Tag Archives: cabinet reshuffle

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.

Mali – President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s new cabinet, preparing for 2018

On April 11, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) announced a new cabinet, headed by former Defense Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga whom he appointed on April 8 to replace former Prime Minister Modibo Keita. Maiga becomes IBK’s fourth prime minister (PM) in as many years and is the first to belong to the Rally for Mali (RPM), the president’s party. His three predecessors were all independents.

Newly appointed PM Maiga is one of the founding members of the RPM and served as campaign director for IBK in the 2013 presidential campaign — an indication of where the priorities of this new government are going to be, as preparations for the 2018 presidential election get underway. The perhaps most surprising appointment in the new cabinet is the come-back  of Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly as Minister for Territorial Administration. Coulibaly was dismissed as Minister of Defense less than 8 months ago, in September of last year, following the loss of territory to Jihadist fighters in central Mali. Seen as a close ally of President IBK, he is now back in the cabinet with a portfolio that will put him charge of organizing the 2018 presidential election.

The 36-member cabinet (including the PM), of which 8 are women, sees the entry of 11 new ministers who join 25 remaining from the former government. At 22 percent, women’s representation falls well short of the 30 gender quota for appointed and elected office that was adopted in 2015. Eight former cabinet members leave, including notably the ministers of health and education, two sectors that have seen protracted strikes over recent weeks. A high profile departure is that of Mountaga Tall, president of the Democratic Initiative National Congress of Mali (CNID) and a likely presidential contender in 2018, who was formerly minister of IT and communication. The presence and responsibilities of ruling-party members and of members of its key ally, the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party, in the government appear to have been strengthened, overall. No opposition members are included. An overview of the new cabinet is provided in table 1 below.

The new government will have a busy and challenging agenda, in a context of social crisis and growing insecurity. An ongoing strike in the education sector will be one of the first priorities to address. PM Maiga met with labor union representatives within days of taking office. The 2015 peace accord with former rebel groups has struggled to get off the ground, resulting in weak state authority and presence in large swaths of the territory. Various Jihadist movements are taking advantage of this power vacuum, staging repeated deadly attacks. The UN mission to Mali – MINUSMA – is the deadliest in the UN’s history of peacekeeping. Without significant progress in the implementation of the peace accord, IBK’s ambition of winning a second term in 2018 could be similarly under threat.

Table 1: Mali’s new cabinet

Position Name Previous position in cabinet  Affiliation
Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga Defense minister RPM, vice-president
Defense Tiéna Coulibaly NEW Former amb. to US, former minister
Territorial Administration Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly NEW (was defense minister till 2016) UDD, president
Security Brigadier Gen. Salif Traoré Same Security sector
Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop Same Career diplomat
Justice Mamadou Ismaïla Konaté Same Lawyer
Economy and Finance Boubou Cissé Same Former World Bank employee
Mines Tiémoko Sangaré Same ADEMA, president
Transportation Baber Gano NEW RPM, secretary general
Solidarity and Humanitarian  Action Hamadou Konaté Same Expert in social development
National Education Mohamed Ag Erlaf Decentralization and Government Reform RPM, member of leadership
Higher Education and Research Assétou Founé Samake Migan Same Public sector
Human Rights and Government Reform Kassoum Tapo NEW ADEMA
Decentralization and Local Taxation Alhassane Ag Hamed Moussa NEW Public sector
National Reconciliation Mohamed El Moctar Same Public sector, former minister
Malian Diaspora and African Integration Abdramane Sylla Same RPM
Investment Promotion and Private Sector Konimba Sidibé Same MODEC, president
Habitat and Urbanism Mohamed Ali Bathily Public Land Lawyer
Agriculture Nango Dembele Livestock and Fishery Public sector
Livestock and Fishery Ly Taher Drave NEW Private sector
IT and Communication Arouna Modibo Touré NEW Public sector
Equipment and Access Traoré Seynabou Diop Same Public sector
Industrial Development Mohamed Aly Ag Ibrahim Same Public sector
Employment and Professional Training Maouloud Ben Kattra NEW Labor union
Health Samba Ousmane Sow NEW Health sector
Labor Diarra Raky Talla Same Public sector
Trade, Government Spokesperson Abdel Karim Konaté Same (except new role as government spokesperson) ADEMA
Energy and Water Malick Alhousseini Same Public sector
Environment Keita Aïda M’Bo Same Former UNDP employee
Territorial Developm. and Population Adama Tiémoko Diarra NEW ADEMA
Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo Same Private sector
Crafts and Tourism Nina Walet Intallou Same CMA (rebel group coordination)
Women, Children and Families Traoré Oumou Touré NEW Civil society
Sports Housseïni Amion Guindo Same CODEM, president
Religion Thierno Amadou Omar Hass Diallo Same Teaching and consultancies
Youth Amadou Koita Same PS, president

Source: Author’s research.

Jean-Louis Thiébault – President Hollande’s cabinet reshuffle

This is a guest post by Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor of political science and former director of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Lille

In France, the government reshuffle is a weapon in the hands of the president. It can have three objectives: a change of personnel, the enlargement of the majority, or a change in policy (Editorial by Alain Duhamel on RTL, February 11, 2016). The formation of Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ third government on 11 February 2016 aims to meet all three goals. However, it fails to bring together all of the left and fails to guarantee that François Hollande will be the sole candidate of the left at the 2017 presidential election.

The change of personnel notably concerned Ministers Laurent Fabius and Sylvia Pinel. The former left the Foreign Affairs ministry to become president of the Constitutional Council with his ministerial portfolio being given to former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (May 2012-April 2014). The latter left the Ministry of Housing and Sustainable Habitat to becomes executive vice-president of the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées region. Other ministers were also replaced, yet the widely touted departures of Marylise Lebranchu from the Ministry of Decentralization and Public Service and Fleur Pellerin from the Ministry of Culture and Communication did not take place. However, the prior resignation of the Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, should be noted. She resigned because of her opposition to a plan to strip French-born terrorists of their nationality. The resignation took place on 27 January 2016, with Taubira being immediately replaced by Jean-Jacques Urvoas. The appointments mark the desire to create a strong ministerial group in the fight against terrorism.

The second objective was the expansion of the majority by rebalancing the distribution of men and women in the government, but also by the entry of three representatives from the environmentalists and the centre-left. The new government has 38 members: 18 ministers and 20 state secretaries. There is a strict gender parity with the same number of women and men among both ministers and secretaries of state. The entry of the environmentalists came with the appointment of the national secretary (leader) of Europe-Ecologie-Les-Verts (EELV), Emmanuelle Cosse, as housing minister, and two dissident environmentalists, Vincent Place, a senator, and Barbara Pompili, a deputy and former co-chair of the EELV parliamentary group. The latter two ministers had already broken with EELV for some time. However, the appointment of Emmanuelle Cosse smacks of poaching from EELV. The new government is not the result of a coalition agreement. There is a return of the greens, but there was no substantive discussion on policy, no programmatic agreement, no concessions made, no compromises accepted, apart from a “consultation” on the construction of the proposed airport at Notre Dame des Landes, near Nantes, in Loire-Atlantique. In a statement on 10 February 2016 EELV stated that the conditions were not ready for a return of environmentalists to the government. Entitled “About the reshuffle”, the text stated that “EELV has not been contacted, but that if an offer” were to be made to the whole movement “by the executive, the direction of EELV would study it “with responsibility”. EELV added: “environmentalists note that if the conditions were no longer in place to advance ecology in April 2014 with the departure of Cécile Duflot and Pascal Canfin from the government, the same remains true today “. The statement mentions no names, but everyone understood that it was aimed at Emmanuelle Cosse. She immediately stepped down as national secretary. David Cormand, the party number two, was chosen as her replacement prior to the EELV congress in June 2016. In short, EELV was against the appointment of Emmanuelle Cosse to the government.

The third objective is the desire to find a new balance with a view to the 2017 presidential election. The new government has been appointed with the presidential campaign in mind. The choices made by the president were not targeted at public policy issues, but to rebalance balances an exhausted government majority. President Francois Hollande has named people who can put out potential political fires in the majority (David Revault Allonnes, “Derniers colmatages présidentiels avant 2017”, Le Monde, February 13, 2016). The most important appointment is that of the environmentalists in order to torpedo any attempt an ecologist candidacy in the 2017 presidential election, which would be very detrimental to him. However, EELV is now free to radicalize even more, making life difficult for the government and raising the prospect of an alliance with the left-wing opposition to to the president. The other appointment is that of the president of the left-center Radical Party (PRG), Jean-Michel Baylet. Again, the tactical aspect is not absent. The appointment of the chairman of PRG allies the party securely with the ruling majority, while removinging the spectre of a left-center radical candidate in the 2017 presidential election.

In the final period of his five-year term, Francois Hollande has once again decided to promote the idea of a “responsible left” and to distance himself from the “protest left.” He understands that he cannot expect anything from either the left wing of the Socialist Party (PS) or from the left of the left.  His opponents inside the PS, the “rebels”, aim to weaken him, to build an alternative project, and to hold a primary election that is open to the left as a whole.

Jean-Louis Thiébault, emeritus professor of political science and former director of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Lille, France (1997-2007). He works on comparative political analysis of emerging countries, presidential leadership, and presidential parties.

Chile – Major Cabinet Reshuffle

Nearly two weeks ago, the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, during an interview with Canal 13, announced somewhat unexpectedly that she had asked her entire 23 member cabinet to resign. Stating that now was “the moment to change the cabinet”, President Bachelet then said that she would consider the position of her former ministers over a 72-hour period.

Those 72 hours are now up and President Bachelet has presented her new cabinet in what amounts to the most significant cabinet reshuffle ever witnessed in contemporary Chile. Five ministers have been completely removed from the cabinet, while four others have received new portfolios. Interpreted as a shift to the centre within the centre-left Concertación, Rodrigo Valdés, an economist trained at MIT, replaced Alberto Arenas as Finance Minister. This is the first time that a sitting Finance Minister has been removed by a Chilean President mid-term since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990.

Jorge Burgos, formerly Defence Minister, replaced Rodrigo Peñailillo as the Minister of the Interior while Alvaro Elizalde, formerly the chief government spokesperson, was replaced by Marcelo Díaz, formerly ambassador to Argentina. In addition, President Bachelet announced new ministers for Defence, Labour, Culture and Social Development. Some key portfolios remained undisturbed: Heraldo Muñoz will continue as Foreign Minister and Nicolás Eyzaguirre, key to the President’s wide-ranging education reforms, will stay as Education Minister.

The cabinet reshuffle can primarily be understood in the context of Michelle Bachelet’s dwindling popularity. Her approval ratings have reaching the nadir of the low thirties, a far cry from the eighty plus rating that she enjoyed towards the end of her first term in office. In turn, this poor support for her administration is largely a product of a number of corruption scandals that have recently engulfed the Chilean body politic, leaving the Chilean electorate generally dissatisfied and unhappy with the political elite and the institutions of the state.

The first of these corruption scandals involves one of Chile’s largest corporate entities, Penta Group, which was allegedly receiving false invoices from politicians in order to allow the company channel illegal campaign donations to political parties, mainly the right-leaning Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). A number of Penta executives were jailed, but have since been released and placed under house arrest.

More significantly however, one of the scandals involves the President’s own son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos has been accused of using his political influence to arrange a US$10 million bank loan for his wife’s firm, Caval, which then used the funds to purchase land in central Chile that was promptly resold for a profit. Although the national banking regulator has cleared Dávalos of any wrongdoing, Congress has launched an investigative committee to explore the allegations.

For a previously enormously popular president, who was partly elected due to her harsh critique of staid and corrupt practices among the country’s political elite, these scandals have been disastrous for her administration. President Bachelet denies any wrongdoing, or knowledge of the loan her son received, but the scandals have nonetheless left their mark. The cabinet reshuffle is clearly an attempt to inject new life and untarnished political blood into her damaged administration. We will just have to wait and see if it works.

Peru – Congress (finally) ratifies Humala’s new cabinet

Last Tuesday, Peru’s congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s proposed new cabinet.[1] However, this was the third time that Congress voted on this issue, and it was a very close call: 55-54 in favor, with nine abstentions. Somewhat dramatically, Humala’s cabinet was only saved by Ana María Solórzano, the President of Congress, who was the last to vote and tipped the balance in favor of the government.

Humala and his party, Gana Perú, do not have a majority in the legislature, and the government has been relying on the support of a number of smaller parties, primarily comprised of a conservative block of legislators, affiliated with former presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, for their legislative initiatives. However, support for the government has haemorrhaged following the stagnation of the economy, and amidst criticism of prominent members of Humala’s cabinet.

The new cabinet, to be led by Ana Jara Velásquez, only managed to receive approval third time round because the embattled Humala agreed to suspend new rules for private pension funds and withdraw his nominee for the Organization of American States (OAS). The weakness of Humala’s government is evident. This is Humala’s sixth cabinet and his last President of the Council of Ministers was only approved on the third vote. This was the first time in ten years that Congress has refused to ratify the president’s cabinet.

This conflict between the legislative and executive branch provides us with an important insight into the variation in regime type across Latin America. There is a general tendency for people to treat all Spanish-speaking South American democracies (and Brazil) as pure-presidential. This however, is not accurate. At least one democracy in South America is a hybrid regime – Peru. Argentina is a possible second although this is a slightly more contentious case (see this discussion over at the Semi-Presidential One). In fact, Peru is what David Samuels and Matthew Shugart class as ‘president-parliamentary’, that is when the prime minister and the cabinet are dually accountable to the president and assembly majority (p. 30).[2]

The current conflict in Peru revolves around the legislature’s refusal to approve the Presidente del Consejo de Ministros (or President of the Council of Ministers), in this instance, the aforementioned Ana Jara Velásquez. To all intents and purposes, this position is akin to a prime minister, and together with the cabinet is ‘dually accountable’ to the president and Congress. Clearly, given it was ten years since the last time Congress refused to accept the president’s cabinet, this rarely occurs, but that misses the point. It can happen, as constitutionally, the prime minister and cabinet are accountable to the legislature and so this is an important distinction between Peru and pure-presidential regimes, because in the Peruvian case, this confidence vote places Congress in a powerful position, particularly in the context of a weak and unpopular president.

Although Humala has a fixed term, the refusal of Congress to ratify his cabinet further undermines his political legitimacy and weakens his popular support. This leaves Humala looking like a lame duck.

[1] Thanks to John Carey for suggesting this post and highlighting the importance of the confidence vote in Peru.

[2] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart. 2010. How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge University Press.

Romania – Constitutional interpretations of investiture votes

Among the many issues raised by recent events in Ukraine, whether or not the removal of President Yanukovych from office was constitutional is still being debated. Events there point to the inherent problems of interpreting constitutional laws.

In Romania a problem of constitutional interpretation has also arisen. This problem relates to the investiture of the new government. Last week the coalition government there collapsed. When the National Liberal Party (PNL) withdrew from the government, PM Ponta of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) sought a new coalition ally. He found it in the Hungarian minority UDMR party. Once the coalition had been agreed, it had to be approved by parliament, which is where the controversy begins.

Generally, investiture votes can be slippery constitutional things. For example, Article 49-1 of the 1958 French constitution might be taken to imply that an incoming government has to seek an investiture vote, but only some governments have chosen to do so and there have been no constitutional consequences. In Romania, the vote of the new PSD/UDMR government has caused a different type of controversy.

In Romania, there are two ways in which new governments can be formed. Normally, the president nominates the prime minister and appoints the government on the basis of a parliamentary vote of confidence (article 85-1).  The parliament votes to approve the government’s programme and the list of cabinet ministers by a majority vote of deputies and senators (article 103). However, parliamentary approval is also needed when the cabinet is reshuffled to such an extent that its structure or political composition changes, but this time a vote on the programme is not required (article 85-3). The issue raised by President Băsescu after PSD and UDMR agreed to form a new coalition government last week was that the parliament should approve not only the new composition of the cabinet but also a new governing programme (i.e. 85-1, not 85-3).

President Băsescu argued that PNL’s withdrawal from government entailed the termination of the governing programme presented by the USL coalition at the investiture vote that took place in December 2012. Furthermore, the president argued, a new governmental programme was deemed necessary by UDMR’s agreement to join the coalition cabinet. On the other hand, PM Ponta argued that the government aimed to continue the implementation of the USL programme approved by the parliament in December 2012. From his point of view, the parliament only needed to approve the government’s new political composition, in accordance with article 85-3 of the constitution.

On March 4th the parliament approved PM Ponta’s new cabinet in a joint sitting of the two chambers by 346 votes to 191. Subsequently, the Liberal Democratic Party (PDL), president Băsescu’s former ally and the main opposition party, asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of this decision. The PDL argued that the UDMR’s inclusion in the new cabinet had modified the governmental programme and that there are two ways in which this change should be formalized. The cabinet can resign, in which case a new government formation process must begin (in accordance with article 103). Alternatively, the incumbent government can assume responsibility for a new programme, which passes if no censure motion is tabled or passed within three days (according to article 114). Given that neither of these procedures was followed when the parliament approved the cabinet reshuffle on March 4th, PDL asked the Court to declare PM Ponta’s new cabinet unconstitutional.

After the parliament’s vote, President Băsescu declared that he would not appoint the new ministers until either the Court rules on PDL’s request, or the government assumes responsibility for a new programme in accordance with article 114 of the constitution. Following another round of negotiations on March 5th, the prime minister agreed to go back to the parliament for a second time and assume responsibility for a new programme. On the same day, President Băsescu signed the new minister appointments.

Despite the apparent resolution of this matter between the president and the prime minister, the Constitutional Court still needs to rule on PDL’s appeal regarding the legality of the vote cast by the parliament on March 4th. In this way, a precedent may be created for the formation of new governments outside general elections.

This would not be the first time President Băsescu created a precedent for cabinet appointments. In December 2007, when he was cohabiting with a PNL-UDMR government, President Băsescu refused to appoint Norica Nicolai as Minister of Justice. The liberal prime minister challenged his decision to the Constitutional Court. In the absence of clear constitutional provisions on this matter, the Court ruled that the head of state can refuse a ministerial appointment only once on grounded reasons. In this way, the president obtained an increase in the extent of his formal powers over the executive. This time around, and also during a period of cohabitation, a precedent may be created as far as cabinet reshuffles, investiture votes, and the requirement of adjusting governing programmes when the political composition of the government changes are concerned.