Monthly Archives: September 2018

Bumps in the road for Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera

In a previous post, I described how in the few months since inauguration day (March 11th, 2018), Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera had been successful at exploiting the weaknesses and political differences of the legislative opposition. A couple of months later, some things have changed.

It seems President Piñera enjoyed a rather short “honeymoon”. In August, he carried out his first cabinet reshuffle in an effort to calm down critiques aimed at some of his ministers. However, Piñera did not foresee that appointing politician and writer Mauricio Rojas as Minister of the Cultures would trigger a brief, yet intense, backlash against the latter. Mauricio Rojas was widely criticized for comments he made years earlier against the History and Human Rights Museum inaugurated by former President Michelle Bachelet in order to honour the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, which the newly appointed minister labelled as a montage and a farce. As a result, Rojas was forced to resign just 96 hours after being appointed.

As expected, the Piñera administration did not come out of the situation looking good. Rojas’s remarks were well known and the reactions against them would not have been hard to anticipate. This was a serious mistake by Piñera and his advisors, whom the President keeps very close. Furthermore, not only did this event fail to silence critics of the cabinet, but in fact steered the public debate toward topics such as human rights and the Pinochet dictatorship, which the right-of-centre ruling coalition has never felt comfortable discussing in public. All of this occurred just weeks before Chile’s September 11th, which remembers the military coup against President Salvador Allende in 1973, and the 30thanniversary of the referendum that voted Pinochet out (October 5th, 1988).

In addition to lower-than-expected economic growth, these events have weakened Piñera’s popularity. More importantly, La Moneda does not seem to control the agenda as it did until last April. Moreover, the President’s bill for the 2019 Public Budget is not off to a smooth start, since the ruling coalition does not hold a majority in Congress. Piñera will have to struggle and bargain a little more than he might have expected in order to get his budget bill approved.

On the other hand, the legislative opposition, although still fragmented and disorganized, has begun to show some signs of recovery. For instance, most of the critiques against ill-fated Minister Rojas came from the left-of-centre, which made Piñera pay for appointing him. Likewise, part of the opposition sought to initiate a constitutional accusation against three Supreme Court justices, who have voted to free several criminals sentenced for human right violations. Some in the Left denounced La Moneda for meddling in the voting and siding with the judges. Even though votes in favour of this initiative ultimately fell short in an apparently small victory for the Piñera administration, it seems that at least part of the opposition have set their political differences aside in order to curb the President’s influence.

Since March 2018, Chile’s Congress has been more diverse and has more legislators who do not belong to the two traditional electoral coalitions. While greater difficulties were expected in the coordination and maintaining of discipline in legislative parties, particularly among new ones, this does not seem to be the case yet. Just days ago, a report by Oñate and Toro (2018) of Demodata came out, which looked at congressional behaviour in the Chamber of Deputies between March and September 2018. The results show that members of the newly-formed leftist conglomerate, Frente Amplio, have higher levels of both party and coalition loyalty than any other group in the legislature. Moreover, these findings suggest that Piñera, in addition to lacking a majority in Congress, has also to deal with a disciplined legislative opposition, even more so than the right-of-centre ruling alliance parties of Chile Vamos.

Notwithstanding this strengthening of the Left, there are still many barriers the legislative opposition need to overcome should they desire to counterbalance La Moneda’s power. The constitutional accusation failed because the Christian Democrats and Radicals did not side with the rest of the opposition. Also, even though the last few months have been harder-than-anticipated for La Moneda, the political scenario is certainly not hostile towards Piñera. The President is relying on improving the country’s economic situation. Having campaigned on “recovering” the economy following the Bachelet administration and emphasizing his business acumen, the hope for a more dynamic economy is perhaps one of the main reasons why Piñera won, and what people are expecting from his presidency. The next few months will tell if Piñera can make good on his promises.

Ukrainian Parliament Appoints a New Central Election Commission

Last week, after a 4-year delay, Ukrainian Parliament appointed 14 new members of the Central Election Commission (CEC). The process of replacing CEC commissioners whose terms expired has started more than 2 years ago. After years of failed attempts, the appointment of new commissioners has been determined to be one of the main tasks on the agenda of the 9th session of the Ukrainian parliament.

According to the Law on the Central Electoral Commission, Parliament appoints and dismisses 15 members of the CEC on the proposal of the president. Their term in office is 7 years. The size of the commission was increased to 17 on September 18, 2018. The president is supposed to take the proposals of political parties into account during the nomination process. The terms of 12 of the 15 commissioners expired in 2014, and another member reached the end of his 7th year in office in 2017. With quickly approaching presidential and parliamentary elections in the country, the policy-makers have agreed that the issue could no longer be postponed and had to be addressed as soon as possible.

Many have argued that the old CEC have long lost its credibility. Its members have been nominated by the Party of Regions led by President Viktor Yanukovych before he was ousted in 2014. Furthermore, since 2016, its chairman has been under investigation for receiving illegal bribes. Given the salience and importance of the composition of the commission, the process of appointing a new CEC in Ukraine has been on-going for a couple of years now. The first attempt to replace the commission was made in June 2016 but at the time the process stalled.

On January 23, 2018, the president dismissed members of the Central Election Commission and signed a motion for the appointment of the new CEC. He followed it with a proposal of 14 new members in February. However, the Parliament failed to vote on the presidential proposal during its 8th session. Earlier this month, the president expressed his frustration on Facebook, writing that “the Verkhovna Rada should consider my presidential submission, which has been in parliament for more than a year, and elect a new composition of the CEC.”

On September 20, the Parliament successfully approved 14 new members of the CEC. The new partisan composition of the Central Electoral Commission is as follows:

Bloc Petro Poroshenko – 6 members

People’s Front – 3 members

Revival – 1 member

Batkivshchyna – 1 member

Self-Reliance – 1 member

People’s Will – 1 member

Radical Party – 1 member

Svoboda – 1 – remained in her post (until 2021)

UDAR – 1 – remained in his post (until 2021)

1 seat is currently vacant and is expected to be given to the Opposition Bloc

The members were proposed by political parties in proportion to their representation in Parliament. The only odd seat is the one which remained with UDAR. The party merged with the Bloc Petro Poroshenko in 2015.

The new CEC will organize the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections and will play a critical role in ensuring that elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.

Tanzania – The “new” CCM, same as the old CCM? Continuity and change in authoritarian parties

Under Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli, elected in October 2015, much has changed in Tanzania’s politics. Power has become more centralised in the hands of the President, opposition parties marginalised, and state security forces more prominent, to name but a few notable trends.

Rather than comment generally on these changes, though, this post examines one important element, namely how Tanzania’s long-time ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, has evolved over the past couple years to become the “New CCM”. What is so “new”, exactly? To what extent is the party building on its own historical inheritance? And how is it breaking from the past?

More broadly, this is a post about how we understand continuity and change in a ruling party, and what that understanding can tell us about a regime’s changing distribution of power. In what follows, I outline an approach to studying authoritarian party cohesion and institutional strength, plus how this relates shifting power dynamics. I then sketch out how to apply this approach to a more in-depth case analysis, in this instance, of Tanzania’s CCM.

How to think about authoritarian party institutions

Much of the recent comparative literature on authoritarian party institutions presents them as an important elite coordinating mechanism. The general idea is that ruling parties support a credible power-sharing arrangement, to use the favoured political science jargon; once formed, they help independently shape and constrain patterns of elite behaviour, thereby securing greater regime stability and endurance.[1] This understanding builds on a consensus within the rational choice school that institutions “structure social interaction and produce equilibrium outcomes, that is outcomes that no one has an incentive to alter.”[2]

There is an alternative way of viewing party institutions, however, inspired by a mix of critical political economy and historical institutionalist traditions.[3] This approach places an analysis of power centre stage. Rather than presenting institutions as stable coordinating devices, it highlights how they are themselves part of an ongoing power struggle; they are “objects of political competition”[4] that “reflect, and also reproduce and magnify, particular patterns of power distribution in politics.”[5] Institutions are, in other words, sources of power in their own right; they “actively facilitate the organization and empowerment of certain groups while actively disarticulating and marginalising others.”

Adapting this second approach to the study of parties, the key question is not about how party institutions shape the political behaviour of elites; rather, the focus is on how powerful individuals and groups navigate within an existing institutional framework, and how they seek to change it. Phrased differently, we are no longer talking abstractly about what “the Party” does, as a would-be independent coordinating device; we are instead trying to understand who is best able to bend party institutions to their political will, how and to what effect.

This study has at least three parts to it, as I elaborate in some of my other work.[6]

First, there is a need to appreciate the significance of a shifting societal distribution of power, and notably of ownership and wealth.[7] This is an area in which authoritarian elites intervene directly, including with strategies of “politicized accumulation”;[8] they influence opportunities for private individuals’ to accumulate wealth but also whether and how these individuals can use their wealth as political finance or patronage.

Second, shifting the focus to party institutions themselves, we must analyse how a prevailing distribution of power influences the ability of political elites to manipulate party structures and rules. Where power is more dispersed and competition across rival factions intense, we may see the outright subversion or strategic redeployment of formal rules as determined by informal pressures.[9] Where authoritarian leaders are, by contrast, able to consolidate power further, they may reinforce this effort by centralising and streamlining party structures, thereby limiting opportunities for would-be rivals to coordinate and form opposing factions. Whatever the specific power dynamics in play, though it is important to add that history matters; a party’s institutional inheritance, the mix of formal rules and established norms, defines the existing set of institutional resources that elites can leverage. It also affects the imaginative possibilities for actors looking to create new institutional arrangements.

This brings us to the third element in our study, namely ideas. A particular—again, often inherited—set of ideas will shape both how political actors understand their own interests and the strategic options available to them. It also shapes what actions may be deemed legitimate, and thus what narrative can be built to justify them. All of this applies in the case of party institutions, specifically, as I hope to show below.

Indeed, moving on from this perhaps rather dense theoretical discussion, I now turn to the central focus: Tanzania and President Magufuli’s “New” CCM.

Introducing CCM, from socialism to party “privatization”

To understand what Magufuli is trying to do now, we must understand what came before.

Briefly, Tanzania’s ruling party has continued to evolve—as an institution—from its pre-independence days as the spearhead of a nationalist struggle to the present.

While in the early 1960s, CCM—then the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) [10]—underwent a period of institutional erosion, its fortunes reversed with the introduction of one-party rule in 1965 and then President Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration in 1967, which committed Tanzania to Ujamaa, a brand of African socialism. The Declaration and subsequent economic reforms restricted opportunities for private sector expansion and accumulation while centralising rents and thus patronage in the hands of state and party officials. This economic balance of power then buttressed parallel efforts to strengthen the ruling party, notably by enhancing the control of the Central Committee and National Executive Committee at the top while extending its national reach through multiple layers of regional, district and branch structures, all the way down to the 10-House cell unit. Tanzania’s relative poverty prevented it from developing anything like the strength of, say, eastern Europe’s communist regimes while low-level factionalism and informal patronage networks endured.[11] But it was far more cohesive and institutionally strong than, for instance, its counterpart in neighbouring Kenya, whose post-independence political economy was more capitalist and private sector-oriented.

This socialist balance of power in Tanzania, already under strain in the late 1970s and early 1980s, changed dramatically with IFI-backed structural adjustment reforms from the mid-1980s. As Tanzania’s trade was liberalised, its vast array of parastatals slowly dismantled and privatised, and its state-owned banks sold off, a new form of “wild capitalism” took root. This was characterised by the growth of a new politico-economic elite, the proliferation of rival patron-client factions within the ruling party, and growing corruption. The knock-on effects for CCM’s institutional strength and cohesion were equally profound. The Ujamaa-era efforts to erect a barrier between political and business spheres failed and were then abandoned, leaving informal patronage networks to take root and grow within and around the existing party structures. Individuals within the party’s bureaucracy, from the highest to lowest levels, were ensnared in this factional competition. Meanwhile, formal procedures, notably governing candidate selection, were undermined as various forms of bribery and private influence peddling became the norm.

By 2000, the year after founding President and “Father of the Nation” Julius Nyerere passed on, the then President Benjamin Mkapa warned of CCM’s ongoing “privatisation”, and this at a time when he himself felt threatened by a set of nouveau-riche business elite-cum-political financiers. While Mkapa attempted a series of reforms, his successor—President Jakaya Kikwete (2005-2015)—road to power on the back of his own powerful mtandao, or network, only to see it fracture into competing factions, which he then struggled to control. Kikwete repeatedly articulated a commitment to reform and more stringent anti-corruption efforts, notably within CCM itself, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful, with Kikwete caught between different factions—attempting to tame, appease and build them in turn.

By the end of his presidency, concern about CCM’s institutional drift was widespread, as were fears about its moral decay. Once a party for the wanyonge, the down and out, it had been taken over by the matajiri, the rich.

Enter Magufuli, “The Unexpected”

As noted in previous posts, Magufuli’s victory in the 2015 race to be CCM presidential nominee was a surprise. He was Magufuli, “The Unexpected”, as labelled by the wonderfully wry Elsie Eyakuze.

After a complicated sequence of events during which CCM’s top leadership broke the party’s own selection rules and two rival factions knocked each other out of the running, Magufuli became the nominee.  He lacked any strong political base, or mtandao. He faced a further challenge after leading CCM heavyweight, Edward Lowassa, defected to become the presidential candidate for an emboldened opposition coalition, bringing many political financiers and CCM members with him. This was the biggest defection CCM had ever seen, leaving Magufuli’s former rivals for the presidential nomination to lend their own support and campaign infrastructure to a newly constituted election task force.

But what started as a challenge arguably became an opportunity for Magufuli once in office. Although he still needed to build his own base, the departure of Lowassa meant that one of the most powerful informal networks for political coordination within CCM had been undermined. Meanwhile, many of Lowassa’s associates—still in the party—were left fearful of being labelled wasaliti, traitors.

Magufuli—in keeping with what his apparent personal leadership proclivities—went on to seize this opportunity, pursuing a strategy of centralising power as both President and, from mid-2016, CCM Chairman. While this strategy has several relevant components, not least a form of “autocratic legalism”, constraints on the opposition, and closer ties with the security forces, I focus below on two important dimensions relating to the ruling party itself: a new strategy of “politicized accumulation”, limiting independent sources of political finance, and extensive party institutional reforms, centralising power under his leadership.

As implied in the above discussion, these two dimensions are mutually reinforcing; a narrowing societal distribution of power and resources is reflected and amplified through the consolidation of party institutional control under the Chairman.

Disciplining the private sector, empowering the State

Magufuli’s new strategy of politicized accumulation and financial discipline can itself be broken down into several components.

First, there is his anti-corruption push launched immediately after entering office. Public servants who abused their office risked falling foul of the new “bursting boils” initiative, which swiftly claimed the heads of, for instance, the Tanzania Port Authority, the Tanzania Revenue Authority, and the head of the Preventing and Combating of Corruption Bureau. Private sector actors were also put on notice with one of Tanzania’s wealthiest men, Said Bakhresa, tangled in the customs duty affair that helped fell the TRA boss. Two more prominent businessmen implicated in a multi-million-dollar energy sector scandal under Kikwete, Harbinder Singh Sethi and James Rugemalira, were later arrested and now, over a year later, are still languishing in jail awaiting trial. Other politically-connected businessmen have been charged with a range of offenses, included tax avoidance, corrupt transactions and money laundering. Over time, people have increasingly asked questions about the extent of Magufuli’s anti-corruption zeal, with some people allegedly wrongly ensnared in prolonged investigations while others are apparently overlooked. At the very least, though, the President has sent a message to both public officials and private actors: tread carefully, or there will be consequences.

Beyond this anti-corruption push, Magufuli has adopted a new policy orientation in his pursuit of “Tanzania ya viwanda”, an industrialised Tanzania, that have limited private sector expansion and investor confidence. Dramatic cuts to public servants’ allowances and other emoluments reduced the circulation of money in the economy, with perhaps the most direct effects felt in the hospitality industry. More aggressive revenue collection and fluctuations in fiscal policy have also contributed to a view among many private sector actors that the economy had declined, as indicated by a survey conducted last year of medium-sized firms.[12] An increase in non-performing loans combined with the government’s decision to move its accounts from commercial banks to the Bank of Tanzania saw interest rates rise and banks reduce their lending. In mining, the government has adopted a very aggressive posture vis-à-vis several foreign investors and seen them halt or scale back operations.

I could go on, but the main point is that a combination of policies adopted by the Magufuli government have limited the surplus available in the private sector, including any money for political finance. Some of this may be an unintended consequence, as President Magufuli and his Ministers have met more with business associations than their predecessors and have repeatedly affirmed that the private sector is key to the industrialisation effort—so long as it pays its fair share of tax. A number of individual businessmen, however, who have political ties to either the opposition or now collapsing factions within CCM, have seen their business interests directly targeted—for alleged tax arrears, confiscation of land leased by the government, loss of government procurement contracts, and the like. And this, in addition to the above-mentioned cases of people caught out for corruption.

I final trend worth noting is the government’s statist turn. It is using procurement contracts, state-owned banks and pension funds to channel finance towards parastatals, military-owned enterprise, the prison service, and various government agencies who are expanding or starting new ventures in construction, agricultural production, processing, and manufacturing. The government has also pushed for a greater share of ownership in public-private partnerships, notably in Tanzania’s lucrative extractive sector. As the Executive Director of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation recently commented, “It has reached a point where the government feels happy to do business with itself instead of with the private sector.” While part of the reason for this approach is an oft-repeated conviction that it is save money, the politically relevant point is that the statist emphasis ensures the further centralisation of rents, and thus of funds to bankroll either opposition parties or rival factions within CCM.

In sum, Magufuli has adopted an overall economic approach that—both intentionally and, in some instances, perhaps less so—is limiting sources of independent political finance, and thus taking a first important step towards consolidating power and resources.

Creating the “New” CCM

These economic interventions are mirrored—and seemingly magnified—by an explicit campaign to centralise control within CCM’s institutions. This effort involves what might seem a paradoxical mix of institutional strengthening and personalisation. Slater (2003) has already examined how these two can—and do—go together in an authoritarian context,[13] although his analysis of the institutions involved is rather vague. What I highlight here, narrowing the focus to a ruling party, is how Magufuli has reinforced the structures within CCM that can help centralise power under the Chairman; when it is politically expedient, however, he has also used those same structures more opportunistically, in the process actually breaking party rules. This gets back to the core idea of institutions as a political resource, a tool to be used when convenient and ignored, manipulated or changed when not.

Magufuli set a major institutional reform process in train shortly after he took over as Chairman from Kiwkete in July, 2016. By December, the CCM National Executive Committee (NEC)—closely guided by President Magufuli and the Central Committee (CC)—had approved a set of recommended reforms to the party constitution. These were then voted on at a National Congress meeting in March 2017.

The March meeting coincided with a wave of expulsions from CCM of “traitors” and rumours of widespread discontent, with two MPs detained by police for questioning. Even so, the National Congress rubber stamped the proposed reforms. These included slashing the frequency of party meetings and reducing the membership of key party organs. Crucially, the number of NEC members was halved, and the number of CC members was reduced from 34 to 26, a significant proportion of which are appointed by the Chairman. Property belonging to CCM’s affiliated mass organisations—including the influential crucibles of CCM faction-forming, the Women’s League and Youth League—was also brought under the control of the central Party, whose Board of Trustees would be responsible for routine oversight.

While there were too many reforms to mention all of them here, a final highly significant change entailed drastically centralising control over parliamentary nominations. The new rules strip party members of their right to participate in primaries, instead designating a more restricted Constituency Congress as the body entitled to conduct primaries. But regardless of who participates, the primaries risk losing much of their meaning as the revised rules also empower the Central Committee to determine—for the first time ever—what candidates will participate in those primaries, with a maximum of three. The Central Committee also retains its right to advise the NEC on the final selection of a parliamentary nominee after the primaries have happened.

By shifting power from party members to the Central Committee, this proposed change alters to whom MPs are most directly accountable; now the Central Committee and Party Chairman play a bigger role than ever in deciding their political fate. Of course, how rules are applied in practice matters as much as how they appear on paper, particularly with candidate selection procedure, which has been routinely undermined by informal pressures since at least the 1990s. But a spate of by-elections—triggered by opposition MPs defecting to CCM—has seen the Central Committee unilaterally imposing the recently defected MPs as the new CCM by-election candidates, much to the chagrin of many lower-level party members. As such, the rules continue to be broken, but in a way that centralises power even further.

These reforms, which on paper clearly centralise power, are also presented as part of a strategy for rooting out factionalism and corruption within CCM. And indeed, they would appear to limit opportunities for building and sustaining patron-client networks without the blessing of the Chairman himself. Unsurprisingly, therefore, certain practices appear to be on the wane. For instance, previously, “there were some people who were actually hunting to be a member of the CC”, as noted by a CCM activist in discussion. That is because “you are privileged to know every development within the party and country,” which was a particular “advantage” for some politicians “doing business as well”.

There are additional instances, though, where the link is even closer, tying together CCM leaders’ institutional reform agenda and their effort to wrest control over political finance. In addition to the above-mentioned case of CCM’s mass organisations, a key example is the effort to audit and control CCM’s own assets, thereby ensuring greater financial autonomy. In this vein, Magufuli appointed an asset-tracing committee chaired by the University professor, Bashiru Ally, in December 2017, which then submitted its report in May this year. While the report has not been made public, it is alleged that many party assets—from football stadiums to petrol stations—were effectively “privatised” by CCM officials, and this from local to national level. Quite apart from helping to centralise control over party revenue, though, the report is also a tool for control; many prominent politicians are reportedly implicated and thus have the threat of a formal charge hanging over them—should they step out of line.

While this is still only a sketch of the changes within CCM, it nevertheless gives some sense of how these are geared towards strengthening institutions of central control, even as these structures and procedures may be bent further to fit a particular political agenda of the top leadership.

Before concluding, it is worth briefly reflecting on what ideas frame some of these recent changes. Many resonate with earlier mentioned concerns about CCM’s institutional drift and moral decay. Magufuli himself explicitly invokes Nyerere’s legacy, both with his economic interventions and ambition for a “New” CCM. Some of the historical resonances are even more explicit when coming from Bashiru Ally, who Magufuli appointed as CCM Secretary General in May. Himself a left-wing academic and champion of a certain Ujamaa legacy, Bashiru routinely invokes a language reminiscent of 1960s and 1970s TANU rhetoric. In his first press conference, he drove home that the party was returning to the “principles of its founders”, the “principles of the Arusha Declaration” to “reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots” and to uplift “the downtrodden.” He has further insisted that CCM must be “self-reliant”, another Nyerere-ist aim, cutting ties with its private financiers, or ensuring they only donate without expecting favours in return. Finally, he has queried the wealth of politicians, for instance, accusing some of stealing land from the poor.

This return of an old language, an old set of ideas helps frame and to some extent justify what Magufuli is doing. It renders his actions intelligible in a Tanzanian context.

But in many ways, the supposed historical similarities linking the “New” CCM and the CCM of past years are superficial. The economic interventions are statist, focused notably on big infrastructure projects, but without the emphasis on cooperative ownership or the democratic management of Ujamaa villages that defined the early TANU efforts.

As regards institutional changes to CCM, and notably Magufuli’s centralisation of control, this has raised deep—if not always very vocal—concerns among both the party’s rank-and-file members and its elite. In a much-commented on statement, Former President Mkapa (1995-2005) declared he wanted to hear less of “me, me” and more about “the Government of CCM”. Meanwhile, a statement by Bashiru regarding the discretionary enforcement of party rules, notably for candidate selection, was also widely circulated and criticised. “What’s written [in the CCM constitution], if its useful, it’s used,” Bashiru noted, before adding, “if it appears not to be useful, it’s changed.” As one commentator argued, “CCM […] is decaying its own institutions that give it legitimacy beyond electoral ballots.”

Some concluding thoughts

There are still many questions regarding how sustainability the changes Magufuli has introduced, both economically and politically, and thus what compromises he will have to make.

But for now, he has combined efforts to reshape the distribution of power in Tanzania with a drive for party reform; he has reduced the potential for rival patron-client factions to emerge through his economic interventions whilst further magnifying this effect through his strengthening of party structure, and selective breaking of certain rules.

To return to a more general, theoretical discussion, there are notable advantages to be gained from adopting a political economy analysis of party institutions, one that appreciates the complex power struggles that go on within them, and that lead to their gradual evolution. As I try to show through the Tanzanian case, it is through this analytical framing that we can make sense of institutional continuity and change in an authoritarian party, how it is both shaped by and in turn helps shape a particular distribution of power, and what effects this then has on a range of political and—although this is not the main focus here[14]—economic outcomes.

This approach is radically different from a the more widespread tendency to present authoritarian party institutions as independent coordinating devices that improve regime stability and survival. This understanding of what parties are and how they work is not particularly realistic, nor is the key outcome of interest actually that interesting. Focusing our attention on why CCM has survived in power for over 50 years, for instance, risks missing out a discussion of what has actually happened during that time, and why.[15] Who has replaced whom in power? Who has become richer? Who has become poorer? What are the political implications of that?

A political science literature on authoritarian parties would likely provide a greater service, shedding more light on politically salient outcomes, if it moves away from its established moorings, and starts to explore new approaches.



[1] Brownlee, Jason. 2007. Authoritarianism in an age of democratization. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. “Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4/5):715-41.

Reuter, Ora John. 2017. The Origins of Dominant Parties: Building Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Levi, Margaret 2009. “Reconsiderations of Rational Choice in Comparative and Historical Analysis ” In Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure ed. M. I. Lichbach and A. Zuckerman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 128.

[3] Pepinsky, Thomas. 2014. “The Institutional Turn in Comparative Authoritarianism.” British Journal of Political Science 44 (3):631-53.

Collord, Michaela. 2018. “The political economy of institutions in Africa: Comparing Authoritarian Parties and Parliaments in Tanzania and Uganda”, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

[4] Boone, Catherine. 1992. Merchant capital and the roots of state power in Senegal, 1930-1985. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 7.

[5] Thelen, Kathleen. 1999. “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 2:394.

[6] Collord, 2018.

[7] Sangmpam, S.N. 2007. “Politics Rules: The False Primacy of Institutions in Developing Countries.” Political Studies 55:201-24.

Rodan, Garry, and Kanishka Jayasuriya. 2012. “A Social Foundations Approach.” In Routledge Handbook of Democratization, ed. J. Heynes. Oxford: Routledge.

Gray, Hazel. 2018. Turbulence and Order in Economic Development: Institutions and Economic Transformation in Tanzania and Vietnam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[8] Boone, 1992.

[9] On the interaction between formal and informal institutions, see:

Helmke, Gretchen and Steven Levitsky. 2006. Informal institutions and democracy: Lessons from Latin America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

On modes of institutional change, see:

Mahoney, James, and Kathleen Thelen. 2010. “A theory of gradual institutional change.” In Explaining institutional change: ambiguity, agency and power ed. J. Mahoney and T. Kathleen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[10] TANU ruled continental Tanzania (Tanganyika) from 1961 while another party, ASP, governed in Zanzibar from 1964 until 1977 when TANU and ASP merged to form a single party, CCM.

[11] Gray, 2018.

[12] World Bank. 2017. Tanzania Economic Update: Managing Water Wisely: 8.

[13] Slater, Dan. 2003. “Iron Cage in an Iron Fist: Authoritarian Institutions and the Personalization of Power in Malaysia” Comparative Politics 36(1): 81-101.

[14] Gray, 2018.

Whitfield, Lindsay, Ole Therkildsen, Lars Buur, and Anne Mette Kjaer. 2015. The politics of African industrial policy: a comparative perspective. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

[15] Pepinsky (2014) makes a similar point.

DRC – 21 candidates for one seat

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the election commission (CENI) has released the final candidate list for the December 23 presidential election. The list has 21 names: three political heavyweights and 18 candidates with few chances to win, particularly as the election is held in one round. Most striking fact? Incumbent President Joseph Kabila is not on it, meaning that for the first time the DRC will see a transfer of presidential power through an election.

Representing the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) will be former Vice Prime Minister for the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, current permanent secretary for the PPRD and a close Kabila-ally. The nomination of Shadary put an end to speculations about whether Kabila would find a way to circumvent constitutional term-limits and stand for reelection for a third term [see previous post musing over who would run in the presidential poll here].

Shadary was a founding member of the PPRD and has risen through the ranks of the party: he was Kabila’s campaign chairman in 2006 and 2011; was elected deputy to the National Assembly; served on the Law Committee (PAJ); chaired the PPRD caucus; and was the coordinator for the ruling majority in the National Assembly. During his time as Minister of Interior from 2016 till February of this year, he oversaw a crackdown on protests in the wake of the de facto extension of Kabila’s term by two years. Dozens of protesters were killed and Shadary was placed on the EU sanctions list for violations of human rights.

There is speculation that with the selection of Shadary, Kabila’s intent is to take advantage of the DRC’s semi-presidential constitution to enact a  Putin-Medvedev scenario where, should Shadary become president, Kabila would be appointed prime minister and retain the real levers of power.

On the opposition side, two front runners are left standing: Felix Thisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), son of historical opposition leader Etienne Thisekedi who passed away last year, and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). Two other opposition heavyweights were excluded: former Kabila-ally Moise Katumbi, who was impeded from returning from exile to register as a candidate; and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, recently returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC), who was disqualified because of his his conviction for witness tampering at the ICC.    

Fewer opposition candidates should make it easier to unite behind a single candidate and avoid splitting the vote – unless the opposition decides to boycott because of concerns over election administration. These concerns include the use of a controversial electronic voting machine and an incomplete voter register where 16 percent of voters lack fingerprints. Also, human rights abuses by security forces targeting political party activists are rising, according to the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, as elections approach.

The electoral campaign starting on November 22 is less than two months away. While Kabila has succeeded in establishing a unified coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), backing Shadary, the opposition appears to be waffling still over how to select their candidate. Negotiations have been ongoing among opposition leaders without any formal agreement announced to date. Bemba has declared he is ready to back a consensus candidate, but who will it be and how will he be selected [there are no women among the top presidential contenders]? The opposition leaders have announced a public meeting on September 29, by which time we should know more about their strategy.

New publications

Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas, How to Rig an Election, Yale University Press, 2018.

Eugene Huskey, Encounters at the Edge of the Muslim World: A Political Memoir of Kyrgyzstan, Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Gianluca Passarelli (ed.), The Presidentialisation of Political Parties in the Western Balkans, Palgrave, 2018.

Presidentialism in Southeast Asia, Special Issue of Contemporary Politics, Presidentialism in Southeast Asia; Guest Editors: Mark Thompson and Marco Bünte, vol. 24, no. 3, 2018.

Thomas Poguntke & Paul Webb, ‘Personalization and Presidentialization Reconsidered’, in William P. Cross, Richard S. Katz, and Scott Pruysers (eds.), The Personalization of Democratic Politics and the Challenge for Political Parties, ECPR Press, 2018.

Ryan E. Carlin, Jonathan Hartlyn, Timothy Hellwig, Gregory J. Love, Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo, Matthew M. Singer, ‘Public support for Latin American presidents: The cyclical model in comparative perspective’, Research & Politics, Volume: 5 issue: 3,, First Published July 26, 2018.

Presidential Studies Quarterly, special issue on the Trump presidency, Volume 48, Issue 3
Pages: 401-636.

Caroline Heldman, Meredith Conroy, and Alissa R. Ackerman, Sex and Gender in the 2016 Presidential Election, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

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

P. Willerton, ‘Executive Leadership’, in Richard Sakwa, Henry E. Hale, Stephen White (eds.), Developments in Russian Politics 9 (9th Edition), Palgrave, 2018.

Gretchen Helmke, Institutions on the Edge: The Origins and Consequences of Inter-Branch Crises in Latin America, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Jorge Lanzaro (ed.), Centro Presidencial: Presidencias y Centros de Gobierno en América Latina, Estados Unidos y Europa, Tecnos; Edición, 2018.

Romania – How much ‘deep state’ and where to find it

Social Democrat Party (PSD) chairman Liviu Dragnea delivered the most important speech of 2018 at a party rally in June. The ‘parallel state’ featured most prominently among his choice of words. ©presidential – / Veronica Anghel

In the 2013 novel ‘A Delicate Truth’, former MI5/6 spy and novelist John le Carré presents the ‘deep state’ as ‘the ever-expanding circle of non-governmental insiders from banking, industry and commerce who were cleared for highly classified information denied to large swathes of Whitehall and Westminster.’ The popular writer has constantly known how to position his plots in the palm of contemporaneity. Increasingly, politicians use the scare of the secrecy of the ‘deep state’ for a useful one-dimensional identification of an enemy and conspiracy theorists are slithering from the margins towards the mainstream on the waves of social media. At the same time, political scientists increasingly acknowledge the existence of unquantifiable intervening factors that may alter the predictable outcomes of formal institutions. How much is the balance between democratic institutions affected by the existence of a ‘deep state’ and is there a use to professionally trace its attributes without falling in the traps of literally mystery or legitimize populist discourse?

The ‘deep state’ by any other name…. and where to find it

The most common place to find the ‘deep state’ is in the results of discourse analysis. While politicians can use different names for what it is, they rely heavily on its power to be all encompassing and mobilize electoral sensibilities. In the US, Stephen Bannon announced the White House’s war against the ‘administrative state’, a conception of the ‘deep state’ that pits President Trump not against an economic privileged class, but against clerks and civil servants who are perceived as obstacles against the success of his political platform. Republican Ron Paul referred to such obscure interests as ‘the shadow government’.  This understanding of detrimental networks of authority for representative governance finds its adherents further back in US history. President Theodor Roosevelt announced his own belief in the existence of an ‘invisible government’ that cannot be held accountable by the people.

In Central European politics, reproving the ‘colonizing interests’ of the West – via Western corporations or enabled through Brussels and its EU civil servants – and/or chastising the secret services as enablers for hidden undefined interests are increasingly more common elements of political rhetoric. Such discourses use the logic of a Manichean zero sum game approach – the ‘good’ us against the ‘evil’ others – and incentivize emotional societal division. The Polish Kaczyński administration actively pursued the re-investigation and promotion of the Smolensk tragedy not as a result of faulty rational decisions as shown by a previous report, but of treacherous intrigues sponsored by Russia and other perpetrators that remained nameless. In Hungary, a useful name was at hand, as George Soros was identified as the social – liberal Western capitalist who is an obstacle against the state sponsored return to conservative values and nationalist economy. Consequently, the ‘deep state’ became known as the ‘Soros Army’. Contenders of the Orban regime use the term ‘mafia state’ to identify the structures that run parallel with state institutions and which are run through oligarch proxies of PM Orban and the FIDESZ party. Bulgarian PM Boiko Borisov announced during his first mandate in 2009 his own fight with what he considered is a deep infiltration of organised crime inside the government, working for personal economic interests. Similarly, his contenders claim (ex. here or here) it is PM Borisov and other government leaders with long running ties in the Bulgarian Communist Party who chair networks that result in a ‘state capture’. In other hybrid democracies, such as Turkey, the military is an unaccountable power group that more blatantly and more frequently curbs the power of elected civilians.

In Romania, this inner core of the establishment able to conduct in secret a blurring of public and private interests is branded as the ‘parallel state’. The ‘parallel state’ allegedly represents a consortium of unidentified interests of secret services, foreign – connected NGOs and representatives of different branches of the judicial system linked to former president Traian Băsescu who use state resources for their aims. A quantitative analysis of the most important political speech of the year 2018, delivered by the chairperson of the governing Social Democrat Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, at an assembly of over 150 000 PSD supporters shows that the ‘parallel state’ is at the core of his concerns. At the same political assembly, another PSD leader delivered a speech in English, cheering president Trump’s fight against the ‘deep state’. Mr. Dragnea considers it the main obstacle standing in the way of PSD fulfilling its policy program, while also having the ability to change election outcomes and intimidate state officials through prosecutions. Similar analyses show comparative frequencies of references to the ‘parallel state’ in public discourses of other leaders of the governing coalition. Such concerns are reinforced by junior partner ALDE and senate chairperson, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. This phrase has become so common use in Romanian politics that even in internal fighting of PSD members, members accuse each other of ‘using the means common to the “parallel state”’. By these, they mean illegal phone – tapping or other types of interception of communications using state resources. This is usually a cause for escalation of tensions and media speculation.

The wide spread use of the scare of an almighty  ‘parallel state’ that reminds of the communist security service is a source of citizens’ erosion of confidence in state institutions and the progress made towards the independence of the judiciary and in the anti-corruption fight. Electorally, this translates into support for the government’s program to reform the justice system. It also leads to steady decrease in voter turn – out as citizens increasingly believe politics is a murky territory their vote cannot affect either way. Lower voter turn –out is a technical advantage for the PSD who relies on a captive electorate.

President Băsescu, the main actor accused of chaperoning this complex system of  interests during his mandate, declared there is no such thing as a ‘deep state’, but affirmed the existence of prosecutors, judges and other persons, from within institutions, but not representing those institutions, who abused and misused power. President Klaus Iohannis altogether denied the existence of anything similar to what the PSD leaders claim exists in Romania.  The identification of this useful enemy that is everywhere and nowhere is a useful campaign tool. But is there anything that can be taken out of the shadows and systematically researched for a better understanding of weaknesses of formal institutions?

The aristocracy of pull or how much ‘deep state’ ?

The study of ‘interest groups’ and the need for their judicial review has been a long running preoccupation of political science (ex. here and here). More recently, post-communist transition theory identified that informal powers and networks that political elites use to their benefit is as an important factor in limiting democratic state building (see Grzymala – Busse and Jones Luong 2002). In such evaluations, the extent of the use of parallel networks of authority and power personalisation make the difference between ‘democratic’, ‘autocratic’ and ‘personalistic’ states. Other researchers claim the tension between formal and informal institutions precedes communist times (see Ekiert and Ziblatt 2012). Disaggregating the state analytically into actors at various levels of the decision-making process and state administration provides insight into the struggle between formal and informal institutions and permits a categorisation that can be used irrespective of time and space:

”In the formal democratic state, informal institutions are largely in accord with formal democratic institutions. In the semiformal state, dual domination signals the deep state’s existence. In the informal state, deep state is converted into the state, the rule, and the norm.” (Soyler 2013)

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) increasingly prove to have multiple centres of informal authority with fluctuating degrees of influence on the process of democratization and state institutionalization. The introduction of democratic institutions – and their intrinsic formalisation of elite relationships -clashes with persistent informal practices. In other words, the formal changes introduced from above met significant resistance from patterns of informal norm systems, which are also the source of clientelism, corruption and networks of political patronage. The widespread acceptance of these informal norm systems caters for whichever presiding force finds its way into loci of state power. By circumventing predictability, their effect is anticompetitive and antimeritocratic, favouring those who are ‘in-the-know’ and have privileged access to politicians. This eases the appearance of one – party state forms of political organisations, regardless of ideological inclinations.

Conclusion: the ‘deep state’ is a puzzle, not the Leviathan    

Consequently, the Romanian ‘deep state’ is much less the conspirator centralized system chaired by any one interest group at any one time, but a fabric of relationships that uses different types of barter as a source of maintaining power among an established political and economic elite. The extent to which this is a part of the decision making process affects the state of democracy as a whole, but cannot controllably and substantially satisfy the interests of any one centralized interest group in the longer run. The ‘deep state’ is not in itself the all-powerful Leviathan, but resembles the timeless aristocracy of pull. It is a complex puzzle of unwritten, informal norms and relations that requires empirical research for a better understanding of power dispersion and agenda setting.

Turkey – Putting an entire state structure under construction

Turkey’s move to a presidential system with the 2017 constitutional amendments came into force following the general elections in June 2018. This move necessitates a transformation of the entire state structure, administrative law, and institutions. Since the foundation of the Republic in 1923 Turkey has not faced such a vast institutional transformation. It would not be wrong to label the new era as “the second republic”.

Since the first Ottoman Constitutional period in 1876, the chosen political system was mostly parliamentary system. The convention system (1920-24), and the semi-presidential system (2014-2018) were briefly tried, but served as transitional periods mostly. A presidential system has never been implemented until now. Therefore, the new presidential republic signifies a big departure in the political history of the country as well as the state tradition. Accordingly, almost the entire state structure has to be adapted to the new system.

In the former republican state structure, the executive branch was dual; there was the council of ministers headed by prime minister, and the president. The ministries were designed hierarchically from the centre towards the periphery under the authority of ministers. Political decisions were made in the council of ministers and parliament. Accordingly, political responsibility to parliament was shared by all members of the council. The political centre was parliament. Ministers were mostly members of parliament. The administration of state institutions was executed in accordance with acts of parliament. Governments needed a vote of confidence from parliament and parliamentary legislation in order to put their program into practice. Political parties holding a majority of seats were also influential over the executive and legislative practice.

Now, the president has replaced the council of ministers. Ministers are not the hierarchical administrative superiors for the lower ranking civil servants. The administrative structure is not designed in accordance with legislation any more. Presidential decrees have replaced legislation to designate ministries, all state institutions, the duties and responsibilities of civil servants etc. Former structures have been abolished by presidential decrees. The president has already issued 15 decrees to reorganise the state. Most of the former bureaucrats and civil servants had to be retired early. The current condition for many state institutions is chaotic. Some of them have been abolished under decree no.703; some of them have been renamed, united under single institution and reorganised Twenty-six ministries have been reduced to sixteen. There are also newly founded offices and policy committees under the presidency. In addition to ministries, there are four specific offices and nine policy committees in ministerial service eras such as health, education and economy that are directly under the presidency. Ten other separate institutions are also directly run by the president such as national intelligence service, the presidency of religious affairs, Turkish sovereign wealth fund.

There are four important characteristics of the new system:

a. It is created to unite, not to divide the state structure. The separation of powers cannot be seen in the structural organisation. Accordingly, hardly any checks and balances are left in the system. State power is organised and united under the presidential office and regulated by presidential decrees.

b. The assembly lost a big chunk of its former powers including a general law-making power in every subject. The assembly does not even have new parliamentary procedures currently. It does not have important permanent committees to engage in checks and balances, or committees of inquiry as in strong legislatures such as the US or Chile.

c. Ministerial offices have also lost their former position. It seems there are superior and parallel offices under the presidency to plan and execute policies. All important decisions are to be made by the president or presidential office. This potentially slows the bureaucracy down to a great degree.

d. The organisational structure resembles a holding company. The president intends to run the state like a company, and eliminate the old bureaucratic elite by creating superior and more loyal inner offices. He even appointed some outsiders like former CEOs or businessmen as ministers.

While the Turkish state structure has been reshuffled, President Erdoğan is having the most difficult time in his political carrier due to the deepening economic crisis. It is hard to predict how Turkey is going to manage to transform its state structure and perform efficiently under such bad economic conditions. It will also test President Erdoğan’s argument that the new system is capable of good management. So far he has managed to put the blame on foreign forces, such as USA for deliberately rising exchange rates and waging an economic war on Turkey, but eventually he will need to tackle the country’s economic problems and get good results under the new system as he promised to his voters.

Haiti – A new prime minister and the politics of retrenchment of President Jovenel Moïse

Article 156 of the constitution of Haiti stipulates that the prime minister runs the government and is responsible before the parliament, which can at any time decides his fate with a vote of confidence or no-confidence. This constitutional prerogative of the parliament was in full display two months ago when, on July 14th, following an interpellation by the chamber of deputies, the then prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, announced his resignation after it was clear that he would be voted out by a majority of legislators from his own party. This was the consequence of violent and deadly demonstrations that had rocked the capital a week before, when angry protesters took to the streets to denounce the decision of the government to increase fuel prices, following a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund.

After the events that took place on that fateful July 7th , a large group of businessmen and legislators from the ruling PHTK party decided that it was the moment to seal the fate of Lafontant. They joined the growing chorus of political opponents that had been asking for the departure of the government. The resignation of the prime minister marked the first moment since the beginning Jovenel Moïse’s young presidency that the opposition had been able to score an important political point. But, this win came when many people had defected from his own party, taking advantage of the weakness of the president in the wake of the violent demonstrations to force his hand to change the primer minister. In this sense, the events that brought down the government are the result of the calculus of different actors who are trying to advance different objectives in the present context.

The preference of the president, Jovenel Moïse, would have been to maintain Jack Guy Lafontant as his prime minister. He made clear on several occasions before the events that finally forced his hand that he wanted no changes. On April 24th when he reluctantly agreed to change 27% of the cabinet, he made it clear over a period of several weeks that he was against the idea. Only after the defection of many legislators from his party did he finally accepted to swear in five new ministers.

The fact that it took the president an entire week to finally come to terms with the idea of the resignation of Lafontant after the riots of July 7th , when political actors both from his party and the opposition had signed off on the Prime Minister, shows that the president was not at all convinced that such a change was necessary.

It took Jovenel Moïse a full month to find a new prime minister. He is Jean Henry Céant, a former presidential candidate. Céant then spent exactly another month forming a new cabinet of 18 ministers, in which 33% (6 out of 18) are left over from the old government. Two months after the last wave of protests, the president was finally able to convince a majority of the legislators of his own party to approve the declaration of politics of the new government. On September 14th and 16th, the Senators and the Chamber of the Deputies approved the Cabinet and, Céant became the 21th Prime Minister since 1988 in Haiti.

But, from what we know of the negotiations between the president and the legislators from his own party, it is clear that the road to the nomination of Céant and the formation of the government was not smooth. Many legislators vented their frustration and criticisms in public when it was clear that they would not have the ability to secure their preferred outcomes. With the next legislative elections scheduled to take place at the end of next year, the majority that voted in favor of the new government has been promised a substantial amount of money for their constituency. In the coming months, if for any reason the government does not maintain its end of the bargain, it is possible that the country will experience another episode of instability in the government.

The opposition parties whose demonstrations in the street finally led to the fall of the Lafontan’s government have not been able to capitalize from the instability they created. Even though the new primer minister, Céant, is from a branch of the opposition, they have not been able to secure any relevant position in the cabinet. All of the Ministers are from the ruling PHTK party or political groups around the President.

With the resignation of Lafontant, many in the opposition asked for a “cohabitation”, where the opposition parties would govern alongside the President. Such a scenario would be their best second outcome, since they have not enough political strength to force out President Jovenel Moïse, as they have been trying to do since his election. But the reality is that the opposition has very little sway in this conjuncture. Its presence in both chambers of parliament is merely testimonial. In fact, recent events are more a product of internal infighting in the PHTK and the miscalculations of Prime Minister Lafontant.

The goal of the opposition in the coming months will be to maintain street demonstrations against the government. During the discussions around the formation of the new government, many cases of corruption in which the name of individuals from the PHTK were cited. The opposition parties seem poised to keep mobilizing around this issue in an attempt to discredit the president. Their ability to maintain pressure around these cases will be vital for their relevance in the near future.

Timor-Leste – Cohabitation: the tug-of-war continues

After the early elections of last May, a period of formal cohabitation was initiated between the first partisan president (Fretilin’s chairman, Lu Olo) and a government supported by the winning coalition (Xanana’s CNRT, Taur Matan Ruak’s PLP and KHUNTO), which has an absolute majority in the House, but not of a two-thirds super majority.

The president appointed Taur Matan Ruak as prime minister in June and, according to the constitution, the prime minister submitted his proposal of 42 government members. Lu Olo initially objected to 12 of those members. One case was solved by bureaucratic means, as the presidential objections related to the need to clear the proposed minister’s earlier position as deputy chief of the armed forces; two were also sidestepped when the candidates were replaced by names acceptable to the president; but as for nine others, neither the president nor the prime minister has shown signs of changing positions. Three other suggested ministers refused to be sworn in in solidarity with their vetoed colleagues, one of them (Xanana Gusmão) indicating that he preferred to stay out of government for good. At the time of writing, almost three months have elapsed and the government still has no minister for finance, health or natural resources, and is thus in a formally weak position to discharge its functions. Nonetheless, in this period, the government was still able to present some critical documents including the state budget for the current year (which had not been possible to pass due to the political crisis of 2017 that eventually led to the early elections). As things stand, no clear sign is discernible as to the solution for the impasse. It seems that formal institutions are suffering the challenge of a kind of a shadow theatre in which decisions are made outside the boundaries of the council of ministers.

Angry with what he regards as a break with the platform on which the president was elected with his support, Xanana Gusmão announced last month that he would “wait another ten days” for Lu Olo to accept the government members before he would “take action” and formally accuse him of “usurpation of functions”. No action has yet been taken. The tug of war continues without a solution in sight.

For the benefit of comparative purposes, the present situation calls for a discussion of the role of the president in the Timorese political system. Two aspects should be considered. First, what is the power of presidents regarding the appointment of governments? Second, what kind of protection does the constitution award to presidents against moves to challenge his authority and eventually bring him before the courts?

Section 107 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (CRDTL) states that “the Government shall be accountable to the President of the Republic and to the National Parliament for conducting and executing the domestic and foreign policy in accordance with the Constitution and the law.” This is a clear indication that presidents can play an active roles in their relation with the government. For each new government, two steps have to be taken. First, according to section 85d (including all competencies exclusively incumbent upon the president), presidents “appoint and swear in the Prime Minister designated by the party or alliance of parties with parliamentary majority after consultation with political parties sitting in the National Parliament”. Although this section seems to restrict presidential powers, it fact it allows significant room for discretion, namely in cases when there is no pre-electoral majority in parliament (as it happened in 2007, 2012 and 2017). Also, constitutionalist Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos noted that this formulation “expresses the double responsibility of the government” before the president and the assembly.[i]

The second step is the appointment of government members. According to section 86h (including competencies in regard to other organs of sovereignty), it is a presidential competence “to appoint, swear in and remove Government Members from office, following a proposal by the Prime-Minister, in accordance with item 2, Section 106”, which in turn stipulates that “the remaining members of the Government shall be appointed by the President of the Republic following proposal by the Prime Minister”. It seems very clear that the president does not dispose of a power of initiative in the appointment of ministers, depending on a proposal by the prime minister; but conversely, it seems equally clear that the prime minister does not possess more than a competence to propose names without obliging the president to accept them. Previous presidents have used the power of rejection at least on two counts: José Ramos-Horta privately opposed some names proposed by the prime minister in 2007, and Taur Matan Ruak did the same with public knowledge in 2012. These are precedents that did not raise any objections at the time they took place, and what is more relevant, in one of those instances the current prime minister was then the president and is thus morally bound by his early attitude. In an interview given to me a few years ago, president Ramos-Horta expressed the following understanding of his powers regarding the nomination of ministers proposed by the prime minister:

“If I am the Head of State in charge of guaranteeing peace and security, if I must nominate ministers, I need to be confident not only of the prime minister’s capacities, but also of the ministers I am empowering. I bestow my authority behind each of them individually. So, I rejected two names proposed by the prime minster”[ii]

Concluding this section, the double dependency of the government on the president and the assembly offers the head of state the competence to have a decisive word on the appointment of the prime minister and above all, of his ministers. The present position of president Lu Olo seems thus to be solidly anchored in the country’s constitution and political conventions. But what if it was not? What could be done?

CRDTL devotes one full section (79) to “criminal liability and constitutional obligations” where it stipulates (in number 2) that “the President of the Republic shall be answerable before the Supreme Court of Justice for crimes committed in the exercise of his or her functions and for clear and serious violation of his or her constitutional obligations”. For a complaint to be brought before the justice, however, the process must begin in parliament, where a qualified majority of two-thirds of its members is required to allow the move to reach the Supreme Court (number 3). This means that there is a strong political rather than institutional factor at play in any process to formally accuse the president of foregoing his constitutional obligations or abuse his powers. At the moment, the president’s party, Fretilin, controls 23 of the parliament’s 65 seats and is thus in a position to block any move destined to challenge the president’s position.

To a substantial extent, the actual presidential powers depend on the political conditions of the moment as on the institutional definition of his competences. The constitutional text defines very broad limits to the presidential powers, which will be more or less used according to the political conjuncture. Timor-Leste had three consecutive “independent” presidents, not affiliated with any political party, which rendered the articulation between the president and the assembly more open to variable geometries, and prevented the systematic opposition between presidential and parliamentary majorities. Now, with the first partisan president, things are significantly different. Even if one cannot presume that Fretilin and the other parties not represented in the executive will always vote against the government (as the recent vote on the state budget showed, the government which controls 34 seats obtained 42 votes in favour, several abstentions and only 9 votes against – the opposition parties having failed to adopt a common position and showing internal splits in the final vote), the likelihood that they can use their capacity to bloc any vote requiring qualified majority is strong. This circumstance contributes to reinforce the presidential influence, as he disposes of veto powers over every law or decree-law (CRDTL section 88). In the case of decree-laws, the president’s word is final; in the case of parliamentary laws, a qualified majority is required to overturn those that address fundamental issues (as stipulated in section 95), including budgetary issues as well as the fundamental laws of social security, health, education, defence and security, electoral laws, and more. That’s to say: an absolute majority in parliament  does not entail a free hand in the definition of policies, as the president may force a qualified majority in order to allow for the implementation of the government’s program. In this light, the comparative strength of the president is a key element in the Timorese political landscape.

In this context, president Lu Olo is comfortable in his position, and his powers, articulated with his link to a party that controls more than one third of the seats in the House, are a serious challenge to the government’s simple majority. Certainly not by chance, several voices in Dili are predicting that Xanana Gusmão, leader of the largest party in the government coalition, would welcome the dissolution of parliament once again in order to try and take away from Fretilin two seats that would substantially change the nature of the presidential room for intervention. However, this would be a high risk strategy that may not be sympathetic to the prime minister, who has shown signs of “understanding” for the presidential opposition to cabinet members proposed by Xanana’s party. In any case, this would only be possible after six months have elapsed from the last election in early May.

Timor-Leste is thus living under uncertainty, and the economic performance has echoed the adverse conditions with a significant fall in its growth rate and a paralysis of most of the non-oil sector – and this economic slow down is not conducive to easy electoral victories. The state budget for 2018 was drawn to reverse the situation, although its effect will be limited in the short term (it has still not been approved by the president); and the 2019 budget will probably be in the same vein – in spite of being drawn by a government that has no finance minister. The one fact that has emerged with some accrued stability is the resilience of the presidency and its critical role in the politics of the country. How much longer will the president accept that the government continues to work in the absence of critical ministers before he can argue that the regular functioning of institutions is not being met, and that he may step up his intervention?


[i]Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos, Constituição Anotada da Republica Democrática de Timor-Leste, Braga: Direitos Humanos – Centro de Investigação Interdisciplinar, 2011: 288

[ii]Jose Ramos-Horta, “O modelo semi-presidencial que temos é adequado à realidade timorense” in R. G. Feijó (ed), O Semi-presidencialismo Timorense, Coimbra: CES/Almedina, 2014: 77-78

Magna Inácio and Aline Burni – What comes after the storm? Hurricane season in the Brazilian presidential election

Expected as a turning point after five years of political turmoil, the 2018 Brazilian presidential election is heading into ever-increasing uncertainties as to who will win and how she or he will govern. Since the 1990s, strong presidential powers and electoral rules favoring political polarization between large interparty alliances has turned the presidential competition into a structuring vector of the whole political system. Therefore, two presidentialized parties, PSDB and PT, have become the major forces alternating in power, blocking outsiders and newcomers to send themselves to the presidential contest. This bipolarization has made government policy offers more moderate and the Brazilian politics, centripetal. At this time, however, it seems to be challenged in an unprecedented way, and the competition is so far, very uncertain.

The success of coalitional presidentialism has been eroding after two decades of relative stability. Political dissatisfaction has been skyrocketing since the massive street riots in 2013, driving down even more the low levels of institutional confidence in Congress and parties and, recently, citizens’ support for the democratic regime is endangered. Corruption scandals and economic depression tempered the polarized reelection of President Rousseff (PT), in 2014, culminating in her impeachment two years afterward. The initial success of the new government, headed by vice-president Temer, vanished quickly when corruption scandals also reached him and his inner circle. In general, political parties have been strongly hurt and episodic institutional conflicts emerged since party and legislative leaders started to be investigated and arrested, sometimes with the suspension of parliamentary prerogatives of office-holders under investigation.

Generalized feelings that these wrongdoings are systemic has been fueling anti-establishment appeals and a strong pressure for political renovation. Political polarization feeds tension between democratic and authoritarian values, with a significant part of the population appealing for military intervention as a means to solve the political and economic crisis. On recent times, episodes of political violence have happened, such as the killing of Rio de Janeiro councilwomen Marielle Franco (PSOL) and her driver, and the incident in which shots were fired at Lula’s caravan, both in March this year.

Under this political nightmare, will mainstream political parties be able to coordinate this electoral process towards a new equilibrium?

For the first time since 1994, the highly unpopular sitting president has been politically ignored of negotiations of electoral alliances, despite his party, the PMDB, being one of the key actors. The most important left-wing leader and potential candidate, former president Lula (PT), was pushed out due his conviction for money laundry and gang formation, resulting in his arrestment few months before the nomination season. The involvement of leaders of large parties in corruption trials resulted in reputational losses and considerably reduced electability of their potential candidates. This increased, in the eyes of other parties, the cost of joining hands with them. In addition, reforms barring campaign funding from private companies increased the opportunities for self-funded candidates. Overall, these conditions have turned this into an ever more open-seat presidential election, raising the incentives for not-yet presidentialized parties and outsiders.

Given this political landscape, 2018 presidential race has been compared to 1989, the only time when a non-mainstream party won the presidency. Indeed, one of the surprises of this race has been the emergence of a competitive, far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro (PSL), whose discourse is centered on an anti-corruption, moralization of politics and law-and-order approach. Bolsonaro has been leading the polls since the beginning, in a scenario without former president Lula, oscillating around 20% of vote preferences. He can be considered an “inside-outsider” since has been serving as representative for seven mandates despite his anti-establishment appeals. Although usually compared to Trump, Bolsonaro does not count on a robust party organization sponsoring him. His motto is to “change everything that is in place”, and his brand gesture is the simulation of warm guns with his hands. One of his proposals is to turn the gun regulation more liberalized in Brazil, and he has previously openly defended the military dictatorship. He surfs on the waves of backlash against progressive socio-cultural values and strong anti-system sentiment.

Electoral rules have, however, moderated centrifugal trends in the first stage of this election, the nomination season, closed at the end of July. Under runoff and concurrent elections, in a scenario of reduced campaign funding, established parties sought more conventional alliances. On the center-right, a large alliance among center and right-wing parties, headed by PSDB candidate, Alckmin, was formed to broaden its public funding and free publicity on TV. It inhibited medium and small parties from allying with the “inside-outsider” candidate, Bolsonaro, despite his high-polling position. Furthermore, newcomers, two millionaire businesspeople, are also getting access to the ballot. On the left, the PT worked to block an alternative alliance of center-left parties, since it is working to judicially reverse Lula’s expected ineligibility and keep its pivotal position on its side of the ideological spectrum. This resulted in more fragmentation on the center-left, with the nomination of Marina Silva (Rede) and Ciro Gomes (PDT), two competitive candidates challenging PT dominance. At the end, the presidentialized parties, PT and PSDB, were constrained to build different alliances from when they had won the election and 13 candidates are running for presidency. However, the nomination process has shown more predictable alliance strategies than expected.

Campaigning officially started on August 16th, and the advertising on traditional media took off on the 31st. Television and radio remain the most important sources of information for voters during the campaign, in the shortest period for presidential campaigning in recent decades. Nevertheless, candidates seeking their “campaign momentum” and putting themselves as front-runners are facing more uncertainties that they expected.

First, although most candidates had already been nominated by the end of July, the dispute has been largely undefined since PT kept Lula as its candidate, holding on a strategy that insists on him being a victim of major injustice, until the very last minute. It was expected that Lula would be declared ineligible by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), due the Clean Record Act (“Ficha Limpa”), which forbids the candidacy of anyone who has been convicted by a decision of a collective body. However, PT called on the international community, having received support from famous left-wing leaders worldwide, and a request by the United Nations Human Rights’ Committee not to prevent the former president from standing for the election, until his appeals before the courts have been completed. As expected, the TSE declared Lula ineligible and established September 11th as the deadline for PT to present an alternative candidate. After having run out of appeals, the former mayor of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad, was nominated as PT candidate only 26 days before the first round of voting. Whereas Lula’s incomparable popularity seems capable of transferring some support for his designated candidate, this campaign is shorter than previous ones and relative unknown Haddad was nominated late. The underperforming government of the impeached president Rousseff, who was also chose by him, will shadow PT’s attempts to sell Haddad as someone able to rescue the success of Lula’s administrations. Despite PT simply omits Rousseff’s administrations from its announcements, the left-wing challengers are already recalling her failures and promising do better in pushing progressive agendas for attracting non-conservative voters.

Second, an unprecedented event shacked the campaign considerably. The far-right candidate Bolsonaro was stabbed on September 6th, during a rally by a person who alleged political motivation against the candidate’s positions towards minorities, but the act seems to be organized only by himself. A shocking event also happened in 2014, when the third-place on polls Eduardo Campos (PSB), died in a plane crash. This incident had a considerable impact on voters’ preferences for his running mate, Marina Silva, who replaced him and reaching more than 30% of vote intentions on the same point of the presidential campaign in 2014. However, this thread coming from a third-party candidate did not last, after an intense negative campaign from PT candidate. At the end voters turned back to what they see as the most credible options, and the PT-PSDB clash happened for the sixth time. By its turn, the outrage against Bolsonaro raised an expectation of larger impact than in 2014, since he was seen as victim of political violence and intolerance. However, polls have showed that the commotion was limited, while the resistance to vote for the radical and anti-system candidate remains high among voters. The impact of this violence on his campaign is uncertain, but it can reduce the voter mobilization in this last stage of campaign. Bolsonaro is hospitalized and blocked from conducting his personalized campaigns on the streets. Absent from media debates and backed by a less professional campaign staff, his attempt to resort to a massive Internet strategy may be insufficient to expand his appeals towards more heterogeneous audience or, even, keep his current supporters.

These close events, the expected replacement of PT candidate and the unforeseen Bolsonaro’s stabbing, have forced all presidential candidates to change their strategies. While the second round is likely to show the confrontation between right-wing and left-wing candidates, it is unclear how far these candidates are from the center and whether escalation of polarization can occur. Bolsonaro remains stable as front-runner, radicalizing the anti-PT sentiment. As the candidate with the highest rejection rate and facing a remarkable gender gap in voters’ preferences (30% of male and 14% of women), his odds to win the election are unlikely by now. Polls show that is likely to lose for any other candidate of both ideological poles. Other four competitive candidates linger very close in the dispute for the second place, center-right (Alckmin) and three center-left candidates (Ciro, Marina, and Haddad).

Since 1994, this is the first time that a front-runner is an “inside-outsider”, coming from an inexpressive political party. As it happened in previous presidential disputes, there are some tensions challenging the prior bipolar dynamic. However, this time the menace of a third-party breaking the status quo is relatively stronger. Usually the challenger comes from within the system, such as in 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014. A certain level of “insiderness” has been required to gather sufficient strengths in order to disturb the centrifugal dynamic induced by institutions and electoral rules. Even when a convincing challenger emerged with more confidence, voters have hesitated to stick with an alternative at the last minute. Polls on 2014 presidential election showed that voters’ first-round decision was only consolidated on the last 10 days before election day. In its turn, this uncertainty scenario, marked by high fragmentation of candidate supply, particularly on the left, the number of undecided voters remains high and swing vote tend to be a decisive factor. At this point of the campaign, who will benefit of this is still an incognita.

Magna Inácio is an associate professor in the Department of the Political Science at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, in Brazil. She is currently carrying out research on presidents and presidencies with focus on multiparty cabinets, executive–legislative relations and internal organization of the Executive branch. Her research interests include coalition governments, the institutional presidency, and parliamentary elites in Brazil and Latin America.

Aline Burni is a researcher for the Center for Legislative Studies at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil), where she is a PhD candidate in Political Science. She was a Fulbright grantee at New York University, and previously served as International Advisor for the Minas Gerais state government. Her research interests are comparative and European Politics, Electoral Studies, Political Parties and Radical Right-wing Populism.