Monthly Archives: March 2016

Congo Brazzaville – Opposition calls for protests following presidential poll “marred by fraud”

President Denis Sassou Nguesso won reelection in the March 20 presidential election, securing a first round knock-out win with 60.4 percent of the votes, according to official results. The runner-up, Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, won 15.1 percent and General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko came in third with 13.9 percent of the votes; five other candidates split the remainder of the votes. This outcome was not a huge surprise, given the conditions under which the poll took place. To protest against what they perceive as a fraudulent process, opposition leaders have called for a strike.

The election originally scheduled for July 2016, was moved up at Sassou’s Nguesso’s initiative, following the adoption of a new constitution by referendum in October 2015. This constitution “sur mesure,” designed to fit Sassou Nguesso, removes the 70 year age limit (the incumbent turned 70 in November 2013). The new constitution has also changed the duration of presidential terms from 7 to 5 years, for a total of three terms. This is another convenient change for Sassou Nguesso who was coming to the end of his second 7-year term, hitting the two term-limit under the 2002 constitution. Interestingly, the new constitution transitioned Congo Brazzaville from a presidential to a semi-presidential system by providing for a prime minister who can be voted out of office by the National Assembly (Art. 160) – though it requires a two thirds majority of deputies to pass a no-confidence vote and the president can respond by dissolving the legislature and call for new elections (Art. 162).

Voting and counting for the presidential poll took place under a complete telecommunications blackout. Phone and internet providers were asked by the government to shut down service “for reasons of security and tranquility.” The European Union had declined to send a delegation to observe the election, stating that electoral reform adopted in January 2016 did not guarantee a democratic, inclusive and transparent presidential poll.  Also, moving up the election date made it impossible to substantially improve on the quality of the voter registry, threatening the credibility of the election results. The African Union did send an observer delegation headed by former Prime Minister of Djibouti Dileita Mohamed Dileita. The AU delegation found that moving up the date compromised the proper organization of the election, indicating in its preliminary statement that the early election date “didn’t give opposition parties the time necessary to prepare for the polls.” In a press statement, the United States State Department noted “numerous reports of irregularities that have raised concerns about the credibility of the process.” The Socialist Party in France (the party of President Francois Hollande) put it more bluntly: it finds the results published by “a notoriously biased election commission” not credible.

To protest against an election they say was marred by fraud, five of the eight candidates who ran against Sassou Nguesso have called for civil disobedience, asking citizens to stay home to observe a “ville morte” (ghost town). On March 29th, neighborhoods in the southern part of the capital Brazzaville that are known to be opposition strongholds, such as Bacongo and Marché Total, were largely deserted and stores shuttered. In contrast, in the northern suburbs and downtown, it was largely business as usual. In other words, Congo was “half dead” for the day, according to a local news agency.

The secretary general of the ruling Parti congolais du travail (PCT), Pierre Ngolo, has called on the opposition to channel its electoral complaints through the legal process. According to the electoral code this can be done within a 15 day period after the announcement of results – that is until April 7th. This is not necessarily a promising prospect in a country where the rule of law is weak, the judiciary is underfunded and subject to political influence, and where the courts overturned the election of four out of seven candidates belonging to the opposition party UPADS in the 2012 legislative polls.

Senegal’s controversial constitutional referendum – how much of a change?

On March 20th Senegal held a referendum on constitutional amendments introduced by President Macky Sall. The yes- and the no-campaigns competed vigorously in the weeks leading up to the vote and ultimately the yes-campaign backed by President Sall won with 62.7 percent of votes. Voter turn-out was 38.3 percent. The referendum was widely seen as a test of President Sall’s popularity. Proponents of the no-campaign included the youth group Y’en a marre and even members of Sall’s own coalition such as the mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall.

Key among the newly passed amendments is the one reducing the duration of presidential terms from 7 to 5 years (art. 27). This was a campaign promise by President Sall when he ran and was elected in 2012 – and paradoxically the most controversial element of the referendum. The change will only apply to the next mandate, meaning that Macky Sall will serve out his current 7-year term. Opponents say this is going back on his campaign promise of shortening his present mandate – calling it Wakh Wakhet (going back on his word). Also, critics are suspicious that Sall may use the constitutional change to restart the presidential term-counter at 0 and claim he can run for two more terms, as did former President Abdoulaye Wade before him. Macky Sall and his supporters point to an opinion by the Constitutional Court that the duration of the presidential mandate could not be changed mid-stream. They also underscore the wording of the new art. 27 which states that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms.”

In total, 20 articles of the 2001 constitution were replaced or had sub-articles added.  Overall, the changes affecting presidential powers are fairly minor.

Amendments in addition to shortening the presidential term include:

  • Allowing independent candidates to run in elections at national and local levels (new art. 4).
  • Setting an upper age limit for presidential candidates at 75 years (new art. 28).
  • Institutionalizing the position of Leader of the Opposition with specific rights and responsibilities to be determined by law (new art. 58). This is a position that exists in a number of Francophone African countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Guinea.
  • Giving the Senegalese diaspora the right to elect their representatives in the National Assembly (new art. 59).
  • Increasing the membership of the Constitutional Council from 5 to 7 judges, of which 2 now have to be proposed by the National Assembly (new art. 89); and requiring the validation by the Constitutional Council of organic laws (new art. 78).
  • Instituting the practice of regular questioning of the Prime Minister and cabinet by the National Assembly (new art. 85), and the right of parliamentary committees to hold hearings with leaders of public entities and parastatal companies (new art. 81).
  • Locking in the duration and number of presidential mandates, as well as the mode of election of the president which cannot be changed through constitutional revisions (new art. 103).
  • Providing for transparency in the management of natural resources that must be exploited in a sustainable manner and for the benefit of the people (new art. 25-1); and requiring the government to protect the environment (new art.25-2).

President Sall chose a more modest revision than the complete overhaul of the constitution proposed by the National Commission for Institutional Reform (CNRI) in 2014. Among the innovations proposed by the CNRI which Sall did not include among his amendments were the following [see previous post here for further details]:

  • Requiring that the president step down as chair of his/her party.
  • Prohibiting a direct family member of an incumbent president to succeed him/her.
  • Requiring that the president appoint a prime minister from a list of three candidates submitted by the parliamentary majority, if the presidential and parliamentary majorities differ [that is, in case of cohabitation], in which case executive power would largely shift to the prime minister.
  • Reducing the legislative majority required to override a presidential veto from three fifths of the members of parliament to a simple majority.
  • Limiting the president’s power to dissolve parliament.
  • Capping the size of the cabinet at 25 ministers.

Though the newly passed amendments do provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Council, they do not check presidential powers nearly to the extent envisioned by the CNRI. The CNRI had its origins in the Assises nationales, a one-year long consultative process conducted by parties and civil society organizations in opposition to then President Abdoulaye Wade. When Sall ran and won against Wade in 2012, he was backed by a large opposition coalition with roots in the Assises.

Slovenia – From Milan Kučan to Borut Pahor: Presidents during government formation

Although Slovenia’s constitution provides only a limited amount of constitutional power to the president, these presidents have established a – at times – powerful role in politics. The Slovenian President is directly elected with an absolute majority in the first round (Art. 103). Slovenian Presidents do not participate in cabinet meetings, they hardly have any competences for times of crisis, yet a countersignature – e.g. by the prime minister – is not stipulated in the constitution. Without competences in the legislative process (no legislative veto and no legislative initiative; Art. 91 and 88), the president gains power mainly through the nomination and appointment procedure for the prime minister. In addition, Slovenia is also one of the prime examples for the influence of the behavior and role interpretation of the first incumbent on the latter role of presidents. Thus, in this post, I will bring these two perspectives together and outline the role of the presidency within the process of constitution making throughout 1991 and describe presidential behavior in the nomination process of prime ministers based on two examples.

Presidential power or rather the perception of presidential power is nicely illustrated by the following observation: “[…] in Slovenia the presidency depends very much on the charisma, political style and ambitions of the person holding the office” (Krašovev and Lajh 2008, 217; see also Cerar 1999). The role interpretation of the first incumbent after the end of the communist rule – President Milan Kučan – depended on these three ingredients. This can already be seen in the circumstances of the constitution-making process after 1989. The transition and the constitution-making process were characterized by intense elite negotiations (Kitschelt et al. 1999, 39) and a strong and dominant role of the oppositional forces, especially after the first free election in April 1990 (Töpfer 2016). Hence, the constitution-making process was driven by an expert group chaired by Peter Jambrek, meeting at Podvin Castle. Next to Peter Jambrek, I could confirm the names of Tine Hribar, Franci Grad, Matevž Krivic, Ivo Perenič, Miro Cerar, Lojze Ude and Tone Jerovšek as participants in Podvin (Slovenska ustava je stara 2012). This elite-driven process was – at least concerning the presidential institution – a highly strategic power struggle. Several authors (among them e.g. Krašovec and Lajh 2008; Töpfer 2012) have convincingly argued that the elite group in Podvin, consisting of members or supporters of the governmental coalition Demos (which was in name and in character the democratic opposition in Slovenia), wrote a tailor-made constitution. Yet, not to be misunderstood, this tailor-made constitution narrowed down the role of the first incumbent and still considered representative of the communist nomenclature, Milan Kučan. He had already been elected president since April 1990 at the time of the constitution making. In December 1991, the new constitution was adopted by parliament. The constitution established one of the weakest – yet directly elected – presidents in Europe. The only important power resource is the presidential role in the nomination and dismissal of the prime minister. According to Art. 111 of the constitution, the president has the first say in the nomination of the prime minister, in case the nominee does not gain the necessary majority in parliament, the president has the right to nominate again – the same candidate or somebody else within 14 days. In case the second vote fails, the president has the right to dissolve parliament and call for early elections, except parliament manages to elect another candidate as prime minister within 48 hours. Art. 116 and Art. 117 further stipulate the provisions concerning the dissolution of the assembly based on a constructive vote of no-confidence (similar to e.g. Germany).

One episode that illustrates the use of this competence is the nomination of Prime Minister Drnovšek by President Kučan in 1996, which was at the same time a decisive moment for the democratic development of Slovenia. Using his constitutional power in the nomination procedure of the prime minister, the president proposed Janez Drnovšek. Yet, the equal distribution of parliamentary seats would have allowed for a different decision. Consequently, Drnovšek needed a second round of votes due to a lacking majority. He was again nominated by the president (Krašovec and Lajh 2008) and finally passed the investiture vote of parliament, although only as a minority government (Lukšič 2010, 746). This power struggle, the steadfast commitment and Kučman’s activity in times of crisis, in this case the question of “[…] political continuity of centre-left governments” (Krašovec and Lajh 2008, 216), was also considered to be a commitment to democratic consolidation. Furthermore, in exceptional political situations, such as the unclear majority constellation after the 1996 parliamentary elections, Slovenian Presidents gain more influence and use their at other times very limited power resources.

This is most certainly counterbalanced by a clearly restrained role in everyday politics. “Interventions by the president in day-to-day decision-making processes have so far been only sporadic and rarely problematic, at least from the viewpoint of the majority of the electorate” (Krašovec and Lajh 2008, 216). This behavior is not only observable for Kučan in the 1990s, but also more recently for example for President Borut Pahor (president since 2012). As president he used his competences in the nomination and dismissal of the prime minister to influence the date of the general elections (see Bucur 2014). In this exceptional political situation, the otherwise restrained role of the president turned into the nucleus of the political game. It is certainly no coincidence that the politically experienced and influential, not to mention highly connected Borut Pahor used this path and showed the potential possibilities of the constitutionally weak presidential institution of Slovenia. Pahor was the former Prime Minister of Slovenia, the former President of Parliament of Slovenia and is, since 2012, the President of Slovenia (President of the Republic of Slovenia 2014). Pahor also recently initiated a constitutional amendment to change the nomination procedure of cabinet ministers. This initiative puts forward the idea that the president should be able to directly nominate cabinet ministers and not only confirm the selection of the prime minister. Based on the reports of the constitution committee it seems that this initiative was controversially discussed and is since then stuck in the committee (Parliament Slovenia 2016). It will be thus interesting to see if the constitutional competences will be expanded with this important element.

This brief view on two episodes of presidential influence show neither Milan Kučan nor Borut Pahor shy away from using their limited formal powers and creatively expand it in times of crisis. However, despite these two example were decisive moments in Slovenia’s recent political history, the otherwise limited amount of competences will not allow for these episodes to become something more frequent. No matter how charismatic Slovenian Presidents are, or how favorable the parliamentary majority might be, the limited constitutional power reinforces the power disparities to the benefit of prime minister and cabinet and to the detriment of the president.

Bucur, Christina. 2014. “Slovenia – How a “weak” president played a key role in the timing of a general election.” Accessed September 11, 2014.

Cerar, Miro. 1999. “Slovenia.” In Semi-Presidentialism in Europe, edited by Robert Elgie, 232–59.

Kitschelt, Herbert, Zdenka Mansfeldova, Radoslaw Markowski, and Gabor Tóka, eds. 1999. Post-Communist Party Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krašovec, Alenka, and Damjan Lajh. 2008. “Semi-presidentialism in Slovenia.” In Elgie and Moestrup, Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe, 201–18.

Lukšič, Igor. 2010. “Das politische System Sloweniens.” In Die politischen Systeme Osteuropas, edited by Wolfgang Ismayr, 729-772.

Parliament of Slovenia. 2014. Homepage. Accessed March 23, 2016.

President of the Republic of Slovenia. 2016. Homepage. Accessed December 19, 2014.

Slovenska ustava je stara 21 let. 2012. December 23. Accessed January 28, 2015.

Töpfer, Jochen. 2012. Transformation in Slowenien und Makedonien. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Töpfer, Jochen. 2016. “Slovenia.” In Fruhstorfer and Hein, Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems. VS Springer.

Niger – Newly elected President Mahamadou Issoufou faces the challenge of healing political divisions

Within hours of being confirmed the winner of the March 20 presidential run-off, incumbent President Mahamadou Issofou invited the opposition to join a government of national unity. According to preliminary results released by the election commission (CENI), Issoufou won reelection with 92.5 percent of the vote against former chairman of the National Assembly Hama Amadou who garnered 7.5 percent. Voter turn-out was 59.8 percent according to the CENI – a figure challenged by the opposition that claims only 11 percent of voters turned out on election day.

Issoufou’s overwhelming reelection was not exactly a surprise, after the opposition coalition COPA 2016 (Coalition for Alternation) backing challenger Hama Amadou called on its supporters to boycott the run-off. Issoufou had won 48.4 percent of the vote and Hama 17.8 percent in the February 21 first-round election [se previous blogpost analyzing election results here]. COPA 2016 had alleged an unlevel playing field and fraud in that election. However, once a run-off was announced, the 23 parties making up COPA 2016 stated they would participate and back their candidate, Hama Amadou.

The days following the declaration of results from the first round were followed by intense maneuverings from both camps, trying to secure the support of unsuccessful candidates who didn’t make it to the run-off. Issoufou succeeded in getting the endorsement of Ibrahim Yacouba, his former deputy chief of staff who had broken ranks with the president’s PNDS party last year, as well as the support of a number of other first round candidates – totaling about a dozen percent of votes. In contrast, COPA 2016 was unsuccessful in rallying additional pledges behind its candidate, Hama Amadou.

Hama Amadou did not withdraw from the race, but COPA 2016 called for voters to stay home and declared that the opposition would not recognize the results, complaining about unfair treatment of its candidate. Hama spent election day in a hospital in Paris, whereto he was taken days before the poll for treatment for an unspecified chronic illness. Hama left for hospital from his prison cell in Filingué where he has been awaiting trial in a case of alleged baby trafficking since November 2015; he and a number of other high-ranking Nigeriens stand accused of falsely claiming parenthood of children born to Nigerian women. Hama maintains the case is politically motivated and calls himself a political prisoner.

This election has been tense and the campaigns virulent. President Issoufou and opposition leaders Hama Amadou, Mahamane Ousmane, Seyni Oumarou and Amadou Boubacar Cissé (the four who head COPA 2016) have all been active in politics since the early 1990s, when Niger first transitioned to democracy. Their paths have crossed in various ways, and they have been political allies and opponents at different points in time. Most recently, Hama Amadou supported Issoufou in the 2011 presidential run-off against Seyni Oumarou, but fell out with Issoufou in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

In the past, the military has intervened three times – in 1996, 1999 and 2010 – at times of political crisis. In December 2015, the government of President Issoufou announced it had thwarted an attempted putsch. Some opposition leaders were arrested for their possible involvement and others after publicly questioning the veracity of the government’s claim that a coup had been in the works.

The opposition has turned down Issoufou’s offer of joining the government and instead decided to boycott the legislature. When the newly elected National Assembly was seated on March 24th, none of the 53 representatives of member parties of COPA 2016 took up their seats in the 171-member legislative body.

To heal the deep political divisions, there is clearly a need for if not a government of national unity, at least some initiative at dialogue, as also called for by CENI president Boubé Ibrahim upon announcing the run-off results. Moving forward, Niger would similarly benefit from greater renewal of political leadership within its main parties to bring in new blood and leaders free from a long history of mutual resentments.

Benin – Sets Regional Example in Presidential Election, Votes Peacefully for Change

This is a guest post by Ulrike Rodgers, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

On March 20, Benin’s approximately 4.7 million voters went to the polls for the second time this month to elect a new president. The first round on March 6 had seen a crowded field with 33 candidates. Five candidates were considered frontrunners: Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, businessmen Patrice Talon and Sébastien Ajavon, former Prime Minister Pascal Irenée Koupaki, and former Minister of Economy Abdoulaye Bio Tchané.  Outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi, in office since 2006, respected Benin’s constitutional two-term limit and did not run for a third five-year mandate. Earlier concerns by the opposition and civil society that he might attempt to change the constitution to run again remained unfounded.

After a lively two-week electoral campaign, none of the top five candidates obtained the necessary 50%+1 on March 6 to win in the first round. Prime Minister Zinsou collected 856,080 votes (27.11 percent), followed by Patrice Talon (746,728 votes or 23.52 percent), Sebastien Ajavon with 693,084 votes, Abdoulaye Bio Tchané with 262,389 votes, and Pascal Irénée Koupaki with 177,251 votes. Turnout was 63 percent.  Benin’s National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) confirmed that a second round would be held on March 20.

Shortly after the proclamation of the results of the first round, Sébastien Ajavon announced his support for Patrice Talon in the run-off as the latter faced off against Lionel Zinsou. Talon was also able to enlist the support of Bio Tchané and Koupaki.  Bénin’s voters and media impatiently anticipated the run-off on March 20. The country held its breath after the polling stations closed on Sunday night. In the morning of March 21, the CENA published preliminary results: Patrice Talon leads overwhelmingly with 65.39 percent against Lionel Zinsou with 35.61 percent of the votes.

In a historic first, the unsuccessful Zinsou called Patrice Talon during the night from Sunday to Monday — even before the CENA released preliminary numbers — to concede defeat. On Monday, many Beninese citizens reacted publicly with joy and relief over the peaceful conduct of the elections and the perspective of a successful transition.

The election confirmed that a majority of Benin’s voters are ready for profound political change and reforms after President Boni Yayi’s 10 years in office.  Lionel Zinsou had been appointed prime minister by the outgoing leader in June 2015 and was seen by many as Boni Yayi’s political heir. Zinsou chose the theme of “Continuity” at the center of his electoral campaign, in stark contrast to Patrice Talon. The successful self-made millionaire and businessman campaigned on the motto of “Change” (Rupture) and has vowed to step down after a single five-year mandate.

Both rounds of the election were observed by a consortium of domestic civil society groups, the Plateforme (, which deployed some 3350 observers to polling stations country-wide and operated a data collection center (‘Situation Room’) at the Marina Hotel in Cotonou with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Open Society Initiative West Africa (OSIWA), and other donors. In its preliminary post-election declaration of March 21, the Plateforme commended the CENA, voters and candidates on the overall success and peacefulness of the elections, but also pointed to insufficiencies, such as delayed openings of many of the 13,501 polling stations, the delayed and incomplete distribution of voter cards, isolated cases of ballot stuffing, attempted votes by minors, and vote buying. The Plateforme also noted the positive impact of the presence of representatives of the constitutional court who, for the first time, observed proceedings, and of domestic and international election observers on the overall election climate.

Benin’s incoming president will have to swiftly address a number of economic and social challenges that have shaken the country during the final years of Boni Yayi’s presidency. The country has been hit by economic scandals including its own “Madoff” pyramid investment scheme that defrauded Beninese citizens of 150 million Euro. Last year, the country was paralyzed by a four-month general strike. The next president will have to hit the ground running and institute credible reforms fast to instill confidence in economic recovery and social justice. If the CENA confirms the preliminary results, Patrice Talon – who has pledged to step down after a single term — has an ambitious calendar ahead of him.

Cabo Verde – Opposition wins power after 15 years

Cabo Verde’s main opposition party won an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, which were held last Sunday, 20 March. The centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD) led by José Correia e Silva managed to beat the ruling socialist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), taking back power after 15 years.

A record number of six parties participated in the parliamentary elections. Preliminary results show that the MpD won an absolute majority (40 seats) in Cabo Verde’s 72-member National Assembly. The ruling PAICV, led by former minister of youth, employment, and human resource development, Janira Almada, lost roughly 30,000 votes and saw its parliamentary representation decrease from 38 to 29 seats. Cabo Verde’s third largest party, the centre-right Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID), consolidated its support, gathering three seats in parliament.

Since the 1991 multi-party elections, the MpD and PAICV have dominated politics. The MpD controlled both the presidency and the National Assembly from 1991 to 2001. The next 15 years the PAICV ruled with José Pereira Neves as the head of government and Pedro Pires (PAICV) as the head of state. The 2011 presidential elections generated a unique political situation in Cabo Verde, namely cohabitation when incumbent President Jorge Fonseca (MpD) defeated PAICV candidate Manuel Sousa.

The electoral victory of the MpD was not entirely unexpected. The MpD defeated the PAICV in the 2012 local elections where the former won 14 of 22 municipalities, two more than in the 2008 local elections. The PAICV has come under attack for running up the public debt on expensive infrastructure projects and failing to tackle rampant youth unemployment. The Cape Verdean economy recorded an unemployment rate of 15.5 per cent and a public debt of 120 per cent of the GDP in 2015.

How to boost economic growth was one of the central themes in the election campaigns. The MpD promised to create 45,000 new jobs and to achieve economic growth of seven per cent, which is currently at three per cent. Cabo Verde’s next Prime Minister, Correia e Silva (born 1962), is an economist and has vast experience in the banking sector. He served as state secretary of finance between 1995 and 1998 and was minister of finance from 1999 to 2000.

With the MpD in power, President Fonseca’s chances of getting re-elected increase. Presidential elections that are scheduled for August this year.

Tanzania – President Magufuli’s first months in office

This is a post by Michaela Collord

Hapa kazi tu! Straight to work! Such was the slogan used by Tanzania’s newly elected President, John Pombe Magufuli, on the campaign trail. After nearly five months in office, Magufuli certainly has made an impression.

His anti-corruption campaign and no-nonsense governing style have sent his popularity soaring. At home, he is being compared to Tanzania’s founding father, Julius Nyerere, a figure of almost mythic proportion. Abroad, Magufuli has also won over a following, not least Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. Long seen as an ascetic hard worker in his own right (albeit one with strong authoritarian tendencies), Kagame is now openly emulating his fellow East African leader’s cost-cutting zeal.

Other observers are more cautious, wondering whether this one-man ‘bulldozer’ can address Tanzania’s entrenched development challenges, many of which are deeply political in nature. Still more are concerned at the worrying signs that political freedoms in Tanzania are being suppressed.

Magufuli’s actions so far send mixed signals, some inspiring and others decidedly less so.

From sweeping streets to ‘bursting boils’

From Day 1, Magufuli has positioned himself as an energetic populist. He quickly made it clear his government would slash all wasteful expenditure. He surprised many by ordering an end to ‘unnecessary foreign travels’ for government officials, declaring that the $150m saved on air travel costs would be reinvested in road construction. He also cancelled Tanzania’s Independence Day celebrations, instead showing up in front of State House wielding a broom and calling on fellow citizens to participate in a collective environmental cleanup. Money saved from the scaled down inaugural ceremony for MPs’ was later diverted to buy hospital beds. Perhaps most surprising of all for many was that new beds did indeed appear and road construction is underway. At the same time, some are feeling the pinch. Restaurants and bars in Dar es Salaam are noticeably quieter of late, with many speculating that cash strapped civil servants are staying home after Magufuli put a stop to their paid meetings, extra fuel allowances and other perks.

Weeding out corruption, or ‘bursting boils’ to use Magufuli’s phrase, has been an equally important part of the overall campaign against government waste. Weeks into his presidency, Magufuli made a surprise visit to Muhimbili National Hospital, firing the Director and dissolving its Board. He also promised a crackdown on ‘big businessmen’, directing Tanzania Revenue Authority Commissioner General, Rishad Bade, to target tax avoiders. His Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa, later showed up at the TRA offices unexpected and suspended Bade while investigation are ongoing into the disappearance of 349 shipping containers from TRA’s records. Senior officials at the Tanzania Port Authority, responsible for handling the containers, were also suspended.

Magufuli and his ministers, many of whom are seen as technocrats, have kept up the pressure with a series of high profile firings and reappointments. They have also expanded beyond government. For instance, PM Majaliwa has revoked ownership of large tracts of unused farmland, some of which is owned by highly placed political figures as well as businessmen. He has promised the land will be redistributed to local peasants.

On another front, the government is trying to push through a series of ambitious policy measures. In his inaugural address to parliament, Magufuli promised free primary and secondary education. The government is also pushing local councils to improve infrastructure to ensure enough classrooms for students. Magufuli has sought to further ease pressure on the average Tanzanians’ pocketbook by directing the state-owned energy-generating company to cut connection fees and tariffs, measures which should also incentivize more Tanzanians to connect to the grid.

Despite a succession of what look like encouraging moves, Magufuli’s style, which seems to capitalize on surprise, has left many wondering what the overall plan may be. So far, directives seem to come straight from the President or his ministers. In several instances, this approach has resulted in rapid decisions while consultations only follow after affected parties voice their dismay. Individual ministers and other government officials have been criticized for their seemingly imperious unilateral decisions. Opposition parties as well as the Commission for Human Rights have decried, in particular, the firing of civil servants without the due process to which government employees have a right. More recently, Prime Minister Majaliwa was singled out by doctors, who complain that they are being stigmatized as a result of his call to fire medical workers caught taking bribes.

There are also concerns about the economic implications of some of the government’s measures. On the one hand, revenue collection is up, the shilling is strengthening again after a precipitous slide and there is genuine optimism that corruption and underperformance amongst government officials is in decline. On the other hand, some argue that Magufuli’s policies could make for an uncertain investment climate, or else could lead to excess government spending.

Perhaps more serious than this, there is the very real concern that if Magufuli is to consolidate his bold gestures into a long-term, coherent agenda, he will need to ensure broad support beyond his inner cabinet circle. This involves taming the rent-seeking, factional tendencies within his own party.

Is his party with him?

Analysts argue that widespread corruption and economic stagnation In Tanzania have much to do with the internal politics of the long-time ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). In recent decades, competing factions have increasingly divided the party, hindering its ability both to control corruption and to implement a coherent economic policy agenda. As Brian Cooksey argues, ‘within the ruling party, the use of rent-seeing of all types to advance the interests of groups of rentiers intent on taking control of the party has heightened pressures to loot the public purse and natural resources.’ Hazel Gray meanwhile underscores how, despite CCM’s strong formal institutional and appearance of centralized authority, ‘neither the president nor any one particular faction could enforce its particular agenda within the ruling party.’

There is a possibility that Magufuli is well positioned to impose discipline within the party in a way his predecessors could not. For one, Magufuli’s path to the presidency has left him relatively unencumbered by the kind of political baggage that has hampered his predecessors. He built his reputation as a competent, largely scandal-free minister, who most people discounted out of hand during CCM’s hotly contested presidential nomination struggle. One major reason for this was Magufuli’s lack of a strong mtandao, the Swahili word used to refer to the opaque political networks behind successful candidacies within CCM. And yet he emerged the surprise winner after two rival factions, one headed by then President Jakaya Kikwete and another by his former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, dealt each other a mutual, knockout blow.

A second factor that could play in Magufuli’s favour is the exit, or at least temporary silencing, of the faction within CCM associated with Lowassa. After losing out on his nomination bid, the former PM left the party to become the opposition presidential candidate during last year’s general elections. Politicians who were known to support Lowassa, and yet remained within CCM, are now being made to denounce their former ally while others have been threatened with the prospect of expulsion from the party. Meanwhile, members of the Tanzanian business community who backed Lowassa now find themselves in a very precarious position, with some reports of businessmen taking their operations abroad. Senior officials within CCM have suggested that, far from weakening the party, the fall from grace of one of its strongest factions could actually help restore unity, at least temporarily.

Another important point in his favour is that Magufuli himself has made an accurate diagnosis of the political challenge ahead of him. When delivering his inaugural address before Parliament, he identified two obstacles to achieving his development aims: ‘leaders like us in here and crooked, deceptive businessmen.’ Unlike his predecessors, who have made similar observations, Magufuli is showing signs of actually following words with action, notably through his crackdown on tax avoidance. He is also set to take over as CCM Chairman later this year and, along with the reform minded Secretary General, has hinted at a political cleanup in the 2017 internal party elections.

Finally, Magufuli’s popularity since taking office also makes it more difficult for any political opponents within the party to criticize him openly.

Each of these apparent advantages has its downsides, though. Magufuli’s lack of a strong network coming into office makes him vulnerable as much as it frees him from costly political debts.  Discussions with some insiders have pointed to a potential isolation within the party, something which may not be helped by his tendency to appoint technocrats to key positions, or by his promise of an aggressive crackdown on political financiers and corrupt politicians alike. The purge of Lowassa supporters in the party, which former President Kikwete is leading, also shows signs of creating more divisions rather than restoring unity.

Ultimately, it is unclear how Magufuli—or anyone else—could do away with the entrenched cronyism that has come to characterize CCM. Since the 1980s and 1990s when first economic liberalization saw the party lose control over parastatals and then political liberalization cut its lucrative government funding, CCM has grown to depend on financial support from the private sector, which it then rewards through government tenders, tax breaks, and other kickbacks. This state of affairs is what has helped fuel party fragmentation across rival clientelist networks, as observed by Cooksey and Gray earlier in this piece. While Magufuli appears to have a window of opportunity to reign in rent-seeking within CCM, and deliver substantive development gains in the process, it is unclear how long his agenda can endure without a relapse into the old way of doing politics.

Political dissent under Magufuli

Whatever one may think of Magufuli’s development agenda, political tolerance and a faith in institutional checks and balances do not appear to be among his main qualities.

Regarding the opposition, Magufuli has been loath to intervene in a series of political stand-offs since he became President. Admittedly they were not of his making, but he showed no sign of wanting to contribute to their solution. Most obviously, he has refused to intervene over the political impasse in Zanzibar, which emerged following the decision by the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission to annul the results from last year’s elections. This move appears to have been motivated by a strong opposition performance in the polls. A rerun election was held in Zanzibar on March 20, but with the main opposition party boycotting the polls, CCM made a clean sweep amidst record low turnout. In the lead-up to this latest vote, rumors spread of police violence against opposition sympathizers, buildings belonging to both CCM and opposition supporters were torched and a critical journalist was kidnapped. Many fear more unrest ahead.

Magufuli also refused to heed opposition calls for him to address the stand-off over the mayorial elections in Dar es Salaam, which the opposition accused CCM of trying to rig.

Regarding Parliament, concern that the government was trying to control the legislative body surfaced shortly after Magufuli took office. He nominated lawyer, who had previously served as Deputy Attorney General, to become MP. She subsequently contested and won the position of Deputy Speaker, despite no prior experience in parliament, bar a brief stint in the Constitutional Assembly. Many interpreted this move as an effort to install a government watchdog in the House. Tensions rose again after the opposition found its strongest members were kept off the most powerful parliamentary committees. It appears the executive had a hand in lobbying the Speaker over the composition of these committees. The opposition has developed a confrontational style in the house; however, the decision by one of the parliamentary chairmen to have the entire opposition side forcibly removed by the parliamentary guards was a further low point for that institution. The opposition standoff was triggered by a government announcement that the public broadcaster would stop live broadcasts of parliamentary debates.

In recent years, the Tanzanian Parliament has become more assertive. It has refocused the political agenda by helping to reveal corruption scandals and by strongly criticizing elements of the government annual budget. However, as one CCM MP noted, ‘I don’t think the President is going to be so submissive to the Parliament again.  Actually, we have very clear evidence he wants to control it. So he won’t be driven by the parliament but he will want to drive it.’

Magufuli has certainly brought a new energy to government in Tanzania, and with it, a genuine sense of optimism, which should not be dismissed. Indeed, his push for more accountability and government investment in social services is already bearing fruit. As we move forward though, tensions within his own party, and its crony politics, could pose a serious challenge to his administration. His negligent handling of opposition, meanwhile, is already feeding into a deepening political stalemate in Zanzibar while his apparent aversion to legislative criticism threatens to impoverish political debate.

Ireland – The problems of government formation

This is a guest post by Gary Murphy from the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University


The Irish general election of 26 February 2016 has thrown up an inconclusive result which has made government formation extremely difficult. A month on from the election we know that when the Dáil reconvenes for the second time since that election (today 22 March) a new government will not be formed. The new Dáil originally met on Thursday 10 March and with no new government or Taoiseach elected on that day a caretaker Fine Gael Labour government led by a caretaker Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny continues in office. The intervening two weeks have seen no substantial progress made on forming a government and in that context we can expect that the caretaker government will continue in office for some more weeks yet.

The result of the general election continued the trend of austerity governments in Europe being rejected by their electorates. The two party coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour elected in 2011 with a massive majority of 30 seats in the 166 seat parliament was roundly rebuffed by the Irish voters. Fine Gael’s vote fell from 36.6 per cent in 2011 to 25.5 per cent in 2016 and they lost twenty six seats since 2011 falling to 50. Their coalition partners Labour did even worse collapsing from a record high vote of 19.6 per cent in 2011 to a record low of 6.6 per cent while recording a crushing loss of thirty seats going from thirty seven to just seven.

The main beneficiaries of these catastrophic losses for the government were the main opposition parties, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and a plethora of independents ranging from those on the far left of Irish politics to a number of former members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil known colloquially as gene pool independents.

Fianna Fáil the party which has dominated governance in the Irish state since it first entered government in 1932 performed a Lazarus like resurrection in the 2016 election. Dumped unceremoniously out of office after the economic crash by an angry electorate in 2011, Fianna Fáil’s vote fell to 17 per cent in that election down from 41.5 per cent in the previous 2007 election. They also lost a barely believable 58 seats going from 78 in 2007 to just 20 in 2011. Many (but not the present writer) predicted that Fianna Fáil was in terminal decline and would no longer be a major force in Irish politics. But despite being somewhat becalmed in opinion polls for the past twelve months on between 17 and 19 per cent of the vote Fianna Fáil had an excellent campaign and ended up polling 24.4 per cent of the vote and winning 44 seats, just six behind Fine Gael. In fact the 2016 general election results mirrored the 2014 local election results giving lie in an Irish context at least to the view that second order elections are meaningless come a general election.

This was nevertheless Fianna Fáil’s second worst general election since the foundation of the Irish state. Just over three decades ago the three main parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour received 94 per cent of vote. Now it stands at barely 55 per cent and the combined vote of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is less than 50 per cent. As recently as 1977 Fianna Fáil received over 50 per cent of the vote on their own. The stability of the party system that was the hallmark of Irish politics since the foundation of the state was originally diluted by the collapse of Fianna Fáil in 2011 and has surely been finished off by the Fine Gael result in 2016.

For their part Sinn Féin won 13.8 per cent of the vote, up 4 per cent since 2011, and increased their seat total from 14 in 2011 to 23 in 2016. Yet while this result on the surface looks impressive there can be little doubt that Sinn Féin, running on an anti-austerity agenda will be ultimately disappointed that both their vote and seat tally did not increase more substantially, particularly given the levels of dissatisfaction the electorate clearly felt towards the governing parties.

The fragmentation of Irish politics and the anti-party sentiment that has been pervasive within Irish society since the Troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund arrived to bailout the Irish state in November 2010 was crystallised in 2016 by the rise of independent candidates who won 23 seats and received seventeen per cent of the vote. We can also add in the new Social Democrats party into this independent mix as their three existing TDs, all independents prior to the party’s formation in July 2015, were re-elected and they managed to have no other candidate elected. The People Before Profit – Anti Austerity Alliance can be included here as well as party cohesion has never been a strong point for those of the far left of Irish politics.

Given that Fine Gael were 30 seats short of being able to govern and Fianna Fáil 36 seats, as the new Dáil contains 160 seats, down from 166 in 2011, government formation has proved exceedingly difficult since the election. The only plausible coalition option is one between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil yet for that great Rubicon to be crossed in Irish terms will take a great leap. The antipathy both parties feel for each other is very great indeed. The alternative of a minority government led by either main party and tacitly supported by the other aided by help from like-minded independents and smaller parties seems far-fetched at this stage. The difficulty here is that any Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil led minority government which doesn’t have some sort of binding agreement by both parties would be very difficult to make work. Such a government would most likely fall and pretty quickly at that as it simply couldn’t govern effectively knowing that the main opposition party could bring it down at any opportunity. An added difficulty here is that the third main party in the Dáil, Sinn Féin, refuses to have any input into government formation at all, seemingly content to grow in opposition while those in government wither.

But government formation and the difficulties therein were not on the minds of the Irish voter when they went to the polls on the last Friday in February. The RTE exit poll showed that just nine per cent of voters viewed government stability as the most important issue when casting their ballot. Further data from that exit poll shows that just 13 per cent of voters viewed a Fine Gael Fianna Fáil grand coalition as their preferred governmental option. Only 15 per cent of Fine Gael voters and 20 per cent of Fianna Fáil voters wanted it when they went to the polls and it’s most likely probably even less now given Fianna Fáil’s resurgence and Fine Gael’s retrenchment.

In a previous post I wrote on the limitations of the role of the President in the Irish system. One of the few substantive powers the Irish president does have is the absolute discretion to refuse a dissolution of Dáil Eireann – Article 13:2:2 of the Irish Constitution Bunreacht Na hEireann. There has been much talk in the Irish media of the possibility of a second election in the next short number of months if a new government cannot be formed. In that context it might yet fall on President Michael D. Higgins to play a far more central role in government formation in Ireland if those TDs elected to Dáil Eireann cannot agree on a new government. By the power vested in him by the Constitution he will be fully entitled to refuse to dissolve the Dáil and to thus insist that some form of government be formed. These are strange days in Irish politics and they could become even stranger in the fraught weeks ahead.

Gary Murphy is Professor of Politics and Head of the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University. His latest book Electoral Competition in Ireland since 1987: the politics of triumph and despair will be published by Manchester University Press in March. Twitter @garymurphydcu

Haiti – The political situation in flux

Joseph Michel Martelly finished his term as president on February 7 2016. As expected, he handed the presidential sash to the president of the National Assembly, Jocelerme Privert. 7 days later, the same Privert was sworn in as interim president for 120 days, to conclude the electoral process that Martelly has been unable to close. This post analyses the political events that have taken place since the departure of Martelly and the implications for the electoral process and political stability in Haiti in the near future.

The consequences of the end of the Martelly era

The failure to hand the presidential sash to a constitutionally elected president on February 7, meant that the worst nightmare of Michel Martelly became true. The election of Privert by the legislators put a hold on the political ambitions of the heirs of Martelly. In practice, since February 14 the opposition forces that contested Martelly in the streets have held the political initiative. Privert has been maneuvering to sidestep the caretaker government left in place by the president.

Two days before leaving office, Martelly signed an agreement with the leaders of the assembly and the senate that would serve as a blueprint for the transition until new elections. The accord stipulates that the parliament would elect an interim president, who would establish a new electoral council, evaluate the results of the first round of the elections, and organise the remaining electoral contests on April 24. The inauguration of a newly elected president is scheduled to take place on May 14.

More than 30 days after the election of the interim president, the political process has been stalled. Privert has not been able to form a new government. He has also been unable to convince the legislators allied with the party of Martelly to vote for the chosen prime minister, Fritz Jean. The leaders of these legislators have voiced concerns about the fact that the nomination of Fritz Jean means giving absolute control to the former opposition to Martelly. In this sense, more than one month after the departure of Martelly, the political situation is still not clear in Haiti.

What should we expect from now?

The departure of Martelly on February 7 has left a clear political winner: the opposition parties that took to the streets to contest his political decisions and the elections. Since then, many of the members of these parties have official entry to the palace and the president. Street protests have mostly been silent. All actors are trying to manoeuvre the situation so as not to lose ground and have enough leverage to influence the political process when the elections are held. In this sense the actual political situation in Haiti is tense but calm with actors expecting a clash over the political process.

The forces that derailed Martelly’s plan to hand over the presidency to Jovenel Moise have so far had the upper hand. An interim president was sworn in, a new electoral council (CEP), mostly containing former critics of the previous CEP, will take over the electoral process; a commission for evaluating the electoral process will be formed. We can be almost certain that the candidate of the PHTK, the party of the former president, will find it very difficult to win the upcoming elections.

But in this context many important questions remain unanswered. First it is not clear how the groups allied with Martelly will react when it becomes clear that they will lose power to influence the course of the political events in Haiti. Are they going to use the streets as their opponents did during the government of Martelly? Are they going to use the paramilitary forces that threatened to defend Martelly in his final days in office? Will each legislator try to save his own situation indivually? History shows that the structural weakness of political parties plays against any group strategy in Haiti. Influential politicians agree to particular deals to advance their own situation to the detriment of other members of their groups.

The second series of questions concerns the behaviour of the members of the opposition? Are they going to maintain their alliance in order to confront the challenges posed by the Martelly camp? So far the parties that formed the former opposition have been unified in the face of the challenges they had to overcome in order to win the battle against Martelly. Here too history has shown that unity is not a path always favoured by Haitian politicians.

Finally, as we enter the second month of the presidency of Jocelerme Privert still awaiting the formation of the new electoral council, it is almost certain that 120 days will not suffice to organize the elections. In this sense, it is probable that the parliament will need to prolong the mandate of the interim president and its government. What kind of guarantee  will Privet give in order to secure the continuity of the presidency?

It will be necesarry to watch very closely the behaviour of the actors in the coming days to have clear answers to these interrogations. But what is clear is that the short-term political future of Haiti hinges upon their response. The way they interpret their interest will dictate the degree of political instability that lies ahead.

Kiribati – New President Taneti Maamau elected

Kiribati went to the polls again last week to elect Taneti Maamau as their new Beretitenti or President. Under the two round runoff electoral system presidential candidates are nominated by members of the Maneaba ni Maungatabu (parliament) and then compete in a nation wide ballot. Maamau ran against two candidates from the ruling Boutokaan Te Koaua (BTK) party, Rimeta Beniamina and Tianeti Ioane, eventually winning more than 20,000 votes. The President of Kiribati is both Head of State and Head of Government.

Maamau is the fifth president of Kiribati since the country became independent in 1979. As outlined previously on this blog, Kiribati’s stability is an anomaly in a region where votes-of-no-confidence regularly topple governments. Constitutional provisions that ensure votes-of-no-confidence automatically trigger full elections are a key reason why this mechanism is rarely used in Kiribati.

Maamau’s election is significant for a number of reasons:

First, it brings an end to 12 years of BTK rule under the leadership of former President, Anote Tong. Tong had served the maximum three terms allowable under the Kiribati constitution. His advocacy work on climate change issues in particular had thrust the tiny island nation into the international spotlight. In recognition of this achievement Tong was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Second, the new Beretitenti will initially lead a minority coalition of 20 MPs. The BTK Opposition will have 25 MPs. Holding the new government together while attracting disgruntled MPs from the BTK is likely to be a key feature of Maamau’s first year in office. Indeed, the Coalition have expressed their confidence in winning over new members, with former President, Teburoro Tito, telling Radio New Zealand International that:

“We know that we may not work too hard to attract some of these people form the other party because they have already made indications when the election of the speaker was conducted some weeks back. So we think it is not going to be an insurmountable task for us to get numbers on our side.”

Tito’s confidence reflects the high personalised nature of Kiribati politics and the fact that political parties play a minor role in mobilizing voters. In this context being a member of government offers MPs greater access to resources that, if used effectively, can improve their re-election chances.

Third, the new government has been quick to claim a mandate for change. The nature of this change and the means by which it will achieved remains somewhat unclear. At the very least Maamau’s election represents something of a generational shift with the independence generation of politicians being slowly replaced by a new cohort of leaders. Its not that they are all gone – past presidents Tito and Tabai remain in parliament and the former is likely to be a key figure in Maamau’s government despite not holding a ministerial portfolio – but the baton is being passed on. Given the economic and social challenges that confront the island nation this is a sizable responsibility for the new man in charge and his cabinet.