Tag Archives: Legislative elections

Gabon – Ruling party wins first round legislative elections under revised electoral code

Gabon held legislative and local elections on October 6, two years after the contested presidential poll of August 2016 that resulted in widespread violence. Results from the first round of the legislative elections were announced on October 13; results for the local polls, held in one round, are yet to be published. The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has already managed to secure an absolute majority in the legislature, it appears.

Opposition leader Jean Ping, who still claims he won the presidency two years ago, called for a boycott of the elections, while other opposition parties decided to participate. Recent changes to the electoral code could have justified greater optimism with regards to the opposition’s chances, compared to the 2011 elections where the opposition only won two seats.

In accordance with the new electoral system adopted following a political dialogue process in 2017, legislative polls are now held in two rounds in single-member districts, in contrast to the previously applied multi-member majoritarian vote in one round. The number of seats has been increased from 120 to 143, but their distribution is highly skewed, as demonstrated by a close analysis of the distribution of the country’s 1.8 million population across the 143 constituencies.

In the interior of the country, in provinces known to support the PDG, a deputy in the National Assembly represents a few thousand citizens or less, while in the capital Libreville and the economic center of Port-Gentil, one elected representative represents more than 58,000 and 34,000 citizens, respectively. The distribution of seats thus favors sparsely populated rural areas that have tended to support the ruling party, while the major urban areas where opposition to President Ali Bongo is concentrated are underrepresented.

A summary analysis of the results published by the Gabonese Center for Elections (CGE) indicates that the PDG won 74 seats in the first round, while opposition parties followed far behind with only four seats, and independents won two. The three former opposition parties that decided to join Ali Bongo’s unity government following the 2017 political dialogue – the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the New Democracy (DN) and the Party for Development and Solidarity (PDS) – were particularly hard hit, winning only 1 seat among them. That seat went to the PSD in the province of Ogooué-Ivindo which is otherwise a PDG stronghold. The runoff for all remaining seats is scheduled for October 27.  

The gamble by opposition leaders who disassociated themselves from Ping and decided to participate in the elections may not have paid off directly. Former president of the National Assembly Guy Nzouba-Ndama, leader of the recently formed Democrats (Les Democrates – LD) party was eliminated in the first round by a PDG candidate; his party managed to win three seats in the first round of polling. Alexandre Barro Chambrier, leader of the Rassemblement Heritage et Modernite (RHM), heads to the second round, also running against a PDG candidate. His party won one seat in the first round, in the Moyen-Ogooué province. In a particularly surprising development according to CGE results, the Ogooué-Maritime province where Port-Gentil is located has swung from voting for the opposition in the 2016 presidential election to giving the PDG eight out of 13 seats in the first round.

Remains to be seen if opposition parties can coalesce and effectively mobilize voters behind the remaining opposition candidates in the runoff races – assuming the competition is fair. Some opposition candidates alleged voting irregularities in the first round, and there have been fraud accusations – including between the PDG and one of its allied parties, the Center of Liberal Reformers (CLR).

There are close to 30 races where an opposition candidate is on the second round ballot – from the LD, RHM and other parties – which creates an opening for a more representative legislature. It is striking to note, however, that in some opposition strongholds turnout was reportedly significantly lower than in provinces in the interior of the country, notably those that have traditionally been PDG strongholds. Thus while the average turnout in the first round was 58.6% nationally, in the Estuaire province where Libreville is located, only 28.5% of voters turned out to vote. Get-out-the-vote efforts should be a priority for candidates proceeding to the second round. In a country like Gabon with a small electorate, it is particularly true that every vote counts. 

Senegal – Implications of the July legislative election results for 2019

President Macky Sall’s coalition was the big winner of the July 30 legislative elections in Senegal, taking 125 of 165 seats in the country’s unicameral national assembly. This significant win was the result of a divided opposition, the country’s electoral system, and a determined campaign by the ruling coalition already eyeing the 2019 presidential poll where Sall will stand for reelection. “We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne at a campaign rally in July.

Among Senegal’s 6.2 million voters, 54% turned out to vote, up from 37% in the 2012 legislative polls, a testament to the perceived higher stakes of these elections compared to five years ago. The campaign was tense, at times violent. Uncharacteristically for Senegal, administrative challenges marred the vote: delays in the distribution of biometric voter cards and confusion around voter lists prevented hundreds of Senegalese from casting their ballot.

The number of seats was this year increased to 165 from 150, to give room for 15 seats for the Senegalese diaspora that for the first time will have direct representation. The gender parity quota helped women win 42% of seats. The final results validated by the Constitutional Court after it threw out opposition electoral complaints are as follows:

Table. 1. Distribution of seats following July 30 legislative elections:

Coalitions/parties                                                                                                                            Seats

Benno Bokk Yaakaar – “Together for the same hope” (Pres. Sall) 125
Wattu Senegaal – “Winning Coalition” (former Pres. Wade)  19
Manko Taxawu Senegaal – “Accord to watch over Senegal” (Khalifa Sall)   7
Parti pour l’unité et le rassemblement (PUR) – (Prof. Issa Sall)   3
Kaddu Askanwi – “Patriotic Convergence Coalition” (Abdulaye Balde)   2
9 other parties/coalitions with 1 seat each   9

Source: IPU

Senegal’s electoral system, using a mix of party block vote (105 seats) and proportional representation (60 seats), greatly benefited the ruling coalition that won 75.8% of the seats with only 49.5% of the votes. This disproportionate win of seats was facilitated by the last minute weakening of the coalition around the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall (no family relation to President Sall).

With former President Abdoulaye Wade returning to Senegal from France to head a separate opposition list – Wattu Senegaal – opposition votes split between two major coalitions, making it possible for the ruling Benno Book Yaakaar (BBY) coalition to win key constituencies, including Dakar, with just a relative majority of votes. Ironically, after being instrumental in hindering a wider opposition coalition, Wade is not going to take up his seat in parliament – he only ran to benefit his party.

The loss of Dakar was a particularly heavy blow for Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, currently awaiting trial for what his supporters say are trumped up fraud charges. They accuse President Sall of trying to sideline one of his potentially strongest competitors for the presidency in 2019 [see earlier blog post here]. Khalifa Sall campaigned successfully from his prison cell to win a seat in the new legislature, though his coalition overall fared poorly, winning less than 5% of seats.

Wade’s comeback likely reduced the overall number of seats going to the opposition, given the electoral system, but strengthened the relative position of his own party, the PDS (Parti Démocratique Sénégalais). Strengthening the PDS – which had 12 seats in the last legislature – is a means for former President Wade to “pave the way for his son” Karim Wade to run for the presidency in 2019, according to political analyst Ali Ndiaye. Karim, who was a powerful minister in his father’s government, was last year pardoned by President Macky Sall after serving half of a three-year prison sentence for corruption and has since been living abroad.

The legislative election victory was particularly significant for Macky Sall as the polls were widely seen as a referendum on his first five years in office and as the first round for the 2019 presidential election. While the win was noteworthy by most accounts, BBY nevertheless saw its majority slightly reduced in terms of percentage of seats – from 119/150 (79.3%) to 125/165 (75.8%) – and more importantly in terms of percentage of votes – from 53% to 49.5%. This is not surprising, given that most members of the Manku Taxawu Senegaal list were part of BBY in 2012. It means, however, that short of half of voters voted for the ruling coalition. Even if both Karim and Khalifa run in two years, given the two-round presidential election system 2019 is not a given win for Macky Sall.

Senegal – Sall vs. Sall

Senegal is preparing for legislative elections on July 2, 2017. In the country’s semi-presidential system, the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the president and the legislature. A legislative majority in opposition to the president can force out the prime minister and cabinet through a vote of no confidence. This could theoretically result in a situation of cohabitation – where a president and prime minister from opposing parties/coalitions have to share executive power.

Senegal has never experienced cohabitation and President Macky Sall surely hopes he will not be the first president to explore this uncharted territory. A new opposition coalition with the participation of Dakar’s mayor Khalifa Sall (no family relation) hopes to the contrary to wrestle away the majority from the presidential coalition in the July elections.

President Sall’s coalition, Benno Bokk Yaakaar (BBY), controls a comfortable majority of 119 seats in the sitting 150-seat unicameral legislature, with the remainder distributed across 12 parties or coalitions. With two years remaining of his first, seven-year term, will Macky Sall be able to maintain control of the National Assembly in the upcoming polls?

The government’s performance record appears at face value to be good. The economy is doing well, with above 6 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past two years, a trend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to continue this year. Senegal has become one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, the fiscal deficit is falling, and after Tunisia, Senegal is only the second country in the world to adopt a new national digital currency – the eCFA. According to Transparency International, the fight against corruption has progressed, with the adoption of a number of anti-corruption reforms and the creation of a Ministry for the Promotion of Good Governance Responsible for the Relations with Institutions.

So why is the well-known youth group Y’en a marre in the streets, protesting against Macky Sall in an unlikely alliance with the Parti démocratique sénégalais (PDS), the party of former President Abdoulaye Wade? Y’en a marre was instrumental in mobilizing the youth vote in particular, in opposition to Wade’s attempt at securing a third term in 2012 when he ran against Macky Sall in the presidential run-off. What has happened to turn former friends into foes, and former foes into friends?

Y’en a marre cannot forgive Macky Sall for going back on his word (wax waxeet in Wolof – a bad habit of Senegalese political leaders according to the creators of the wax-waxeet.com monitoring website): Sall had promised during his campaign that he would reduce the length of presidential terms from seven to five years with immediate effect — to include his first term. However, instead of submitting a bill to revise the constitution accordingly for approval by the National Assembly — where it would likely easily have received the required 3/5 of votes to pass without requiring a referendum — Sall waited four years to consult with the constitutional court, in 2016. The court found that changing the duration of an ongoing presidential term would be against the spirit of the constitution and constitutional practice. Sall therefore declared in February 2016 that he would comply with the finding of the constitutional court and serve the full length of his first mandate. Constitutional revisions adopted a month later do include a provision for the reduced term-length, but it is a change that will only be applicable to his next term.

In addition to breaking a promise, Y’en a marre and opposition parties also accuse President Sall of having instigated the arrest of Khalifa Sall in March of this year on trumped up fraud charges. Khalifa Sall is a likely presidential candidate and strong challenger to Macky Sall in 2019. An attempt to dislodge him from his prominent position as mayor in Dakar by President Sall’s party (though the parties of the two Salls both belong to the ruling coalition) failed in 2014 [see earlier blogpost here].

Since his arrest, Khalifa Sall has joined forces with the PDS, the Rewmi party of former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck and others, to form a new coalition, Manko Taxawu Senegaal (Accord to Watch over Senegal), which will field joint lists for the legislative polls.

The legislative election campaign is getting off the ground. The election outcome will be an early indication of the relative popularity of the two Salls, as the 2019 presidential poll approaches.

Grant Godfrey – Takeaways from the legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire

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

The Legislature of the Third Republic of Côte d’Ivoire met for the first time on January 9, 2017, having been elected on December 18.  Two seats remain vacant after the Constitutional Council annulled the polls in Divo and KouiblyThe election results are complete enough, however, to draw some conclusions about what to expect going forward:

  • President Alassane Ouattara will continue to enjoy very few political limits. He succeeded in having his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and former president Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party (PDCI) present a joint candidate list to voters, as the Houphouëtist Alliance for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). This is a major step toward the re-unification of the two parties after they split in 1994, reinforced by its victory at the polls: the RHDP can already claim 167 of the Assembly’s 255 seats, an overwhelming majority. It need only obtain 3 extra votes to amend the new constitution without a referendum.
  • Pascal Affi N’Guéssan’s leadership of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) is threatened. N’Guéssan has not been able to mobilize former president Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters at the polls. After receiving less than ten percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential race, N’Guéssan hoped to use rebuild the party with legislative success. The FPI hoped to win 30 seats it could use as a base for rebuilding a party starved for a taste of power. The party only achieved a tenth of that goal. Perhaps the biggest shock from these elections is that the FPI will not even be able to form its own parliamentary caucus.
  • There is no public opinion data to explain why the FPI fared so poorly, but the boycott called for by its hard-core wing, which refuses to recognize Affi’s leadership, surely played some role. Expect the “Gbagbo or nothing” hawks to continue to attack the inclusiveness of the Assembly and the legitimacy of Ivoirian elections and democratic institutions. 
  • In the absence of strong party contests in most districts, commentators looked to voter turnout as a key indicator of popular sentiment. The 34% national turnout rate represents a steep decline of voter participation from the constitutional referendum (42%) and presidential poll (53%). The Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI) once again conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), which was able to confirm the national turnout rate and other process indicators. In the south of the country turnout was even lower: POECI calculated a 15% rate in Koumassi, one of four races where it conducted a district-level PVT.
  • POECI and other civic groups continue to garner credibility, and a corresponding degree of influence, for Ivoirian civil society. The Observatory of the Code of Good Conduct, which monitors a voluntary agreement among political parties and candidates to conduct fair campaigns, again denounced violations when they occurred, regardless of who perpetrated them.
  • Voters are (still) dissatisfied with top-down management of the political process by party leaders. The RHDP victory, while resounding, comes with a pair of black eyes.  The low turnout rate and the victory of 75 “independent” candidates (29% of the Assembly seats) send a clear message that voters don’t want RHDP leaders choosing the people’s representatives for them.  Many of the independents are in fact RDR or PDCI figures, including incumbents who found themselves off the RHDP candidate list.  The Cocody race where incumbent Yasmina Ouegnin beat Communications Minister Affoussiata Bamba by over 10% exemplifies this.  Bamba was “parachuted” into the race by RHDP leadership to face Ouegnin after Ouegnin opposed the constitutional revision process.  While many independents are likely to back Ouattara on most issues, or even re-join the RHDP, their success in such phenomenal numbers illustrates weaknesses inherent in the RHDP and underlying party structures. The ruling coalition seems not to have learned from a similar attempt to impose leaders on constituents in the 2013 local elections. This top-down approach to party management is likely to become increasingly hard to sustain as 2020 approaches.
  • Women gain no ground. Despite the new constitution’s emphasis on gender parity, women were only 12% of the candidates in 2016 and won 29 seats, basically holding steady in their parliamentary presence at 11%. The barriers women face to getting on the ballot are compounded by the same opaque party and coalition nomination processes that gave rise to this year’s unprecedented numbers of independents.

Eugene Huskey – Did Putin Lose by Winning? The September 18 Duma Election

Amid challenging economic conditions, Russian voters went to the polls on Sunday, September 18 to elect the 450 members of the country’s lower house, the Duma. They also cast ballots in seven gubernatorial races, in contests for seats in 39 of 85 regional assemblies, and in a number of local elections. In light of the massive demonstrations that followed the last parliamentary elections, which were widely regarded as fraudulent, and the rise in popularity of certain “non- systemic opposition” leaders, such as Alexei Navalny, this Duma election presented officials in Putin’s administration with a difficult challenge. They needed to portray the election as open and competitive while eliminating pathways to power for Putin’s opponents, guaranteeing a healthy legislative majority for the pro-Putin party, United Russia, and assuring some representation for small parties of the “systemic opposition,” whose continued presence in the Duma offered the illusion of pluralism.

Putin’s administration did seek to eliminate blatant violations of electoral law, and toward that end it installed this spring Ella Pamfilova, the respected human rights activist, as head of the Central Election Commission. However, the Russian political leadership also disqualified insurgent candidates like Navalny, effectively shut down the country’s only independent polling company, and redesigned the rulebook in order to benefit United Russia and the collaborationist parties that make up Russia’s “systemic opposition.” Among the rule changes was the replacement of pure Proportional Representation (PR) voting with a mixed system in which 225 seats would be elected by PR, with winners drawn from regionally-based party lists, while the other 225 seats would be filled by winners in single-member district races.

The return to a mixed voting system, in place in Russia from 1993 through 2003, benefitted United Russia because of the latter’s deep bench and dense support networks in single-member districts (SMDs). In addition, because of the large field of candidates that was typical for these local contests–as well as the “first past the post” method of determining winners in these elections–the United Russia candidates would be able to win many seats in SMDs with a mere plurality of the vote. Furthermore, those drawing the district boundaries took care to gerrymander district lines in order to dilute the influence of voters in large urban centers, who were generally less supportive of the Putin administration than other voters. Finally, the authorities moved up the election from December to September as a further means of suppressing the urban vote. Especially in the bigger and more prosperous cities, many urbanites spend the weekends at their dachas in September, although the cold, damp weather last Sunday probably kept many Russian voters in the city.1

This carefully-designed electoral plan worked well for Putin and his allies–perhaps too well. United Russia improved upon its nationwide PR results from 2011, winning 54 percent of the vote and 62 percent of the seats. This gap between votes received and seats won was even more dramatic in the single-member district races, where United Russia garnered 90 percent of the seats (203 of 225) while receiving only about half of the overall SMD vote. In other words, for United Russia, half of the vote share turned into 76 percent of the parliamentary seats.


The support base underpinning this lopsided result looks even more suspect when one considers the voter participation rate. As the graph below illustrates, well under half of Russians turned out for the September 18 Duma elections, a figure that is almost eight percentage points below the previous low-water mark in participation in Duma elections. Due to the historically low turnout, United Russia received 4 million fewer votes than in 2011, and yet the new mixed voting system allowed the party to capture a record number of seats in the Duma, so many that they acquired a “constitutional majority,” that is, more than two-thirds of the assembly. With such a majority, United Russia can amend the constitution as well as pass legislation without the backing of other parliamentary parties. As Russian political scientist Ekaterina Shul’man observed, in the new parliament “all conflicts will take place inside United Russia rather than in inter-party commissions.”2


Parties from the traditional “systemic opposition” retained their presence in the Duma but at much reduced levels. The Liberal Democrats led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky pulled almost even with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, with 39 and 42 seats, respectively, while A Just Russia received 23 seats. The three remaining places in the Duma were captured in single- member district races by a member of Rodina [Motherland Party], a member of Civic Platform,

and an independent candidate, Vladislav Reznik, a Putin ally and former United Russia deputy who is under criminal investigation in Spain for his business dealings. For their part, the two leading parties from the Western-oriented “non-systemic opposition,” Yabloko and PARNAS, received together less than three percent of the PR vote nationwide and they were not competitive in any of the single-member contests.

The new correlation of forces in the Russian legislature will simplify the mechanics of governing for Putin but it potentially leave him more exposed politically. The efforts to clean up certain aspects of electoral administration now seem inconsequential compared with the yawning gap between the extent of Putin’s victory and the electoral support behind it. To be sure, single- member district voting is known for manufacturing ruling majorities, but that is usually in countries like Britain where the political system is well-entrenched and markets, courts, and the press serve as effective brakes on the exercise of political power. One cannot help but think that the Kremlin would have preferred a more modest win rather than a crushing victory, especially given the light turnout.

Aware of the system’s vulnerability to criticism in the wake of the vote, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitrii Peskov, and other Kremlin allies rushed to fend off complaints about a low poll, and thus the legitimacy of the election and of the Putin regime itself. Peskov noted that “in the overwhelming majority of European countries turnout is much lower” [than in Russia].3 In fact, in recent years only two of fifty European countries, Kosovo and Romania, have experienced higher levels of voter apathy.4 With less than two years remaining before the next presidential election, Putin now owns the political system even more than in the past, and so it will be difficult to deflect responsibility onto others if economic and social conditions in the country deteriorate before he stands for re-election.

The 2016 Duma elections serve as a reminder that Putin still governs a country with a wide range of intra-elite and elite-mass relations across its 85 regions and republics. One of those territories, Crimea, participated in Duma elections for the first time last Sunday, and predictably Western governments refused to recognize the latest step in the integration of this recently annexed peninsula into the Russian Federation. Although United Russia won a clear victory in the PR voting in Crimea, its candidate in the single-member district race in Sevastopol emerged as the winner with only 33 percent of the vote. And while the turnout in Crimea was in line with national levels, it fell below that seen in the last Ukrainian parliamentary elections, apparently due in part to a boycott of the vote announced by Crimean Tatars.

Russia’s territories continue to reveal enormous variations in turnout for national elections. In earlier elections one might have attributed much of the differential to falsified results–in the 2011 Duma elections United Russia reportedly received 99.5 percent of the vote in Chechnya on a 99.4 percent turnout–but this time even Chechnya reported a more believable turnout figure, just under 85 percent. Turnout above 70 percent in regions like Kemerovo, Tiumen’, and several republics of the northern Caucasus presented a dramatic contrast to participation rates in several territories that just squeaked past the 30 percent level. How to interpret this variation is not straightforward. Although it is tempting to regard low turnout as a sign of disaffection with the regime, it is also linked to the effectiveness and seriousness of efforts by local leaders to get out the vote. As Joel Moses has argued, in some regions where regional elections are taking place at the same time as a national race, a governor or other prominent officials may wish to suppress turnout in order to assure a desirable outcome.5

Through closed communications networks, governors and their allies may seek to mobilize only their most devoted supporters, such as the so-called biudzhetniki–those on the regional or federal payroll, who can generally be relied upon to support the existing political structure in the region. In this sense, the center’s interest in seeing a healthy voter turnout may at times clash with the interests of prominent local elites.6 How well President Putin can manage these and other tensions between the center and periphery will be evident in the next electoral cycle, which begins with gubernatorial and regional assembly elections next fall.


1 For a discussion of these methods, see Darrell Slider and Nikolai Petrov, “Kremlin Strategy: ‘Just Good Enough” Elections While Maintaining Control,” Russian Analytical Digest, no. 186, 15 July 2016, pp. 2-3. http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities- studies/pdfs/RAD186.pdf
2 Marina Ozerova, “Portret novoi Gosdumy: ‘kollektivnyi Putin’ vmestil 343 deputata,” Moskovskii komsomets, 19 September 2016. http://www.mk.ru/politics/2016/09/19/portret-novoy-gosdumy- kollektivnyy-putin-vmestil-343-deputata.html
3 “Peskov otkazalsia schitat’ iavku na vyborakh nizkoi,” Lenta.ru, 19 September 2016. https://lenta.ru/news/2016/09/19/yavilis/
4 See IDEA, Voter Turnout Database. http://www.idea.int/vt/viewdata.cfm#
5 Personal correspondence.
6 On the political dynamics of multi-tiered elections in Russia, see Velimir Razuvaev, “Mnogosloinye vybory sozdaiut problemy Kremliu,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 13 July 2016. http://www.ng.ru/politics/2016-07- 13/1_vybory.html

#Burkinavote – Analysis of presidential and legislative election results

Burkina Faso has a president-elect, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and a newly elected legislature. Kaboré won in Burkina Faso’s first democratic presidential poll in 37 years held on November 29, 2015, with 53.5 percent of the votes in the first round. Fourteen presidential candidates vied for the support of 5.5 million Burkinabe voters. In legislative elections held on the same day, 3,529 candidates representing 81 parties and 18 political groupings ran for the 127 legislative seats.

Results of the presidential election were made public in the early morning hours of December 1. The runner-up, Zéphirin Diabré who secured 29.7 percent of the vote, conceded defeat via twitter even before the election commission had time to announce the results. Voter turn-out was 60 percent. The official results were validated by an independent parallel vote tabulation exercise conducted by a civil society election monitoring coalition, CODEL.

These peaceful, well organized polls were a major feat for a country emerging from a 13-month transition following the ousting of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising last year, and after an attempted coup by Compaoré supporters just six weeks ago. “For once I am relieved to have witnessed a boring election on the African continent,” said Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at NDI – a sentiment echoed by many observers of elections on the continent.

So who is Roch Marc Christian Kaboré? He is certainly a seasoned politician, having served in a number of positions under Compaoré, whose government he first joined as minister of transports in 1989. Kaboré was prime minister from 1994 to 1996, chairman of the national assembly from 2002 to 2012, and president of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), from 2003 to 2012.

By some accounts, he was Compaoré’s anointed successor, until relations soured as Compaoré’s brother François gradually took control of the CDP. The situation came to a head in January 2014, when Kaboré and two other CDP heavyweights – former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo – left the party to form the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). The impetus for the break-up were the maneuverings by Compaoré and his supporters aimed at removing constitutional term limits and allowing Compaoré to run again in this year’s election, after 27 years in power. See earlier post on the coalescing of forces opposing another term for Compaoré here.

His solid CDP-roots notwithstanding, Kaboré has promised “a complete break with the old system.” He certainly faces great expectations and was quick to reiterate campaign promises of reviving the economy and improving access to public services, in an interview hours after being designated the winner.

Kabore’s knock-out in the first round did not translate into a legislative majority for his party, the MPP, however. Preliminary legislative results published by the election commission on December 2 give the MPP only a relative majority in the newly elected 127-seat national assembly:

Party Seats
MPP 55
UPC 33
CDP 18
Smaller parties Remaining 13 seats

In Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system with its dual executive, this means Kaboré will have to collaborate with other parties in the legislature to select a prime minister, notably the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) of Zéphirin Diabré. This need for coalition building promises a welcome change from the past. Among the priorities of the new government will be the delicate task of facilitating an inclusive constitutional reform process, a piece of unfinished business left over by the the transition government.

Mexico – Legislative Elections and Independent Governors

Last Sunday, amidst allegations of corruption, violence and general animus towards the political classes, Mexico held legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. All 500 seats in the legislature were contested: 300 in single-member districts and 200 by proportional representation. With all votes counted, the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and party of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and its coalition partners, Nueva Alianza (PNA) and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), managed to win approximately 40 per cent of the vote and secure more than the 251 seats they previously held between them. The PRI gained 29.25 per cent of the national vote; PVEM won 7.01 per cent; and the PNA managed to garner 3.75 per cent.

For the president, this means he is free to continue his reform agenda with a clear majority in the house.

The result itself is perhaps a little surprising given a recent poll, which indicated that 91 per cent of Mexican citizens had no trust in the country’s political parties, whilst over half of the respondents disapproved of the Peña Nieto government. However, the new majority of the ruling alliance is less a product of their popularity and more a product of divisions within the opposition. In particular, former presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, split from the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) to create a new political party, Morena. Morena’s campaign in this election proved extremely costly for the PRD, who saw their popular support fall by half to only 10.75 per cent of the vote, while Morena garnered an impressive 8.37 per cent. This division within the Mexican left most likely benefited the PRI’s coalition partners, PVEM and PNA.

The elections themselves occurred amidst a backdrop of violence and uncertainty. A coalition of radical teachers’ unions and activists attempted to block and disrupt the vote in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. They burned ballot boxes and attacked the office of political parties. In the northern city of Monterrey, there were reports of armed men coercing and threatening members of the electorate.

Most significantly however, was the election of Mexico’s first independent governor, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, known as “El Bronco,” who won the gubernatorial race in the state of Nuevo León, which was previously a PRI stronghold. Formerly a member of the PRI and mayor of the northern city of García, Rodríguez is credited with launching a broadside against the Zeta cartel, which saw the death of his son in 2009 in an attempted kidnapping. With the electoral reform of last year, Rodríguez decided to leave the PRI and run as an independent. His victory is interpreted as symptomatic of the general animosity of the Mexican public towards the major and established political parties.

But Rodríguez was not the only independent candidate to be elected. Four other independent candidates managed to gain seats in the lower house, including Pedro Kumamoto, who has never been a member of a political party yet who managed to win a seat in Jalisco. Although the overall election results might suggest continuity, beneath the surface, winds of change are clearly rippling across the Mexican party system.

US – The 2014 Midterm Election Post-Mortem

Now that the dust has settled (mostly, pending a few races still too close to call or headed for a runoff or recount), we now know that Republicans will take control of the US Senate in January. That means that the Republican Party will control both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006. The results are not surprising, as polling during the final weeks of the campaign showed that this was likely to be a good year for Republicans. What does this outcome mean for the next two years in Washington as Barack Obama finishes his second term, and how does this election shape the outcome for both the presidential and congressional elections in 2016?

Let’s start with why Republicans won. Numerous factors were at play that gave Republicans an advantage in this election cycle. Primary among them would be Obama’s low approval rating, which has hovered around 40 percent for more than a year, as well as polling that shows a majority of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track. Low voter turnout (usually at or below 40 percent), which always favors Republicans and always occurs in midterm elections, also played a role. In addition, Republican candidates did a good job of staying on message (mostly in their attacks against Obama) and being disciplined on the campaign trail (no major gaffes, like comments in 2012 about “legitimate rape” that offended women in both parties). Also important is the fact that many Republicans beat out Tea Party challengers in the primaries, which allowed candidates to have broader appeal among Republican and independent voters in the general election. Finally, as the minority party in the Senate since 2006, Republicans benefitted from a strong anti-incumbent mood among the electorate. As the Washington Post called it in a recent headline, it was “An Election about Rejection.”

Other issues during the campaign played a significant role in why, conversely, Democrats lost (not only control of the Senate, but several seats in the House and some governor’s races). In the Senate, where one-third of the 100 seats are up for reelection every two years, this was perhaps the worst electoral map that Democrats have faced in decades. Many of the races were in red states, and the Democrats who lost were either elected for the first time or reelected in 2008 (a strong Democratic year with Obama at the top of the ticket). With lower voter turnout, and an unpopular Democratic president, many of the incumbents or even challengers did not have a real shot at winning in conservative-leaning states this year. An example: Kay Hagan, a Democrat who beat incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole to win a Senate seat in North Carolina in 2008, lost her reelection bid to her Republican challenger. In addition, despite Obama’s low approval rating, and despite calls that it was a referendum on his presidency, he wasn’t actually on the ballot. This hurt Democratic candidates with voter turnout among key demographics, particularly young voters and minority voters (including African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans) who overwhelming voted for Obama (and other Democrats) in 2012. Distancing themselves from Obama did not help Democratic candidates in getting out the vote among these key constituencies. Finally, despite an improving economy during the Obama presidency, Democrats were unable to take credit for those gains, particularly as many Americans haven’t felt as much improvement in their own lives as the national economic indicators suggest.

However, despite the victory on Tuesday, it’s not all good news for Republicans. The party’s brand is still widely unpopular, and while Americans are dissatisfied with both parties, polls suggest this is a bigger problem for Republicans than Democrats. Internally, the Tea Party still represents divisions that will not only make it difficult for the GOP to be unified, but will make compromises with the White House on legislation difficult as well. Like it or not, Republicans on Capitol Hill can’t govern alone, and must work with Obama to get something done as the legislative ball is now in their court. When the final results are in, Republicans may hold as many as 55 seats in the Senate, but that is well short of the 60 votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster, or the 67 votes need to override a presidential veto. While Tea Party members may call for sweeping legislative reform, Republican leaders will more than likely opt for more modest accomplishments, including a compromise with Obama on immigration reform, small tax reforms, and small fixes to but no repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Failure to get anything done over the next two years would not bode well for Republican chances for holding the Senate majority in 2016 (though the House seems safe barring a huge Democratic wave), and especially for the eventual Republican nominee in 2016 who will need a record of his or her party’s accomplishments on which to run.

While Democrats are reeling from Tuesday night’s loss, the news is not all bad for them. The 2016 Senate map looks much better, with many more contests in blue states. In addition, presidential election demographics will give an advantage to the Democratic nominee. And while Republicans may try to claim a mandate to govern during the next two years, making that claim is difficult with such low voter turnout and with their party so unpopular among the electorate. And what does this all mean for Obama for his last two years in office? His party losing control of the Senate will make any judicial or executive branch appointments, whether controversial or not, much more problematic. In preparing for this reality, the White House plans to push through numerous judicial nominations, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder’s replacement, in December before the next congressional session begins in January. Another controversial policy issue—approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline—may land on Obama’s desk soon, which will require the President to finally support or reject the plan. And any reform in areas such as immigration will now require even more compromise with Republicans. The bottom line is that Republicans in Congress and President Obama both have incentives to get things done in the next two years. Republicans will need to prove to voters that they are capable of governing, and Obama wants to accomplish some policy changes before he leaves office. Being seen as a president who can compromise with the opposing party and signing resulting legislation into law could go a long way in his approval rating rebounding, and in shaping his legacy, before he leaves office in January 2017.

São Tomé and Príncipe – Legislative elections: clear victory, uncertain future

Local, regional and legislative elections were held in the archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe on 12 October. The opposition Independent Democratic Action party (ADI) under the leadership of Patrice Trovoada secured an absolute majority in parliament. The Prime Minister-in-waiting is, however, not a newcomer to politics and his relationship with incumbent President Manuel Pinto da Costa is far from cordial.

São Tomé and Príncipe has a unicameral parliament with 55 seats. MPs are elected every four years in general elections. The last legislative elections were held in 2010.

Distribution of seats

Political Party 2014 Change
ADI (Partido Aliança Democrática Independente) 33 +7
MLSTP/PSD (Movimento de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe/Partido Social Democrata) 16 -5
PCD (Partido da Convergência Democrática) 5 -2
MDFM/PL (Movimento Democrático das Forças da Mudança/Partido Liberal) 0 -1
UDD (União para a Democracia e Desenvolvimento) 1 +1

Patrice Trovoada is the son of former President Miguel Trovoada (1991-2001). In the first years after independence, a power struggle between President Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada, then Prime Minister, culminated in the detention of the latter without charge or trial from 1979 to 1981. Since that time Pinto da Costa and Miguel Trovoada have been considered as arch political rivals in the archipelago.

The relationship between Patrice Trovoada and President Pinto da Costa is equally problematic. In December 2012 Pinto da Costa dismissed Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, following a parliamentary vote of no-confidence against the ADI minority government. The President then appointed a ‘government of presidential initiative’, a move which was considered ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’. In the aftermath of the censure motion, ADI mobilised street protests in support of Trovoada and temporarily boycotted parliament.

Since then, ADI has been at loggerheads with opposition parties MLSTP/PSD, PCD, and MDFM/PL. In early June 2013, PCD filed a criminal complaint against the former Prime Minister for his alleged role in money laundering practices. For its part, on 16 June 2014, ADI filed a criminal complaint at the International Criminal Court against the President, Prime Minister and other government officials, accusing them of ‘political persecution’ and of ‘violating the constitution’. In a communiqué ADI also asked for an official investigation into crimes committed during Pinto da Costa’s dictatorship from 1975 to 1991.

Trovoada told reporters he will transform his country into ‘Africa’s little Dubai’ and to achieve this goal he plans to start by attacking the problem of extreme poverty and unemployment. ADI has significant backing among the poorer parts of the islands. The Prime Minister-elect also promised to bring political stability to the country.

São Tomé and Príncipe now faces a period of political uncertainty that is likely to continue until the presidential elections of 2016. Officially, President Pinto da Costa is non-partisan. So, the result of the election will not lead to a formal period of cohabitation. However, the President is expected to be particularly active in the legislative area, using veto powers to slow down decision-making.

William J. Crotty – Obama at Midterm and the Politics of Polarization

This is a guest post by Professor William J. Crotty, the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life at Northeastern University

Photo William Crotty

Barack Obama emerged as a force in American politics unexpectedly. A speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 electrified the delegates and brought national attention. Four years later he won the Democratic party’s presidential nomination defeating the heir apparent Hillary Clinton in an extraordinary upset. During the general election campaign he ran a carefully calibrated organizational effort, after he had in the nomination phase demonstrated his superior intelligence in the presidential debates and drew on an ability to articulate a progressive agenda (“change you can believe in”). He combined his issue positions with an incisive dissection of the incumbent George W. Bush administration, one of the least popular in history. Propelled by the economic collapse in the fall of 2008 (called by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (in private) the worst since and including the Great depression) he went on to win the election.1

 A black man was now president, unthinkable as that may have been.2 It was a galvanizing moment in American history, watched and applauded universally. The dawn of a new era had begun and a new politics would see the redefinition of a nation: a new course of social justice; respect for human rights; an emphasis on negotiation and compromise in international affairs; an end to war and the police state that had been emerging; a green environment; and an emphasis on economic fairness and equality, rechanneling the wealth of the nation for all to enjoy.

It never happened. In office Obama, lacking previous administrative experience and a relative newcomer to national politics would find himself unprepared for what was to come. An intransigent Republican opposition would effectively, with limited exceptions, stalemate his programs and in time essentially grind his administration to a halt. The military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan would continue. The president proved himself not to be the civil libertarian he had once seemed, cracking down on dissent, authorizing at his initiative the assassination of American citizens and on a much broader scale alleged terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. The Bush policies – some came to argue that the Obama presidency was essentially a continuation of the Bush presidency – in domestic and foreign security matters would continue and, in the context of the War on Terror, come to engage the presidency to a greater extent than other concerns. The polarization of politics in the form of a better personal and hyper partisan assault culture would worsen and the complementary polarization of wealth upwards to the very wealthiest would also accelerate.3 The main domestic initiative, a national health plan, controversial in conception and never to be accepted by its opponents, was adopted at great political cost. The one outstanding success, and the earliest and most consistent of Obama’s attention, the economic recovery, concentrated on the bailout of Wall Street succeeded brilliantly; the stock market was to reach its highest levels in history. The new politics of the 2008 campaign was little more than a distant memory.

Obama by the early years of his second term would come to rank in the Gallup polls as the least popular president since the polls began, outdoing his predecessor, Richard M. Nixon, and other contenders.

What happened? A selection of established political scientists would ask themselves this very question. From the earliest years the directions and emphases of the administration would emerge, presenting a stark contrast with the programs advanced to win an election. The transformation seemed to describe what had taken place, why it had occurred and identify the consequences to emerge, the basis for this series of studies.

Crotty bookThe selections in our new edited volume, The Obama Presidency Promise and Performance, focus on the principal issues, political and substantive, that marked the Obama presidency, with an emphasis on the formative period. The president’s approach to issue development, public communication (curiously inadequate), congressional leaders and parties and in essence, governing (removed, nonpartisan, unengaged, apolitical) is explored.

The analyses were developed by scholars expert in their particular areas, with a level of knowledge that combined with a sense of political reality, to provide a meaningful look at one of the more fascinating presidencies in recent history. The authors represented different shades of the political spectrum and a diversity of views and evaluations was encouraged.

Among the topics addressed:

  • The politics of campaigning versus the reality of governing; a progressive agenda largely lost in a focus on banks “too big to fail” and elective wars (W. Crotty)
  • A controversial national health care plan, its adoption and implementation despite an all-out and continuing, opposition movement (James E. Morone)
  • A comparison of the Obama presidency with its predecessors in its decisive formative, structural phases (Bruce E. Caswell)
  • A mixed environmental record for a president emphasizing a pro-environmental mindset; the controversial handling of the BP disaster (John C. Berg)
  • The influence of structural realities, international pressures and a real politik Washington community on attempts to enact adaptive, negotiation-based approaches to foreign affairs (Lawrence C. Reardon)
  • The opposition strategy and threats of government shutdowns adopted by congressional Republicans to stalemate presidential initiatives (R. Lawrence Butler)
  • Realignment pressures and the move from coalition-based, umbrella parties to more of an ideologically-driven, hyper-partisan politics based on a more responsible party system (Arthur C. Paulson)
  • Midterm elections as unique, discrete responses to prevalent domestic concerns and international events, working to the disadvantage of an incumbent president; an approach applicable to all off-year elections (Maureen S. Moakley)

And in conclusion

  • The clash of principles and pragmatism, reality and idealism, commitments and flexibility, all played out in Obama’s adaption to the demands to the presidency (W. Crotty)

The intersection of politics and policy, campaigns and governing and the paths chosen form the crux of the presentations in this book.

As for the 2014 congressional election:

The basic issue for President Obama, as it is for every president, is to minimize the damage that is sure to follow.

More specifically:

  • To the extent there is a unifying issue in its off-year elections it is the unpopularity of the president. Democrats do not want his endorsement or for him to appear in their districts. Republicans tie their opponents to the Obama administration. The president’s role has been to act as a fundraiser, something he excels at.
  • The congressional districts are severely gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. Democrats are at a substantial disadvantage before the campaigns even begin. This is a consequence of recent Republican success at the state level in winning governorships and state legislative majorities, the source of the electoral engineering.
  • The Democrats have considerably more Senate seats and governorships up for election and these are more vulnerable as are House seats. The Democratic priority is to maintain control of the Senate but to do so would mean holding or winning seats likely to go Republican.
  • The congressional electorate is fundamentally different from presidential electorates; there are in essence two electorates. The off-year races are low turnout and selective in participation, attracting older, white voters, a better-off clientele and more committed conservatives. Absent are blacks, Latinos, professional women, the young and low-income whites, Democratic 4
  • There has been a systematic campaign since the success of such efforts in Florida in 2000 to restrict voting and make it as difficult as possible: pruning rolls, limiting polling stations, placing polling booths in difficult to get to areas, requiring photo ids, not publicizing registration dates or localities, ending or limiting early voting, and so on. Aimed at Democratic constituencies, it has proven successful in restricting participation. The Supreme Court’s effective voiding of the enforcement powers contained in the Voting Rights Act (2013) is one such example of the anti-vote efforts.
  • The off-year elections will be the most expensive in history. Money in politics is a direct reflection of the dominant economic structure in the society. Such money is increasingly being invested in larger and larger sums in lower level (congressional, state and local) races. A million dollars is baseline for running a competitive House race. The governor’s race in Florida pitting a conservative and unpopular incumbent against a centrist Republican turned Democrat has drawn 1 million for the incumbent and $500,000 for the challenger. It is likely one of a number of such races. The final figures will not be available, and then primarily only for national races, until well after the final vote.
  • Billionaire funding of Tea Party races (among others) has created a bloc within the Republican party (and the Congress), difficult to deal with, divisive for the Republicans, yet successful in pushing legislation, tax policies and budgets that reward the funders.
  • Wildcards: There will be the usual off-the-wall independent candidacies and others internal to the (largely) Republication nomination process. These can have serious consequences in deciding close races and they are not immune to being elected. They serve whatever else they do to push the Republican party farther to the right. Such independent candidates can be mainstream (the Democratic gubernatorial and Senate candidates in Alaska resigned to run with independent candidates). More often thy are fringe figures on the political spectrum with, to say the least, idiosyncratic views (ex., proposals such as reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse; looking at “blood moons” as forces to change the world; advancing a “biblical worldview”; and attacking Hillary Clinton as “the Anti-Christ.” Independent candidates have rendered elections, in addition to Alaska, uncertain in Kansas, South Dakota, Georgia, Maine, Florida, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Iowa and Hawaii, among the more visible races. House races would be even more vulnerable to such campaigns, and established candidates have already lost re-nomination before getting to the general election phase (House Republican minority leader Eric Kantor of Virginia being the most prominent). Such independent efforts can be taken as evidence of a party system in flux with potentially less to offer voters and less power over their own decision-making processes.

What gives such candidacies hope, and creates further difficulties for the president, is the sour mood of the nation: September, 2014 New York Times poll showed 5 percent of the public believe that incumbent members of Congress should be re-elected (collectively support for the Congress is at its lowest in decades); 87 percent said the need was for new blood.

None of this works to Obama’s advantage. It is a time of stress, anxiety and uncertainty in American politics. The major parties have not answered the call. Neither has a presidential candidate who appeared to ride the wave of the future. It can be argued that the Obama years have contributed to the malaise of a nation and an electorate doubting itself, its leaders and the adequacy of its governing institutions.

It if offers any relief, the 2016 presidential race is already well underway.

William J. Crotty is the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. His research interests include political parties; electoral behavior; American politics; presidential nominating systems; comparative public policy; and democratization. He received the Samuel J. Eldersveld Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Political Science Association’s Political Organization and Parties Section and is a former president of the Midwestern Political Science Association. He currently chairs the Executive Council of the New England Political Science Association and is a member of the Governing Council of the Northeastern Political Science Association. Among his recent publications are Winning the Presidency 2012 (2013); The Obama Presidency: Promise and Performance (2012); and Winning the Presidency 2008 (2009). He has a book forthcoming, The Consequences of Polarization: Parties, Politics and Policy (2014). Several of his books have won CHOICE awards from the Academic Library Association (ALA).


  1. See W. Crotty, ed., Winning the Presidency 2008 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2009) and W. Crotty, ed., Winning the Presidency 2012 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2013). I am calling largely on research with which I have been associated and with which in terms of quality and approach I am comfortable. There are obviously many other fine works available.
  2. On Obama and race, see: Michael Tesler and David O. Sears, Obama’s Race (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010): and Gerald M. Pomper, “The Presidential Election: Voting for Parties and Principles” in W. Crotty, ed. Winning the Presidency 2012 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 013), pp. 40-62; and Shayla C. Nunnally, “Race and the 2012 Presidential Election: The Declining Significance of the White Majority and the Future of American Party Politics,” in W. Crotty, ed., Winning the Presidency 2012 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2013), pp. 126-144.
  3. See W. Crotty, ed., Polarized Politics: The Impact of Divisiveness in the US Political System (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Press, forthcoming December 2014) for a comprehensive assessment of the causes and consequences of a polarized politics.
  4. Or an examination of these and related points, see: Elizabeth Drew, “Obama & the Coming Election,” The New York Review of Books, September 25, 2014, pp. 84-87.

See Jonathan Weisman, “House Hopefuls in GOP Seek Rightward shift,” New York Times, September 29, 2014, pp. A1ff; and Jonathan Martin, “Long Shots Loom as Spoilers in Tight Races Across Nation,” New York Times, September 28, 2014, p1ff.