused to fly the Kanak flag, pro-independence party Union Calédonienne (UC) resigned from Government in protest. In response, pro-France party Calédonie Ensemble (CE) countered with another resignation to bring down the next government formed. Two more governments fell before the crisis was resolved.[3]

In response to these events, the French Government passed legislation in its National Assembly to prevent similar crises in New Caledonia. It introduced an 18-month grace period for any Government elected following a Cabinet resignation. The move eliminated the threat of tit-for-tat resignations.

Which brings us to December 2014, when the Ligeard government fell. The resignation of the CE delegation was triggered by a debate over fiscal policy, but is emblematic of the deep divides within the pro-France side of politics. The influence of the RPCR (Rassemblement pour une Calédonie dans la Republique, which renamed itself the R-UMP in 2002), the predominant party in pro-France politics since the 1970s, has been on the wane for some time, and their loss of the presidency in 2004 to breakaway group Avenir Ensemble (AE) was a significant turning point in New Caledonian politics. The other side of politics has also seen splintering amongst its factions, with multiple lists of pro-independence parties competing against each other in each post-Noumea Accord election.

The current political crisis is evident of a shift in New Caledonian politics. Firstly, while the independence question remains salient, it is not enough to hold the pro-France factions together to dominate territorial politics, with conflicts arising amongst the new, post-RPCR generation of politicians. Secondly, the changes made following the 2011 crisis have made the next decision on the presidency critical – and perhaps impossible. While the French administration had hoped the 18-month grace period would prevent political crises from occurring, in this case it has stalled the process of electing the resignation-proof new President. A nominee needs six votes in the 11-seat Government to win. The three pro-France parties represented in the Government hold six seats in total; the remaining five seats are occupied by pro-independence politicians who have been abstaining from the presidential votes, content to watch the pro-France factions fight amongst themselves.

With the current political crisis dragging on, a coalition with the pro-independence side seems like the way out of political deadlock for either the FPU or the CE. With five seats in Government, however, the pro-independence side holds significant power in this scenario. Resolution of this crisis may see, in the lead-up to the referendum on independence, a first for New Caledonia – a pro-independence President.

[1] Radio New Zealand International, ‘Blame game over New Caledonia government collapse’, 17 December 2014,

[2] Nic Maclellan (2009) ‘New Caledonia’, in Stephen Levine (ed.), Pacific Ways: Government and Politics in the Pacific Islands, Wellington: Victoria University Press, pp. 130-140.

[3] David Chappell (2013) ‘Recent Challenges to Nation-Building in Kanaky New Caledonia’ State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper no. 1, Canberra: ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University.

Romania’s third cohabitation: old habits die hard

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” – the famous line in Giovanni di Lampedusa’s celebrated novel seems to illustrate well political practices in Romania’s successive periods of cohabitation.

The election of Klaus Iohannis, the leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL), as Romania’s new president in November 2014 meant that the cohabitation between a centre-right head of state and the centre-left coalition government led by PM Ponta of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) could continue at least until the 2016 general election.

Following the high level of institutional conflict that characterized the relations between the head of state, the government, and the parliament during the two periods of cohabitation that occurred during outgoing President Băsescu’s time in office, the onset of the third cohabitation was met with high hopes for a smoother relationship between state institutions. A constitutional reform has also been suggested as a necessary step for the clarification of the roles and powers that the two members of the Romanian executive possess.

So far, though, apart from a different style of communication, few changes seem to have marked the relationship between political actors and their use of constitutional powers and political strategies. Three aspects related to the head of state’s relationship with the prime minister and his party, and the practice of variable parliamentary majorities lend support to this early conclusion.

President-prime minister relations

First, President Iohannis’ account of intra-executive relations bears out his preoccupation for the institutionalization of communication channels between the presidency and the government during cohabitation. In a recent interview, he underlined quite thoroughly the administrative boundaries which separate the institutional collaboration between the presidency and the government during cohabitation from the political role that the head of state is called on to play when a new majority forms in the parliament.

The interview followed shortly the president’s decision to nominate a political ally and PNL MEP as the new chief of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). While the proposal still needs to be formally approved by the parliament, Klaus Iohannis used it as an example of the compromises, negotiations, and formal approval that such appointments require from both the President and the Prime Minister. In this context, he emphasised the purely administrative character of this kind of institutional relations, excluding any political collaboration with PM Ponta because of their different ideological differences.

President Iohannis’ careful distinction between the administrative and political nuances of the president-prime minister relationship may be explained by the failure of previous mechanisms designed to foster intra-executive cooperation during cohabitation.

The “Agreement of Institutional Collaboration between the President of Romania and the Prime Minister of the Government”, signed by President Băsescu and PM Ponta after the 2012 general election, is a case in point. More details about this unusual document can be found here and here. While lacking any constitutional or legal basis, this agreement represented the two parties’ commitment to respect the rule of law and safeguard their institutional collaboration following the 2007 and 2012 constitutional crisis that resulted in the president’s suspension by the parliament. One of the reasons why the “cohabitation pact” failed to take root and was condemned by allies of both parties alike had to do with its perception as a tool of political bargain that threatened to blur the lines of political and ideological rivalry. Hence the new head of state’s distinction between administrative channels of communication within the dual executive and the political role that the President can resume playing as soon as he has the parliamentary majority on his side.

President-own party relations

Second, President Iohannis seems in a good position to maintain control over his former party. Following his resignation as PNL leader, Klaus Iohannis successfully promoted his preferred successor to the leadership of the National Liberals. Afterwards, he has been able to designate political allies to key positions in state institutions, such as the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). Recently, the president criticised in no ambiguous terms the upper chamber for refusing to grant anti-corruption prosecutors permission to officially indict a PNL senator.

Changing parliamentary majorities outside general elections

Third, unlike the first two periods of cohabitation, which began as a result of changing parliamentary majorities outside general elections, the latest cohabitation started with an election but looks certain to conclude before the end of the legislature.

The sequence of cohabitation periods in Romania illustrates the impact that presidential elections may have on the balance of forces in parliament, despite their disconnection following the 2003 constitutional revision.

In 2004, the pre-electoral coalition formed by the ruling PSD and the Conservative Party won a plurality of votes and seats. However, the Conservatives switched sides to participate in a centre-right coalition after Traian Băsescu won the presidential race and nominated the leader of the National Liberals as prime minister.

President Băsescu’s time in office was marked by the occurrence of two periods of cohabitation that were triggered by changing majorities outside general elections: first in 2007, when President Băsescu’s Democratic Party walked out of the coalition government with the National Liberals; and second in 2012, when the ruling coalition, which included the president’s party, lost a no-confidence vote and was replaced by a PSD-PNL coalition government.

Finally, 2015 looks likely to see a social-democratic splinter group supporting a no confidence motion against the incumbent PSD-led cabinet in exchange for participation in the next coalition government with the National Liberals and the Hungarian minority party (UDMR). These are the circumstances President Iohannis referred to when he highlighted the political role the head of state is called on to play when a new majority is formed in the parliament. When these conditions are met, the President noted, he will be ready to appoint his government, led by the National Liberal Party.

Therefore, despite differences in time sequencing, the practice of changing legislative majorities outside general elections remains the driving force behind the alternation of unified government and cohabitation in Romania. Moreover, despite changing the style of institutional collaboration within the dual executive, President Iohannis seems well adapted to the practice of manufacturing ideologically heterogeneous parliamentary majorities outside elections. Overall, taking into account his current authority over the PNL, there is little to suggest a decrease in the Romanian president’s influence over the political system in the short run.

Russia – Putin and Ukraine: One Year Later

A live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a TV screen at a restaurant in Moscow on December 18, 2014, as Putin speaks during his annual press conference. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV

A live broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on a TV screen at a restaurant in Moscow on December 18, 2014, as Putin speaks during his annual press conference. AFP PHOTO / DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV

On December 18th 2014, President of Russia Vladimir Putin gave an annual Year-End news conference. What seemed to be a very relaxed President spent about 3 hours talking to the journalists and the Russian public about the economy, crisis in Ukraine, NATO expansion and US military bases in Europe. Putin assured his audience that economic setbacks that country was facing were temporary, mostly caused by the external factors, and were unlikely to last longer than two years.

Although not a stranger to controversy, Putin has been thrown into limelight like never before almost exactly a year ago, when unidentified gunmen took over key buildings in the capital of autonomous republic of Crimea in Ukraine. Three short weeks later, on March 18th Putin signed a bill to incorporate Crimea into the Russian Federation. Not stoping at Crimea, the crisis in Ukraine has spread to the Eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and is currently on-going.

In response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, the European Union and the US instituted economic sanctions against Russia with the hope that worsening economic conditions, which President Putin so easily brushed off in his end of the year conference, will undermine his support at home. Sanctions seem to have worked when it came to damaging the Russian economy. Just this past Friday, Moody’s downgraded the rating of Russian sovereign debt to Ba1 (Not Prime), predicting a deep recession in 2015 and further contraction of the Russian economy in 2016.

The sanctions, however, seem to have had little impact on Putin’s popularity back home. Already pretty high before the conflict, Putin’s approval rating seems to have risen even higher as the crisis in Ukraine unfolded, reaching 88% in October 2014 and staying at a comfortable 85% since November 2014.

Approval Rate of Vladimir Putin (August 2014 – January 2015)

Source: Levada Center

Source: Levada Center

This result is not surprising as the historical success of economic sanctions offers little encouragement in this situation. But what motivates Putin to continue Russian military involvement in Ukraine? John Mearsheimer goes as far as to suggest that the crisis in Ukraine is a “realist” response by Putin to NATO enlargement and EU expansion eastwards. [1] However, as the former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul points out, both NATO’s and the EU expansion started more than 15 years ago. Thus, it is unclear why Putin would wait so long to intervene. [2]

However, the question of who started the Ukraine crisis is not as relevant as how it can be ended. From the research on authoritarian regimes, we know that, on average, dictatorships are almost as likely to survive when their economies grow as when they decline. Adam Przeworski found that some dictatorships fell after several years of continuous growth while some other died after several years of economic decline. [3] This notwithstanding, economic sanctions remain to be a necessary evil in the current situation. However, as the current ceasefire in Ukraine is hanging by a thread, it is worse asking what else can be done.

[1] Mearsheimer, John. “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014.

[2] McFaul, Michael. “Faulty Powers: Who Started the Ukraine Crisis?” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2014.

[3] Przeworski, Adam. 2004. “Democracy and Economic Development” in Edward D. Mansfield and Richard Sisson (eds.), The Evolution of Political Knowledge: Democracy, Autonomy, and Conflict in Comparative and International Politics (Columbus: Ohio State University Press).

Timor-Leste – The new unity government

On 16 February President Taur Matan Ruak swore in a unity government following the resignation of former PM Xanana Gusmão, founder and leader of the ruling National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party. The CNRT nominated Rui Araújo, member of Timor-Leste’s opposition party, FRETILIN, for the post of prime minister. The net effect of the government reshuffle is that Timor-Leste no longer has an opposition party in parliament.

Gusmão has been the face of Timor-Leste since independence in 2002. As a former resistance fighter he was the main leader of the independence movement against the Indonesian occupation (1975-1999). Gusmão was the first president of post-independent Timor-Leste (2002-2007) and served as prime minister since 2007.

Gusmão’s CNRT party won the 2012 parliamentary election and formed a coalition with two smaller parties – the Democratic Party (PD) and FRETILIN splinter party, Frenti-Mudanca (FM). Together, the coalition government occupied 40 seats in the 65-member assembly. FRETILIN became the single opposition party with 25 seats. At the time, the CNRT explicitly rejected FRETILIN’s proposal to form a broad-based coalition, which led to violent protests by FRETILIN supporters and clashes with security forces in July 2012.

Given that after Gusmão’s resignation President Taur Matan Ruak did not call for fresh parliamentary elections the party composition in parliament remains unchanged. In other words, the newly formed unity government now holds all seats in parliament and, consequently, there is no opposition party that can hold the government to account.

The fact that Gusmão has tendered his resignation does not come as a surprise, however. Gusmão has stated several times not to stay on as prime minister until the 2017 parliamentary electies.

Yet Gusmão’s move to pick his successor from opposition party FRETILIN is, at minimum, extraordinary. During the independence struggle Gusmão and members of FRETILIN were already political rivals. Conflicts between both camps continued and were ‘institutionalised’ during a period of cohabitation (2002-2006) when Gusmão was elected President and the secretary-general of FRETILIN, Marí Alkatiri, Prime Minister.[1] Also as an opposition party FRETILIN waged a political battle against Gusmão’s CNRT coalition government, accusing it of corruption and gross financial mismanagement. So, bringing FRETILIN into government may ease the young nation’s often fraught politics.

PM Araújo is Timor-Leste’s fifth post-independence PM. He served as Heath Minister under the United Nations Transitional Administration (2001-2002) and under the FRETILIN government (2002-2007). After the CNRT won the parliamentary elections in 2007, Araújo worked as a policy advisor at the Ministry of Finance.

PM Araújo’s explanation for the government reshuffle was that Timor-Leste is too small for divisive politics. ‘The pool of talent is very limited,’ he said. ‘We came to the realisation . . . we have to call everybody who is willing and who is capable of contributing to the development of this country to participate in the government.’

The question remains why the top job went to a FRETILIN member and not to a member of one of the ruling parties. Some speculate that political infighting between CNRT, PD and FM about the PM’s position gave way for the new coalition between CNRT and FRETILIN. Only recently, the leaders of the PD and FM declared not to be sure whether to support the new PM.

So whether the unity government will be a stable government is an open question. For instance, what happens if the new Prime Minister and old Prime Minister – now Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment – disagree? Another important question is how the parties in the same government will run against each other in the 2017 parliamentary election.

Structure of the VI Constitutional Government

Prime Minister Rui Araújo FRETILIN
Minister of State and of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Ágio Pereira CNRT
Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of Education Fernando LaSama de Araújo PD
Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Estanislau da Silva FRETILIN
Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of State Administration Affairs and Justice and Minister of State Administration Dionísio Babo Soares CNRT
Minister of Finance Santina Cardoso Independent
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Hernâni Coelho FRETILIN
Minister of Justice Ivo Valente CNRT
Minister of Health Maria do Céu Pina daCosta CNRT
Minister of Social Solidarity Isabel Guterres Independent
Minister of Commerce, Industry and Environment António da Conceição PD
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Francisco Kalbuady Lay CNRT
Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communication Gastão de Sousa PD
Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Alfredo Pires CNRT
Minister of Defence Cirilo Cristóvão CNRT
Minister of the Interior Longuinhos Monteiro Independent
Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment Xanana Gusmão CNRT


[1] Beuman, L. M. (2013) ‘Cohabitation in New Post-Conflict Democracies: The Case of Timor-Leste’, Parliamentary Affairs, 1-23. doi:10.1093/pa/gst016.

Ireland – Referendum on the minimum age of presidential candidates

In May, Ireland will hold two referendums. One is on marriage equality, or same-sex marriage. The other is on the minimum age of presidential candidates. Here, the focus is on the second issue.

In January 2013 the issue of the length of the president’s term was debated at the first session of Ireland’s Constitutional Convention. There was a long discussion as to whether the president’s term should be reduced from seven years to five years. In the end, this proposal was rejected by 57 votes to 43. However, a number of other presidential issues emerged during the course of the main debate and some were also put to a vote. A one-term presidency was overwhelmingly rejected. The proposal that citizens should be able to nominate presidential candidates was almost unanimously adopted. In addition, a proposal to reduce the minimum age for presidential candidates from the current figure of 35 was narrowly adopted by 50 votes to 47.

Following the Convention’s proceedings, the official report of the meeting was sent to the government. Now, it has been decided that the one presidential issue that will go forward to the people is the reduction in the minimum age of the president. The proposal is that the minimum age should be reduced to 21.

So, where do things stand at the moment? These tables compare the minimum age of presidential candidates in European countries for which I have been able to find information. If you have information about other countries, or if I have made any errors, then please let me know.

Among the set of countries with directly elected presidents, here is the situation:

Country – Direct election Constitution or Law Age
Austria Constitution 35
Bulgaria Constitution 40
Croatia Law 18
Czech Republic Constitution 40
France Law 18
Georgia Constitution 35
Iceland Constitution 35
Ireland Constitution 35
Lithuania Constitution 40
Macedonia Constitution 40
Montenegro Law 18
Poland Constitution 35
Portugal Constitution 35
Romania Constitution 35
Serbia Law 18
Slovakia Constitution 40
Slovenia Constitution 18
Turkey Constitution 40
Ukraine Constitution 35

This is the situation for the set of countries with indirectly elected presidents:

Country – Indirect election Constitution or Law Age
Albania Constitution 40
Estonia Constitution 40
Germany Constitution 40
Greece Constitution 40
Hungary Constitution 35
Italy Constitution 50
Latvia Constitution 40
Moldova Constitution 40

So, by reducing the age to 21 Ireland would move out of line with most countries, though it wouldn’t be the country with the lowest minimum age. That said, whether or not a country is out of line in this sort of issue is probably irrelevant anyway.

Last night, the Taoiseach announced that the referendum would be held on 22 May. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the referendum has yet to stir passions. There have been opinion pieces for and against in The Irish Times, but little more.

In these pieces, the main arguments for were that any minimum threshold above the voting age is arbitrary. There is no evidence that people are more mature at 35 than 40 or any other age, if maturity is the reason for having a higher threshold. There is also an argument that lower age thresholds generally increase participation in political life.

The main arguments against were that a younger president would lack experience to handle political crises and that a younger president might be more party-dependent than an older, more confident politician.

From my experience of the Constitutional Convention on the presidential issue, I came away with the feeling that people really respected the presidency, that they did want to open up the nomination procedures and weaken the grip of political parties in that regard, but that, most importantly, they didn’t want to do anything that would either make the presidency more party political in office or that would change the president’s current figurehead role. Certainly, there was no desire to increase the president’s powers.

If I am right, then this might lead to a feeling that 21 is just too young to be president. People might agree that there is little difference in maturity, even political maturity, between someone who is 35 and someone who is 40. However, presumably there is some sort of maturity threshold, otherwise babies would be allowed to vote! If there is a maturity threshold, then it is arbitrary in one sense, but my guess is that many people will consider 21 to be just a little too young for a president and think that a 21 year-old president might bring disrespect to the office in some way. Of course, one person’s bringing disrespect to the office might be another person’s shaking up the political system a little. For some, this might be a good thing in general, but I didn’t pick up any sense that this was a particular desire in relation to the presidency.

For what it’s worth, I am sceptical that a 21 year-old would ever be elected president. No party can be guaranteed of having its candidate elected. So, no party could select a young candidate safe in the knowledge that they would win. Any candidate would have to go through a very public grilling both on talk shows and in debates. This might prove difficult for a less seasoned political figure as previous candidates have discovered to their cost. So, if the fear of the election of an immature president is the main worry, then I suspect that the cost of reducing the voting age is small. If that’s right, then you might want to vote yes in the hope that it still increases participation somehow. Whether this reform really would increase participation is open to debate. I am not convinced that it would in any meaningful way. For sure, there are better ways of doing so if that is your main aim.

With no overwhelming argument in favour and with what I would think of as a pretty conservative set of attitudes in relation to the presidency, then I would be surprised if this issue passes. I haven’t seen any opinion polls yet, though.

To the extent that there is a consensus, then it is based a certain puzzlement as to why the government has chosen to focus on this issue rather than many of the others that came out of the Constitutional Convention. There is no doubt that the marriage equality referendum is likely to generate a good voter turnout, which at least means that people might also decide to cast a vote on the presidential age issue as well. However, it is unlikely to be an issue that ever fires up the political passions.

France – Government engages its responsibility on Sunday trading bill

Following a meeting of the Council of Ministers chaired by President François Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced on Tuesday afternoon that he was invoking Art. 49-3 of the Constitution in order to try to pass the controversial Loi Macron, which, amongst other things, aims to liberalise the rules of shop opening hours on Sundays.

Art. 49-3 states: “The Prime Minister may, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, make the passing of a Finance Bill or Social Security Financing Bill an issue of a vote of confidence before the National Assembly. In that event, the Bill shall be considered passed unless a resolution of no-confidence, tabled within the subsequent twenty-four hours, is carried as provided for in the foregoing paragraph. In addition, the Prime Minister may use the said procedure for one other Government or Private Members’ Bill per session.”

This wording results from a 2008 constitutional amendment. Prior to this time, the ability to use the Article was much greater with no restrictions on how many times it could be used or on what bills.

Following PM Valls’ announcement on Tuesday, the right-wing opposition put down a motion of no-confidence. The vote will be held this evening. The Front de Gauche (Left Font) block in parliament announced that they would support the motion of no-confidence, though individual deputies are unhappy with backing a right-wing proposal and may abstain. By contrast, the Greens have announced that they will not vote for it, though there are divisions within the parliamentary group. Currently, the government has a very slender majority in parliament. However, there were fears that between 40-50 government deputies might rebel and vote against the bill or abstain. This meant that it would most likely have been defeated. Now, given the use of Art. 49-3, as well as the position of the Greens and other deputies, it is highly likely that the government will survive the vote of no-confidence and that the bill will be passed.

Art 49-3 is so controversial partly because it raises the possibility of a bill being passed without it being formally approved by parliament and partly because even if there is a debate the bill may be passed not on its own merits but because of the desire to see the government remain in power. What is more, the use of Art. 49-3 immediately stops any debate in parliament and means that if the bill is passed, then it is passed in the form that it was tabled by the government. In all, it raises major concerns about the abuse of parliamentary democracy.

Art 49-3 was one of the most controversial constitutional innovations of the 1958 constitution. It was one of the features that weakened the power of parliament at the expense of the legislature. As recently as 2006 François Hollande, then in opposition, denounced it as a “denial of democracy’. The 2008 amendment was an attempt to reduce the controversy surrounding the bill. However, as this week’s events have shown, it can still be used to get the government out of a political hole.

In his analysis of French parliamentary procedures, John Huber argues that Art. 49-3 is used primarily as a signalling device to the public (p. 122). It allows the government to signal its policy preferences without risking its survival. What is more, he suggests that it is likely to be used on only the most controversial bills (p. 136). He also predicts that whereas government deputies and parliamentary groups are likely to oppose the bills in debates, they often abstain in the confidence vote itself (p. 137).

The use of Art. 49-3 in the case of Loi Macron confirms all of these intuitions. We have already seen that the Greens are likely to abstain and that PS deputies will fall back in line. What is more, the Loi Macron is clearly an important bill. In some senses, the bill is modest, only liberalising Sunday trading laws after certain conditions have been met. Nonetheless, it is symbolically important and has been criticised by the unions and the left. It must be remembered that the government has been accused of immobilism. The Loi Macron is designed to demonstrate that the government has a reformist agenda. Finally, PM Valls comes from the more social-liberal wing of the Socialist party. Having invested so much in the bill, not least 190 hours of debate in parliamentary commissions and the floor of the houses, he wants to see the bill passed and in a form that he recognises. PM Valls has presidential ambitions and wants to signal to centrist voters that he is someone they can trust.

The use of Art. 49-3 is probably something that the government did not want to have to resort to. There are political costs. It exposes the fact that it did not have a majority in favour of the reform. Nonetheless, it has calculated that benefits of using it outweigh those costs. PM Valls hopes to reap some credit from that calculation.

President Obama and the Enduring Debate over War Powers

Last week, President Barack Obama officially asked Congress for authorization to pursue a military campaign against the Islamic State, the radical terrorist group waging war in Iraq and Syria. In the draft joint resolution sent to both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Obama requested a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would give him authority to use military force against the Islamic State or affiliated groups though with specific limits—the AUMF would only be in effect for three years, and it would prohibit Obama or his predecessor from deploying troops for “enduring offensive ground combat operations” (as in, no new ground war in Iraq). According to Obama, congressional approval of this AUMF would provide a show of support on the world stage that the United States is “united in our resolve to counter” the Islamic State.

However, despite seeking congressional approval for his actions, the U.S. military has already been involved in the fight against the Islamic State. Since August 2014, the U.S. has led an international coalition (including both Western and Arab nations) in an air campaign to fight the Islamic State as well as providing support on the ground for local fighters. The first airstrikes authorized by Obama occurred in Iraq, and those airstrikes expanded to Syria in September 2014. Obama has relied on previous AUMFs passed by Congress in 2001 (which dealt with military force in Afghanistan) and 2002 (which authorized the Bush administration to invade Iraq) for authority to fight the spread of the Islamic State. While both AUMFs were specific in some regards, both also provided wide latitude to the president, in his role as commander-in-chief, to fight terrorism around the world and thereby protect the national security of the United States.

With this and numerous other situations in recent decades, it becomes obvious that many ironies abound regarding the issue of presidential war powers. While Congress, as specified in Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, has the specific and enumerated power to “declare” war, the president, on the other hand, serves as commander in chief and has the implied power to “make” war. Yet, Congress has not officially declared war since December 1941 after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Of the more than ten conflicts in which the U.S. has participated since 1945 (including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), not one was sanctioned by a congressional declaration of war. Instead, all have been initiated by presidents. As many scholars have noted over the years, members of Congress in recent decades became more concerned with re-election than making tough decisions (like declaring war) over which they could lose votes, and as a result, they willingly relinquished the legislature’s power to declare war. American presidents, for their part, willingly seized the power not specifically granted to them by the Constitution, thereby enhancing their ability to pursue foreign-policy objectives with few political impediments.

In an attempt to clarify this constitutional ambiguity over war powers, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973 (and also overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto of the bill). The War Powers Resolution requires the president to consult with Congress prior to engaging troops in military operations, but it also simultaneously recognizes a presidential power to respond to exigent circumstances without notification when such notification would compromise the integrity or effectiveness of the necessary military action. The net effect of this concession was an acknowledgment in all but word of a presidential power to declare war through a statutory loophole. While the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution remains to be seen more than forty years after its passage (as the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet had an opportunity to weigh in on the issue), every president since Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) has relied on this war powers loophole to begin or augment U.S. military action in various parts of the world.

Now that Obama has officially asked Congress for this new AUMF, political wrangling over the issue will begin in earnest. And here, ironies abound as well. Some Democrats are already complaining that Obama has asked for too much authority and that Congress should limit this president or any future president’s ability to wage war. There are some hawkish Democrats that will support Obama on this issue, though their support has wavered for their party’s president in the past over domestic issues (like health care reform and environmental issues).While on most other issues Obama can rarely count on Republican support for his initiatives, he may eventually find more votes from Republicans to grant him this specific authority to fight the Islamic State. However, even then, some hawkish Republicans (including Senator John McCain) have cautioned that Obama’s draft AUMF does not go far enough, should not include a time limit, and that defeating the Islamic State will take more than targeted airstrikes and support for local fighters on the ground in Iraq and Syria (leaving open the option for a new ground war in the region).

Recent polling has shown a majority of Americans (though not in overwhelming numbers) support Obama’s actions against the Islamic State, and while that support seems consistent across partisan lines, Americans are still wary of new military action anywhere in the Middle East. This issue will also undoubtedly remain an important topic of debate throughout the 2016 presidential election, and any current member of Congress who plans to run will need to justify his or her vote to potential voters (just as numerous presidential candidates did in both 2004 and 2008 for their support, or lack thereof, for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003).

While it may take Congress a few months to debate, amend, and pass this new AUMF, Obama will likely spend time in his remaining months in office waging at least a limited war in the Middle East. This despite the fact that he ran for office in 2008 with promises to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and focus nation-building efforts on domestic, as opposed to international, priorities. The bottom line is that as with many aspects of a president’s tenure in office, he must be reactive to events that are for the most part out of his control.

Poland – Incumbent president Komorowski clear favourite as presidential campaign takes off

Poland will hold presidential elections on 10 May 2015. Until now 12 candidates have declared their intention to stand, yet until now the campaign has been rather slow. The main reason for this is the fact that only incumbent president Komorowski appears to be able to win the election – possibly even in the first round. With the announcement of the election date two weeks ago, candidates now have to gather 100,000 signatures by the 23 March to be able to stand. In this post I present background information about each of the candidates (focussing on the three candidates nominated by major parties) and give a brief overview of the preferences of the electorate.

Poland - current support for candidates in the May 2015 presidential election

Candidates from major parties

Bronislaw Komorowski

After remaining silent with regard to his intentions, president Komorowski eventually announced  that he would run again one day after the date of elections was announced. While he stated that he would run as a ‘citizens’ [i.e. independent] candidate’ with the support of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz’ Civic Platform and not as the party’s official candidate, voters are unlikely to see him as anything but that (furthermore, the PO will pay for campaign). Komorowski is clearly the most experienced of all candidates. A former Solidarity activist, he has been a member of parliament since 1991, served a minister of defence and was speaker of parliament until his election as president in 2010. Although the beginning of his presidency was still overshadowed by the tragic crash of the presidential aircraft and death of president Kaczynski in Smolensk, he has managed to win over the trust of a vast majority of citizens. With a constant approval level of over 70%, Komorowski comes close to the popularity of his predecessor Aleksander Kwaśniewski (1995-2005) who was re-elected for a second term in a single round.

Andrzej Duda

Likely in anticipation of Komorowski’s victory, Law and Justice (the main opposition party) has not nominated any of their most senior leaders but 43 year-old MEP Andrzej Duda. The nomination of Duda, a former constitutional judge, staff member of the late president Kaczyznski and party sokeserson, was rather unexpected as it had been assumed that a more high-ranking (national level) politician would run. Since his nomination in early December (he was the first person who officially announced his candidacy), Duda has shown himself to be an active and relatively competent campaigner. Nevertheless, doubts over the party’s choice of candidate have not disappeared as it is clear that Duda is not on par with the experienced and well-known Komorowski.

Magdalena Ogorek

The nomination of 35 year-old historian and TV presenter Dr Magdalena Ogórek (independent) by the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has been the greatest surprise of the campaign so far and she remains the most talked about candidate. Although her campaign start this weekend was reported on moderately favourably in the media, her campaign still suffers from what can only be called a false start. First, the announcement of her candidacy by party leader and former Prime Minister Jerzy Miller coincided with the death the of the SLD’s former Prime Minister Józef Oleksy. Second, Ogórek has not given any interviews yet. Since the announcement of her candidacy, speculations about her work experience in the presidential office and government apparatus (which partly turned out to be student internships), the quality of her doctoral dissertation, and investigations against her husband for embezzlement have thus dominated reports about her and were not actively counteracted by her team. Apart from a tarnished reputation, Ogórek also has to deal with the fact that she does not enjoy the unequivocal support of the party base and regional leadership who felt that they were not sufficiently included in her selection. However, it is notable that Ogórek is the first woman candidate to be nominated by a major political party and is one of only four women (including Anna Grodzka – see below) who have ever run for presidential office in Poland. This novelty factor seems to be part of the party’s reason for nominating her, but there appears to be another reason – after some media outlets reported mainly on her model-looks, party representatives quickly jumped to her defence and thus tried to highlight the SLD’s progressiveness in choosing her. Although Ogórek not party member and claims to be a candidate of the whole left, she is (just like Komorowski for the PO) the SLD’s candidate for all intents and purposes.

Candidates from smaller parties

Representatives of a number of smaller parties have also announced their start in the presidential elections, although none of them have any chance of entering a potential second round or winning more than 5%.

Adam Jarubas

The Polish Peasant Party (PSL; political centre), junior coalition partner in the current government, has put forward Adam Jarubas. Jarubas is currently the government-appointed governor of a western Polish province but does not have significant political experience on the national level. Among the candidates from the political left Janusz Palikot is the most well-known. He is a former Civic Platform politician and particularly known for his controversial appearances; in 2011 his party, the left-liberal ‘Your Movement’ surprisingly entered parliament and was able to mobilise a large number of young voters. However, current opinion polls put him at only 1%. The Green Party together with 11 other left-wing organisations has nominated their MP Anna Grodzka (formerly ‘Your Movement’) for president following an open primary election (highly unusual in Poland). Grodzka gained international prominence when she was entered parliament in 2011 as Poland’s the first openly transgender MP and will likely achieve a result comparable to Palikot. The new, economically and socially liberal ‘Libertarian Party’ has nominated the musician Waldemar Deska. He has not been included in opinion polls yet, but will likely remain below 1%. His candidacy, such as those of other small party representatives, is rather a means for increasing public awareness of his formation.

Janusz Korwin-Mikke

There are also a great number of candidates from the far-right of the political spectrum. Janusz Korwin-Mikke (MEP and leader of the freshly formed party KORWIN) who is mostly known currently has the largest public approval (3%). Nevertheless, recent revelations about extramarital affairs (including 2 children) have weakened his position vis-à-vis other candidates. His former party, the Congress of the New Right, have proposed their vice-chairman Jacek Wilk (no political experience; likely to poll less than 1%). The candidate of the ‘National Movement’, Marian Kowalski, is slightly better known that Wilk (although not expected to receive a better result), yet might be barred from running due to an impending criminal conviction. Also from the far-right, yet without explicit party support, are Grzegorz Braun and Paweł Kukiz. Both have no chance of gaining more than a few thousand votes.

The electorate

It becomes clear from the latest opinion polls that the majority of the electorate will vote for Komorowski. While there are certainly a number of other factors to consider as well, Komorowski as a candidate is unique in this race in so far as he/his policy positions are appealing to a large number of voters and that there is only very little overlap between his support base and those of other candidates. This can best be understood by looking candidate on the political left and (far-)right of Komorowski (who can be classified as centre-right). On the left, Magdalena Ogorek has the largest potential voter base due to her party affiliation (as a communist successor party, the SLD has still exclusive appeal to a specific, yet shrinking group of society). Nevertheless, the left-leaning younger voters she would need to reach are also courted by Janusz Palikot, Anna Grodzka and Waldemar Deska. A small fraction of Komorowski’s more left-leaning supporters might also vote for her, the same applies for more liberal-minded voters of PiS candidate Andrzej Duda. Duda faces a dilemma that is similar due Ogorek. Although he can count on a greater and more loyal base of party supporters, the great number of far-right candidates will also try to convince some of his potential voters to vote for them. As Duda needs to present himself more centrist to steal voters away from Komorowski, the latter might help to be a useful strategy, particular for Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Last, Adam Jarubas is in the difficult position that his potential electoral is almost equally split among supporters of Komorowski and Duda, so that he will have problems to gain anything more than the 2% current opinion polls suggest.

Last but not least, this all leaves the question why the majority of candidates would run at all given Komorowski’s almost inevitable victory. While individual-level factors should not be discounted, the main reason in this case seems rather simple. Poland will hold parliamentary elections in autumn this year and all parties try to get more national-level exposure. Individual candidates, too, can only benefit from a wider recognition of their name as the open-list system used in the elections might still get them into parliament even if they fail to achieve any notable result in the presidential race.

Argentina – President May Face Judicial Investigation

In an extraordinary story that took another twist this weekend, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, may face formal charges over a political cover-up involving a terrorist attack that occurred in Buenos Aires in the 1990s. An Argentine prosecutor has now officially requested that a federal judge formally investigate the president’s actions.

In Argentina’s worst ever terrorist attack, on July 18th 1995, a bomb placed in the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, killed 85 people and left hundreds wounded. To date, no one has been charged and the perpetrators remain the subject of speculation. In 2006, Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, accused the government of Iran of orchestrating the bombing, and Hezbollah of carrying the actual act out.

Then, in January of this year, Nisman issued a request that a judge interrogate President Fernández and her Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman. Nisman had prepared a 289-page report, which accused the president and foreign ministry of communicating with the Iranian government via diplomatic back channels and offering to cover-up the involvement of five Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing in return for a deal which would see Argentine grain exchanged for Iranian oil. Argentina at the moment is facing potentially crippling energy shortages. In 2013, Iran and Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding, which established a joint investigation into the bombing, and more significantly, allowed Iranian officials to give evidence in Iran.

Reminiscent of a plot from a John le Carré novel, on January 19th, the day before he was due to present his evidence to Congress, Alberto Nisman, despite his supposed ten-man security detail, was found dead in his 13th story apartment. He had been shot in the head with a bullet from a Bersa handgun, which was found lying beside him. Whether his death was murder or suicide remains unknown and the subject of fevered speculation.

On Friday, prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita acted on Nisman’s 289-page report, and formally requested the federal judiciary, under the guidance of Judge Daniel Rafecas, to investigate the President, the foreign minister, and Andrés Larroque (an Argentine deputy).

President Fernández is not in any immediate danger of arrest. As President, she is immune from prosecution, unless impeached by the Argentine Congress. However, this is highly unlikely, given her majority in each house. An excellent literature has now clearly demonstrated that presidential impeachment in Latin America lies at the intersection of popular protest and vanishing partisan support in the legislature (obviously two things that are not mutually exclusive).[1] Protestors are taking to the streets of Buenos Aires, but even in the face of mass protests, presidents who can boast secure support in the assembly, a ‘legislative shield,’ become very difficult to remove from office.

Regardless, this is a political disaster for President Fernández. Although top government officials have dismissed the allegations and even suggested that the whole affair is an attempted coup, this has added to something of an annus horribilis for the president. Amidst spiraling inflation, acrimonious disputes with vulture funds over Argentine debt, and increasing pressure on Argentine bonds, in June Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, was forced to appear in court in order to respond to allegations of corruption. Clearly, although not unexpected, this is the last thing the president needs right now.

What happens next? It is difficult to say. About the only thing that is certain is that this will bring more turmoil to Argentina.

[1] See for example, Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal. 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press; Mainstrendet, Leiv. and Einar. Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the Perils of Presidentialism in Latin America through Presidential Interruptions.” Comparative Politics, 41(1), pp. 83-101; Hochstetler, Kathryn. 2006. “Rethinking Presidentialism: Challenges and Presidential Falls in South America,” Comparative Politics 38 (4), pp. 401-418.