Monthly Archives: June 2018

Nicaragua – National Strike Called to Force President Ortega From Office

The nearly three months of near continuous protests, prompted by calls for the resignation of Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murrillo, show no sign of abating. If anything, tension in the Central American state has appeared to intensify. And now on Thursday of this week, the embattled Ortega administration will face a 24-hour general strike organized by opposition groups and with the support of the Nicaraguan Catholic Church. The purpose of the strike is to try and place economic pressure on Ortega; estimates suggest that the strike could cost the Nicaraguan economy US$25-US$30 million.

The protests began in late April in response to the proposed reform of Nicaragua’s social security system and the beleaguered Instituto Nicaragüense de Seguridad Social (INSS). The reforms proposed a five per cent tax on old age and disability pensions, which the government defended as needed to address the fiscal mismanagement of INSS. Protests, led by student groups, soon erupted in Managua and by the first weekend, ten protestors lay dead at the hands of police. The protests soon evolved into a general clarion call for an end to Ortega’s eleven-year rule.

So far, the protests have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 148 people and Ortega now appears to be locked in a degenerating cycle of repression, which has prompted comparisons with the under-siege Maduro administration in Venezuela. If he were to step down, Ortega  likely fears probable prosecution for the deaths of the protestors. The incentive then? Cling to power and crack down on dissent at all costs. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, following a recent visit to Managua, urged the government to halt violent repression and to prevent the use of force by paramilitary groups, which have been attacking protestors. The President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, has also raised the political crisis in Nicaragua at a recent speech at the Organization of American States.

The intensity of the protests previously forced Ortega to pull back on his proposed social security reform and to approach the Catholic Church to intercede. A few weeks ago, talks, broadcast live on television and mediated by the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, were held between government and opposition groups following the death of protestors. The televised talks did not begin well for Ortega however. Hundreds chanted “Killer” as Ortega arrived at the seminary and once the talks actually began, a student leader interrupted Ortega and began reading out the names of all of those who had been killed by police.

Daniel Ortega, previously President of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990 and a former member of the leftist revolutionary Junta Provisional de Reconstucción Ncaional that overthrew the Somaza dictatorship in 1979, re-gained office in 2006 and has adopted both a more socially conservative and business friendly stance. Ortega has been frequently accused of an increasing authoritarian turn and in 2013, he sought reform of 39 articles in the constitution, the most significant of which abolished the presidential term limit.

The Catholic Church, once again this week, has offered to intercede and mediate the dispute between the government and the opposition. It is difficult to see how Nicaragua can completely escape the trap that Venezuelan has fallen into, but the latest reports suggest that Ortega, although he is not willing to step down, has agreed to an early election. One thing is for sure. The crisis in Nicaragua is far from over.

South Korea – Local and by-elections are a strong endorsement of President Moon

Local and by-elections were held on June 13, 2018. 12 parliamentary seats were up for grabs, in addition to 17 mayoral and provincial governor positions, and 4,016 local administrative, legislative and educational posts. Exit polls show that the ruling Democratic Party (DP) has swept the elections: it has taken 11 of the 12 by-elections and 14 of the 17 local seats. The largest opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has been handed a significant set-back: it is expected to take only one of the by-election seats, and two of the local election races.

This year’s electoral contest is closely-watched as a harbinger of President Moon’s ability to extend the momentum of change that brought him into office more than a year ago and convert his high presidential popularity into electoral success for his party, the  DP. It is also seen as a signal the opposition conservative LKP’s ability to weather the significant political setbacks from the impeachment and subsequent conviction of former President Park Geun-hye on corruption and abuse of power charges on April 6, 2018, and the indictment of former President Lee Myung-bak on April 10, 2018, for 16 counts of embezzlement, corruption, and abuse of power. These results are a strong endorsement of President Moon, who has had a tough time pushing his agenda against the large legislative opposition led by the LKP.

President Moon promised a “major shift” in policies when he took office, and he has delivered on, arguably, the most spotlighted and highly-profiled issue of international interest for the year: the President brought North Korea and the United States together at the negotiations table in Singapore on June 12, 2018. The effort towards and accomplishment of bringing the two mercurial heads of government to discuss peace has seen President Moon’s approval ratings remain at unprecedented levels – exceeding high 70s – in the second year in office. Some of this success has brushed off on the ruling DP: it is enjoying approvals exceeding 50 percent amid falling approvals for the other parties in the legislature. These numbers bode well for the DP going into the elections, and the results have supported expectations.

Relations in the Korean peninsula will likely remain in the news for some time to come, and may continue to generate approvals for the President and the DP. This will be useful, given that the President’s other initiatives have not been as stellar. In particular, President Moon’s effort to realize constitutional revisions died in the legislature, while his push for a income-led growth in the country has been resisted by corporations, and small- and medium enterprises.

Talks of constitutional revision have been ongoing since the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution in South Korea; despite the frequency, constitutional revisions did not progress beyond discussions. The clamour for constitutional revision likely hit a peak with former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, and polls in September 2017 report that 78.4 percent agreed that the referendum on constitutional revisions should be held in conjunction with the June 2018 elections.

President Moon pushed the legislature on the issue but was stymied by the LDP in the legislature. Indeed, when the legislature failed to develop revisions, President Moon submitted a constitutional revision bill to the legislature on March 26, 2018. The revisions, developed by a constitutional committee, included decentralization of government and a two-term limited presidency. However, opposition parties boycotted the bill: only 114 legislators were present for the session, far short of the 192 needed to pass, thus effectively killing the bill. Given popular demand for constitutional revisions, the election results may be a signal for how voters view the resistance by the opposition parties.

Another important initiative that the President has pushed is the wage-led economic growth model. Following on this, in July 2017, the Minimum Wage Commission announced a 16 percent wage rise to 7,530 won ($6.60) per hour from 2018, with the possibility of increasing it to 10,000 won per hour by 2020. To ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises are able to meet the new wage increases, as well as to fund the new wage increases and job creation policies, the President called for new taxes. Despite these efforts, youth unemployment remains high; meanwhile, under pressure by businesses and corporations, the National Assembly and the cabinet have adopted revisions to the minimum wage bill so that calculation of minimum wage includes bonuses and benefits, including health benefits. While employers have welcomed the revisions, labor groups argue that these inclusions will effectively offset the new minimum wage policies and have called on the President to veto the bill.

The by-election and local election results are a clear endorsement for President Moon. Much can happen in the two years leading to the next general elections, but the public support, new electoral wins, and the LDP’s losses may pave the way for legislative support of the President’s policies.

Burundi – New constitution, new president?

Burundi adopted a new constitution on May 17, 2018 by referendum, with 73 percent voting in favor. The adoption of a new fundamental text was seen by opponents as a move by President Pierre Nkurunziza to extend himself in power by resetting the term limit clock to zero, while by the same token doing away with power sharing provisions from the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. The campaign period was tense and, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 15 people were killed. The opposition called for the outcome to be annulled due to vote-rigging and intimidation, but was overruled by the constitutional court that validated the results.

Against all expectations, at the ceremony for the promulgation of the new constitution, on June 7, President Nkurunziza declared on national TV that he will not stand for reelection in 2020, when his current mandate ends, stating that “This constitution was not modified for Pierre Nkurunziza as the country’s enemies have been saying. It was amended for the good and better future of Burundi and the Burundian people.”

Nkurunziza, in power since 2005 at the end of the civil war that killed 300,000 people, stood for and won a highly controversial third term in 2015 [see previous blog post here]. A failed coup and crack-down against opponents followed, and it is estimated than 400,000 Burundians have since fled the country, out of a population of 10 million. Under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Burundi became the first country to leave the ICC in 2017.

So what are some of the main changes included in the new constitution? As it appears, a number of provisions for ethnic power sharing have been maintained, while some requirements for power sharing between parties have been eliminated:

  • Burundi returns to semi-presidentialism (the country was previously semi-presidential from 1992 to 1994) with a prime minister as head of government, accountable to both the president and the legislature. The candidature of the prime minister must be approved by both chambers of parliament voting separately (Art. 130), and he or she can be dismissed by a two third majority vote of members of the National Assembly (lower house) – though the president in turn can dismiss the National Assembly (Art. 208). There are no constraints with regards to the ethnicity or the party affiliation of the prime minister.
  • The length of presidential terms is extended to 7 years from five (Art. 97); also, the provision regarding term limits now states that no one can serve more than two consecutive terms – which would seemingly leave open the door for a Putin-like come-back as president after a stint as prime minister.
  • There is now only one vice-president instead of two, who assists the president in the exercise of his or her functions. The vice-president must be approved by both houses of the legislature and must belong to a different ethnic group and party/coalition than the president. Previously, the two vice-presidents had to be from different ethnic groups and parties [from each other, not necessarily from the president]. The First Vice-President was responsible for the coordination of the political and administrative domain, and the second Vice-President for the coordination of economic and social affairs. In the new constitution, the role of the vice-president is left at the discretion of the president.
  • The provision for proportional representation of parties in the cabinet having earned more than 20% of the vote has been removed. The ethnic and gender representation requirements that, overall, at most 60% of cabinet ministers can be Hutu and at most 40% can be Tutsi, and at least 30% must be women (Art. 128) remain in place. Also maintained is the requirement that the Minister in charge of National Defense is not from the same ethnic group as the Minister responsible for the National Police (Art. 135).
  • The parliamentary majority required to pass legislation is reduced from a super majority of two thirds to a simple majority (Art. 180).

While streamlining governing processes – by introducing a prime minister as head of government, removing one vice-president and eliminating the requirement for a super majority to pass legislation – the constitutional changes also eliminate some of the power-sharing provisions enshrined in the 2005 constitution, in accordance with the Arusha Accords. As noted in a previous blog, these power-sharing arrangements had been successful to the extent that: “Today, political competition in Burundi no longer coincides with ethnic cleavages. Furthermore, the dominant party CNDD-FDD, while rooted in a Hutu rebel movement, is no longer perceived as an exclusive Hutu party. In fact, most Tutsi members of parliament are members of the CNDD-FDD and many presidential advisors are Tutsi” (Vandeginste, 2009 p. 75).

However, in the new constitution the representation in government of either of the two majority ethnic groups is still capped at 60% and 40% for Hutus and Tutsis respectively; this does maintain pressure on political parties to be ethnically inclusive (Hutus account for around 85% of the population, Tutsis around 19%, and Twa people around 1%). So not all power-sharing provisions are lost.

The constitutional changes do remove some constraints on the president’s powers and clearly provide greater opportunities for extended stays in the presidential palace. So it is intriguing that Nkurunziza has stated he will not run again in 2020. According to critics, 2020 is still far away, however, leaving Nkurunziza “room to maneuver” in response to “popular pressure” for him to extend his stay in power. That would certainly not be an unexpected development.

Haiti – The next elections are never too far away

In the second year of his presidency Jovenel Moise could use this old saying, “I pray God to deliver me from my friends, so that I can defend myself from my enemies”, to characterize the reality of his relationship with the members of the coalitions around the party PHTK that made possible his past electoral successes. In the absence of an opposition with enough strength to control the government, the infighting in his own camp has been in full display in the last months.

The first issue concerned the composition of the cabinet. One year after the inauguration of the presidency, many legislators from the PHTK are unhappy with the way the government is holding itself. Around March of this year, some of the leaders in the two houses of parliaments begun to ask for major changes in the government. The president stated publicly on many occasions that he thought his government was doing a good job and that he did not think it was necessary to let go of some of the ministers.

But around April 20 the political situation accelerated rapidly. A group of legislators registered a motion of interpellation against the prime minister and demanded changes in 72 hours, or the government would face a no-confidence vote. Before the ultimatum had expired, the president announced the replacement of 5 ministers. Table I shows the name of the new and old head of each Ministry.

Table I. New names in the Cabinet in Haiti


Name of the new minister

Name of the old minister

Interior and Territorial Communities

Jean Mary Reynaldo Brunet

Rudolph St. Albin


Jean Roudy Aly

Heidi Fortuné

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development

Jobert C. Angrand

Carmel Béliard

Culture and Communication

Guyler C. Delva

Limond Toussaint

Haitians Living Abroad

Guy André Junior Francois

Stéphanie Auguste (she held the post in interim)

The new Ministers, especially in the case of Brunet and Delva, respectively Ministers of Interior and Culture and Communication, are known for their close relationship with former president Martelly, whose ambitions to become president again is a growing concern among some of his detractors. But, at the same time, the changes also demonstrate the nervousness among some legislators of the PHTK about the next parliamentary elections, which are due in the second semester of 2019.

The changes to the composition of the government come in the context of an intense debate about the best way to combat the rising level of insecurity that many communities have been experiencing in the last months. The representatives of the PHTK in parliament know that it will be difficult to secure another term with the high level of insecurity that the country is facing in this moment. Hence their desire to regain some  of the initiative through the changes to the Ministers of Justice and Interior. That gives them both a chance to try new approaches and, in passing, a tool to control the territory prior to the scheduled parliamentary elections of next year.

So far, the solutions introduced by the new ministers of Interior and Justice have not convinced any one. In face of the insecurity, they have prioritized a strategy of open confrontation with the gang members that has produced many victims in the communities already besieged by them. The Minister of Justice has gone so far as to jail journalists that allow gangs members to use their programs. In a letter sent to their associations, he declared that those who open their microphone to gang members will be considered as their accomplices.

At the same time, the Minister of Justice has decided to modify, through a presidential decree, the ability of the National Director of the Police to control the troops. The new decree, in a decision that clearly runs contrary to the law, obliges the head of the Police to seek the approval of the Higher Council of the Police, a political institution directed by the Primer Minister, for any changes to the rank and file of the institution. The new decision has been interpreted as an effort to politicize the operation of the institution.

Ironically, the changes in the cabinet that were designed to give the governing party more space to manoeuvre have generated more problems for the government. Even the weak and fragmented opposition has found a new reason to try to reactivate its troops against the government.

Many PHTK legislators have publicly criticised the government. Some are still unhappy about the scope of the changes in the cabinet. Others think that changes in the government should also address other pressing social problems. Many are against the idea being discussed by the government to stop subsidizing gas prices, which represent around 2% of the GDP while Health spending is just 0.8% of the GDP.

In this sense, Jovenel Moise has a real dilemma on his hands. His principal critics are now his own ‘allies’. The actual fight for the control of the government might even foretell the results of the next presidential election in 2021.

New publications

Sujit Choudhry, Thomas Sedelius and Julia Kyrychenko, Semi-presidentialism and Inclusive Governance in Ukraine: Reflections for Constitutional Reform, 2018 International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, available at:

Yu-chung Shen (2017) Institutional resilience of Taiwan’s semi-presidential system: the integration of the president and premier under party politics, Asian Journal of Political Science, 26:1, 53-64, DOI: 10.1080/02185377.2017.1366347.

Tom Ginsburg, “Constitutional Knowledge,” KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge 2, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 15-29.

Berk Esen and Sebnem Gumuscu, ‘The Perils of “Turkish Presidentialism”’, Review of Middle East Studies, Volume 52, Issue 1 April 2018, pp. 43-53.

Hasret Dikici Bilgin and Emre Erdoğan, ‘Obscurities of a Referendum Foretold: The 2017 Constitutional Amendments in Turkey. Review of Middle East Studies, 52(1), 29-42, 2018.

Oksan Bayulgen, Ekim Arbatli, and Sercan Canbolat, ‘Elite Survival Strategies and Authoritarian Reversal in Turkey’, Polity, online 23 May 2018.

Ladi Hamalai, Samuel Egwu, and J. Shola Omotola (eds.), Nigeria’s 2015 General Elections: Continuity and Change in Electoral Democracy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Julian Jackson, A Certain Idea of France: A Life of Charles de Gaulle, Allen Lane, 2018.

Rachel Bitecofer, The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, special issue, Donald Trump’s Challenge to the Study of Elections, vol. 28, no. 2, 2018.

John Street, ‘What is Donald Trump? Forms of ‘Celebrity’ in Celebrity Politics’, Political Studies Review, First Published May 10, 2018,

Zimbabwe – President Mnangagwa makes his electoral play for international legitimacy

On 30 May 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa finally set the date for the long-anticipated Zimbabwean elections. The polls will inevitably be remarkable, as they are the first in 38 years without former President Robert Mugabe on the ballot. The opposition is also fronting a new and untested candidate following the death of opposition titan, Morgan Tsvangirai, in February. As a result, this election has quickly moved into uncharted territory.

While ZANU-PF has used extensive electoral manipulation, intimidation and violence in the past, they are more constrained in 2018 by vastly increased global interest in the polls. Following nearly 20 years as a pariah state, relations between Zimbabwe and the international community have begun to thaw in 2018. President Mnangagwa, who came to power in a military coup in November, is eager to assert his democratic credentials to give the government the legitimacy boost that it needs to restart international lending.

The 2018 election is the last hurdle that he needs to clear before his government will get the global stamp of approval.

The ‘New Dispensation’

In trying to garner such legitimacy, Mnangagwa is trying hard to show that it will truly be a new Zimbabwe under his leadership. There have been some positive moves in terms of electoral administration. In early June, the Judicial Services Commission appointed and deployed magistrates to deal with politically-motivated violence during the campaign.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission appears to be throwing off its long hibernation since its creation in 2013. The enabling act for the country’s transitional justice mechanism was only passed in 2018, under the new administration. The opposition also seems to have been able to mobilise largely unhindered – contrary to their experiences of sustained state harassment during previous polls.

The MDC Alliance held a protest in front of the Electoral Commission’s offices on 5 June in Harare, and many expected it to be marred by clashes with a planned ZANU-PF counter-demonstration. However, this was called off by the ruling party’s leadership who were wary of attracting negative publicity and compromising the credibility of the election.

Plus ça change…

But despite the claims of a ‘new dispensation,’ few things have changed for ordinary Zimbabweans since November. Cash and foreign exchange shortages continue to cripple the economy, formal unemployment remains stubbornly at over 90% and public services are still woefully inadequate. The government recently raised the ire of the public sector by firing 16 000 striking nurses from an already-paralysed healthcare system. It is hard to see how Zimbabwean voters could possibly vote for the party that has overseen the country’s protracted decline.

But Mnangagwa remains the incumbent, and that comes with major advantages. The public media have continued to largely exclude the opposition and trumpet the president’s successes, and the electoral commission has begun to stall key processes for verifying the credibility of the process. The opposition appears to be woefully underfunded, and the ruling party is believed to currently be out-spending them by nearly $50 to every dollar they spend.

Although the president has promised a free and fair election, there remain worrying signs of intimidation in rural areas. A deputy minister announced at a rally in late May that the army would not allow the opposition to take power and although it was quickly denounced by the ruling party, it cements existing fears by many Zimbabweans of the dangers that elections pose. Just-released Afrobarometer survey results suggest that the majority of voters don’t believe that the army will allow the opposition to win the polls.

The Electoral Resource Centre, a Harare-based NGO, recently released findings that while electoral administration appears to have improved in the 2018 polls, the use of intimidation, vote buying and the widespread belief that there is no secrecy of the ballot undermines the process. But at the same time, the electoral commission failed to put the ballot procurement out to tender, raising serious concerns about the secrecy ZEC has maintained around the chosen providers of key electoral materials. This was a major concern in the 2013 polls, and it undermined the credibility of the process.

What about the Opposition?

The opposition lost their long-running leader on Valentine’s Day, and suffered through a damaging succession process. But contrary to experiences in 2008 and 2013, a broad coalition of opposition forces has united behind 40-year old Advocate Nelson Chamisa. He is running on a platform which seeks to maximise the youth vote, dubbed #GenerationalConsensus. Up against a 75-year old incumbent, Chamisa has made much of his youthful energy during the campaign, stopping to do push-ups during marches in the capital.

With a young population, few of whom remember the horrors of the 1970s liberation war and had little experience of the prosperity of the 1980s and early 1990s, Zimbabwe’s youths only know economic contraction and joblessness. Chamisa is selling big ideas, like bullet trains and bringing the football world cup to Harare. It’s hard to say how Zimbabweans feel about these promises.

The opposition is struggling against serious financial shortcomings after most of their traditional funders abandoned them after the 2013 elections. Polls released by Afrobarometer suggest that while support for the opposition has increased (from a very low base), they remain several points behind the incumbent. Their rallies have thus far been well-attended, but it’s unclear whether they can convert rally attendance into votes on 30 July.

Finally, the opposition coalition appears to be considering a very risky strategy. Although Mugabe was pushed out of power, he doesn’t seem happy to while away his days away from the political fray. Most of the members of ZANU-PF who were forced out in the wake of the November coup have resurfaced in the newly-created and (ostensibly) Mugabe-backed National Patriotic Front. In a shock move at the MDC protest on 5 June, members of this party endorsed the MDC Alliance ahead of the polls.

A cash-strapped opposition is now trying to gauge whether Mugabe’s endorsement would be good or bad for their electoral prospects. In Zimbabwe’s rapidly reconfiguring politics, it’s hard to reliably predict the effects of such cross-party collaboration. For a country that suffered for so long under Mugabe, it might just be enough to push some staunch opposition members out of the electoral process. But proponents argue that any help is good help against Mnangagwa’s ‘junta.’

With less than two months to go until the elections, all bets are off in Zimbabwe.

Between Notary and Creator: Presidents and Government Formation in the Czech Republic

This post is based on the article by Lubomír Kopeček and Miloš Brunclík that has just been published in East European Politics and Societies

In this paper, we use our classification system to assess the influence that the presidents of the Czech Republic have so far exerted over fourteen cases of government formation process since 1993.

Let us briefly recall the classification which is presented below. It consists of five major patterns – from “observer” as the weakest head of state, to “creator” as the only government-maker. Unlike numerous indices of formal presidential power, the classification reflects the real constitutional practice of government formation and takes account of various informal factors (e.g. the president’s relationship with parliamentary parties; the presence/absence of legitimacy; the fragmentation of party system) that may strengthen or weaken president in the government formation process (GFP).

Table 1: Presidents’ influence over the GFP

Control over the GFP Political preferences Level of activity
Observer no irrelevant no
Notary limited irrelevant low
Regulator medium relevant medium
Co-designer main relevant high
Creator exclusive relevant very high

Before focusing on the Czech presidents, Václav Havel, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman, it is necessary to briefly describe the constitutional framework that regulates the government formation process in the Czech Republic. The Czech constitution (Art. 68) gives the president a comparatively large discretion in the GFP, when it says only that “The President of the Republic shall appoint the Prime Minister and, on the basis of the Prime Minister’s proposal, the other members of the government and entrust them with the management of the ministries or other offices.” The president is not obliged to appoint the leader of the largest parliamentary party, nor does the constitution specify any time period within which the president has to appoint a new prime minister. This large discretion may explain the protracted government formation, which started shortly after the 2017 parliamentary elections and which has not been accomplished yet[i]. The newly appointed cabinet is obliged to win the motion of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies (art. 68). If the government fails to win the Chamber’s confidence (which requires an absolute majority of votes from the deputies present), the initiative passes back to the president and the constitution prescribes that the whole procedure is repeated. If this second appointed government should fail in the Chamber, the right to choose the prime minister is passed to the Chamber’s speaker. Should the speaker also fail, the president has to dissolve the Chamber.

In this post we summarise only the major findings of our article, which analyzes in detail individual cases of the government formation process[ii]. The actual practice of the GFP shows a great variation in the role of Czech presidents: it varies from notary to creator (see table 2 below). There were thirteen government formation processes in total. We identified eight notary presidents (Havel in 1998/2 and 2002, Klaus in 2006, 2007 and 2009, Zeman in 2014, 2017 and 2018), four regulators (Havel in 1996, Klaus in 2004, 2005 and 2010), one co-designer (Havel in 1998/1) and one creator (Zeman in 2013).

We argue that the variance results from two major factors. Firstly, the timing of the GFP is important. When the GFP directly followed parliamentary elections, presidents were mostly much weaker. This finding applies also to two situations (2006-2007 and 2017-2018)  in which the first attempt to appoint a new cabinet failed, i.e. the cabinet failed to receive a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, given a complicated situation there. However, using their power to appoint yet another cabinet, presidents Klaus and Zeman chose the same person as prime minister, because there was no viable alternative cabinet sponsored either by parliamentary parties, or by president.

Out of six such cases (the GFP following the parliamentary elections), there were five notary presidents (1998, 2002, 2006, 2013-2014 and 2017) and in two cases there were regulators (1996 and 2010). In contrast, when the GFP followed a government break-up during the electoral term of the Chamber of Deputies, presidents were significantly stronger. Out of six such cases, there were two notary presidents (2007 and 2009), two regulators (2004 and 2005), one co-designer (1998) and one creator (2013).

Secondly, the president’s role depends on the actual power of parties, i.e. their ability to act together as a firm parliamentary majority, which 1) does not need much help from the president in the GFP and 2) which is determined to challenge a potential attempt by the president at influencing the GFP more than the parties wish. In several cases, presidents resolved to play a greater role in the GFP than a notary, but often they faced a firm parliamentary majority that actually did not allow them to exert their influence. Indeed, at least in two cases a solid parliamentary majority thwarted overt presidential attempts to leave a much greater imprint on the final outcome of the GFP:  Havel in 1998/2 and Klaus in 2007.[iii]

In contrast, the presidents were particularly strong in times of major political scandals, when parties’ legitimacy suffered heavily and the president could take advantage of it. The most notable examples are Havel in 1998/1 and Zeman in 2013. The last case is particularly important, since it was the first GFP affected by the newly popularly elected president, who made an overt attempt at becoming a ruling president through the installation of a technocratic cabinet without any agreement whatsoever with parliamentary parties. This is a clear example of the president capitalising on his popular election, which was introduced in 2012 and which gave the president a legitimacy advantage. Indeed, Zeman explicitly referred to the fact that he had recently been elected by the majority of Czech voters. Moreover, the technocratic cabinet was closely tied to Zeman’s own party, which, although it lacked parliamentary representation, hoped the ministers would help it get media attention and public support in the 2013 parliamentary elections. This was, however, unsuccessful.

Table 2: Czech presidents in the government formation process

President Year and Prime Minister Role of president
Havel 1996: Klaus Regulator
1998/1: Tošovský Co-designer
1998/2: Zeman Notary (failed regulator)
2002: Špidla Notary
Klaus 2004: Gross Regulator
2005: Paroubek Regulator
2006: Topolánek I Notary
2007: Topolánek II Notary (failed co-designer)
2009: Fischer Notary
2010: Nečas Regulator
Zeman 2013: Rusnok Creator
2014: Sobotka Notary (failed regulator)
2017: Babiš I Notary

The step taken by Zeman was a radical breakthrough in the parliamentary regime and a major shift in the president’s role towards that of creator (e.g. government-maker). In so doing, he destroyed a key constitutional convention linked to the parliamentary basis of the political regime. Comparing the behavior of Zeman with that of his predecessors Havel and Klaus, there is an obvious, substantial, qualitative difference. Zeman’s predecessors always appointed a government cabinet that resulted from a deal with parliamentary parties (only the Tošovský cabinet in 1998 partly broke from the rule).

Thus, with the exception of the Rusnok cabinet (and to a certain extent the Tošovský cabinet too), parties by and large have managed to assert their will against that of the president. This has been substantially facilitated by the fact that no president has managed to create a solid and strong party backing in parliament. As a result, a political proximity between the parliamentary parties and the president plays only a marginal role in the GFP, since the presidents’ relationship to parties was ambiguous and sometimes full of paradoxes.[iv] This has been influenced by the public’s desire for non-partisan or so-called “above-partisan” presidents, who are to a large extent independent of political parties. This is true even though all three presidents were close to some parties or factions. Václav Havel was never a partisan, but he had a number of political allies, particularly in the small parties (the Christian Democrats, Freedom Union etc.), but he never attempted to create his own party. In contrast, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman had been partisan prime ministers and leaders of the then largest parties, but they resigned from their party and their relationship with their original parties became rather cold. Of the three Czech presidents, Václav Klaus enjoyed the strongest party backing, but only in the early days of his presidency. Still, the steps he took when governments led by the Social Democrats found themselves in crisis do not testify to Klaus acting as an ODS politician, although he later displayed moderate preferences for some ODS-led cabinets.

Evidently, Havel and Klaus were careful in building their ties with parties because their presidential mandates originated in parliament. This was not the case with Zeman, who has sought to create his own party backing much more purposefully. Nonetheless, his party (Citizens’ Right Party – Zeman’s Followers) failed in the 2013 elections and the pro-president faction within the Social Democrats likewise lost their standing.

Common to all three presidents has been their ignoring of certain parties or at least creating obstacles to their participation in government negotiations or formation. This was very conspicuous with Havel, who repeatedly excluded the Communists from coalition bargaining, and also the far-right Republicans, when they held parliamentary representation[v]. Despite formally respecting the Communists, Klaus effectively took the same position, and in fact went further by wanting signatures of “non-communist MPs” on a document pledging support for a government. This approach created the foundation for the role of the president-regulator. In reality, however, presidents have not always been successful.

Having applied the classification to the Czech case, we demonstrate a great variance in the degree of influence that presidents exert over the GFP, although formal constitutional rules regulating the GFP have remained unaltered since 1993. To slightly amend Maurice Duverger’s famous statement on the divergence between formal constitutional rules and actual constitutional practice,[vi] we can speak about “uniformity of rules, diversity of games.”

The variance of the roles presidents have played in the GFP results mainly from the timing of parliamentary (and sometimes also presidential) elections and from the solidity of parliamentary parties and their ability to act independently of the head of state. In contrast, the political proximity between president and the parliamentary parties does not appear to be key to understanding the level of influence presidents exert over the GFP.

As far as the Czech constitution is concerned, its importance lies in the fact that it offers the president a substantial and not entirely clearly defined space in the government formation process. In availing themselves of this space, all three presidents have very often refused to play the role of a notary who merely confirmed the results of negotiations between parties or provided a decorative façade for the process. Havel, Klaus and Zeman sought to play very active roles and, circumstances permitting, push through their own political ideas and attitudes.

As for the effect of the popular election, it is beyond doubt that it potentially boosts overall presidential power[vii] and in particular it gives the president additional leverage in the GFP, but only if he enjoys the advantage of legitimacy over parliament. But what is more important, the president has not been able to push political parties into the background and push through his own government. The president’s installation of the 2013 Rusnok technocratic cabinet was only a temporary solution; party leaders once again managed to secure the main say for themselves, and the president was forced into the role of head of state in a parliamentary regime. The increased activism of the popularly elected head of state hit the barriers erected by parties – barriers that the president, lacking his own party backing in parliament, has been unable to overcome.


[i] The Babiš cabinet appointed in January 2017 failed to receive the obligatory vote of confidence in the lower parliamentary chamber and the GFP had to start from scratch. Andrej Babiš was in early June 2018 appointed Prime Minister again, but his cabinet (Babiš II) has not been formed yet, as parties still negotiate with president on filling individual ministerial posts. Also, the junior coalition party – the Social Democrats – are awaiting results of their inter-party referendum that is supposed to confirm or reject party’s engagement in the Babiš cabinet.

[ii] In comparison to the original article, this post takes account of the more recent case of the GFP: Babiš I (Babiš II is being formed in June 2018 and is not therefore included in this post.

[iii] In at least two other cases parties left no room for the president to take initiative (Klaus in 2009 and Zeman in 2014).

[iv] M. Brunclík and M.Kubát, Semi-presidentialism, Parliamentarism and Presidents. Presidential Politics in Central Europe (London and New York: Routledge, 2019 forth.), p. 110 af.

[v] In contrast, president Zeman was clearly in favour of incorporating the communists as well as the radical-right wing populists (the Freedom and Direct Democracy) in a ruling cabinet.

[vi] “Similarity of rules, diversity of games” by M. Duverger, “A new political system model: semi‐presidential government.” European Journal of Political Research 8(1980).

[vii] A. Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven: YUP, 1999).

Tanzania – What Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s new Secretary General means for the party

Last week, President John Magufuli accepted the resignation of CCM’s Secretary General, Abdulrahman Kinana, and chose a replacement, Dr Bashiru Ally. Dr Bashiru, as he is known, was then endorsed by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

At first glance, this may look like an unremarkable transition from one top party bureaucrat to another. More than a change of guard, though, Bashiru’s appointment is part of Magufuli’s ongoing effort to transform Tanzania’s long-time ruling party. The aim is to limit factional contestation and restore CCM’s bureaucratic strength, which had eroded under previous presidents. Both objectives, if achieved, will further consolidate Magufuli’s control.

On Kinana, the one-time reformer

Abdulrahman Kinana, a well-known politician and ex-military man, took over as CCM Secretary General (SG) in 2012 when the party had reached a new low. The previous Secretary, Wilson Mukama, lasted barely a year in office after his plans to tackle corruption in the party exacerbated an already fraught situation. Kinana then inherited the job of restoring calm amongst CCM’s warring factions and confidence amongst its neglected, rank-and-file activists.

He took to the job with gusto. While his demands that ineffective and corrupt ministers be held to account remained controversial, his nation-wide tour—a direct throw-back to a campaign undertaken by former President Nyerere in the late 1980s—was seen as a success. Images of Kinana marching through fields dressed in CCM’s trade-mark green and with a hoe slung over his shoulder sent a powerful message: here was a party ready to reconnect with its roots.

It is hard to know from this media spectacle, though, how much change actually occurred. There is reason to believe that it did not go very deep. Certainly, the large-scale defections ahead of the 2015 elections—from the thwarted presidential hopeful, Edward Lowassa, down to regional and district party officials and activists—underscore the continued strength of factional competition within CCM. Magufuli, as the successful CCM presidential nominee, then ran a highly personalised campaign with scant reference to the ruling party itself.

Whatever the success or not of Kinana’s efforts, they were quickly superseded. When Magufuli won the election—albeit by an historically low margin—and took over the CCM Chairmanship from former President Jakaya Kikwete, he made plain his ambition to pursue a more thoroughgoing party reform agenda. The idea was to eliminate corruption and factional competition and to ensure CCM’s financial autonomy and bureaucratic strength. Admittedly, this stated aim was not that different from what came before. Indeed, Kikwete articulated a similar agenda in his final speech as Party Chairman.[1] But Magufuli soon showed that he intended to follow through in a more aggressive way.

Kinana, the erstwhile lead reformer, seemed less keen to take part in this new project. He attempted to resign as Secretary General in 2016 when Magufuli became Chairman. Magufuli, however, refused to accept his resignation. Kinana then adopted an uncharacteristically low profile, particularly when contrasted with his earlier showmanship. Come March 2017, when sweeping reforms were introduced to CCM’s constitution, Kinana was eclipsed by the young and highly energetic CCM Publicity Secretary, Humphrey Polepole. He then failed to attend a party NEC meeting in October, and ahead of a CCM National Congress in December, he again asked to resign. Magufuli again refused.

Kinana’s frustrations continued. He was reportedly unhappy with the way a committee set up following the December Congress and tasked with reviewing CCM’s assets had conducted investigations without involving him. He also took issue with how the CCM Central Committee (CC), in a break with party procedure and tradition, skipped the primary stage and instead directly nominated parliamentary candidates for two by-elections in January 2018. The CC’s decision was all the more controversial as it picked two outsider candidates who previously served as opposition MPs before defecting to CCM.

Given Kinana’s attitude, it came as no surprise when last week he again asked to resign, this time with Magufuli’s blessing. Having seemingly retreated into the background, Kinana handed over to someone with a very different profile and proven track record, i.e. someone more likely to actively pursue party reforms as laid out by Magufuli.

An unlikely replacement?

As rumours spread that Kinana was about to resign, several names of possible replacements began to circulate. These included Mwingulu Nchemba, former Deputy Secretary General and current Cabinet Minister, and Mizengo Pinda, former Prime Minister. Both Nchemba and Pinda previously contested against Magufuli for the 2015 CCM presidential nomination.

Contrary to these rumours, though, the SG job did not go to a high-profile politician or a long-serving party official. Rather, in what has become a trend with Magufuli’s appointments, the President picked a university academic with weak ties to the ruling party. Indeed, Dr. Ally Bashiru felt compelled in his first days in office to insist that he was, in fact, a CCM member. Although lack of experience in the party might normally be seen as a problem, in Magufuli’s CCM it is an advantage. The President himself was never a party official before assuming the role of Chairman and, as noted, has shown a preference for bringing new people in with him.

Aside limited experience in the party, though, Bashiru has something more positive counting in his favour. He was first put to the test after Magufuli appointed him chair of the above-mentioned committee charged with investigating CCM’s assets. While CCM owns various properties across the country, and should earn a steady revenue as a result, accountability is weak and many assets have been effectively privatised. The committee’s investigation was thus a first step towards recentralising control over the party’s considerable wealth, which could then strengthen its financial autonomy and bureaucratic organisation. Having led the investigation, Bashiru will now be in charge of the next step, namely overseeing the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.

He has shown every indication that he will be a reliable servant to his party chairman during what promises to be a contentious process—even if not openly so. He has already renounced views expressed in the past that go against the CCM line, notably regarding the need for a new national constitution. He has also insisted that he will not participate in “the politics of rallies” (siasa za jukwaani), leaving that to the party Chairman and elected politicians. He will instead, he insists, stick to the low-profile role befitting a public servant or bureaucrat.

By all accounts, Magufuli has found a pair of safe hands to go ahead with the reform effort, a person with no political stature, no connections, and a seemingly strong commitment to following the President’s lead.

Whither CCM?

With Bashiru as Secretary General, the undivided loyalty of the of CCM’s bureaucracy to the party Chairman appears assured, at least within the national secretariat. Should Bashiru then oversee the successful implementation of his committee’s recommendations, CCM may also benefit from additional revenues.

From Magufuli’s perspective, these are both highly desirable outcomes, particularly as Tanzania heads into another campaign season.  The local elections are due next year with parliamentary and presidential polls following in 2020. Given what recently happened with nominations for parliamentary by-elections, it is likely Magufuli will try to exert greater control over candidate selection than was previously the norm—at least in recent decades. He will also have to secure his own re-nomination as CCM’s presidential candidate. It is difficult to imagine how he could lose out, particularly as he was just endorsed with 100 percent of the vote at CCM’s party Congress last year. There are undoubtedly those within CCM who would like to see Magufuli ousted, but they face a serious coordination challenge, particularly when all the levers of power within the party are being taken out of their hands.

However, while Magufuli is unlikely to face outright opposition, either from within his own party or from a much-weakened official opposition, there is still one challenge he may struggle to overcome. His crack-down on factional politics, his introduction of outsiders to run day-to-day party operations and his efforts to curb the use of money in political campaigns could make mobilising for the next election and getting voters to the polls considerably more difficult. Indeed, internal party competition, opportunities to participate and advance through party ranks, and higher campaign spending are all linked to better mobilisation and turnout.

Again, neither Magufuli nor CCM are likely to lose in 2020. Far from it. But it may be worth remembering the lessons CCM—then the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU)—learned from an earlier round of elections. In 1960 and 1962, TANU won resounding victories, but with very low voter turnout. Consequently, these results suggested a “deceptive” form of dominance.[2] The report of Nyerere’s Presidential Commission (1965) noted, “By a paradox, the more support the people have given to TANU as a party, the more they have reduced their participation in the process of government.”[3]

At the time, the party opted to address what it saw as a serious problem by pursuing a new organisational strategy—including more popular participation, at least initially.[4] But if we are now headed for a similar paradox, a similarly “deceptive” dominance, it remains to be seen how the party leadership will address it, if indeed it feels the need to.


[1] Jakaya Kikwete, “Hotuba ya Mhe. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, Mwenyekiti wa Chama Cha Mapinduzi, Wakati wa Mkutano Mkuu wa CCM”, Dodoma, 23 July 2016.

[2] Henry Bienen (1974), Tanzania: Party transformation and Economic Development, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 58.

[3] Cited in William Tordoff (1966), “The general election in Tanzania”, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 4:1, 47-64.

[4] From the 1960s, there were repeated—and often contradictory—efforts to reform TANU. These changes followed something of a pendulum swing, moving between more participation and more control. Bismarck Mwansasu (1979), “The changing role of the Tanganyika African National Union”, in Towards Socialism in Tanzania, ed. Bismarck Mwansasu and Cranford Pratt, Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House, 169-192.

Cameroon – Crisis, Opposition Primaries, and Senatorial Elections

Cameroon is now in the midst of an escalating civil conflict, which some have already termed a nascent civil war. Over the past six months the crisis has taken a brutal turn as several secessionist militant groups under the umbrella of the “Ambazonia Movement” have clashed repeatedly with security forcesand engaged in hostage taking. The government’s response has been violent – indiscriminate killing, burned villages, and now over 160,000 displaced people. In one recent instance, 39 people were killedin the Northwestern village of Menka, including women and children. In May, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Peter Henry Barlerin, accused the government of targeted killing of Anglophones, and warned President Paul Biya that he should be concerned with his legacy. There is no dialogue to speak of, or a readily apparent exit ramp that could deescalate tensions.

Concurrent with this crisis, some modicum of electoral politics persists in anticipation of a legislative and presidential election this fall. No date for these elections has been announced, and there are rumors of a possible delay due to the security situation. Nonetheless, earlier this year the opposition party the Social Democratic Front (SDF) held primaries to nominate a presidential candidate. The SDF chose sitting parliamentarian Joshua Osih, a significant shift in SDF politics. For nearly three decades the SDF’s co-founder and perpetual presidential candidate, John Fru Ndi, has dominated the party. Fru Ndi remains the SDF’s chairman, but Osih rise reflects a new generation of opposition leadership. By contrast, the SDF lost ground during March’s senatorial election, and the ruling party now controls 90% of senate seats.

The SDF is Cameroon’s most significant opposition party, and was one of the primary organizations that sparked Cameroon’s democratic transition in the early 1990s. While the party at one point held more national appeal and could run candidates in all of Cameroon’s regions, it has always had deeper roots in the Anglophone North and South West. During Cameroon’s foundational elections in 1992, Fru Ndi won 36% of the vote to Biya’s 40%, and fraud was likely a factor in Fru Ndi’s loss.

However, over the years there has been a steady decline in the party’s viability. This is partially the result of strategic errors and internal wrangling. In 1992 the SDF controversially boycotted the legislative election, which helped the CPDM recover from a devastating electoral performance and form a temporary coalition with a minor party. In 2004 Fru Ndi rejected the decision of the National Reconciliation and Reconstruction Coalition (CRRN) to nominate Adamou Njoya as the opposition’s unified presidential candidate, and decided to run himself. Indeed, John Fru Ndi’s personalization and domination of the party has been a cause of bitter factionalism. For instance, in 2006, a wing of the party led by Clement Ngwasiri was expelledfollowing intra-party violence. In 2010 rising star Kah Wallah also left the party in criticism of Fru Ndi. These factors have hurt the SDF’s electoral support. In 2011 Fru Ndi won just 11% of the vote, and in 2013 the SDF grabbed just 10% of the legislative seats.

With the SDF’s dwindling electoral prospects the party has played a more mainstream and conservative style of politics. Some observers within the SDF note the continued influence of a radical and oppositional wing, but also a stratum of moderate politicians and many elites who seem aligned and quite comfortable with the CPDM. In 2010, Fru Ndi’s decision to seemingly reconcile with Biyaalso drew criticism from party many hardliners, and for some harmed the SDF’s popular appeal. Unsurprisingly, the current crisis in English-speaking areas has emerged independently of the SDF. While the party has commented on the crisis, it has taken a backseat to the civil society and youth-backed components of the opposition movement.

Joshua Osih, a charismatic 49-year old member of parliament, reflects a generational shift within the SDF (his main opponent was 70-year old Fobi Nchinda Simon), and Cameroon more broadly. Osih is a party insider, who started as a base militant in the 1990s before becoming the Regional Chair of the party for South West region. A few years later he was elected as 2ndVice-Chair of the party and then as 1stVice-Chair.  He is chairman of the influential finance committee, and therefore works very closely with many CPDM members of parliament. Osih maintains a number of businesses in Littoral region – most notably his aviation cargo corporation Camport Plc. He is also bilingual, which provides him with a certain crosscutting appeal, particularly among the exploding and increasingly frustrated urban youth demographic (see for instance the novelty in Cameroon of a campaign website, Osih has also been vocal in his support of a return to federalism, and a trenchant critic of hyper-presidentialism in Cameroon.

These factors make him a very versatile candidate. He can maintain the backing of the SDF establishment, while also garnering support among the opposition movement in North and South West. His rapport with many CPDM members, in particular younger members of parliament who are frustrated with the status quo in their own party, buttress Osih’s appeal outside of English-speaking areas. It is less clear whether he can anchor an opposition coalition that brings together other potential presidential candidates, like 65-year old Akere Muna, or the leadership of other opposition parties. It is also unlikely that Osih will win if Biya runs. Biya’s control of massive patronage resources, state institutions, and the election management body give him an insurmountable advantage. But, Osih could give the regime a real run for their money. Already, some media outletshave circulated reports that he is ineligible to run for election because he might hold a Swiss passport. Other rumors suggest that some CPDM insiders are considering fast tracking their own young Anglophone candidate to replace Biya.

The Senate elections held on March 25 do demonstrate the uphill battle facing the SDF, but should not be used to predict future performance. The SDF’s seat share was cut in half to just 7 seats (all in the North West region), and the party has called for the election’s annulment. However, these elections are indirect. Municipal councilors elect 70 of the seats, and the President appoints the remaining thirty. This gives the ruling party an enormous advantage, since they control the bulk of the municipal councils. Moreover, the Senate is constitutionally weak and a clear patronage tool used to rally a certain segment of the political elite. These factors, along with the still evolving security situation and question of presidential succession, make the fall elections potentially much more competitive.

Gerhard Seibert – São Tomé e Príncipe moves towards authoritarian rule

This is a guest post by Gerhard Seibert, UNILAB, Bahia, Brazil

Since the transition from a socialist one-party regime to a semi-presidential multiparty democracy in 1990, the small aid-dependent archipelago of São Tomé e Príncipe located in the Gulf of Guinea has widely been considered as a relatively well-performing democratic political system in an African context. Altogether six times the opposition has won the legislative election and has always taken over power peacefully.[1] Although an independent media was underdeveloped, the extent of press freedom used to be significantly larger than in other countries in the region. The increasing practice of vote-buying during elections and political instability caused by the consecutive dismissal of governments by the head of state constituted the main shortcomings of the system. Political instability was due to frequent government changes, which in turn were predominantly the result of dismissals of the prime minister by the president. Consequently, in 2006 a constitutional amendment became effective that reduced the executive powers of the president. Since then, the president can only dismiss the prime minister in certain extreme circumstances. Nevertheless, the constitutional revision did not bring about the expected political stability, because since then three governments have been dismissed before the end of their term by a majority in the 55-member National Assembly. Twice, in 2008 and 2012, Patrice Trovoada, son of former President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001) and since 2001 leader of the Acção Democrática Independente(ADI), was ousted as prime minister of a coalition and a minority government respectively by a motion of no confidence approved by a parliamentary majority.

Interestingly, the dismissals contributed to Trovoada’a subsequent electoral success, since he used them to present himself as an innocent victim of political conspiracies and persecution. In the 2002 legislative election, after Miguel Trovoada’s departure from the presidency, the ADI, then in an electoral alliance with four small parties, gained only 16.2% of the votes, 9.4% less than in 1998. However, since then, under the leadership of Patrice Trovoada, who runs the party autocratically as his private property, the ADI has continuously increased the percentage of votes to 20.0 in 2006, 42.2 in 2010 and to 50.5 in 2014, the third absolute majority since 1991.[2] In the local elections held concurrently, the ADI also won the majority in five of São Tomé’s six municipalities. In 2016, the ADI candidate Evaristo Carvalho, who is widely considered Patrice Trovoada’s spineless spokesman, won the presidential election. For the first time since 1991, the president and prime minister were from the same political party. Since then São Tomé e Príncipe has become a de facto one-party state, since Patrice Trovoada and the ADI control the presidency, government, parliament and the municipalities, while the opposition has never been so weak. Local journalists have complained about the increasingly restricted press freedom, while opposition parties have denounced reduced access to government-controlled television and radio. As his political power increased, apparently Trovoada felt the need to improve his personal security. In May 2017, he welcomed twenty military instructors from Rwanda to train ninety people from the defence and security forces, including a newly set up 30-man unit for the protection of the high-ranking government members (UPDE). The presence of the Rwandan military was fiercely contested by the opposition parties Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe/Partido Social Democrata (MLSTP/PSD, 16 seats)[3], Partido de Convergência Democrática (PCD, 5)[4]and União dos Democratas para a Cidadania e Desenvolvimento (UDD, 1)[5] on the grounds that São Tomé had no defence agreement with Kigali and the country already received sufficient military aid and training from Angola, Brazil, Portugal, Morocco and the US.

In August the same year, the three opposition parties harshly contested the approval of two laws approved by the ADI majority in the National Assembly, which they considered as institutional instruments to sustain Trovoada and the ADI in power. The first law provided for a new autonomous Constitutional Court to replace the Supreme Court acting as an ad hoc Constitutional Court since 1991. The opposition did not oppose the establishment of an autonomous Constitutional Court as such, as it is provided for in the 2006 Constitution, but rejected that its members could be elected by parliament by a simple instead of a two-third majority. As the Constitutional Court has to approve the final election results, the opposition feared that future election results might be manipulated by an ADI-controlled court. For the same reasons, the opposition voted against the law on the restructured National Electoral Commission (CEN), the body in charge of voter registration and holding elections. While hitherto the CEN with a four-year term was composed of nine members from all parties in parliament, the new CEN with a seven-year term was constituted by three commissioners, of whom two were to be appointed by the largest parliamentary group.

On 27 December, President Evaristo Carvalho promulgated the controversial law on the new Constitutional Court, although the opposition had asked the existing Constitutional Court for a preventive constitutionality check of the law.  The opposition and Manuel Gomes Cravid, president of the Supreme Court acting in its function as Constitutional Court, condemned Carvalho’s action as unconstitutional and void, as he had disregarded the official deadline for the preventive constitutionality check. Nevertheless, three days later Carvalho dismissed Gomes Cravid as president of the old Constitutional Court, arguing the new Constitutional Court had taken over this task. On 3 January 2018, the Constitutional Court presided by Gomes Cravid presented its decision declaring the law on the autonomous Constitutional Court unconstitutional, since several provisions violated the constitutional principle of the election of the five judges of the new Constitutional Court by a qualified majority. Due to the decision, two judges of the old Constitutional Court, who were close to the ADI, resigned from their posts and recognized the legitimacy of the autonomous Constitutional Court. Due to the stalemate between the government and the opposition parties, in late January, François Louncény Fall, the Special Representative of the UN General Secretary for Central Africa, came for a mediation mission to São Tomé. Having talked to all the parties involved, he left after five days leaving a compromise proposal that was not accepted by the opposition. Immediately after Fall’s departure, the ADI majority elected the five judges of the new Constitutional Court. The opposition parties boycotted the election and declared that they would not recognise the court, because it was unconstitutional. The ADI, however, did not implement the law on the new CEN, but reactivated the existing CEN. However, in March, in another move to further strengthen Trovoada’s personal power, the ADI majority approved an amendment to the National Defence law that transfers the right to appoint the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces from the president to the prime minister. Interestingly, at least so far, President Carvalho, possibly pressured by the military opposed to the amendment, has not promulgated this law.

The political crisis exacerbated when on 4 May when 31 parliamentarians approved a resolution to dismiss three Supreme Court judges, including its president, Manuel Gomes Cravid, on the grounds that in late April, they had decided in a dispute on the ownership of the local brewery Rosema in favour of its former owner, the Angolan businessman Mello Xavier. The latter had lost the brewery in 2009 to the local businessmen Nino Monteiro, who is also a MLSTP/PSD deputy in the National Assembly. Monteiro purchased the brewery when it had been mortgaged by a Luanda court in favour of another Angolan businessman, who was involved in a financial litigation with Mello Xavier. However, the Supreme Court decision displeased Trovoada and his right-hand man, the lawyer Afonso Varela, Minister of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, for they share common business interests with Nino Monteiro, one of the country’s wealthiest businesspeople. In addition, they have always considered Gomes Cravid, elected in April 2017, as a government opponent.

The removal of the judges by parliament has been considered unconstitutional by the opposition and the Portuguese constitutionalist Jorge Miranda, one of the authors of the country’s democratic Constitution, since it violates the rule of law, the independence of courts and the immovability of judges that is safeguarded in the Constitution. The president of the Angolan Supreme Court of Justice, Rui Ferreira, publicly condemned the dismissal of the three judges as a ‘clamorous violation of the fundamental and universal principles of the rule of law’. PCD and UDD submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to verify the constitutionality of the resolution. Nonetheless, on 23 May, the ADI majority approved a bill that entitles parliament to elect new judges to replace the discharged Supreme Court judges. As expected, on 31 May President Carvalho promulgated this legislation. The same day, MLSTP/PSD, PCD and UDD, who considered the law a usurpation of the rights by parliament, formally asked for a constitutionality check of the law by the Constitutional Court. Given the circumstances, it seems unlikely that the five judges of the Constitutional Court, who were all selected by the ADI recently, will deny the constitutionality of the parliamentary resolution on the dismissal of the three Supreme Court judges or the appointment of new Supreme Court judges by parliament.

The approval of the resolution has also provoked a major crisis within the MLSTP/PSD. In mid-May its National Council decided to suspend six members, including party leader Aurélio Martins, parliamentaryn leader Jorge Amado, and the deputy Vasco Guiva, who had signed the resolution without party consent, as well as the party’s deputies in the National Assembly, Nino Monteiro, his brother António, and Beatriz Azevedo, who had voted together with 28 ADI deputies in favour of the resolution. In turn, the latter three abandoned the MLSTP/PSD, leaving the party with only 13 seats in the National Assembly. In addition, the National Council created a 20-member Institutional Reinforcement Commission to run the party until the legislative elections scheduled for October this year. Martins, a controversial figure considered close to the Monteiro brothers, refused to accept his removal, arguing that only an extraordinary party congress could replace him by electing a new leader. It remains to be seen if the MLSTP/PSD can emerge from its greatest crisis more united and strengthened in time for the elections to be capable of effectively challenging the absolute majority of Trovoada’s ADI.

Online sources: Téla Nón, Agência STP-PRESS, Rádio Nacional de São Tomé e Príncipe.


[1] In 1991, 1994, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

[2] In 1991, the PCD won the absolute majority of votes (54.4%) and seats (33) and in 1998 the MLSTP/PSD gained an absolute majority of seats (31). Nevertheless, both governments were dismissed by the president in 1994 and in 2001 respectively.

[3] The sole ruling party during socialist one-party rule, 1975-90.

[4] The country’s first opposition party that won the first multiparty elections in 1991.

[5] Founded by ex-ADI members opposed to the leadership of Patrice Trovoada, in 2005.