Monthly Archives: March 2015

Uzbekistan – Karimov re-elected: what’s ahead?

Islam Karimov

On Sunday 29th of March, the Uzbek people voted to choose the head of the state in national election and, as expected, Islam Karimov has been successfully re-elected as president for the fourth time. With a turnout of over 91% of the current electorate, 90% of the voters cast a vote in favour of the incumbent president. The Uzbek constitution would not allow candidates to run for more than two terms, but an exception has been made for Karimov who got his third mandate already in 2007 and in 2011 ordered a constitutional revision to curtail the presidential mandate from seven to five years. As international monitors noticed, since then, Uzbek officials have justified Karimov’s decision to continue to run for office by pointing out that terms of a different length cannot be considered consecutive. Constitutional revisions are a popular move in Central Asia where Karimov and other neighbouring authoritarian leaders, such as the Kazakh president Nazarbayev, who is also running for the presidency in anticipated election at the end of April, have used them to justify their permanence in power. However, this election comes at an interesting time. While Karimov’s re-election is far from signalling any element of instability in the Central Asian country, it can be interpreted as a way to minimise elements of uncertainty such as Karimov’s ageing and health conditions, the future of the country and the outcome of the current struggle for power, which is going on within the Uzbek elite in anticipation of the post-Karimov era.

The election

Sunday’s presidential election saw the participation of four candidates, all nominated by their political parties. Incumbent president Karimov was nominated by the Liberal Democratic Party; Khatamjon Ketmonov by the People’s Democratic Party; Narimon Umarov by the Social Democratic Adolat (Justice) party; and Akmal Saidov by the Democratic National Renaissance Party. None of the candidates was a serious opponent or challenger to Karimov and according to a number of sources, they have spent their electoral campaigns by praising Karimov’s rule. Khatamjon Ketmonov, who is 45 years old, has been the chairman of the Central Council of the People’s Democratic Party since April 2013. He was deputy governor of the Andijan province and in December 2014, Ketmonov was elected a member of the lower house of parliament. Since January 2015, he has been at the head of his party’s parliamentary faction. Nariman Umarov, who is 62 years old, was appointed head of the State Committee of Nature Protection of Uzbekistan and in 2013 he became the chairman of the Social Democratic Adolat party. Akmal Saidov, who is 56, is the director of the National Centre of Human Rights of Uzbekistan and the chairman of the parliamentary committee of democratic institutions. The three challengers lost the electoral race to Karimov, who has been elected for the next five years. He garnered the votes of over 17 million (corresponding to 90% of the total number of the voters) over a total electorate of nearly 21 million voters, said Mirza Ulugbek Abdusalomov, the chairman of the Uzbek Central Election Commission.

This election has been criticised by both independent observers and by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OCSE vote monitors said the Uzbek poll lacked genuine opposition to Karimov and that the election was marred by legal and organisational shortcomings. Independent observers, such as Alexei Malashenko, a central Asia expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, and Human Rights Watch, have called the election ‘a sham’ and draw attention to the lack of a real opposition to Karimov, while thousands of opponents are jailed or in exile. Fear and suspicion have hampered open political discussion and confrontation, while the media have been dominated by Karimov’s propaganda. In addition, the Islamist threat has helped Uzbek authorities to enforce special security measures and to avoid an environment of openness, limiting contacts with the international press and foreign media.

As for his political programme, Karimov has already outlined the priorities of his next executive during the end-of-year speech he delivered in December 2014. The crucial priority is economic development, with a planned reduction of the role of the state in the economy. Future reforms in this policy area will most likely be clarified by a presidential decree and privatization program in 2015. He has not discussed the most recent constitutional reforms approved in March last year which, crucially, transferred presidential power and duties to the prime minister while increasing the role of the parliament.

Struggle for power and political stability

It is not a secret that Uzbekistan is torn by an ongoing struggle for power between Rustam Inoyatov, the head of the intelligence service, the prime minister Mirziyaev, the finance minister Azimov and the Karimov family (which is internally divided between the eldest daughter Gulnara and the younger one, Lola Karimova-Tillayeva with whom the mother united in coalition), who are competing to shape post-Karimov Uzbekistan. For the moment, Gulnara Karimova is under house arrest and involved in an international corruption scandal, to the benefit of her competitors. Islam Karimov is old and the succession to his presidency is unclear. According to the constitution, the speaker of the Senate would become interim president in the event that Karimov is unable to perform the duties of the office. In the meanwhile, experts also highlight that the constitutional reform of March 2014 significantly increased the powers of the prime minister. Therefore, some are waiting to see whether president Karimov will mentor the prime minister Mirziyaev to handle the country’s economic and social matters and increase his prominence, or whether Karimov will remain the sole prominent decision-maker in Uzbekistan. In addition, giving that the power of the parliament also increased, the majiles is supposed to become a real agora of discussion and debate among parties, thus keeping the prime minister accountable. However, according to Alexei Malashenko, Karimov is likely not to consider any change of direction for the moment. On the contrary, because of the possible destabilising effects of the ‘war for power’, he is more likely to tighten up his grip on power.

John MacLeod, a Central Asia analyst of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, highlights however the presence of challenging elements to Karimov’s stable rule. He points out to the crowd that gathered to mourn the death of the Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammad Sadeq Muhammad Yusuf on 11th of March, highlighting how unusual such a public gathering was in strictly controlled Tashkent. MacLeod linked this event to a diffused, yet still underground and not publicly expressed, feeling of distrust and discontent with the regime, whereby people have little faith in the state and its institutions and no means to express such a disappointment. In addition, worries about the economic performance of the country, which is going through a period of recession due to Russian economic difficulties, widespread corruption and large emigration flux might turn into a decisive mix to spread political discontent.

Mozambique – President Nyusi elected leader of ruling party FRELIMO

Yesterday, on the final day of the FRELIMO party congress, former President Armando Guebuza stepped down as leader of ruling party FRELIMO. President Filipe Nyusi was elected as his successor. Guebuza’s resignation is in line with the Party’s practice that the same person should hold the post of president of the state and of the party. Yet, intra-party conflicts may have speeded up Guebuza’s early resignation.

Ever since the first democratic elections in 1994, the FRELIMO party has managed to secure a parliamentary majority and to elect a president.

Traditionally, the president of the state and the president of FRELIMO have always been the same person. The only time that both posts were not unified in the same person was after Guebuza won the 2004 presidential election and Joaquim Chissano was still president of FRELIMO. Few months later Chissano ended any possible intra-party conflict by resigning as leader of FRELIMO in March 2005. The FRELIMO Political Commission then elected Guebuza to lead the party, thus uniting once again the post of president of the state and of the party in the same person.

When Guebuza was re-elected party leader in 2012 there was speculation that this would lead to two centres of power in the ruling party. In theory, the term of office of the President of FRELIMO is from one Congress to the next (5-6 years). So after Nyusi was sworn in as the new President of Mozambique on 15 January 2015, the head of FRELIMO was no longer the head of state.

This situation, a form of intra-party cohabitation, generated intra-party conflict, in particular, regarding the President’s Nyusi’s stance on how to deal with threats coming from Mozambique’s main opposition party RENAMO.

‘Autonomy Bill’

RENAMO never accepted the 2014 general election results. In protest against what they considered fraudulent election results, RENAMO boycotted parliament and called for autonomy in six provinces[1] where it claims it won a majority of votes and where, perhaps not coincidentally, the majority of the nation’s mineral resources are located.

In an effort to ease inter-party tensions the newly-elected President Nyusi invited opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama to submit a bill on the creation of autonomous provinces to parliament, while making no commitment that such a bill would be approved by the FRELIMO majority in parliament. Yet, the Nyusi-Dhlakama agreement was not well-received by the President’s own party. According to members of FRELIMO’s ruling Political Commission, the proposal for regional autonomy would destroy national unity and is unacceptable. Mozambique’s newspaper Savana interpreted this as a split in FRELIMO, with Guebuza as head of the party trying to undermine President Nyusi’s negotiations with Dhlakama.

Guebuza’s resignation may thus end intra-party conflicts. In addition, his early resignation abolishes the 5-6 year term limits set for FRELIMO presidents since his mandate would only end in 2017.

Meanwhile, RENAMO has submitted the ‘Autonomy Bill’ which will be discussed in the forthcoming parliamentary sitting, due to begin on 31 March. The Bill will likely increase political tensions as RENAMO threatened to resort to violence in the case the Bill will not be passed by parliament.

[1] Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa.

South Africa – President Zuma survives no-confidence vote but many questions remain

On March 17, South Africa’s National Assembly voted against a no-confidence motion tabled by the opposition party Agang SA. With 113 members in favour, 221 opposed and eight abstaining, it was an easy win for the President. Beyond the official vote tally, however, this was a hollow victory. It left Zuma and his government on the defensive while raising constitutional concerns regarding South Africa’s political system.

The March 17 no-confidence motion was not the first Zuma has had to face as President. In March 2010, after only 10 months in office, another no-confidence motion was defeated by 241 votes to 84, with eight abstaining. The main justification for the vote then involved Zuma’s admission that he had fathered a child out of wedlock and concern that he had not declared his financial interests on time.

Since this first vote, the list of charges against Zuma has ballooned. The main justification for the latest no-confidence motion was Zuma’s failure to address allegations that he misappropriated R246m of taxpayers’ money to upgrade his country home in Nkandla. During the parliamentary debate, MPs also accused Zuma of fuelling patronage politics in the ANC, mismanaging South Africa’s economy, and sending police to Marikana to kill striking mineworkers in 2012.

The debate was all the more heated given the backdrop of last month’s State of the National Address. The usually polite and rule-governed parliamentary chamber looked more like a boxing ring as plain clothes police forcibly removed Economic Freedom Fighter MPs after they interrupted the President’s speech, demanding to know when he would pay back the Nkandla money.

The response from government also indicates Zuma and his close allies are on a back foot. During the no-confidence debate itself, Minister of the Presidency Radebe was full of bravado, declaring that for the vote of no confidence to succeed, pigs would fly and hens would grow teeth. Shortly after the vote, however, he issued a detailed statement defending Zuma’s record, much of which Africa Check has revealed is either ill-founded or ‘nonsense.’

Zuma too seems to be veiling any insecurities in a fresh volley of bullish statements. He has again brushed off Nkandla critics. He also sent ripples through the media with his recent ‘If I was a dictator’ speech. In a rebuff to critics both in and out of parliament, Zuma accused people of ‘exaggerating’ their problems and of relying too much on the state for help. He went on to lament how people blame him personally: ‘Anything that goes wrong in the country it’s “that Zuma.” I’m sure even if a person falls from a chair – “This bloody Zuma man made me fall.”’

The fact that Zuma’s hold on power remains so unshakable despite widespread public outcry has led opposition to point a finger at South Africa’s electoral system. During the no-confidence debate, the United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa called for a reform of the current system so as to enable voters to elect their President directly. At present, the only way Zuma could be ousted before 2019 would be if the ruling African National Congress decided to ‘recall’ him in the way Thabo Mbeki was removed as president in 2008. There appears, however, to be little appetite within the ANC to engage in another leadership battle. As one observer argues, too many high ranking party cadres, as well as rank and file MPs, see their own political fortunes as somehow tied to the President.

While another no-confidence motion is certainly possible, it would likely be a repeat of the past opposition efforts, leaving Zuma unscathed. Given South Africa’s constitution, the electoral dominance of the ANC and the state of internal party politics, demanding accountability from President Zuma is a formidable challenge. In the end, Minister of the Presidency Redebe does not seem so far off the mark. When pigs fly…

Ian Cooper – Namibia and President Pohamba’s legacy

This is a guest post by Ian Cooper, University of Cambridge


Namibia’s Ibrahim Prize laureate retires amid mixed legacy

On Saturday 21st March 2015 Namibia’s head of state, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, handed the seals of office to his prime minister, Hage Geingob. It was an act of statesmanship anticipated some weeks earlier by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, a charitable body established by the British-Sudanese telecommunications billionnaire in 2006 for the purpose of encouraging improved governance. Board member Salim Ahmed Salim announced that Pohamba had been awarded the fourth Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership, with its US$5m lump sum and US$200,000 annual pension, on account of his ‘focus in [sic] national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development’. Furthermore, his ‘ability to command the confidence and the trust of his people is exemplary’. Many local commentators take a rather more balanced view of Pohamba’s legacy.

Namibia’s outgoing president was born in 1935 at Ohanghudi village in what is now the Ohangena Region, but was then a ‘native reserve’ within the South African-administered colony of South West Africa. Raised in a peasant family and educated at a Christian missionary school, he joined Namibia’s black nationalist movement, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), in 1960, slipping into exile after two years under house arrest. There he developed a close relationship with SWAPO’s charismatic leader, Sam Nujoma, whose patronage was to prove a crucial ingredient in his subsequent rise to prominence. Appointed to the Cabinet in 1990, Pohamba served in various ministries without particular distinction over the next fifteen years, before receiving Nujoma’s nomination for the state presidency. This dependence on Nujoma’s support base was to provoke opposition charges, especially during the early days, that his administration would be hobbled by a ruthless and scheming predecessor determined to act as backseat driver.

Certainly, Pohamba is widely regarded as a cautious figure without pretension or personal dynamism. When appointed minister of lands in 2001, he was asked whether Namibia intended to accelerate the programme by which commercial farmland is transferred from white to black ownership. ‘I do not intend to do anything apart from what is in existence and the procedures followed by my predecessor’, came the reply. As state president, Pohamba struck a moderate tone very different from that of his pugnacious predecessor. Out went the hate-filled tirades against ‘imperialists’, ‘Boers’ and homosexuals that had punctuated Nujoma’s fifteen years in office. Out went a ban on government advertising in The Namibian newspaper which most commentators had regarded as an act of media censorship. And out went Nujoma’s contempt for political dissent, with factional rivals retained within Cabinet and opposition party leaders invited to meetings at State House. Even the centralisation of executive power effected by constitutional amendments in 2010 and 2014 has yet to diminish significantly the quality of Namibia’s electoral democracy.

Yet Pohamba’s administration also failed to make much progress in tackling the numerous developmental challenges confronting its largely black African support base: unemployment, inequality, poverty, HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, and corruption, to name but a few. Its showpiece initiative, the Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (TIPEEG), was launched amid considerable fanfare in 2011. Funded by the largest budgetary expansion in Namibia’s post-independence history, it was intended to create 104,000 ‘employment opportunities’ in the public and private sectors, to facilitate an increase in agricultural production, strengthen the tourist sector, underwrite transportation projects, and provide increased access to housing and sanitation.

Controversy soon arose, however, over the practice of bypassing normal tender procedures, as well as over the quality and duration of TIPEEG jobs. Pohamba pronounced himself satisfied with the Programme’s overall results, highlighting the construction of two railway lines, a trunk road, and a 1,200-unit affordable housing development in Windhoek. But finance minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amathila was forced to admit in 2014 that TIPEEG projects had created only 15,000 permanent jobs and 67,000 temporary positions over the previous three years, a depressingly low rate of return on the government’s US$930m investment. Namibia’s unemployment rate actually increased from 27.4 percent in 2012 to 29.2 percent in 2013, whilst social inequality rates remained amongst the worst in the world. Eleven years after President Nujoma had unveiled his blueprint for national development, Namibia’s industrial base remained no more diversified than that of Lesotho.

Many of these failures, of course, could be regarded as stemming from problems of structure rather than agency. Given its colonial heritage, small population, and peripheral location, Namibia’s transformation from an extraction economy to regional powerhouse would have been beyond the capabilities of any politician, no matter how resourceful and dynamic. But Pohamba’s innate caution probably hampered progress towards developmental objectives that might otherwise have been achieved. Successive SWAPO governments, for example, have failed to tackle the racialised distribution of land ownership inherited from colonialism, acquiring just 293 of the country’s 4,000 white-owned commercial farms by 2011. Pohamba’s response was to blame the white community for failing to make commercial farmland available, even though his party could have used its parliamentary super-majority to amend Namibia’s constitutional prohibition on land expropriation. The Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU), which represents white farming interests, is outwardly sympathetic to the concept of land reform and might usefully have been consulted on measures that continued to guarantee market prices for expropriated property.

Pohamba’s caution also extended to the issue of welfare reform. At liberation, Namibia inherited a relatively generous (if racially discriminatory) system of social protection in which old-age pensions and other benefits were provided on a universal basis. Like Nujoma, but unlike successive counterparts in South Africa, Pohamba chose not to extend this social welfare net, telling reporters in 2009 that ‘dishing out money for free’ would encourage ‘people not to do anything’. He also sent mixed messages on the issue of probity in public life, establishing an Anti-Corruption Commission in 2006 but defending his daughter’s receipt of a Chinese government bursary in 2009. Indeed, Pohamba raised no recorded objection when a disgraced ex-deputy minister, Paulus Kapia, made his return to parliament in 2009.

As Africa’s fourth Ibrahim Prize laureate retires to his home at Okanghudi, therefore, his moderation should be regarded as a two-edged sword. Namibia is marginally more free today than it was ten years ago, with political dissent more readily tolerated, minorities less frequently demonised, government pressure on independent media outlets diminished, and intra-SWAPO squabbles more skilfully resolved. But Pohamba’s caution, conservatism, and lack of dynamism have also combined to ensure that President Geingob faces almost as many developmental challenges in 2015 as his predecessor did in 2005.

Ian Cooper is Teaching Associate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, where he teaches African and comparative politics. He completed his doctorate in 2013 at the University of Oxford, where his work focused on democratisation and political parties in southern Africa.

Presidential approval rating in Ukraine

Petro Poroshenko was elected president of Ukraine exactly 10 months ago on 25 May 2014, winning the election in the first round with 54.7% of the vote. Today, exactly 10 months after the election, how well is the President doing in the eyes of the Ukrainian citizens?

Marketing and social research firm Research & Branding Group conducted a public opinion poll in Ukraine between March 6 and 16, 2015. According to the results, the president has the highest approval rating compared to the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada). 33% of the respondents approve of the actions of the president compared with only 24% approval rating of the Prime Minister and 23% of the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada.

Source: Research & Branding Group

Source: Research & Branding Group

If a presidential election were held today though, only 19.2% of the respondents would vote for the current president. Even though the number is quite low, it is nonetheless well ahead of other politicians and with many voters still undecided. 23.9% of respondents had trouble answering this question whereas over 20% had no intention to vote at all.

If Ukraine was facing a parliamentary election today, 13.2% of the respondent would vote for the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, party of the sitting president and only 2.5% for the People’s Front, the party of the current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Overall, Ukrainians seem to have a very low level of trust in political parties. The poll showed that 81% of the respondents do not trust political parties and only 8% said that they do.

These numbers are no different from the relatively low approval ratings of other Ukrainian presidents. For instance, at the end of his first 10 months, Viktor Yushchenko’s approval rating was also at 33%. However, it quickly plummeted after that, falling to as low as 4% by the end of his term in December 2009. [1]

Given that Ukraine is currently facing a number of serious problems including a collapsing economy and growing security concerns, what do these numbers say about the president’s performance in these areas?

Economic voting literature finds that, where institutions divide authority, citizens may view responsibility for economic policies as being shared between the president and the prime minister; they thus will find it difficult to assign responsibility for economic outcomes to a particular actor. [2] However, when it comes to the question of national security, a recently published article in Comparative Political Studies argues that citizens will attribute responsibility for the failure in security policy primarily to the president. Therefore, although Ukrainian citizens may not hold the president directly accountable for economic woes in the country, we can expect his approval rating to heavily depend on his ability to successfully solve the on-going conflict in the East of Ukraine.


[1] The respondents were asked if they supported the activities of Viktor Yushchenko, with possible answers: full support, support certain actions, and do not support. This wording is a bit different from the question asked by the Research and Branding Group. For more, please see Razumkov Centre.

[2] Samuels, David. 2004. “Presidentialism and accountability for the economy in comparative perspective,” American Political Science Review 98 (3): 425–436; Samuels, David and Timothy Hellwig. 2007. “Electoral accountability and the variety of democratic regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 37: 1–26.

Latvia – President Bērziņš and the arithmetic of presidential re-election bids

During the last months, the possibility that Latvian president Andris Bērziņš will not be re-elected at the end of his first term this summer has been a recurrent topic of public debate in Latvia. Although the governing coalition – in which Bērziņš’ ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ is a major partner – holds significantly more than the required 51 votes to re-elect him, more and more government deputies have voiced their opposition to re-electing him for another term. Bērziņš has not yet publicly declared his intentions and until now there is no clear alternative candidate. Nevertheless, the debate highlights a recurring problem of Latvian coalition governance and showcases the arithmetic of presidential re-election bids in parliamentary systems.

Bērziņš first election in 2011 was overshadowed by the dissolution of the parliament by a referendum initiated by his predecessor, Valdis Zalters, following parties’ failure to agree on Zatlers’ re-election and parliament’s refusal to lift the immunity of an MP accused of corruption. Therefore, Zatlers’ re-election was unlikely from the start and Bērziņš – the only other candidate – won in the second round of voting with a 53:41 margin. Apart from his own party, however, only the social-democratic ‘Harmony Centre’ officially supported his candidacy and other parties decided not to impose a whip on its deputies, so that it is difficult to ascertain which other parties (or at least the majority of their deputies) eventually supported him. Even though no other candidates have officially been announced yet, this lack of clarity on his initial election does not make it easier for Bērziņš to decide whether or not to run again.

seat distribution latvia 2

The problems for Bērziņš lie both within the governing coalition and beyond. At first glance, it would seem likely that Bērziņš as a representative of the third largest party in parliament and the second largest in the coalition (commanding only 2 seats less than Prime Minister Straujuma’s ‘Unity’) should be re-elected to guarantee continued good relations between president and government. However, ‘Unity’ representatives still remember all too clearly Bērziņš’ unprecedented intervention in the formation of the first Straujuma cabinet (see also previous blog posts here & here), so that party leadership sees a possibility to select a more passive candidate. Furthermore, it is rumoured that senior party figures in Unity (including speaker and party leader Solvita Āboltiņa) have an interest in becoming president themselves. Yet as none of them currently has the full support of the Unity faction, the official party line is that it will support a candidate from another candidate to provide for a better sharing/separation of powers. Meanwhile the National Alliance (the third coalition) has openly speculated about nominating Egils Levits as their candidate for president. Levits, a judge at the European Court of Justice, former minister of justice and well-respected law professor and diplomat, might thereby be a candidate who would be able to draw votes from both government and opposition parties.

Eventually, the problems of agreeing on a common presidential candidate appears to be symptomatic for Latvian coalition governments. In previous presidential elections, government parties frequently fielded their own candidates only in two out of six managed to get a common candidate elected (Nikolenyi 2014). While the Latvian presidency is less powerful (not the least due to its indirect election), its shorter term length (3 years 1993-1999; 4 years 1999-present) makes it a more ‘speculative’ post which can be made subjected to political deals more easily. Furthermore, following president Zatlers successful post-presidency career (his – now defunct – ‘Reform Party’ won the second largest share of votes in the 2011 elections), the post has possibly also become more attractive to politicians who find themselves in the middle (rather than the end) or their political career.

President Bērziņš finds himself in a difficult situation. Leaders of parties have stated that they would wait for the president to make his intentions clear before announcing any candidates of their own or openly declaring support for his re-election. Even Bērziņš could convince at least some Unity deputies to support him, it seems unlikely that ‘Harmony Centre’, currently the largest of all parties in parliament (24/100 seats) and thus key to a victory without support from all government parties, would elect him again. Harmony’s opposition to Bērziņš is thereby not only linked to the president himself, but also to his party. On the one hand, party leader Urbanovics still resents Bērziņš for not providing more support in obtaining access to to classified information (a highly contentious issues given the party’s association with the ethnic Russian minority). On the other hand, Harmony was forced to concede committee seats to the ‘For Latvia from the Heart’ party due to a lack of support from the Union of Greens and Farmers. While Bērziņš’ re-election is not impossible, the fact that he has to ‘make the first move’ with incomplete information appears to be his biggest disadvantage.

New publications

Cristina Bucur, ‘Cabinet ministers under competing pressures: Presidents, prime ministers, and political parties in semi-presidential systems’, Comparative European Politics, Online First.

Robert Elgie and Iain McMenamin, ‘Divided executives and democratisation in semi-presidential regime’ in Politicheskaya nauka, no. 3, 2014, pp. 40-59. Published as ‘Разделенная Исполнительная Власть И Демократизация В Полупрезидентских Системах’, Политическая наука, 2014. – № 3: Посткоммунистические трансформации: политические институты и процессы / Ред. и сост. номера Харитонова О.Г.

Shane P. Singh and Ryan E. Carlin, ‘Happy Medium, Happy Citizens: Presidential Power and Democratic Regime Support’, Political Research Quarterly, 2015, Vol. 68(1) 3–17.

Tom Ginsburg , ‘Chaining the Dog of War: Comparative Data’, Chicago Journal of International Law, 2014, Vol. 15: Iss. 1, Article 8. Available at:

Thomas Ambrosio, ‘Leadership Succession in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: Regime Survival after Nazarbayev and Karimov’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, Volume 17, Issue 1, 2015, pp. 49-67.

Ioannis N. Grigoriadis, ‘The Turkish Presidential Elections of 10 August 2014’, Mediterranean Politics, Published online: 10 Mar 2015, DOI:10.1080/13629395.2014.997430

Patrick Schmidt and Mary Stegmaier, ‘The 2014 presidential and early parliamentary elections in Macedonia’, Electoral Studies, Volume 36, pp. 210-213.

Boniface Dulani and Kim Yi Dionne, ‘Presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections in Malawi, May 2014’, Electoral Studies, Volume 36, pp. 218-225.

Felipe Botero, ‘The legislative and executive elections in Colombia, 2014’, Electoral Studies, Volume 36, pp. 225-229.

Presidential Assent in India

The two Houses of Parliament enact legislation in India. But, like in the United States, these Bills do not become law until the President assents. Article 111 in India’s Constitution provides for assent generally: “When a Bill has been passed by the Houses of Parliament, it shall be presented to the President, and the President shall declare either that he assents to the Bill, or that he withholds assent therefrom”. The subsequent proviso moderates this discretion: The President may return the Bill “as soon as possible” to the Houses with a message to reconsider it. However, if the Houses enact the Bill with or without amendments and present it to the President for assent, “the President shall not withhold assent therefrom”. The proviso also has a further exception: The President cannot return Money Bills for reconsideration. The power to veto legislation is an important one. In presidential systems, it is often the subject of intense political and academic debate. In contrast, the provision has hardly attracted attention in India; it is one of India’s forgotten powers.

Article 111 is not without significance. The President has at least two options. He or she may assent to a Bill; ordinarily it is the least controversial option. Or the President may return the Bill to the Houses seeking reconsideration. This is undoubtedly more controversial. It is, after all, a public statement that the President disagrees with the preferences of the two Houses. Depending on the circumstances, such a return may take censorial overtones against the government. But when should the President undertake such an exercise? Article 111 sets no definite time line. The provision merely commands the President to “declare either that he assents to the Bill, or that he withholds assent therefrom”. If the President evinces interest in returning the Bill, the proviso nudges him or her to do so “as soon as possible”. These amorphous words clearly make “delay” an option. Similarly, a returned Bill does not enjoy the protection of a specific time line. The proviso merely says that if both Houses re-enact the Bill with or without amendments, the President “shall not withhold assent therefrom”. But more crucially, is a third option possible? May the President sit on a Bill indefinitely? Unlike the American provision on assent (Article 1 § 7), there is no assent by implication in India. For a Bill to become an Act, the Indian President must affirmatively assent. That naturally raises the tantalizing possibility of “death” – not just delay – by presidential inaction: May a President kill a Bill by doing nothing? Even this cursory reading of Article 111 demonstrates its invasive potential. And surely this makes its “forgotten” stature all the more puzzling.

The amnesia has a long history. It began in the Constituent Assembly itself. Unlike many other provisions of the Constitution, Article 111 in its draft form commanded little comment or criticism. Members barely noticed it. In fact, the original draft of the provision was even more skewed in favour of the President. The proviso was differently worded: “Provided that the President may, not later than six weeks after the presentation to him of a Bill for assent return the Bill … to the House with a message requesting that they will reconsider the Bill or any specific provision thereof, and, in particular, will consider the desirability of introducing any such amendments as he may recommend in his message, and the Houses shall reconsider the Bill accordingly”. This proviso offered a specific time line within which to return a Bill. However, it said nothing about the fate of returned Bills. In the Constituent Assembly, two changes were made. First, the specific period of “six weeks” was substituted with the more amorphous “as soon as possible”. B. R. Ambedkar, one of the principal architects of the Constitution, shepherded this amendment. Second, and more importantly, the proviso was elongated to explain the fate of Bills reconsidered by the two Houses and thereafter returned to the President. L. N. Mishra proposed that the following words be added: “if the Bill is passed again by the House with or without amendment and presented to the President, the President shall not withhold assent therefrom”.  Without these words, the proviso, he argued, was “incomplete and inconclusive”. The Constituent Assembly agreed, and voted it in. With two amendments and no further discussions, members, it seems, forgetfully voted Article 111 into the Constitution.

The provision, though, did not remain forgotten for long. Sharp disagreements erupted over constitutional provisions even before the ink had dried on the newly inaugurated Constitution. Ironically, Article 111 was in the centre of that political storm. In July 1950, Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President, wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, questioning elements of the Bihar Zamindari Abolition Bill (a proposed law on land redistribution) and signalling his reluctance to sign it. He was concerned about the inadequacy of compensation for those whose lands effectively stood nationalised. Nehru’s Cabinet pondered over the matter, and decided that the compensation scheme provided for in the Bill was fair. Prasad persisted. He wrote to Nehru again asking that it be delayed so that the relevant ministries could reconsider his “strong convictions” on the matter.  But when Nehru threatened to resign, he gave in. He assented to the Bill along with a comment noting his disagreement. But the second – and more protracted – battle came in September 1951 when Nehru sought to reform Hindu family law by legislation. Prasad immediately made his objections to the Bill known, suggesting to Nehru that he reserved the “right to examine on its merits” and take measures “consistent with the dictates of [his] conscience”.  Alarmed by the likelihood of presidential obstruction to a set of reforms dear to him, the Prime Minister wrote to the President arguing that the latter had no “authority to go against the will of Parliament”. Clearly, Nehru read Article 111 as a “routine” provision; the President was to rubber-stamp his assent on Bills without applying his mind. And he lined up a battery of lawyers to make the same point on his behalf. Eventually Prasad gave in. Nehru’s overwhelming victory in 1952 (in India’s first general elections) meant that the President could no longer press his personal objections; Nehru had the people on his side. A little noticed provision in the Constituent Assembly effectively became the source of India’s first major constitutional controversy.

But once Prasad folded, the provision too, it seems, folded with him. It would take almost 40 years before Article 111 would be the source of controversy. It was 1987. The two Houses of Parliament enacted the Mail Interception Bill which among other things gave the executive extensive powers to intercept personal communication. President Zail Singh was unimpressed. The provisions of the Bill, he felt, violated the right to privacy. He sat on it. On two occasions, he informally suggested certain changes to it.  When nothing came of those efforts, he simply sat on the matter indefinitely. The President killed the Bill by sheer inaction. Article 111 reared its head again; and the possibilities of that provision were on full constitutional display.

The most recent controversy involving Article 111 came in 2006. It had to do with the Office of Profit Bill, 2006. The two Houses of Parliament hurriedly enacted a self-serving piece of legislation that protected members from disqualification with retrospective effect. Unsurprisingly, when it reached President A. P. J. Kalam, he took his time. He consulted with constitutional experts and wrote back to the two Houses, suggesting that the Bill be reconsidered. This was the first time a Bill was vetoed and formally returned. The Manmohan Singh Government, however, chose not to pay heed to those suggestions. The same Bill was re-enacted and sent back to the President. This too was new. Naturally, never before was a President confronted with a “returned” Bill. Did President Kalam have the authority to simply sit on the returned Bill indefinitely à la Zail Singh? The answer remains unclear. After more than a fortnight of tantalizing suspense, Kalam relented.  He made – what he later described as – the “toughest” decision of his presidential term and signed the Bill into law.

These three controversies attest to the potentials of Article 111. Under right circumstances, it may be the source of great unease for a government.  And yet, remarkably little has been said about it in scholarly literature. It remains poorly read and poorly understood – in fact almost forgotten.  The amnesia though hasn’t served India well. This must change. There is much to be gained by engaging the President on debates on parliamentary legislation; Article 111 needs to be resurrected. In my next posts, I shall turn to the existing analyses (the little that exists anyway), explore their inadequacies and offer an alternative reading – one that enlivens the provision and renders the President relevant to the project of parliamentary lawmaking.

The Politics of Obama’s Presidential Library

Sometimes, elections can have unintended consequences. In the recent mayoral race in Chicago, incumbent Rahm Emanuel failed to secure a majority of the vote, which forced a runoff scheduled for April 7th. Polls show that Emanuel, who served as Barack Obama’s first chief of staff from 2009-2010, has a strong lead over his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia. But his reelection victory (if he does wins) is not the only thing that has been delayed. By now, many believed that Obama would have announced the location for his presidential library. That announcement has also been delayed until after the mayoral election so as not to politicize the decision, though most observers expect that Chicago will be the winner in the presidential library sweepstakes.

Since Obama was first elected in 2008, speculation about where he would locate his library usually focused on just two locales—his home state of Hawaii, and his adopted home state of Illinois. According to numerous media reports, Chicago, and specifically land close to the University of Chicago, is the presumptive favorite. Columbia University in New York (where Obama received his bachelor’s degree), the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu are also among the top contenders. The University of Chicago, however, seems to be the Obama’s first choice. Not only do they still own their home on the city’s South Side where the campus is located, but Obama previously taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago’s School of Law. However, the Obama Foundation (which will make the selection) expressed concern that the desired park land near the campus might not be available for the library. As mayor, Emanuel, who has remained close to Obama since leaving the administration (and for whom Obama campaigned in the recent mayoral election), devised a plan for the Chicago Parks District board to transfer 20 acres to the city for the library’s use. Emanuel has campaigned aggressively for the library to be located in his city. Initially, Garcia opposed the plan, though he has recently changed his mind. Black voters overwhelming support bringing the library to Chicago, and both Emanuel and Garcia are competing for that segment of the vote. Hence the delayed announcement—the Obama Foundation does not want to appear to be giving Emanuel an unfair advantage in the campaign.

This is not the first time that controversy or intense competition surrounded the selection of a presidential library site. The George W. Bush Presidential Library, located on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, faced fierce competition from other universities and locations in Texas. When speculation grew by 2007 that SMU (of which First Lady Laura Bush was an alumna) would be the selected venue, SMU faculty protested. Some claimed that the University had bypassed faculty governance in the decision-making process, while others were opposed to Bush administration policies and did not want SMU forever linked with his presidency. A Methodist group also opposed the library’s location at SMU, claiming that it was inappropriate to link Bush’s presidency to a university bearing the Methodist name. Nonetheless, the Bush White House announced in 2008—his last year in office—that SMU would house the future presidential library, which opened in 2013.

Timing can matter in the selection process. In 2009, Obama advisors stated that a first term was too early to think about plans for a presidential library, despite early lobbying from the University of Chicago and the state of Hawaii. The George W. Bush team did not officially discuss plans for a library until 2005, the first year of the second term. Yet, Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, had selected the site for his presidential library—Texas A&M University in College Station—in 1991, just more than two years into his term. In hindsight, the early selection turned out to be a smart move as Bush would lose reelection in 1992. Archivists at the Bush Library have claimed that the last few weeks of the Bush administration in late 1992 were chaotic when it came to organizing, boxing, and shipping the documents to a storage facility in Texas; the Bush team had not anticipated losing the election and assumed that they would have a second term to plan for securing and storing the documents while waiting for the library to be built.

When they open, presidential libraries can serve many functions. First and foremost, presidential libraries are repositories for the papers, records and historical materials of the president. They also help to secure the president’s legacy through the many documents that are available in the library for researches, as well as the numerous displays promoting the president’s personal and political life in the museum. While political speeches, debates, or conferences may be held at each presidential library, often with events supported by the president’s individual foundation (which is a private aspect of each library to help promote the legacy of the president and to provide financial support for educational programs), the library archives are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which ensures open access with no political or ideological affiliation. Presidency scholars value the access to these documents as the memos, notes (sometimes handwritten), and other documents from those who worked in the administration provide a unique perspective into the decision making of some of the most powerful figures in American government. The working papers for each administration since Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) are available in the thirteen presidential libraries (the Obama Library will be the fourteenth). The Library of Congress houses the papers for most administrations prior to Hoover.

The presidential library system first began with Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, who wanted to preserve the papers and other materials from his time in office. Previously, presidential papers were often given to family members, administration officials, and many were even destroyed. In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act, which established a system of libraries (that at the time encompassed the libraries of Hoover, FDR, and Harry Truman), to be built through private funds and then turned over to the federal government to maintain and oversee the facilities. Since then, when a president leaves office, NARA establishes a Presidential Project until the new presidential library is built and transferred to the federal government. Nearly all presidents have since willingly worked with NARA to preserve their documents, though Richard Nixon is an exception. Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 set off a series of lawsuits lasting more than two decades to decide who owned his presidential papers and tapes, how they would be processed, and where they would be housed. The Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, would not officially join the NARA presidential libraries system until 2007.

The process of building a presidential library and providing public access to presidential documents can take several decades, from the initial site selection, funding and construction of the facility, and the review and processing of documents by archivists (opening most collections in a presidential library can take 20-30 years or more). If the timeline for recent presidential libraries is accurate, the Obama Presidential Library should open sometime around 2021-2022. While American citizens may not enjoy full transparency of all actions of their federal government, an expectation now exists that the papers of each president will eventually be made public. And, according to NARA, millions of visitors pass through presidential museums each year, suggesting that Americans do not quickly forget their former presidents.

Shane P. Singh and Ryan E. Carlin – Happy Medium, Happy Citizens

This is a guest post by Shane P. Singh and Ryan E. Carlin from the University of Georgia and Georgia State University respectively

As democracy’s third wave gathered steam, constitutional engineers argued fervently that “getting the institutions right” could help inoculate fledgling democracies from breakdown. Linz famously warned that reverting to presidential models of democracy in Latin America would perpetuate the cycle of democratic instability in the region. He cautioned of a “dual mandate” problem: since both executive and legislature could claim to speak for the voters, they were destined to clash. Fixed terms and an aura of sovereignty would only make the matter worse and lead to praetorian politics. Such arguments notwithstanding, newly (re-)emerged democracies throughout Latin America maintained presidentialism but reformed its institutional framework by improving its flexibility and stability in various ways. This broad institutional experimentation begs the question: are certain models of presidentialism more likely to produce consolidated democracy?

Focusing on attitudinal consolidation, in an article recently published in Political Research Quarterly, we reason that executive powers are associated with opinions about democracy. On the one hand, voters expect a degree of control over presidents, and a president that supersedes his or her mandate could spur disillusionment with the principles and performance of democratic regimes. On the other hand, an enfeebled president who lacks power could end up in perpetual conflict with the legislature, leading voters to become unhappy with policy immobilism and, ultimately, a deficit in representation. Thus, from a citizen’s perspective, the sweet spot should lie in the middle. Presidents who are either very weak or very strong will foster discouragement with democracy. But presidents who have balanced powers, and thus must engage in some give and take with the legislature, will cultivate public support for democratic regimes.

To test our expectations, we gather surveys spanning 1995-2005 from 18 Latin American countries, all with presidential models of democracy. Our dataset includes over 100,000 individuals, each of which was asked a.) whether they believe democracy is the best form of government, and b.) whether they are satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. We also gathered three measures of presidential power: an index of the legislative powers afforded to the president by the constitution, a measure of the degree to which the president is constrained by the legislature, and a measure of the president’s realized legislative success, or “box score,” calculated as the percentage of bills initiated by the president that were approved by the legislature.

As expected, we find that each measure is associated with attitudes toward democracy in a curvilinear fashion. That is, as presidential power and prerogative initially rise, individuals become more positive toward democracy, but at a certain point, further increases in presidential strength harm attitudes toward democracy. Our findings are illustrated in the figure, which makes it clear that each index of presidential power has an inverse-U shaped relationship with democratic support.

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As an example, the bottom-right panel depicts the relationship between legislative success and the probability that a citizen is “very”or “fairly” satisfied with democracy. Consider a president whose passage rate is just 33 percent, like Colombian president Ernesto Samper in 1996. Starting from this low success rate, a standard deviation increase is associated with about a 7-percentage point increase in the likelihood that a citizen is satisfied with democracy. Citizens value presidents who are not completely ineffectual. Compare this to a president with twice the passage rate (66 percent), such as Honduran president Carlos Roberto Reina in 1996. Starting from this middling success rate, a standard deviation increase is associated with about a 10-percentage point decrease in the likelihood of a respondent expressing satisfaction with democracy. Citizens also value presidents who are not completely dominant.

Interestingly, this curvilinear relationship is not conditional on economic performance or trust in the president. In other words, citizens do not desire very strong powers for presidents who preside over booming economies, and even citizens who fully trust the president become less positive toward democracy when he or she wields vast authority.

Our findings suggest that, when it comes to fomenting mass regime support, not all forms of presidentialism are created equal. Presidential democracies are most legitimate in the eyes of the citizens where presidents enjoy a happy medium of lawmaking power. And although presidents with vast formal powers and/or broad legislative majorities can avoid gridlock and fluidly implement their agendas, such behavior can fuel discontent with democracy and undermine its legitimacy. The same is true if the president’s every attempt to effect legislation is thwarted. Of course, the idea that a balance of power is good for democracy is nothing new. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

Note: a slightly different version of this post appeared at The Quantitative Peace in June of 2014.



Shane P. Singh is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. He received his Ph.D. in 2009 from Michigan State University. His research focuses on the institutional and contextual foundations of political behavior and attitudes. His work has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and his research has appeared in many academic journals and edited volumes. His website is found at


Ryan Carlin political scienceRyan E. Carlin is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University. He received his Ph.D. in 2008 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a Faculty Affiliate of GSU’s Center Latin American and Latino Studies and the Center for Human Rights and Democracy, and an Affiliated Researcher of the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University. His research interests are comparative political behavior and public opinion, with a regional emphasis on Latin America. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, USAID, the Mellon and Ford Foundations, and the Latin American Studies Association. He is co-editor of The Latin American Voter (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming) and his work has appeared in many academic journals. His website is found at