Monthly Archives: May 2019

Guest post: “Going Public” in Comparative Perspective: Presidents’ Public Appeals under Pure Presidentialism

Presidents’ abilities to connect with the public are of utmost political importance. As the focal leader of the nation, presidents can leverage their unique connection to this nation-wide constituency to influence their negotiations with the legislative branch. In pure presidential systems, the constitutional separation of origin and survival of the political executive demands constant negotiation and compromise across independent branches of government, incentivizing the president to rely on this unique connection with the public.

While historically, U.S. presidents may have relied on inter-branch negotiations and backroom deals, modern American presidents live and die by their connection to the public: their electoral campaigns take root years in advance, and many attempt to maintain said political momentum with ongoing direct public appeals throughout their administration. Whether it’s FDR’s radio broadcast Fireside Chats to Donald Trump’s ubiquitous use of social media, leveraging public support has become a tool in the president’s arsenal to strategically wield when deemed necessary.  Indeed, many scholars and political spectators attribute President Obama’s campaign success to his effective use of social media and then note the continuance of this strategy of direct public appeals throughout his presidency, taking the form of speeches and weekly YouTube addresses throughout his administration. Direct public appeals, so the story goes, enable U.S. presidents to apply indirect pressure on members of Congress, thereby improving the chances that the presidents’ preferred policy would be adopted into law.

The public presidency is not uniquely American. Work on populism throughout the developing world identifies the rise of anti-establishment rhetoric and the lack of an institutionalized parties as two key facilitating conditions for the emergence of populist leaders.  In all pure presidential systems, presidents may leverage their electoral connection with the nationwide constituency in order to sidestep the negotiations that the institutional separation of powers imposes, applying indirect pressure to legislative coalitions.

Although the notion of ‘going public’ has its origins in U.S. presidency, we have little sense of how direct appeals to the public fit into the broader portfolio of presidential powers. Our research situates presidents’ direct public appeals in the broader portfolio of comparative presidential powers. Rather than construe populism and presidents’ plebiscitarian orientation as a personality trait or leadership style, we consider how a president’s propensity to appeal to the public may vary in response to changes in the bargaining environment, which may vary both across countries and over time as a function of institutional, personal and political factors. In our forthcoming article in Presidential Studies Quarterly, we show show that the frequency of presidents’ public appeals varies with both their partisan support in the legislature, their status as a newcomer to the political system, and electoral and legislative institutions. Further, we make available our original data such that we might not be the last to investigate this sort of question.

We debut the Presidential Speeches of the Americas (PSA) dataset, which is a dataset and archive of appearances and speeches made by 24 presidents across 18 pure presidential systems of the western hemisphere. These data contain the records of presidents’ speeches and public appearances as advertised on the official websites of the presidency, most of which contain the transcript of the presidential address. Our aim was to collect as much information as possible, harvesting presidential speech archives for as long as they were made available online. Most sitting presidents maintain an online archive of presidential activities and speeches, and in several countries online archives were also available for previous presidential administrations through the WayBack Internet Archive. An overview of the data contained in the PSA dataset is shown in Table 1. This dataset and archive include records of (and in most cases transcripts of) more than 12,500 presidential speeches, made by 24 presidents in 18 pure presidential systems throughout the western hemisphere. It is available to the public, may be found on the website https://www.psa-dataset-archive.com

In our forthcoming paper, we collapsed all observations in the PSA dataset into a monthly count of presidential speeches, such that we could track the covariance of presidential speechmaking with our explanatory variables. The heatmap shows the cross-sectional distribution of the monthly average number of presidential appearances as reported on the online press archives of the office of the presidency. Though not shown here in the interest of space, President Obama averaged 36 public speeches and appearances per month over the course of his two terms in office. The hemispheric median number of speeches per month is 7, though the data skews positive, with a mean of nearly 12. President Obama shares the distinction of having the highest number of presidential appearances with President Santos of Colombia, with 56 public appearances in a single calendar month.

Shifting our focus across countries and overtime, we see that beyond individual personality traits, institutional and political contexts offer substantial explanatory power as well. When presidents have less partisan support in the legislature, are in open list electoral systems, have bicameral legislatures, or are political outsiders, they are more likely to appeal to the public.

We set out to fill an important lacunae in the research on comparative presidentialism, to sys- systematically consider how presidents’ direct public appeals serve as one resource among many that presidents may use to advance their policy agendas. To that end, we introduce and publicize a new dataset and archive of presidential speeches, the Presidential Speeches of the Americas dataset and archive. Our statistical analysis of a subset of the PSA data suggests that presidents’ direct appeals to the public might serve as a substitute for other sorts of presidential powers, either those derived from their support in the legislature, or those granted to the executive in constitutional texts. These results underscore the advantage of considering ‘going public’ in a comparative perspective, wherein variance in institutional and partisan support can be empirically considered.

For additional information, or to find our forthcoming research at Presidential Studies Quarterly, please visit our website at https://www.psa-dataset-archive.com.

Authors: Alexandra Cockerham, Florida State University; Amanda Driscoll, Florida State University; Joan Joseph, MIT

Posted by Fiona Yap on behalf of authors

Ethiopia – Sahle-Work Zewde elected first female president

On 25 October 2018, the Ethiopian parliament elected Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s new president. Sahle-Work, who is a long-time diplomat, becomes Ethiopia’s first female president and – following the departure of Malawi’s Joyce Banda and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from the political scene – Africa’s only female head of state.

The move was been celebrated by women’s rights activists, especially after Sahle-Work used her inauguration to promise to make gender equality a reality. Although the country was governed by Empress Zewditu in the early part of the 20th Century, more recently the political system has been male dominated. As the chief of staff of the Prime Minster put it,

“in a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life”.

President Sahle-Work is seen as a credible figure with considerable experience. In addition to serving as Ambassador to Senegal and Djibouti, she has fulfilled a number of different roles for the United Nations, and was most recently the UN’s representative at the African Union. This means that she brings with her a good understanding of how regional bodies operate, and will therefore be an asset to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as he seeks to reformulate Ethiopian foreign policy.

Sahle-Work’s forthright approach – and in particular telling Members of Parliament that if they thought she was talking too much about women she had only just begun – has also led to genuine hope that her strong words will translate into actions. Along with other recent appointments, including Abiy’s decision to split ministerial positions equally between men and women and the selection of a female to Chair the electoral commission, this has led to growing belief that there is political will to deal with issues such as the gender pay gap – which is estimated to stand at around 44% – at the highest levels.

Some analysts are more cautious, however, pointing out that the presidency is a largely ceremonial position and that power is wielded by the Prime Minister. Abiy has committed himself to reforming the country’s political system and promoting equal rights for women, but has not yet had sufficient time in office to effect these changes. Given past experiences, some activists worry that more radical change will not be forthcoming, especially given that the Prime Minister already faces a difficult task to ensure political stability and lead the ruling party into an election that is scheduled for May 2020.

The experience of other states in Africa suggests that the promotion of women in political positions is not always a pathway to broader transformation. In Rwanda, for example, it has been argued that the promotion of women within parliament has been used to sanitise the reputation of an authoritarian regime, rather than to genuinely pursue an agenda of gender equality.

Mozambique – Filipe Nyusi: an embattled president in times of troubled comradery and ominous tides

On 15th October, Mozambique will hold a new round of general elections and also provincial elections to elect governors for the first time.  These polls happen in a year marked by dramatic events which will pose major challenges to the incumbent president, Filipe Nyusi, and his party, the Frelimo. In March and April, the country was hit by the Idai and Kenneth cyclones  leaving death, damage and destruction in its wake in the central and northern provinces of the country, respectively. The new provincial election format is a key part of the peace process that will potentially allow Frelimo’s arch-rival, Renamo, to appoint provincial governors in its strongholds. With less than five months to the polls, Filipe Nyusi faces other serious challenges: unifying the party around his leadership, restoring Frelimo’s credibility and offsetting the negative impact of the corruption scandals involving of the party’s key figures; and continuing to move forward with the most sensitive part of the peace process, i.e. disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).  Nyusi’s performance is hailed as the reason for the relative success of the peace process and is expected to bring payoffs in the next elections.

Building cohesion and strengthening the leadership

Founded on its socialist origins and the spirit of comradery and democratic centralism, Frelimo’s internal disputes rarely become public; thus it came as a relative surprise when Samora Machel Junior (“Samito”), son of Mozambique’s first president, challenged Filipe Nyusi’s leadership. After his exclusion from the party lists, he decided to run as the mayoral candidate in Maputo against the official Frelimo candidate, Eneas Comiche, in the October 2018 local elections. His behavior led the Central Committee to start disciplinary proceedings against him alleging that he had violated the statutes when he ran against the party’s candidate. He then publicly confronted the president accusing him (and the party secretary general Roque Silva) of “gross violation” of the Frelimo statutesfor not allowing criticism, not stimulating dialogue, and not recognizing the constitutional rights of members”. Though the Central Committee verdict is not yet known, the “Samito affair” has caused some damage to the President’s image. Although the affair was not on the agenda in the recent (May) gathering of the Central Committee, it loomed large with Nyusi loyalists distancing themselves from Samito and sometimes criticizing or scolding him for disrespecting Nyusi. At the end of the gathering, most of the party seniors exalted party cohesion and unity. But this does not necessarily mean that internal differences were ironed out or that the party will navigate in smooth waters until the October elections. Indeed, it might mean that Nyusi has at least succeeded in asserting his leadership in key party constituencies, namely those represented by the above-mentioned groups.

“Cleaning” the party, and building credibility

This year the image of the president and party was tainted with corruption scandals – known as the hidden debt scandal – and the involvement of the former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, in illegal loans of over two billion dollars to three companies: Proindicus, EMATUM (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management). His detention in South Africa in December 2018 gave new momentum to the stalled investigation led by the Mozambican Attorney General’s into a group of individuals linked to the scandal; these included former central bank governor, intelligence chiefs and civil servants who served under Armando Guebuza, whose older son, Ndambi Guebuza, was among those already in jail. The scandal plunged the country into an unprecedented financial crisis and raised criticism from all quarters. Opposition political parties urged the judicial system to continue investigation and to hold the former president, Armando Guebuza, accountable; the Public Integrity Center demanded that the government refuse to pay the debt, and led a public anti-debt campaign. The former minister, Manuel Chang, might be extradited to Mozambique following a decision from the South African Minister of Justice.

This scandal contributed to weakening Filipe Nyusi’s leadership as he was part of the government when the debt was contracted; and it exposes Frelimo as a party at the core of the corruption that so deeply affects the country. In the recent Central Committee, Guebuza accused those questioning his responsibilities in the scandal of being on a “witch hunt”. Despite speculations about his involvement and the imprisonment of some of those implicated in the debt scandal, Nyusi seems to support the demands to hold those involved accountable. But some see this as an electoralist façade, only staged to win over voters, and that after the October elections everything will go back to business as usual. Thus, Nyusi is caught in a dilemma between risking to lose the support of either his comrades or voters, depending on how he manages the debt scandal. 

Moving forward with the DDR process

The DDR process, is a final and important challenge in the backcloth of this year’s elections; this process was part of the Memorandum of understanding on military issues, signed between the Mozambican government and Renamo on August 6th 2018.  The agreement anticipated the reintegration of Renamo’s officials in the Armed forces of Mozambique (FADM); the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM), the General of the Information and Security Service (SISE) and the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) teaching institutions. 

Negotiations are underway between Filipe Nyusi and Ossufo Momade (elected leader of the Renamo in the first ever leadership elections in January), but the results are coming at a slow pace and Nyusi has even labelled the process as “fatiguing”.  Although some of Renamo’s men have been integrated, it is a sluggish process. In April, Renamo submitted the list of officials to be integrated in the command ranks of the PRM, but the President said that the list included retired and already demobilized men and therefore did not fulfil all criteria discussed. Renamo’s spokesperson José Manteigas reacted saying that the President was being inflexible. Frelimo members have referred to the DDR, along with decentralization, as the “flip side of the peace coin”, which means that its conclusion is critical to the peace process.

An embattled presidency in troubled comradery and ominous tides

In a recent interview for a Mozambican Newspaper (Canal de Moçambique, 15 May 2019), Nyusi responded to a question about the performance of his term by saying that the natural disasters, war and effects of the debt scandal had been major obstacles for the implementation of his programme, and speculated as to whether yet another disaster might be around the corner to hit the country. At the beginning of his term, Nyusi made a gambit in the peace process despite opposition from his party fellows. One year after, the debt scandal erupted with its unfolding negative consequences. However, neither Nyusi nor his comrades seem to know how to deal with the issue without bringing serious consequences for both.  With Nyusi confessing his fatigue as the DDR process drags on, his presidency and leadership are losing steam in what was one of the main achievements of this term and the options to galvanize the electorate in October for his party and himself are meagre.

José Jaime Macuane and Edalina Rodrigues Sanches

Bolivia: A Testing Year for Bolivia’s Democracy

The tide that swept leftist governments to power in Latin America over a decade ago has dramatically receded in recent years. The resulting political struggles between left and right have seen a rise in undemocratic tendencies, with dubious methods utilised both by presidents to retain power, as well as by opponents seeking to depose incumbents. 

Bolivia under Evo Morales has proved no exception, as previously outlined in this blog. In this context, 2019 increasingly looks like being a pivotal year for Bolivia’s democracy. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place on October 20th, where visions of the past and present will vie to control the country’s future. 

In particular, current President Evo Morales will be seeking a fourth consecutive term in office, having managed to overturnthe result of a 2016 plebiscite in which a majority voted against the abolition of term limits. 

Since the shock of that result, Morales and his government have done what they tend to do when faced with setbacks: retrench and find a way around the problem by whatever means necessary. In this case a friendly Supreme Court acceded to the government’s petition to override the plebiscite, thus abolishing term limits. In turn the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) ratified that rulingand registered the candidacy of Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia-Linera.

The government’s manoeuvrings prompted a significant backlash. In the immediate aftermath of the TSE decision, a series of protests eruptedinvolving work stoppages, blockades, marches and vigils. Opponents have come together under the heading of ‘Bolivia Dijo No!’(Bolivia Said No!). The coalition is an uneasy one, however, as it contains a mixture of right-wing opponents from wealthy sectors and disillusioned former Morales supporters. The former group, in particular, has shown violent tendencies, evidenced by the burningof the TSE building in Santa Cruz. Such behaviour is unlikely to win over wavering middle-class voters, however.

Morales has sought to prey on these doubts by offering stability, further poverty reduction, and continued economic growth, which has averaged five per cent during his 13 years in power. Furthermore, the recent launch of a system of universal healthcareis a departure from the more targeted and clientelistic social protection measurestypically employed by the government.

Nevertheless, seasoned observers have noted that Morales has a habit of launching big initiatives in the period before presidential elections. Nor was the healthcare plan well-received by doctors, who launched industrial actionand criticised the lack of funding for beds, supplies and staff.

Other recent initiatives, however, appear to be more overt attempts to utilise state power to influence the outcome of the election. One example was the holding of mandatory primary electionsin January. While on its face a move to enhance democratic processes, critics viewed the primaries as an attempt by Morales to expand his electoral base following the humiliation of the 2016 plebiscite.

Furthermore, the measure was imposed in late 2018with little warning, and provided opposition parties with a very short period within which to register candidates. In particular, the timeframe meant that the opposition was unable to coalesce around a single candidate. The conduct of the processwas also hampered by low turnout – partly explained by many parties calling for a boycott – and allegations of significant irregularities. The result was that the opposition emerged divided, with nine candidates set to contest the election.

Nonetheless, the main rival that has emerged is a name from Bolivia’s past: former president Carlos Mesa. A mild-mannered journalist and historian, Mesa is widely respected. Nevertheless, his association with the unpopular government of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (‘Goni’) – who Mesa served as Vice-President before taking over when Goni was ousted – continues to dog his candidacy. Mesa’s refusal to formalise an alliance with any party is evidence that he is aware of this weakness.

In response to the threat of Mesa, Morales has used more direct tactics to damage his rival. These have included accusing Mesa of causing economic damageto the state due to his nationalisation of a Chilean company when president – ironic given that Morales’ signature promise when first elected was the purported nationalisation of the country’s gas reserves – and levelling charges of accepting bribesfrom a Brazilian construction company. 

The overall image forged by Morales’ actions over the past three years – commencing with the overturning of the result of the 2016 plebiscite, and running through the primaries to the use of the state apparatus to target a political rival – is of a government that increasingly adheres to the typology of “competitive authoritarianism” developed by Levitsky and Way[i]

The reason underlying these actions is that Morales’s grip on power has loosened significantly in recent years due to the inherent contradictions of his governing model. Morales relies heavily on rents from gas, mining and agribusiness for redistribution and public spending. The end of the commodities boom has seen the government go to ever-greater lengths to boost income, even opening up protected areasfor oil and gas exploration. 

The result has been a series of conflicts between the self-styled ‘government of the social movements’ and social movements themselves[ii]. The disconnect between this model and Morales’ environmentalist discourse can no longer be overlooked.

Furthermore, the kind of large-scale infrastructure projects undertaken by the government have traditionally been sources of patronage and bribery in Bolivia. It is far from surprising then that Morales’ government has been dogged by allegations of corruption, nepotism and vanity[iii].

Nevertheless, Morales remains a popular and indeed historic figure in Bolivia whose importance as a symbol continues to resonate with many. Recent opinion pollsappear to show that Morales’s lead over Mesa is growing, albeit slowly.

The biggest problem facing Morales looks likely to be the electoral system, and in particular the run-off vote. In each of his three previous victories, Morales was elected with over 50 per cent of the vote, thereby avoiding a second round of voting. That outcome appears unlikely on this occasion.

Instead Morales’ core vote appears to be closer to 30 per cent. Even allowing for the fact that polls routinely under-estimate support for Morales, if the president fails to triumph over Mesa by more than ten per cent it would trigger a run-off. A second round would place the president in a very different situation, facing a single candidate around whom a diffuse and divided opposition could coalesce. Indeed, opinion pollsindicate that Mesa would win a run-off vote against Morales.

Were this to occur, it would represent a significant test for Bolivia’s institutions and its current president’s commitment to democracy.


[i]Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

[ii]The ongoing socio-environmental conflict in the protected area of Tariquiaover hydrocarbon concessions granted without any prior consultation with indigenous communities is just the most recent of such clashes.

[iii]The construction of a 29-storey presidential palace – named The Great House of the People – for a cost of $34 million is the most high-profile example of this tendency.

Guest Post. The Brazilian presidential election of 2018: Does a cartel of parties produce mavericks?

The results of the 2018 Brazilian elections have called into question recent academic conclusions on the institutional dynamics of the largest Latin-American democracy. In fact, prior to 2018, the so-called Brazilian duopoly was even praised for remaining stable for just over two decades.2 The remarkable fact was that such stability occurred thanks to a strange coexistence between a two-party system in the Executive branch and an extreme multi-party system in the Parliament.3 However, recent events seem to indicate that such stability was merely an illusion, constructed upon a party system in which the principal objective of its leaders was to prevent the emergence of new parties (or competitors) in order to continue exploiting the privileges and resources of the state. In other words, using the concept proposed by Katz and Mair,4 the established parties in Brazil developed behaviors similar in nature to a cartel of producers in an economic market. The Brazilian context was conducive to the rise of a marginal candidate with a strong critique of its dominant political parties like Jair Bolsonaro, who defied expectations by achieving victory in the 2018 presidential election and thereby fracturing the dominant parties which ruled Brazil with cartel-like behaviors over the two previous decades.

Literature Review on Brazilian democratic stability

Prior to the Brazilian presidential election on October 7, 2018, the predominant scholarly perspective on Brazilian democratic stability was entirely positive. For instance, Handlin pointed out that while in other countries political outsiders emerged, the representative democracy in Brazil remained consolidated. Handlin’s perspective attributed this tendency to the absence of a prior state crisis5 and the existence of a strong party organization (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) on the left. According to Handlin, the combination of both factors was enough to minimize political polarization and block or prevent the rise of radical outsiders.6

In turn, Mainwaring, Power and Bizarro developed a more moderate perspective. They considered that Brazilian stability rested on an unevenly institutionalized party system. According to their analysis, the PT was the only party that had taken root in specific sectors of society, while the rest of the political parties had failed to do the same. Nevertheless, they also noted that the percentage of partisan identification in Brazil never exceeded 40% of the population; moreover, in 2015, when a series of acts of governmental corruption were exposed to the public, the percentage of citizens with no partisan self- identification reached a historical high of 75%.7

But some interpretations went further and considered the Brazilian case as proof that the institutional combination that since Linz had been viewed as perverse —or the anti-ideal:  presidentialism plus a multi-party system— was plausible. Proponents of this interpretation argued that the key to successful governance —in terms of stability— is a constitutionally strong Executive branch. In practical terms, this system denotes a president who controls political assets (initiating laws, decrees, etc.) or “goods” (Cabinet positions, “pork projects,” etc.) which are crucial to building coalitions, and thus avoids having a minority or weak position in the government. Of course, the democratic nature of this institutional design should be complemented by reliable and effective institutions (Legislative, judiciary bodies or the media) to prevent the president from taking an autocratic path.

The cartel of parties and the emergence of a maverick

However, the features of the Brazilian case that were used to explain the political stability of a highly fragmented and unevenly institutionalized party system were also the root of its debacle. As Mello and Spektor mentioned, the institutional design of the Brazilian government —which facilitated the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative— “… [also] encouraged exactly the kind of graft that the Car Wash scandal revealed …”. 8 In other words, this institutional framework not only made it possible for the Executive branch to control the Congress based on perks, but also allowed private interests to gain more significant influence on governmental decision-making. The result of all the illicit exchanges/transactions required to sustain this system” was the neutralization of the checks and balances system, and the consolidation of representative institutions of non-democratic countries, such as clientelism, patronage networks, etc.

So, what happened? A viable response is to characterize the Brazilian party system as a cartel of parties. Indeed, after a long period of coexistence —and due to the institutional incentives described above— the PT, the PSDB, the MD9, and various medium-sized parties in the Congress morphed into a political cartel. The evidence of this phenomenon is clear: an increase in public funds directed to government-recognized political parties combined with an increase in legal barriers to the entry of new parties.10 These are precisely the types of party behaviours that Katz and Mair—the creators of the cartel of parties’ concept— identified in their analysis of Europe. 11 The only difference is that in the Brazilian case the parties not only exploited public resources but also channeled private funds in their favor.

In this highly cartelized political context, whenever corruption scandals were exposed by the mass media, the majority of citizens perceived that the uncovered acts of corruption were not exceptional, but rather a routine component of the institutional arrangements that defined relations between the Executive and Legislative branches —and interest groups— for almost two decades. This political environment, along with a period of economic contraction, provoked a low- intensity state crisis in Brazil. In other words, widespread corruption undermined the legitimacy of established political institutions, while economic contraction revealed the weak performance of the state in providing basic services like public safety.

This being the case, the political arena was propitious for the emergence of an external candidate with a strong anti-establishment position; however, as a feature of Brazil’s party system, an anti-establishment candidate was actually able to arise from within the system itself. Having served as a federal deputy in Brazil for more than three decades, Jair Bolsonaro was not an “outsider,” but neither was he an “insider,” despite his long party militancy in a small conservative party.12 In any case, Bolsonaro was a maverick working inside this so-called cartel of parties in Brazil. But, still, how did such a marginal figure within Brazil’s political party system become a strong candidate? Considering that the principal established political forces —both the opposition and the government— represented options from the center in political-ideological terms, Bolsonaro’s extreme political positions were seen as “a virtue” by a significant group of discontent citizens. Why? There was no doubt that his extreme ideological positions had prevented him from participating in the coalitions that governed Brazil during the two previous decades; therefore Bolsonaro was able to portray himself to the public as an unpolluted political figure. In sum, the growing public frustration with the Brazilian cartel of parties led many citizens to search for candidates on the margins of the party system; but the only ones readily available were those with extreme ideological positions.

If what has been said is true, then why was a right-wing and not a left-wing radical elected? The answer can be given considering the hegemony of the PT on the left. Indeed, it is clear that extreme options on left were non-existent; the PT, in its little more than ten years in power had absorbed or moderated such parties. Additionally, there was not a significant amount of free space open to leftist sympathizers for new political options since the PT hegemonically channeled the citizen preferences on the left, especially in northeastern Brazil. However, since no center-right party had been able to consolidate reliable sources of electoral support, the growth potential across the spectrum on the right was enormous; and the parties that did exist were utterly discredited.13 

Furthermore, Bolsonaro correctly perceived that his electoral support relied not only on his “anti-petismo,” (that is to say: anti-PT) but also on his anti-establishment speech.14 In addition, because of the overwhelming lead that he developed in the first round of voting (46,6% of  voters), he targeted his campaign at specific sectors or social groups (evangelicals, rural population, etc.) and not at significant political parties. Seeking the support of or forging an alliance with an established party – and therefore moderating his anti-establishment political posture— before a runoff election would have been a grave mistake on the part of Bolsonaro; in other words, a political maneuver that would have been interpreted by many in Brazil as an undesirable pact with the cartel of parties in power.

In summary, Bolsonaro’s victory has called into question some recent interpretations on the success of political minority presidents. In the case of Brazil, political stability relied on a type of cartel of parties in which incentives came not only from the state (cabinet positions or public funds) but also from the private sector (bribes, extra payments, etc.). Indeed, this reality forces us to rethink about whether there may be other institutional solutions to the consequences of this challenging combination: presidentialism plus a multi-party system. Additionally, extrapolating from the Brazilian case, one could assume that outsiders and mavericks have a similar origin: an ineffective state. Paradoxically, it doesn’t matter if the extreme ideological positions are on the right or the left —that would depend on the political configuration of each society— because both (radicals on the right or the left) share a critique of the incapacity of state to resolve the most prominent social problems of their societies (inequality, poverty, insecurity, etc.). The only difference would be that outsiders emerge more often in a weak institutionalized party system, while the mavericks frequently appear in a party system unevenly institutionalized but whose main parties look to ensure their privileged positions.

Guest post, Gerson Julcarima Alvarez, Department of Political Science, University of Lethbridge, Canada.

ENDNOTES

1 I thank Prof. Alan Siaroff for his comments on a previous version of this article.

Between 1994 and 2014 Brazil only had three finance ministers and with the victory of Dilma Roussef Brazil became the first country in Latin America where three presidents were successively re-elected.

3 In the last six Brazilian elections, two parties (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT and the right-center Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira- PSDB) reached between 70 and 90% of the presidential votes in the first run-off elections. However, in the Lower House, their joint vote was between 26 and 38%. See in this respect: Peter R. Kingstone and Timothy J. Power, eds. (2017), Democratic Brazil Divided, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, p.10; Scott Mainwaring, Timothy J. Power, and Fernando Bizzarro (2018), “The Uneven Institutionalization of a Party System: Brazil” in Party Systems in Latin America: Institutionalization, Decay, and Collapse, ed. Scott Mainwaring, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp.174-75.

4 Richard S. Katz and Peter Mair (2018), Democracy and the Cartelization of Political Parties, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, pp.134-38.

5 The state crisis is the combination of a deficit of public services and a loss of citizen legitimacy towards political institutions. See: Samuel Handlin (20147), State Crisis in Fragile Democracies: Polarization and Political Regimes in South America, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 5-6.

6 Ibid., p. 8.

7 Mainwaring, Power, and Bizzarro, p. 182.

8 Eduardo Mello and Matias Spektor (2018), “Brazil: The Costs of Multiparty Presidentialism,” Journal of Democracy, vol. 29, no. 2, p. 115.

9 Political party created in 2013 from the merger of two left-parties: Partido Popular Socialista (PPS) and Partido da Mobilização Nacional (PMN).

10 Cynthia McClintock (2018), Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America, Oxford: Oxford  University Press, pp. 47-55; Mainwaring, Power, and Bizzarro, p. 192.

11 Katz and Mair, pp. 144-45.

12 Wendy Hunter and Timothy J. Power (2019), “Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Illiberal Backlash,” Journal of Democracy, vol. 30, no. 1, p. 75.

13 Kingstone and Power, p. 13; David J. Samuels and Cesar Zucco (2018), Partisans, Antipartisans, and Nonpartisans: Voting Behavior in Brazil, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 38-39.

14 Hunter and Power, p. 80; Samuels and Zucco, pp. 48-49.

Kyrgyzstan Weakens Legal and Social Guarantees for Ex-Presidents amid Continuing Confrontation Between the Current and Former President

My previous post for this blog illustrated that approximately half of the post-Soviet states modeled their laws on immunity for ex-presidents on Russian legislation, which was put in place at the very end of 1999 when Boris Yeltsin transferred power to Vladimir Putin.[1]  In some cases, post-communist states copied provisions from the Russian Federation law word-for-word, a phenomenon known as diffusion by imitation.  In an important related study, whose results were just announced, Edward Lemon has discovered that “[a] whopping 79% of Kyrgyzstan’s and 56% of Tajikistan’s laws [on extremism] are identical to the Russian law (compared with 4% for Kazakhstan, 5% for Uzbekistan).”[2]  As Lemon’s work suggests, given the availability of software that makes it easy to do textual comparison, we are in a position to rigorously test the extent to which the Russian Federation has managed to shape the “legal space” in the Soviet successor states, especially in those countries that lie within what President Medvedev referred to in 2008 as Russia’s sphere of privileged interests.  

Comparing legislative practice allows us to assess not only the extent of policy diffusion but also the robustness of Soviet-era legacies.  My last post noted that Moscow’s role as law-giver was reminiscent of traditions from the Soviet-era, when a model law developed in the center served as a template for legislation in the 15 union republics.  When asked this month to justify Kyrgyzstan’s “plagiarizing” of Russia’s laws on extremism, Karima Amankulova, a spokeswoman for Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, offered the following explanation.

“What some call plagiarism, others would label the unification of legislation.  The member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States develop model legislation and then countries may decide which norms they wish to implement [adopt as legislation].”[3]

Given Russia’s political prominence in the region and the depth of its technical expertise in legislative drafting, there is little doubt that Moscow still takes the lead in shaping model legislation.  The power of legacies and diffusion has its limits, however.  In the case of Kyrgyzstan, last year’s dramatic falling out between former President Almazbek Atambaev and his designated successor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, led those in power in Kyrgyzstan to embrace some Russian-inspired norms on protections for ex-presidents while advancing others that diverge from the model established in Moscow. 

Following the arrest last year of Atambaev loyalists and calls for the prosecution of Atambaev himself—in part for his alleged involvement in fraudulent activities associated with the renovation of Bishkek’s heat and power generating plant—opponents of the former president launched efforts to strip all Kyrgyzstani ex-presidents of immunity from prosecution.[4]  These efforts took the form of parallel assaults in judicial and legislative institutions on the protections enjoyed by ex-presidents.  A lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber resulted in an October 2018 decision that invalidated what the court concluded was a blanket immunity granted to former presidents.[5]  The court accepted the need for limited immunity as a means of protecting ex-presidents from baseless investigations, and at the same time it insisted that any procedures put in place to overcome immunity guarantees for ex-presidents “should be no less complex than those employed in impeachment proceedings for a sitting president…”[6]  The Constitutional Chamber also took the highly unusual step of instructing the country’s Minister of Justice and parliament to enact a corresponding statute.[7]   

Prior to the issuance of the Constitutional Chamber’s decision, a group of parliamentary deputies had submitted a bill removing all protections from criminal prosecution for former presidents.[8]   In the view of these deputies, as well as the complainant in the case before the Constitutional Chamber, ex-presidents should be on the same legal footing as ordinary citizens.  This bill passed its first reading in December 2018, but amendments adopted during the second reading introduced two critical changes to the legislation.  The first, which accords with the language of the Constitutional Chamber ruling, permits the removal of immunity from criminal prosecution for ex-presidents only if (1) the Procurator-General issues an accusation of wrongdoing [obvinenie] in connection with the commission of a grave crime [tiazhkoe prestuplenie] and (2) the parliament votes to strip the former president of immunity by a two-thirds majority.[9] These provisions brought the Kyrgyzstani law into close conformity with Russian legislation on the subject.[10]     

The second revision, however, departed decisively from Russian practice.  It denied ex-presidents the traditional package of publicly-funded social and financial benefits, including medical care, housing, a salary, and free transportation, if he or she chose to remain active in politics or return to government service.  In other words, the revised legislation sought to encourage future ex-presidents to pursue the kind of quiet, apolitical retirement that President Atambaev claimed he would enjoy upon leaving the presidency.

On April 4, 2019, Kyrgyzstan’s 120-member parliament passed the law with the above revisions by a vote of 111 to 4.  Among the four no votes were sponsors of the legislation, for whom the amendments introduced in the second reading afforded legal protections for ex-presidents that they believed were excessively generous.   Notwithstanding the misgivings of these deputies, President Jeenbekov signed the bill into law on May 16, and in so doing limited the protections that he himself would enjoy on leaving office in 2023, at the end of his single, six-year term.[11] 

Numerous commentators have argued that because the Kyrgyzstani Constitution prohibits the application of laws retroactively if they impose new obligations or additional responsibility [otiagchaiushchaia otvetstvennost’] on citizens, the first ex-president to whom the new legislation would apply is the incumbent, President Jeenbekov.  In this reading, former presidents Otunbaeva and Atambaev would continue to enjoy the full range of protections from criminal investigation and prosecution contained in the laws in force when they left the presidency.[12]  However, in an effort to extend the reach of the law to Otunbaeva and Atambaev, deputies included a provision in the legislation which insisted that the new rules would apply to any actions committed by a president since 2007—a provision that will surely provoke a challenge in the Constitutional Chamber.[13] 

By weakening immunity from prosecution for ex-presidents, Kyrgyzstan has not only aligned itself more tightly with the Russian model on criminal responsibility for former leaders, it has also moved the country closer to the norms championed by Western-oriented organizations such as the Venice Convention of the Council of Europe and the OECD.  Both of these organizations have advised post-communist countries against introducing broadly-worded immunity for politicians because it encourages corruption.[14]  Paradoxically, one of the most robust defenses of the values espoused by the Venice Convention and the OECD was made by Almazbek Atambaev in 2011.  In his words:

“It’s going to be hard to establish order in Kyrgyzstan unless we can show that there aren’t untouchables, and there will no longer be untouchables in Kyrgyzstan.  And that includes the president himself.  If I’m somehow involved in something I am prepared to be held to account.  I don’t need any immunity.”[15]

Former President Atambaev may be rueing these words today.     

In closing, it’s worth repeating that the leverage and linkages enjoyed by centers of geopolitical power have their limits as explanations of policy diffusion.  The recent legislative changes regarding immunity for ex-presidents in Kyrgyzstan appear to draw their primary inspiration not from Moscow or Paris or Washington but from mundane maneuvers in a domestic political game, a game in which a sitting president and his allies have been under assault for more than a year by a former president who is also their erstwhile patron.  If there is one broader lesson to be taken from the specifics of the Kyrgyzstani case, it is that protections for ex-presidents are only viable when former leaders observe reasonable political restraint in their presidential afterlife. 


[1] “Post-Communist Countries: Policy Diffusion relating to Immunity from Prosecution for Ex-Presidents.”  http://presidential-power.com/?p=9483

[2] https://twitter.com/EdwardLemon3/status/1125427216739966983

[3] AzattyqTV, May 9, 2019, at 9:20 mark.  https://rus.azattyq.org/a/nastoyaschee-vremya-azia-8-maya/29930014.html

[4] The investigation into wrongdoing in the repair of the power plant appeared to trigger the initiatives for stripping Atambaev and all ex-presidents of immunity, though Atambaev has been subject to calls for his prosecution for numerous scandals dating to his time in office, including the release of a powerful ethnic Chechen criminal kingpin, Aziz Batukaev. 

[5] Whereas sitting presidents are subject to impeachment in Kyrgyzstan, ex-presidents are not, and therefore because they were immune from both judicial and legislative responsibility, former presidents have arguably been in a more impregnable legal position than presidents.  In this regard, Kyrgyzstan has for some time differed from Russia, where, as noted below, ex-presidents have been subject to prosecution if certain procedural hurdles are overcome.

[6] Reshenie Konstitutsionnoi palaty Verkhovnogo Suda Kyrgyzskoi Respubliki, 3 oktiabria 2018 goda 06-r.  http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/preview/ru-ru/9748/10?mode=tekst

[7] Some deputies insisted that the Constitutional Chamber exceeded its authority in giving these instructions to executive and legislative institutions.  See, for example, Bakyt Asanov, “Neprikosnovennost’ eks-prezidenta.  Chem reshenie suda vozmutilo ZhK,” Radio Azattyk, April 10, 2019.  https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan-ex-president-parliament/29664302.html

[8] The bill was in fact a set of revisions to The Law on the Activity of the President, O garantiiakh deiatel’nosti Prezidenta Kyrgyzskoi respubliki, ot 18 iiulia 2003 no. 152.  http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/1278

[9] Zhazgul’ Egemberdieva, “’Instrument protiv Atambaeva.’ Kak budet rabotat’ zakon o lishenii eks-prezidenta Kyrgyzstana neprikosnovennosti,” Nastoiashchee vremia, April 5, 2019. https://www.currenttime.tv/a/ex-president-kyrgyzstan/29863858.html

[10] In the Russian case, criminal cases against ex-presidents are initiated by the Head of the Criminal Investigative Commission rather than the Procurator-General, and only a majority of votes in each of the country’s two legislative chambers is needed rather than two-thirds approval.

[11] The Kyrgyzstani Constitution gives presidents 30 days to sign a law once it has been transmitted from the legislature.  For reasons that are unclear, in recent months President Jeenbekov has taken from 20 to 27 days to give his assent to legislation; in this case, he signed the bill into law on the 29th day. 

[12] Ekaterina Ulitina, “Podpishet li Zheenbekov zakon o lishenii eks-prezidentov neprikosnovennosti?” Vechernyi Bishkek, April 5, 2019.  https://www.vb.kg/doc/377646_podpishet_li_jeenbekov_zakon_o_lishenii_eks_prezidentov_neprikosnovennosti.html; Aidai Erkebaeva, “Pochemu lishenie neprikosnovennosti eks-prezidentov ne pomozhet privlech’ Atambaeva k otvetstvennosti,” Kloop, May 23, 2018.  https://kloop.kg/blog/2018/05/23/pochemu-lishenie-neprikosnovennosti-eks-prezidentov-ne-pomozhet-privlech-atambaeva-k-otvetstvennosti/  Among those disagreeing with this interpretation is the current head of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, Damir Sagynbaev, who insists that if Atambaev lost immunity he could be brought to justice.  According to Sagynbaev, “If there’s evidence, we’ll open a case.”  “Na Atambaeva mogut vozbudit’ delo, esli ego lishat immuniteta,–Sovbez,” Sputnik, 7 February 2019.  https://ru.sputnik.kg/politics/20190207/1043226413/atambaev-delo-immunitet-sovbez.html  

[13] Emil’ Sultanaliev, “Parlament okonchatel’no odobril zakonoproekt o sniatii neprikosnovennosti s eks-prezidenta,” Kloop, April 4, 2019.  https://kloop.kg/blog/2019/04/04/parlament-okonchatelno-odobril-zakonoproekt-o-snyatii-neprikosnovennosti-s-eks-prezidenta/ Curiously, although the Constitution in place before 2007 granted immunity to presidents, since that time immunity provisions have only appeared in the Law on the Activity of the President and not in the Constitution itself. Adding an additional wrinkle to the uncertainty about the impact of the new law are revisions to the country’s Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that came into effect in January of this year.  Article 478, paragraph 4 of the amended CPC, which was adopted well before the Constitutional Chamber decision or the new law on immunity, places the decision on bringing an ex-president to justice in the hands of the country’s Procurator-General.

[14] Kyrgyzstan (Promezhutochnyi doklad) [March 2019], Chetvertyj raund monitoring Stambul’skogo plana deistvii po bor’be s korruptsiei.  OECD,  Set’ po bor’be s korruptsiei dlia Vostochnoi Evropy I Tsentral’noi Azii.  www.oecd.org/corruption/acn ; Zakliuchenie po proektu Konstitutsii Kyrgyzskoji Respubliki, Zakliuchenie No 582/2010, 8 iiuniia 2010 g.  Evropeiskaia komissiia za demokratiiu cherez pravo (Venetsianskaia komissiia).  https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2010)015-rus

[15] Kubanychbek Zholdoshev, “Nuzhna li eks-prezidentam neprikosnovennost’?” Radio Azattyk, March 1, 2019.  https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan-pravo-neprikosnovennost-ex-prezidentov/29184972.html  Iskhak Masaliev, a sponsor of the 2018 bill amending the immunity provisions, noted that there were efforts from 2011 to 2014 to strip ex-presidents of immunity from prosecution, but none was successful.  Kybanychbek Zholdoshev, “100 golosov ‘za’. Kogo iz eks-prezidentov mogut lishit’ neprikosnovennost’,” Radio Azattyk, December 14, 2018. https://rus.azattyk.org/a/kyrgyzstan_ex-president_neprikosnovennost/29655573.html  Curiously, although the Constitution in place before 2007 granted immunity to presidents, since that time immunity provisions have only appeared in the Law on the Activity of the President and not in the Constitution itself.

Negotiations continue on what will replace the al-Bashir regime in Sudan

In the end, the fall of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir seemed to come quickly, with rumours circulating on the morning of 11th April that a debate was underway within the state security services and the military about how it would be handled – and who would replace him. He was gone by that evening, after almost 30 years in power. But the dramatic events came after months of protests, which began in December over food price increases and quickly turned into a demand for his regime to go. They continued despite a harsh crackdown in which scores of demonstrators were shot dead by state forces, including medics. It is hard to overstate the importance of these events, even though it’s not yet certain that fundamental and lasting change will happen, or whether some factions in the security forces will manage to hold on to the real power.

The background to the demonstrations is explained in a previous blog post on this site, and the regime itself is also analysed here. The organisers remained relatively united and channelled the anger felt by many ordinary people. At a certain point, it seems that many lost their fear of the regime, felt that there was a realistic chance of change, or were simply prepared to risk sacrificing their lives. Eventually a demonstration outside the national military headquarters in Khartoum on 6th April became a round-the-clock affair, and then a remarkable thing happened: soldiers were seen on the streets supporting the protesters. The various elements and ranks of state security apparatus, which Omar al-Bashir had managed so skilfully over the years, were clearly at odds with each other. On a number of occasions, soldiers returned fire on units of the state security which turned up and shot at the protesters. Several soldiers lost their lives. The future of the country was no longer being decided on the streets, but now also through a struggle within the security services.

On 11th April, it was clear that a coup had taken place. Later in the day the country’s First Vice President, Lt Gen Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, announced that he was in control. The constitution was suspended and there would be a two-year transition period. However the protesters outside the headquarter in Khartoum remained determined, knowing that Auf was not only the defence minister but also a key figure in the old regime. He was replaced the following evening by another military officer, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, who is seen as more open to the protesters’ demands, and had in fact met with them in the previous days. There were scenes of joy, as soldiers and demonstrators mingled outside the headquarters.

Transition process underway

Power is currently held by the Transitional Military Council, under al-Burhan, while negotiations on a transition continue with an alliance of opposition groups. These talks were continuing as this piece went online. The opposition is grouped under an umbrella body, the alliance of the “Declaration of Freedom and Change”. Agreement apparently reached so far included a three-year transition period, with a parliament whose 300 members would be appointed rather than directly elected. Two thirds of the members would come from the Freedom and Change group. A cabinet of technocrats would be nominated by the opposition groups, however a “Sovereignty Council” would also have real powers, and be made up of both military and civilian representatives.

As a sign of ongoing tensions within elements of former regime as the talks continued, protesters continuing the sit-in outside the military headquarters were attacked on 13th May by unidentified elements wearing uniforms of one of the state security services. Five civilians and one army officer were killed. The Council later announced the arrest of those responsible, who it described as infiltrators. Meanwhile, the Popular Congress Party, which held power under al-Bashir, is unhappy with the power-sharing arrangements, in which they would apparently have little say.

There is some international pressure on the Transitional Military Council to finalise a handover of power, from the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the EU. The AU’s Peace and Security Council called at the end of April for the transition to civilian rule to be completed within 60 days. However both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have supported the Council, with an offer of $3 billion in budget support and aid.

The fate of the detained former President al-Bashir is a key question for whatever political order replaces his authoritarian regime. An indictment for genocide and other crimes in Darfur still hangs over him, despite which he managed to travel internationally as president without any attempt to arrest him. His fate is more likely to be decided within Sudan, however, although it is far from certain what will happen. Having been held initially in what the military called a “safe place”, he was later moved to the notorious Kobar prison in Khartoum, where so political opponents suffered at the hands of his regime. He has now been charged in relation to the deaths of protesters during the four months of demonstrations since December which ended his 30-year rule.

The resilience of different elements of the former regime is not to be underestimated – but neither is the determination, capacity, and resourcefulness of the civil groups staging these protests, along with a well-educated and mobilised diaspora. Whoever is control, the severe economic problems facing Sudan which prompted the protests last December, along with the civil war in neighbouring South Sudan, will be a significant challenge. But it is clear that things will never be quite the same.

The Philippines – The Stakes for Mid-term Elections 2019

Mid-term elections in the Philippines were held May 13, 2019. Voter turnout is estimated at 72 percent of the 63.6 million eligible voters in the country. Final results have yet to be announced. Initial results show four of the 12 Senate seats going to candidates from the President’s Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) party, but others affiliated with the President may mean majority support of the Senate for the President. The stakes are high: the lack of democratic checks and balances in the country may mean further setbacks to human rights, civil liberties, and political developments in the country. I discuss the elections and what the results may mean for the Philippines in the following.

The election season officially kicked off with campaigning for senate seats and party-list representatives on February 12, 2019. Presidential elections are held every six years in the country; midterm elections, then, see half of the 24-member Senate seats contested every three years in nation-wide elections, while the entire House of Representatives is up for elections. In 2018, 291 total Congressional members are listed in the House of Representatives, so that the 2019 elections will see 243 directly elected seats and 59 party-list seats. All 81 provinces will elect their respective governors, vice-governors, and provincial board members, as will the 1634 cities and municipalities, where mayors, vice-mayors, and 13,540 city and municipality councillors will be put into office following election day. While mid-term elections generally see lower turnouts, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) expected a record turnout of 63 million voters, a 5 percent increase from the 58 million in the 2016 general elections, based on voter registration, and this has come to pass. President Duterte entered office pledging to implement several controversial policies, including reimposing the death penalty, a literal drug-war, and constitutional change. It is, therefore, useful to consider key issues at stake with the President’s agenda, namely, human rights and civil liberties, and democratic checks and balances.

President Duterte’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) successfully elected only three representatives into the House of Representatives in general elections 2016. However, in the weeks following elections, Congressional members either jumped ship to join the President-elect’s PDP-Laban, or aligned themselves with the President, so that the President has enjoyed a super-majority in Congress since the beginning of his tenure. With a supermajority in Congress and high approval ratings, only the Senate and the judiciary may stand in the way of the President’s agenda. Thus far, the House has been true to form in advocating the President’s agenda: for instance, the House passed a legislation to bring back the death penalty in March, 2017; it even developed a draft of constitutional changes to push forward the President’s constitutional agenda that passed a second reading in December 2018. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has failed to check against the president: for instance, despite four separate petitions challenging the constitutionality of the extension of military rule in Mindanao, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the President’s imposition of martial law on the island. Perhaps more egregiously, Supreme Court Justices voted in May 2018 to oust its Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, a vocal critic of the President, following the President’s campaign against the Chief Justice; by an 8-6 vote, Chief Justice Sereno’s appointment was invalidated.

This leaves the Senate as the remaining institution to check the President’s agenda and how his use of executive powers to pursue it, including his push for constitutional changes. Thus far, the Senate has done so: it has not passed legislation relating to the death penalty, and has also refused to consider the House’s version of constitutional changes. Indeed, the Senate launched an investigation into the President’s war on drugs. However, senate critics of the President – like other critics of the President – have been persecuted. For instance, President Duterte charged Senator Leila de Lima – who was then chairing an investigation into vigilante drug killings – with links to drug lords; the senator has been detained since February 2017. In September 2018, another staunch critic of the President’s drug war, Senator Antonio Trillanes, was arrested following the President’s order and revocation of an amnesty that the senator received in 2011. The senator remains free on bail but the perils of being a critic of President Duterte are unambiguous.

Much, then, is at stake, not the least of which seems to be the remaining vestige of democratic accountability in the country. The Presidency in the Philippines is term-limited to one six-year term; if constitutional change progresses in line with President Duterte’s agenda, he may be able to extend his stay in office. The President has repeatedly disavowed any intention to do so, to motivate support for the constitutional change. Still, the different drafts of the constitutional changes contain provisions that are considered highly controversial, which would expand Duterte’s powers even if he did not inhabit the office of the President.[i]

Results are expected for city and municipal elective offices within three days of elections, between May 13 to May 16, 2019, while the results for the higher offices are expected to be announced between May 17-19, 2019. Undoubtedly, many will be watching these results intently.


[i] Yap, O. Fiona. November 9, 2018. “The Philippines – The Road (Blocks) to Constitutional Changes”

Ukraine – Volodymyr Zelenskiy wins the presidency

On April 21, Ukraine held the second round of the presidential election. Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the election with 73.22% of the vote securing an overwhelming victory across almost all (but one) regions in the country. A preliminary assessment of the election observers declared the election “genuinely competitive” with voting, counting, and tabulation conducted in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, which is a significant achievement.

The incumbent president graciously accepted defeat and congratulated the winner. However, Poroshenko also announced his intention to stay in politics: “I am leaving office, but I want to make it clear that I am not leaving politics,” he wrote on Twitter.  What is ahead for the former President? This may depend on the outcome of the parliamentary elections in the end of this year and particularly the success of his party, Bloc Petro Poroshenko.

Given that Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential system, the upcoming parliamentary elections will be even more important for the president-elect. In particular, this ability to form a large, stable coalition in the new legislature will be crucial.  Failure to do so can jeopardize his reform agenda and his ability to govern effectively.

That said, the president-elect sounded committed in the aftermath of his victory, announcing “I promise I won’t mess up” and “I will not let you down.” These are the promises he will need to keep as the Ukrainian voters have shown for the past decade that they do not take broken promises lightly. Given that not much is known about his policies and plans for the presidency, many questions remain. Corruption has been one of the main problems in Ukraine and something that the voters seem to have held the president accountable for.

According to a poll conducted by RATING in April 2019, 83% of the respondents said that the country needs radical changes and 48% expected improvements as a result of the presidential election. Even though it is clear that the country is ready for radical changes, it is important to remember the difficulty of the situation that the new president will face – struggling economy, low trust, on-going war with Russia, and very high expectations.

Presidential power, consistency in constitutional design and its effect on democracy

This blog post summarizes some of the key findings from my article “Consistency in Constitutional Design and its Effect on Democracy” recently published in Democratization. In this article, I first ask whether the art of crafting and amending a constitution leads to a consistency among constitutional provisions. And second, if that is so, what effect has this consistency on a country’s democratic performance? Drawing from theoretical claims on the separation of power and electoral legitimacy, I develop a concept that identifies the institutional characteristics of consistency and inconsistency in the constitutional design with the example of the presidency and test its effect on the quality and level of democracy.[1]

The Idea

Research has provided us with substantive evidence that more presidential powers are associated with poorer democratic performance. But we also know of the problems of a causal argument because of the endogeneity of power (Cheibub 2007). Considering this, scholars have in recent years pushed the discussion in different directions, most importantly towards the advantages and disadvantages of individual constitutional provisions and their interaction when it comes to the power of the president (for example ,Elgie and Schleiter 2011; Sedelius and Linde 2018). Combined with the observation that the internal coherence of the classic categorizations of presidentialism, parliamentarism, and semi-presidentialism is not as strong as has been long assumed (Cheibub, Elkins, and Ginsburg 2014), I argue in this article that a new approach to understanding the mechanisms behind institutional effects on the quality of democracy is necessary.

Hence, I utilize a concept of consistency and inconsistency in the constitutional design of the presidency to assess institutional balances and effects. Constitutional designs usually combine ideas from different constitutional logics and sometimes also legal traditions. They rarely develop carefully mixed and matched institutions. Rather, constitutional designers go to a constitutional grab bag and often create a Frankenstein constitution with – presumably – very little attention to how different parts of the constitution might interact. The reasons to do so range from power considerations to historical legacies but can also be “caused by a polity’s commitment to apparently conflicting values” (Hirschl 2009, 1349). This grab bag is not necessarily a bad thing: Jacobsohn (2010, 16) for example stresses that “disharmony” in constitutional design can be a valued asset in the necessary process of renegotiation and recalibration. His idea is that inconsistency and disharmony in these designs may be more helpful in the democratic development of countries than harmonious or consistent constitutional solutions. This also informs the main hypothesis in which I assume that inconsistency benefits the level and quality of democracy.

Consistency and Inconsistency

But what is consistency in constitutional design? To develop a concept of consistency/inconsistency and assess its importance and impact on democracy, I focus on a core element of constitution making: the interaction of the way a president is elected and his/her constitutional power. This core element is often contested but is also central in nearly every modern republican constitution. This idea of consistency and inconsistency between election and power of the president touches upon two core principles of democratic government: the balance of power and the legitimacy of the presidency. Within the logic of checks and balances, a direct presidential election should be counterbalanced by a limited amount of power. But arguing in the logic of presidential legitimacy, a consistent constitutional design emphasizes the alignment of legitimacy and de jure power, and an inconsistent design reveals the counterbalance of legitimacy and de jure power. I follow the latter, relying on the rationale that a consistent constitutional design will align the way the president is elected with a coherent amount of de jure power. Hence, a constitutional design is defined as consistent when the introduction or abolition of the president’s direct election comes in tandem with matching constitutional powers or allows for an adaptation to the pre-existing order in a coherent way. Conversely, I define an inconsistent constitutional design (and amendment) when it counterbalances the mode of election with diametrically opposite powers.

Empirics

In order to empirically test my theoretical expectations, I focus on parliamentary and semi-presidential systems because the varying degree of the dual authority of a prime minister and a president. I rely on a new data set of the 79 republican countries that have experienced parliamentarism or semi-presidentialism at some point in their history since 1918 (Cheibub, Martin, and Rasch 2015; Elgie 2018). The constitutions and constitutional amendments analyzed in this study can be found in the repository of the Comparative Constitutions Project (Elkins, Ginsburg, and Melton 2009).

Based on these data, we see that consistency in the constitutional design of the presidency is more frequent in parliamentary and semi-presidential republics. Also, to no one’s surprise, direct presidential elections mostly result in an accompanying higher level of constitutional power: Constitution-makers obviously consider the legitimacy of the direct presidential election and honor it by bestowing more de jure power.[2]

Depending on the measure I use to quantify the quality and level of democracy, the effect of a consistent constitutional design varies. But the results show that a consistent design of the presidency is not supportive to democracy but suggest that inconsistency is beneficial. The inconsistency of constitutional design, a directly-elected president with only little power or an indirectly-elected president with a constitutionally powerful position, explains a higher quality of democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and horizontal accountability. As one could expect, we see the strongest positive influence of inconsistent constitutional design on horizontal accountability as measured by V-Dem (Coppedge et al. 2017).

Table 1. Effect of consistent constitutional design on horizontal accountability (GLS regression with random effects).

Source: Fruhstorfer, Anna. “Consistency in constitutional design and its effect on democracy.” Democratization (2019), Online First. DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2019.1590815.

This supports the assumption that a consistent design of the presidency creates either a president that is too strong or too weak and thus threatens the equilibrium between the core political institutions. Consistency and inconsistency are, an equally strong (in the case of the V-Dem measure an even stronger) explanation for the quality of democracy as the governmental type (parliamentary/premier-presidential/president-parliamentary system). Yet, as mentioned earlier, constitutional design is never picked in an absolute vacuum and the obvious endogeneity of this argument has to be taken seriously. But, the finding that constitutions that counterbalance the power and the election of the presidency are beneficial to the quality of democracy has major implications for the role of institutional design and the question of best institutional solution in democratization and democratic consolidation.

References

Cheibub, José A., Zachary Elkins, and Tom Ginsburg. 2014. “Beyond Presidentialism and Parliamentarism.British Journal of Political Science 44 (03): 515–44.

Cheibub, José A. 2007. Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy: Cambridge University Press.

Cheibub, José A., Shane Martin, and Bjørn E. Rasch. 2015. “Government Selection and Executive Powers: Constitutional Design in Parliamentary Democracies.” West European Politics 38 (5): 969–96.

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[1] The article also includes two important case studies on the inconsistent constitutional amendment in Czech Republic and the consistency of the constitutional design in Moldova that will not be discussed in detail here.

[2] In order to study the consistency of the constitutional design of the presidency, I rely on an original dataset of constitutional presidential power, which is measured with a revised and updated version of the measurement index (Shugart and Carey 1992). Based on this, I use the mean of de jure power, i.e., 23 points, as threshold for the distribution of power. An inconsistent design interlocks an indirectly-elected president with a score that exceeds the mean of de jure power (e.g., in Bangladesh) or a directly-elected president with a score that is below the mean of de jure power (e.g., in Czech Republic post- 2012). Conversely, a consistent constitutional design gives a directly-elected president a more than mean level of de jure power, and an indirectly elected president less than the mean level of de jure power.