Tag Archives: non-partisan presidents

Portugal – Changing electoral politics

In the run up to the legislative and presidential elections the ruling parties PSD and CDS-PP have announced the formation of a pre-electoral coalition and decided to jointly support a presidential candidate. Moreover, a growing number of non-partisans or ‘outsiders’ have officially declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Both pre-electoral coalitions and large numbers of non-partisan presidential candidates are rare political phenomena in Portugal.

It has been 36 years ago since a pre-electoral coalition was formed in Portugal. In 1979 the PSD and CDS (the former CDS-PP) together with the smaller pro-monarchist party, the PPM, formed the so-called Democratic Alliance (AD) that managed to win a parliamentary majority, namely 128 seats in Portugal’s 250-member Assembly in the December 1979 legislative elections.

The announcement of the pre-electoral centre-right coalition or ‘new AD’ came on 25 April, four days after António Costa, leader of the Socialist Party (PS), presented his party’s electoral programme. The coalition’s fear of losing the legislative election is real. The Eurosondagem poll, published on 15 May gave the Socialists a 4.5 point lead over the newly formed coalition with 38.1 percent to 33.6 per cent. It is important to note that if this neck and neck race persists none of the two will obtain a parliamentary majority, a situation which may call for President Cavaco Silva to take on a powerful role in the government formation process.

The leaders of the ruling parties, PM Pedro Passos Coelho (PSD) and deputy PM Paulo Portas (CDS-PP), also agreed to jointly support a presidential candidate. The coalition will likely select either the former leader of the PSD and Law Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, or the former mayor of the city of Porto, Rui Rio, also a prominent member of the PSD party. President Cavaco Silva is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term. The coalition has decided to select their candidate after the legislative elections.

The coalition’s presidential candidate will face a large number of non-partisan presidential candidates. It has been predicted that the upcoming presidential election will be the most competitive since the first democratic elections took place in 1976. So far, no fewer than five[1] non-partisan presidents have officially announced their candidacy for the presidency. Yet, the Constitutional Court ultimately determines which candidates are eligible to participate in the presidential election.

António Sampaio da Nóvoa, the former rector of the University of Lisbon, is considered to be the most popular amongst the non-partisan candidates and has the support of former presidents António Ramalho Eanes (Ind.) and Mário Soares (PS). If Sampaio da Nóvoa is elected, presidential politics may change. He recently stated that the role of the president ‘should not be ceremonial’ and pledged to combat political corruption and put an end to austerity.

Parliamentary elections will be held between 14 September and 14 October 2015. Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016.

[1] Henrique Neto, Castanheira Barros, Paulo Freitas do Amaral, Paulo Morais, António Sampaio da Nóvoa.

Slovakia – Perils of semi-presidentialism?! Independent Andrej Kiska inaugurated as new president

On 15 June 2014 independent Andrej Kiska was inaugurated as Slovakia’s new president, succeding Ivan Gašparovič who had served as president since 2004. Kiska is the country’s first truly non-partisan president and while his lack of any partisan affiliation was one of the main reason for his electoral victory against Prime Minister Robert Fico, it will also be his greatest obstacle to exerting political influence.


Andrej Kiska giving his inaugural address in the concert hall of the Slovak Philharmonic | photo via nrsr.sk

Since 1993, Slovakia has experience three different presidents – indirectly elected Michal Kovač (1993-1998; indirectly elected), Rudolf Schuster (1999-2004) and Ivan Gašparovič (2004-2014; both directly elected) – all of which declared to stand above parties and act as presidents of all people. Kiska, too, declared his ambition to be a president above parties, yet in contrast to his predecessors he is – in his own words – “the first president without political or partisan past”. Non-partisan presidents are not an unusual phenomenon and given that constitutional stipulations or constitutional practices in most European republics foresee that presidents give up their party membership a number of presidents could be classified as such. Nevertheless, Kiska is exceptional in so far as he never served in any other political office and has never been member of a political party. His predecessors were all experienced politicians and (at least up until their inauguration) party members. In a European context, the only real point of comparison for such apolitical and non-partisan candidate even entering the second round of a popular presidential election would be Stanislaw Tyminski, a Polish-Canadian businessman who surprisingly advanced to the second round in the 1990 Polish presidential elections but eventually lost against Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

Kiska’s lack of a political past together with his background as a self-made man proved to be his most important asset and unique selling point in the presidential campaign. However, Kiska’s independence will now likely be an obstacle to his success as a president. The political left, almost exclusively represented by the governing SMER-party of Prime Minister Robert Fico, sees Kiska as a representative of the right and will generally be hostile towards the new president (not only because he defeated Fico). While this might not lead to open conflict between government and Prime Minister, the refusal of outgoing president Gašparovič to meet with his successor is reminiscent of the way the semi-authoritarian government of Vladimir Meciar (1992-1998) tried to sabotage the work of president Michal Kovač and shows how the government could try to prevent Kiska from becoming an effective check-and-balance. The fragmented political right on the other hand is wary of the new president and despite the support Kiska received from the third- and fourth-placed centre-right candidates, Radoslav Procházka and Milan Kňažko, he can hardly count on any party to act as his support base.

With the next parliamentary elections still two years away and SMER holding a majority of 55% in the assembly, Kiska is in a difficult situation. On the one hand he is in cohabitation with the government and should therefore be more active to show his closeness to and build alliances with the centre-right in parliament. On the other hand, although SMER’s approval ratings have been falling since their victory in the snap elections of 2012, it is currently unlikely that an alliance of centre-right parties will emerge that can topple the current government. Furthermore, if Kiska wants to play at least some role in everyday politics in the next two years, he needs to stay on neutral terms with the government and parliamentary majority. Although the contents of Kiska’s inaugural address should be interpreted with caution, his announcement to support political ideas from whichever political side they come from appears to be a signal in this direction.


Kiska’s campaign poster [slogan reads: ‘The first independent president’] | image via andrejkiska.sk

In their discussion of presidentialism, Linz (1990) and Mainwaring and Shugart (1997) agree that popular presidential elections are more likely to bring political outsiders into power which can have negative consequences for political stability and presents one of the theoretical perils of presidentialism. Due to the limited powers of the Slovak president, a destabilisation of the political scene is unlikely – even the extremely frequent use of vetoes by president Rudolf Schuster who vetoed more than 10% of all legislation did not affect the parliamentary character of the system. Rather, the outsider status appears to have a negative effect on the president’s ability to influence policy and thus represents a peril for the president, not democracy.

For now, Kiska’s most likely course of action appears to be to continue stressing his philanthropic activities – he is founder of the “God Angel” charity, declared that he was willing to give his salary to the poor (see also here) and invited a number of socially disadvantaged people to the first dinner he hosted as president – while looking for a viable political partner. The new centrist formation ‘Sieť’ (Net) of third-placed presidential candidate Radoslav Procházka (the only of the centre-right candidates to unequivocally support Kiska in the second round) could be an option. According to a recent poll, its approval stands at 13% and is thus only second to Prime Minister Fico’s SMER (34.6%). Nevertheless, Kiska will likely remain cautious in affilliating himself with any political party (even inofficially) and probably wait how ‘Sieť’ fairs in local election in autumn before deciding on further steps.