Tag Archives: presidential election

Choosing Their Nominee: The Democrats’ Not So “Invisible” Primary

The invisible primary just became a lot more visible.  

On the nights of June 26th and 27th, 20 of the 25 announced candidates for the Democrat presidential nomination took the stage in Miami – 10 candidates each night – in the first head-to-head debates of the 2019-20 election season. The twenty were chosen based on drawing at least 1% support in three polls or by raising money from at least 65,000 unique donors. Three more sets of debates are scheduled for late July, September and October.  These are perhaps the most important campaign events taking place during what political scientists dub the “invisible primary” – the period prior to the start of the actual delegate selection process in next February’s Iowa caucuses.  For party activists, the debates provide an opportunity to gauge candidates’ policy positions and their electoral viability. The goal is to select a candidate who most represents the party’s ideological center-of-gravity while generating enough support to win the general election. Based in part on these judgments, the activists will then use endorsements, financial contributions and other signaling devices to begin culling candidates from the race even before public voting begins.  

The debates are a reminder, however, that the media also plays an important and somewhat independent role in this winnowing process.  And its interest does not fully coincide with that of party activists.  As a for-profit industry, the media focuses much more on attracting a large audience – a prerequisite for generating advertising revenue.  To do so, its coverage tends to emphasize controversy, and to center on candidate personalities and horse race strategy as opposed to substantive policy discussion.

Coverage of the first two Democrat debates highlight the media’s independent role during the invisible primary.  One indication is the relative media focus on the second of the two debates. Due to the luck of the draw, most of the top-tier candidates, including the purported front-runner former Vice President Joe Biden, senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, were in the second debate.  This left Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with senators Corey Booker and Amy Klobuchar, as the main attractions during the first debate.  Not surprisingly, the second debate attracted greater media attention and, as a consequence, generated higher ratings, with nearly 18.1 million viewers tuning in – a number that broke the record for the biggest television audience for a Democratic primary debate – compared to about 15 million who watched the first debate.  This meant that although Warren was judged by most commentators to have performed well, she does not appear to have generated much if any momentum from her debate performance.  Nor did others, including Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, both of whom were also viewed as having had a strong performances during the first debate.  Instead, it was the second debate that seems to have had the bigger impact on the race, at least as gauged by media commentary and early polling.

The debate format and the questions asked by moderators, and to whom, also showed the media’s focus on the horse race and its role handicapping the field in ways that favored some candidates over others.  Candidates were only allowed 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups, which meant they might get at most 10 minutes of talking time during a two-hour debate.  This left little time for substantive discussion, and instead placed a premium on candidates’ ability to generate memorable sound bites. Indeed, on some key issues, such as whether they supported providing health care to undocumented immigrants, candidates were simply asked to raise their hand rather than to explain their positions. Not surprisingly, on both nights those candidates who entered the night near the top of the polls ended up getting the most speaking time.  To be sure, the differences were slight, often measured in minutes or less, but with 10 candidates vying to get their message across, even slight differences in speaking time can be significant.  This left second-tier candidates forced to cut into the conversation in order to be heard. As a consequence there were frequent moments of candidates talking over each other. 

Equally important, however, is how the media conducted its debate post-mortem. By focusing on a specific exchanges between candidates, or framing the debate through a specific lens, media coverage can influence perceptions regarding winners and losers in ways that do not necessarily coincide with party interests, as Republican activists learned to their dismay in 2016 when media coverage of Donald Trump’s debate performances helped solidify his lead in the polls.  Although the Democrat field lacks a candidate with Trump’s capacity to stir an audience, the post-debate coverage does appear to have benefited some candidates while hurting others, at least marginally.  Harris, in particular, seems to have gained the most due largely to the media replaying her exchange with Biden regarding his opposition during the 1970’s to federally-mandated forced busing to integrate public schools.  Harris sought to personalize the issue, and to paint Biden as out-of-touch on civil rights, by noting that she was bused as part of the second class to integrate her public school. Biden seemed to respond defensively, arguing that he supported busing as a local choice, but not as a federal mandate. Most media accounts of the second debate highlighted that exchange as the lead story – a choice that worked in Harris’ favor, even though in the weeks after the debate it became clear that Harris’ stance on busing was, in fact, quite similar to Biden’s. By then, however, the media had already cast the debate as a victory for Harris, and she received an 8% boost in the aggregate polls, pushing her to 15% support and in a virtual tie with Sanders and Warren for second place behind Biden. Most of Harris’ surge, moreover, appears to have come at Biden’s expense; his post-debate aggregate polling numbers dropped six points down to 26%.

It bears repeating that this was one set of debates, and that it is still early in the nominating race.  The upcoming debates will undoubtedly generate more media-defined moments that may further reshuffle the top half of the field.  However, most of the current front-runners have the resources to make it to Iowa, no matter what happens in the debates.  For second tier candidates, on the other hand, the prospects of surviving the invisible primary are far less certain.  As of today 14 candidates appear to have cleared the threshold for the July debates, which leaves 11 candidates jockeying for the final six debate slots.  Moreover, for the September and October debates, the bar to get on the debate stage increases to 2 percent in four qualifying polls and 130,000 unique donors, which may further winnow the field. Whether these second-tier candidates participate in debates or not, history teaches that the media’s focus on the horserace and its desire for a competitive nominating contest will lead them to signal that these candidates are not electorally viable.  That negative coverage will likely contribute to their dropping out of the race even before voting begins, as campaign resources begin to dry up.

Potential debate flash points going forward include candidates’ positions on health care, immigration, trade policy and foreign policy.  In handicapping the field, two cleavages stand out.  One is between candidates such as Biden, Klobuchar and Gillibrand who emphasize their relative pragmatism and ability to defeat Trump versus the more progressive firebrands like Warren, Sanders and Harris who believe the Democrat voters have moved left and will embrace a more left-leaning candidate. A second divide is generational, pitting the older candidates including Biden, Warren and Sanders against a younger cohort who are seeking support from millennial voters. It remains to be seen which side of these divides will prove more popular, with whom – and how the media will judge the results.

Lithuania’s new president to be sworn in on July 12, 2019

This is a guest post by Gerda Jakštaitė, Lecturer at Vytautas Magnus University and Researcher at General Jonas Zemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania

On July 12th, Gitanas Nausėda will be sworn into office as president of the Republic of Lithuania.  Nausėda, who is 55, is a former chief economist at SEB bank. He defeated former Finance Minister Ingrida Šimonytė with 67% of votes in the second round of the presidential election. In his first address to the nation, on the evening election results were announced, Mr Nausėda promised that “from this day forward things will be different.”

Who is Gitanas Nausėda?

Lithuania‘s incoming president is a long-time chief economist of SEB bank, and an associate professor at the International Business School at Vilnius University. He has a degree in economics and holds a PhD in social sciences. He previously worked at the Competition Council of the Republic of Lithuania and at the Bank of Lithuania. During the presidential election campaign, Nausėda declared his intention to unite Lithuania‘s political parties and increase political cohesion, promote the openness of the presidential institution, and seek to establish a welfare state. Nevertheless, the presidential election campaign and Nausėda‘s public pronouncements tell us little of his political character and personality.

During the presidential election campaign, Mr Nausėda demonstrated openness, participated in debates, visited Lithuania‘s regions and probably intended to distance himself from President Dalia Grybauskaitė‘s style of communication. On the other hand, it has been difficult to pinpoint the ideology and main political principles that Mr Nausėda represents. Some analysts (such as Šarūnas Liekis) have referred to Gitanas Nausėda as a candidate who lacks character and is supported by business interest groups.

The composition of the president‘s team does not shed much further light on the new president‘s political program. The formation of the president‘s team is still underway and its membership remains unclear.  Although the new president has not been communicative about his new advisors, he has made it clear that he prefers professionals from academia and the diplomatic corps to political party members. So far, only a couple of names are known: Aistis Zabarauskas, who was responsible for communication during Nausėdas‘ election campaign, and Povilas Mačiulis, a former vice mayor of the Kaunas city municipality. Among potential foreign policy advisors, the name of Linas Kojala, director of Eastern Europe Studies Center, a PhD student at Vilnius University, was mentioned, but Mr Kojala declined the offer. Under circumstances such as these, when a president does not have extensive political experience, his choice of domestic and foreign policy advisors might give a strong indication of his future politics, but in this case Lithuanians will have to wait a bit longer.

Why did Gitanas Nausėda win the presidential election?

When Gitanas Nausėda announced his decision to run for president in the autumn of 2018, some analysts (Kęstutis Girnius, for instance) were sceptical about his chances to win the election as an independent, nonpartisan candidate without experience in politics. However, during the presidential campaign, public opinion polls (SPINTER, Baltijos tyrimai, Vilmorus) constantly mentioned Mr Nausėda as one of the top presidential candidates.

Several factors could have contributed to Nausėda‘s victory in the presidential election. First may actually have been the fact that he ran as an independent, nonpartisan candidate. Some analysts claim that in Lithuania‘s presidential election many people voted not for Gitanas Nausėda, but against Ingrida Šimonytė who was supported by the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats. During the presidential election campaign, Gitanas Nausėda consistently highlighted his independence from any political party. This proved to be a wise strategy since Lithuanians do not trust political parties. Public polls demonstrate that political parties are the least trusted political institution in Lithuania: according to the latest polls (Vilmorus: June 2019), only 6.2% of Lithuanians trust political parties (in comparison, 58.2% of Lithuanians trust the presidential institution). Second, Nausėda‘s opponent‘s election campaign was not aggressive enough: under criticism for poor management of the 2008 financial crisis (she was Finance minister back then), Ingrida Šimonytė chose to talk about future plans instead of effectively countering criticism of her past performance. Third, for some of the voters Gitanas Nausėda embodied an example of the classical ideal family, in contrast to his opponent and current president Dalia Grybauskaitė. Finally, Lithuania‘s 2019 presidential election once again shows that the electorate tends to vote for „hope“ and new faces in politics.

How might Nausėda‘s foreign policy look like?

So far, it seems that the new president will follow up on his earlier expressed foreign policy ideas. It is already known that for the first official state visit the new president of Lithuania will continue a tradition started by Valdas Adamkus (interrupted by D. Grybauskaitė) by going to Poland (the visit is scheduled for 16 July). Soon after the election, Mr Nausėda also reaffirmed his intention to maintain the current foreign policy line towards Russia, while also claiming that he will aim to be more diplomatic. The current minister of foreign affairs, Linas Linkevičius, states that there will not be any strategic changes in Lithuania‘s foreign policy.

During the presidential election campaign, Mr. Nausėda expressed support for Lithuania‘s status quo policy and pro-Western orientation based on membership in NATO and the European Union: he claimed to perceive the United States as a security guarantor and one of the most important allies of Lithuania; emphasized the importance of a value-based foreign policy and a strict position towards Russia; underscored the need for stronger cooperation with Poland; and stressed the need for closer cooperation with Latvia and Estonia, and for regular meetings with Baltic leaders.

Some analysts claim that in the 2019 presidential election the Lithuanian electorate demonstrated its political maturity. Indeed, Lithuanians gave their support for the candidates with a declared pro-EU and pro-NATO orientation. On the other hand, the electorate voted in the second round for the candidate who does not have any political experience. Thus, Lithuania‘s presidential election results still confirm a general trend to vote for new faces in politics.


Ukraine – Volodymyr Zelenskiy wins the presidency

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

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

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

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

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

Ukraine Holds a Presidential Election

On March 31, 2019 Ukraine held the first round of the presidential election. With 100% of the votes counted, the Central Election Commission announced that Volodymyr Zelensky won the first round with 30.24% of the votes. The current President, Petro Poroshenko, came second with 15.95%. The second round of election is scheduled for April 21, where the political outsider and famous comedian Zelensky will face the incumbent.

Volodymyr Zelensky is a new face in Ukrainian politics. He is a comedian, who is currently starring in a TV show entitled “Servant of the People.” In the show, Zelensky plays a high school teacher who becomes president after fighting corruption. The show is available on Netflix.

The election results were not surprising to the political observers. The pre-election polls have consistently projected a victory for Zelensky in the first round with 25-30% of the votes. Both the incumbent president and Yulia Tymoshenko, former Prime Minister, have been consistently trailing in the polls behind the comedian.

Zelensky came to the race using primarily social media outlets. One of his campaign members openly admitted that they had only one platform – the internet. Zelensky could be frequently seen on his Facebook page speaking to the voters directly. In one of the videos, he even tries to crowd source his election program. Openly criticizing other candidates and political parties for their lack of distinct programmatic appeals as well as pledge fulfillment, he asks citizens to submit their own suggestions for the policies they would like to pursue and problems that they would like to address.

Zelensky’s lack of political experience or even political program has not fazed the Ukrainian voters. Tired of old-school politicians, the voters seem to want something new and different. Experts have argued that the trend is not unique to Ukraine. Zelensky’s popularity and victory in the first round have been compared to other political outsides who won the executive office in the past couple of years. The list is long and includes US President Donald Trump, Zuzana Čaputová, recently elected president of Slovakia, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron.

Before the second round of elections on April 21, the top two candidates will face off in the presidential debate in front of a 70,000-seat stadium in Kyiv.

Georgia – The results of the presidential election

On November 28, 2018, the second round of the presidential elections was held in Georgia and and the so-called ‘independent’ candidate Salome Zurabishvili was elected. The second round campaign was quite tense. This was not simply a battle for the president’s office. The first round showed that the opposition had a real chance to win the contest in a free and fair election.

Pre-election environment for the second round

Victory was a strategic goal for the ruling Georgia Dream team and they mobilized all kinds of resources to win. They displayed negative parties of the former ruling party, the United National Movement. The ruling party also presented the country with a stark choices: if their candidate did not win, it would mean the return of the former ruling party. One of the leaders of the parliamentary majority Gedevan Popkhadze also said that the victory of the opposition candidate, Grigol Vashadze, would be a step towards the start of a civil war. [1]  The authorities felt that it would be difficult to win the election and tried to scare people with the prospect of a  return to the party that has been in opposition for almost 6 years.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chairperson of Georgia Dream, called on people to support him once again in the second round of election. He admitted he had made mistakes and that the country faced problems, but at the same time he asked people to support him and prevent the return of the former ruling party. Ivanishvili said he would correct all the shortcomings in one year and use all his resources to make the reforms in the country irreversible. [2] Shortly after this statement and a few days before the election, the government took the unprecedented step of removing all bank debt from 600,000 citizens. The debts will be paid by Ivanishvili’s bank. [3] Only a few days before the polls, the announcement showed that the ruling party was willing to use all legal and illegal means for victory. The decision was denounced by international observer organizations as voter bribery and was contested by the United Opposition.

Salome Zourabichvili was not actively involved in the second round campaign. Billboards appeared in different cities depicting Bidzina Ivanishvili and other party leaders instead of presidential candidate. The ruling party also had billboards against the “National Movement”[4] with slogans such as “Choose Vashadze, choose Saakashvili!” [5]on which former president Mikheil Saakashvili and his team were represented. The government has officially denied any connection with the billboards and said that they were put up by the private sector.[6] Following Ivanishvili’s statement, private TV company “Imedi” stated that its owners knew what a return to the “National Movement” would mean and that, therefore, they would change the airtime in the pre-election period to prevent returning of the former regime. [7]

There was also a big difference between the financial resources of the candidatest. Salome Zourabichvili spent 6,351,949 GEL in the first round  and theUnited National Movement (UNM) 1,133,536 lari. [8] In the second round, Zourabichvili spent 3 260 810 GEL and the “National Movement” 1 257 752 GEL. [9]

For its part, the TV company Rustavi 2 was actively working during the election period, reporting stories about election violations and corruption. 

The results of the second round and the opposition of the opposition

Following the closure of the polling stations, an exit poll by Rustavi 2 reported that Vashadze had won 45% and Zurabishvili 55%. ImediTV said that Zurabishvili had won 58% and Vashadze 42%.[10]  Vashadze said that he trusted the research but would still will wait for the final results. [11]  On the second day of the elections, the Central Election Commission announced that Vashadze had won- 40.46% and Zurabishvili 59.54%.[12] Vashadze won the elections in two districts and in all the districts abroad.

lVashadze told his supporters that “we have no presidential elections in Georgia. We had a criminal farce organized by the government under criminal terror. That’s why we do not recognize the results of these elections.” [13] Vashadze said that the opposition would demand early parliamentary elections, a change of the election commission, and a transition to a proportional electoral system. [14] The opposition held a protest rally outside the Parliament building and offered to create a working group. [15] The newly elected president, though, said that democracy demands that the elected president be recognized, that the country should move on, and that the political environment should calm down. [16]

President’s inauguration and renewed protest

According to the constitution, the inauguration of the president was scheduled on December 16, 2018. All 7 previous inaugurations have been held in Tbilisi. After the announcement of the demands of the opposition, the ruling party began to speak about changing the location of the inauguration[17] and eventually Zourabichvili said that it would be be held in Telavi, in King Eckerle’s palace. According to her, Telavi was chosen because she lost the election there and wanted to show that she was everyone’s president. [18] In fact, it was clear to everyone that the government was afraid of opposition protests.

The United Opposition said that “no one was going to break the so called inauguration, wherever they wanted to hold the show, [19] but they supported the statement of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who said that “we did not allow Shevardnadze in 2003 to open the Parliament. People should say that you do not have the right to put the stolen election in your pocket“. [20] He called for civil disobedience. [21] Saakashvili previously lost his Georgian citizenship and has been living in Holland, but he was actively involved in the election campaign. Often his statements are unacceptable, but his role is still great for supporters of the opposition.

In the end, the authorities decided to take a more unconventional decision, violating the constitutional tradition and moving the inauguration to Telavi. The inauguration was not as open and public as it is in many countries. It was held in one of the fortresses where guests attended by special invitation, journalists were not allowed inside, and where they observed the oath-taking process on a special monitor. It should be noted that in 2013 President Zourabichvili  wrote about the necessity of holding the inauguration as public event.

Thus, the inauguration of the 2018 was specially designed to prevent opposition protest in Tbilisi. However, the inauguration was still tense. The opposition decided to organize a protest in Telavi. Several thousand cars left Tbilisi. However, the police blocked the road and opposition supporters were unable to enter Telavi. Some people were injured as a result of clashes between the opposition and police and one of the leaders of the opposition was arrested. Salome Zourabichvili took the oath and began work on December 16, but tensions are ongoing.

Election assessments and international feedback

One of the main issues after the presidential election is democracy and the legitimacy of elections. The opposition still does not recognize the result and continues to protest. The authorities claim that the elections were held freely and fairly and were recognized as such by all international organizations. At the same time, both national and international organizations have indicated that significant violence was observed, as well as intimidation, the restriction of the free will of voters, the misuse of administrative resources, bribing and other violations.[22] Non-governmental organizations called the government’s initiative to write off the bank debt for 600,000 people “unprecedented” and voter bribery.[23] Non-governmental organizations also criticized holding the election on a Wednesday, which restrict citizens’ rights, especially for citizens living abroad. [24] Observers noted that the elections were competitive, free, but unfair. [25]

Overall, we can say that the presidential election was held in a very tense atmosphere. On theone hand, it was actually the first time when the opposition had a chance of winning the election. It was also the first time when theopposition had received such a high level of supports. On the other hand, it is sad that the government used all the methods it did, including many illegal mechanisms. This election has intensified the polarization in Georgia and has also caused significant damage to the country’s democratic image internationally.


[1] http://pirveliradio.ge/?newsid=115484

[2] http://pirveliradio.ge/index.php?newsid=115819

[3] http://www.tabula.ge/ge/story/139950-premieri-ets-shav-siashi-mkof-600-000-ze-met-moqalaqes-valebi-gaunuldeba

[4] http://www.resonancedaily.com/index.php?id_rub=4&id_artc=60252

[5] https://on.ge/story/30497-ირჩევ-ვაშაძეს-იღებ-სააკაშვილს-ახალი-ბილბორდები-თბილისის-ქუჩებში

[6] https://marshalpress.ge/archives/206238

[7] https://imedinews.ge/ge/saqartvelo/83392/imedi-mushaobis-sagangebo-rejimze-gadadis

[8] https://monitoring.sao.ge/news/150

[9] რა რაოდენობის თანხა დახარჯეს ზურაბიშვილმა და ვაშაძემ მეორე ტურზე და ვინ რამდენი შესწირა კანდიდატებს http://kvira.ge/436720

[10] Edison Research-ისა და Gallup-ის ეგზიტპოლის შედეგებით, საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნებში სალომე ზურაბიშვილი იმარჯვებს https://primetime.ge/news/1543422134-Edisoიშვილი-იმარჯვებს

[11] დაველოდებით საბოლოო შედეგებს, რადგან ამომრჩევლის უზარმაზარი რაოდენობა 17:00 საათის შემდეგ მივიდა არჩევნებზე – ვაშაძე http://www.ghn.ge/com/news/view/216227

[12] საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნების წინასწარი შედეგებით, გრიგოლ ვაშაძემ – 40.46%, სალომე ზურაბიშვილმა 59.54% მიიღო http://www.newpress.ge/saprezidento-archevnebis-winaswari-shedegebit-grigol-vashadzem—40-46-salome-zurabishvilma-59-54-miiro

[13] გრიგოლ ვაშაძე: ჩვენ არ ვცნობთ არჩევნების შედეგებს https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/29628429.html

[14] https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/გაერთიანებული-ოპოზიციის-შეკრება-ფილარმონიაში/29628705.html

[15] გაერთიანებული ოპოზიციის ულტიმატუმი მომავალ აქციამდე https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/გაერთიანებული-ოპოზიციის-ულტიმატუმი-მომავალ-აქციამდე-/29633412.html

[16] სალომე ზურაბიშვილი: დემოკრატია მოითხოვს, არჩეული პრეზიდენტის აღიარებას https://metronome.ge/დემოკრატია-მოითხოვს-არჩ/

[17] ზურაბიშვილი ინაუგურაციის ადგილზე: განიხილება ბევრი ვერსია, მათ შორის ქალაქგარეთ ჩატარების http://www.tabula.ge/ge/story/141002-zurabishvili-inauguraciis-adgilze-ganixileba-bevri-versia-mat-shoris-qalaqgaret

[18] ზურაბიშვილი: თელავმა ხმა არ მომცა… მინდა ვაჩვენო, რომ ყველას პრეზიდენტი ვარ https://on.ge/story/31037-ზურაბიშვილი-თელავმა-ხმა-არ-მომცა-მინდა-ვაჩვენო-რომ-ყველას-პრეზიდენტი-ვარ

[19] “ე.წ. ინაუგურაციის ჩაშლას არავინ აპირებდა, სადაც უნდათ იქ ჩაატარონ ეს შოუ” http://www.resonancedaily.com/index.php?id_rub=4&id_artc=61295

[20] https://1tv.ge/news/mikheil-saakashvili-rogorc-ar-mivecit-sashualeba-2003-wels-shevardnadzes-gaekhsna-parlamenti-zustad-aseve-16-shi-khalkhma-unda-tqvas-ar-mogcemt-sashualebas-jibeshi-chaidot-moparuli-saprezidento/

[21] მიხეილ სააკაშვილი საზოგადოებას სამოქალაქო დაუმორჩილებლობისაკენ მოუწოდებს http://www.livepress.ge/ka/akhali-ambebi/article/26135.html

[22] არჩევნების  მეორე ტური და საერთაშორისო დამკვირვებლების მკვეთრი წინასწარი შეფასებები https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/არჩევნების-მეორე-ტური-და-საერთაშორისო-დამკვირვებლების-მკვეთრი-წინასწარი-შეფასებები/29628549.html

[23] არასამთავრობო ორგანიზაციები: საპრეზიდენტო არჩევნების მეორე ტურის წინ ამომრჩევლების მოსყიდვა ხდებოდა https://jam-news.net/საპრეზიდენტო-არჩევნების/?lang=ka

[24] არასამთავრობოები – ცესკოს გადაწყვეტილება არ ითვალისწინებს საქართველოს მოქალაქეების ინტერესებს https://www.interpressnews.ge/ka/article/521428-arasamtavroboebi-ceskos-gadacqvetileba-ar-itvaliscinebs-sakartvelos-mokalakeebis-interesebs

[25] International election observation mission press conference, 29 November 2018, Tbilisi https://www.facebook.com/osce.odihr/videos/2264573423788554/

Ukraine – Parliament Declares Martial Law

On Monday, November 26th, the Ukrainian parliament approved presidential decree “On Institution of Martial Law in Ukraine.” The measure was passed with 276 votes in favour during an extraordinary session of parliament. The decree was put forward by President Poroshenko on advice of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 23 sailors in Kerch Strait on Sunday.

Before the martial law was approved, the President was forced to compromise on a number of points. First, the initial decree requested that martial law be introduced for 60 days. Lawmakers only agreed to 30 days. It came into effect at 9am on November 28 and will be in place until December 27. Initial proposal also suggested that martial law would be introduced on the entire territory of Ukraine. But per the approved law, it will cover only 10 regions and territories along the Russian boarder, the Sea of Azov and the Black sea.

Second, lawmakers insisted on the relaxation of the proposed limits on the rights and freedoms of citizens. To reassure the citizens, the Parliament voted not to debate the martial law proposal in closed session but instead the debate was televised on national TV. On his website, the President insisted that the decree was proposed mainly as a security measure and assured that he did not intend any restrictions to citizens’ rights. The President also noted that neither partial nor full mobilization was envisioned unless the conflict escalates further.

Finally, during the Parliamentary session, lawmakers demanded assurances that introduction of martial law will not affect the holding of presidential elections early next year. Only 5 minutes after the Parliament voted in favour of martial law, it approved a law officially setting the date of the next presidential election for March 31, 2019.

These recent political events generated two main concerns. First, of course, comes the issue of security, territorial integrity, and independence of Ukraine. Russia has denied any wrong-doing. However, other countries and international organizations have supported Ukraine. During a press conference, NATO’s chief stated that “there is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and military personnel” and demanded that ships and sailors be immediately released. Concerns about what the attack and declaration of martial law could mean for the security in the region are high. President Poroshenko was careful to insist that “martial law does not mean declaring war. It is introduced with the sole purpose of boosting Ukraine’s defense in the light of a growing aggression from Russia.” He also noted that it did not mean that Ukraine either gave up or was not amenable to diplomatic solutions to the crisis, insisting that Ukraine will continue to comply with the Minsk agreement and all other international obligations.

Second, what impact will the introduction of martial law have on the political situation in the country, especially on the upcoming presidential elections? The opposition has accused the President of using martial law to divert public attention from his failing popularity. Some even expressed concerns that martial law will allow the possibility of postponing or cancelling the election complete. According to opinion polls, only 5-10 percent of citizens were ready to vote for him in the last couple of months. Less than 15 percent trusted the President. However, other presidential candidates have similar low levels of support and trust. For instance, 75 percent of those surveys did not trust Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the main candidates running for president next year.

The next couple of months will be critical for Ukraine and its President. On the one hand, it will be important to secure territorial integrity of the country and avoid escalation of the crisis. On the other hand, the President will need to ensure that he keeps his word and that free and fair elections do take place as scheduled on March 31, 2019. In the words of the recent Foreign Policy dispatch: “Martial law is a test. Will Ukraine’s democracy pass?”

DRC – Presidential campaign is on

The presidential campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was launched on Thursday, November 22, one month ahead of the December 23 presidential poll. While the ruling coalition is well prepared and ready for the fight, the opposition is trying to catch up from behind. Months of opposition efforts at uniting behind a single candidate have thus far been unsuccessful.

The United Front for Congo (FCC), the electoral coalition backing President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is indeed united. The FCC has pulled all the stops, including enlisting famed Congolese dancer and singer Tshala Muana to produce a get-out-the vote jingle and music video calling on Congolese to ‘vote vote vote for Shadary, candidate number 13.’ [See previous blog posts relating Kabila’s clever maneuvering to secure support for his chosen contender here and here.] A 564-member campaign team working for Shadary includes sitting Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala and his cabinet, the president of the national assembly, Kabila family members and a number of other well-known Congolese.  The impressive line-up presented at a public ceremony on November 3, is divided into 48 ‘cells’ with representation from all 26 provinces, covering the entire country. Some of the alleged members of the campaign team, like the trainer of the national football team Floribert Ibenge, have complained, however, that their name was added to the roster without their consent. A leading opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, has called the apparent fusion of state and party, with major state institutions at work for the ruling party’s candidate, ‘inacceptable.’

The opposition despite significant efforts, remains divided in two major camps – one backing Fayulu, the other supporting Felix Tshisekedi, son of historical opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who passed away in 2017. For a short 24-hour period it appeared that the leaders of the seven major opposition parties had succeeded in agreeing to support a unity candidate – Martin Fayulu – as the flag bearer of the Lamuka (“wake up” in Lingala and Swahili) coalition. The seven leaders met for three days in Geneva in early November to negotiate an agreement, hosted by the Kofi Annan Foundation. Three of the leaders – Moise Katumbi, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Adolphe Muzito – are excluded from running as candidates, leaving four possible choices: front-runners Felix Tshisekedi (UDPS) and former President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe (UNC); and second tier candidates Fayulu (ECiDé) and Freddy Matungulu (CNB). With 41 seats, the UDPS is the second largest party in the National Assembly of the DRC, after the ruling PPRD, followed in sixth place by the UNC (with 17 seats), while ECiDé (3 seats) and CNB (0 seats) are smaller parties whose leaders have not held prominent positions in Congolese politics. Fayulu is currently a National Assembly deputy, and Matungulu is a former IMF-official who served a two-year stint as minister of finance in the early 2000s.

The method chosen to facilitate a vote among the seven opposition leaders meeting in Geneva, after a consensus candidate did not emerge, had the unexpected consequence of Fayulu’s selection. A two-round vote was held: only the four eligible candidates could vote in the first round, casting two ballots – one for himself and one for one of the other three. None of the four chose to cast his second ballot for his perceived strongest  competitor, resulting in Fayulu and Matungulu getting the most votes and proceeding to the second round – an outcome that should perhaps have been foreseen, taking the likelihood of strategic voting into consideration. On November 11, in the second round, all seven opposition party leaders, including the three banned from running, cast their vote, leading to the selection of Fayulu.

The choice of Fayulu as single candidate for the opposition did not survive the realities of Congolese politics, however. Upon their return to Kinshasa, Tshisekedi and Kamerhe were met by demonstrations by their respective party bases and within 24 hours both withdrew from the Geneva agreement. The two pursued bilateral negotiations, and on Friday November 23, they signed a pact in Nairobi whereby Kamerhe will support Tshisekedi. According to the agreement, should Tshisekedi win, he will appoint Kamerhe as prime minister, and the two would switch places on the presidential ticket in five years time. The detailed deal references also the distribution of key cabinet and other posts.

It is thus likely that three leading candidates will face off in the one-round presidential poll on December 23 – Shadary, Fayulu and Tshisekedi. Of these, Tshisekedi appears best poised to win, according to a recent opinion poll by the Congo Research Group based at the University of New York, whose findings are contested by the ruling party. The poll, conducted in the first half of October, found Tshisekedi to be favored by 36% of voters, followed by Kamerhe at 17% and Shadary close behind at 16%, while Fayulu trailed at 8%. The agreement with Kamerhe further strengthens Tshisekedi’s chances.

The scene is set for a hard fought race. Election observers – many to be deployed by the Catholic Church – and party agents will play an important role in increasing the transparency and credibility of the vote in a context characterized by consistent opposition concerns over the integrity of the voter registry and the reliability of the electronic voting machine introduced by the election commission.

Czech Presidential Politics in the Fall of 2018

There are two essential factors which facilitate understanding of the real power of Czech presidents and which make them relatively weak in relation to the government or parliament. First, none of them has managed to create a solid and strong party backing in the parliament.  This holds true also for Miloš Zeman, who has repeatedly attempted (and failed) to form a presidential party.[1] Thus, the October municipal and Senate elections[2] and their results had no specific and direct consequences for President Zeman. Second, the Czech president is endowed with few significant powers. Probably the most important one is the power to appoint the Prime Minister and, on the basis of his proposal, other members of government[3]. Hence, once the second cabinet led by Andrej Babiš had been appointed in July 2018, President Zeman had a much smaller influence on Czech governmental as well as parliamentary politics.

Despite these stable features of the Czech democratic regime, Miloš Zeman has constantly been able to create a stir in the Czech politics, an ability attributed to him both by his supporters and critics. First, even though Babiš’ cabinet was appointed and won a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, the President kept influencing the cabinet’s composition, blocking Miroslav Poche, the Social Democratic (the junior coalition partner’s) nominee for the position of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Poche was refused by Zeman, officially because of the former’s positive stance to EU migration quotas. However, there were rumors that other reasons might have played a role in the rejection. For example, Poche supported Zeman’s rival, Jiří Drahoš, in the 2018 presidential contest. In addition, Zeman’s move was a tool to humiliate and weaken the Social Democratic party[4].

Be it as it may, Prime Minister Babiš did not insist on Poche, as he did not want to risk a conflict with President Zeman. As a result, the Social Democrats tacitly gave in and nominated another person – Tomáš Petříček. This was a surprising choice, because Petříček was Poche’s assistant without much political experience. Thus, only after three months, Czech political elites managed to provide a full-time leader for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Until that time, the ČSSD’s leader, and minister of the interior, Jan Hamáček had been in temporary charge.

Second, seeking his own foreign policy, to a large extent independently of the cabinet, President Zeman has made many other politicians uneasy. Zeman kept emphasizing an orientation to the East, notably to Russia and China, promoting “economic diplomacy” over human rights issues (the one-time the flagship of Czech foreign policy). This policy is to a certain extent consistent with Zeman’s predecessor, Václav Klaus, but is in stark contrast to Václav Havel, who is widely remembered as a vociferous advocate of human rights anywhere on the globe. Despite the fact that occasionally presidents and governments clashed over foreign policy issues, the major pillars of the Czech foreign policy of the 1990s were clear and major political representatives were consistent in supporting them: pro-Western, pro-EU orientation as well as promoting human rights issues. However, these pillars of the Czech foreign policy have been undermined by practical steps taken by both branches of the Czech executive over the last decade or so. Miloš Zeman is one of the most influential proponents of Russian interests in Europe, for example, advocating Russia’s position towards the affair of poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, calling for lifting anti-Russia sanctions, supporting the Russian state corporation, Rosatom, and its effort to win a tender to  enlarge the Czech nuclear power plants.

Whereas Zeman has rarely been accepted by Western political leaders, he has repeatedly visited Russia. Zeman has also been to China four times, meeting top Chinese leaders, supporting their idea of reviving the Silk Road. It seems that this clear Eastern orientation, legitimizing authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere, is not sufficiently balanced by other Czech foreign policy makers, some of whom take a similar position, whereas others are pragmatic and lack any orientation in foreign policy issues (such as Andrej Babiš). All in all, Czech foreign policy has been incomprehensible, especially vis-á-vis the EU. Thus, the person of the Minister of Foreign Affairs proves to be of key importance for the future of Czech foreign policy and its major goals, notably in the era of great debates on the future of the EU following Brexit.

Tomáš Petříček outlined the goals of his efforts as follows: “I would like to clearly delineate our country’s position in the European Union and the wider transatlantic area. Our core priorities are that our foreign policy has continuity, that it is consensual and that it is coherent.” This position was probably a reaction to varying standpoints on Czech foreign policy. This lack of consensus was visible within the executive over the past year and which made the Czech foreign policy unclear. As far as the migration crisis is concerned, Petříček adopted a very similar stance to Prime Minister Babiš: instead of letting refugees come to Europe, Petříček claims that migrants should be supported in their countries of origin: “We can do more in countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to help refugees and improve their living conditions in refugee camps. Our target should be to stabilize the countries they are fleeing in order to ensure they can stay in their home countries.”

In general, the appointment of Tomáš Petříček as the Minister of Foreign Affairs was a clear disappointment for many observers, because Petříček is an inexperienced minister whose views on foreign policy had not been known in public before he became the Minister. Petříček’s efforts to take the initiative as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and set the agenda will probably be very difficult given his lack of experience, lack of political authority, lack of authority of his own party (which is also divided on key foreign policy issues) and also with regard to the assertive position of Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš, the two dominant figures in Czech politics and who are likely to outshine Petříček in Czech foreign policy.

Third, the Czech Republic celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Czechoslovak state, which was established in 1918. The celebrations and various public events commemorating the ups and downs of the Czechoslovak and Czech state peaked with the traditional state decorations ceremony at Prague Castle. This was a special moment to award distinguished citizens, historical figures (honored in memoriam), artists, sportsmen and like. The ceremony was tainted by a bitter dispute between president Zeman and his opponents. This dispute dates back to origins of Zeman’s presidency when he came into conflict with various people, notably with academics and presidents of several Czech universities who were not invited to the state decorations ceremony. In addition, a few leading political figures were not invited either, whereas others rejected to attend the ceremony in protest against – what they labeled as – a private Zeman party. The dispute was also accompanied by a critique of persons who were decorated. Besides uncontroversial personalities (such as anti-Nazi fighters or Olympic gold medalists), critics reproached President Zeman for decorating his close friends, people who collaborated with the Communist secret police, or controversial businesspeople.

It is highly unlikely that Miloš Zeman will cease to be a provocative and controversial politician, constantly attracting media attention and giving cause to anger. On the other hand, the Czech presidents are generally trusted political figures. Even Miloš Zeman, who has always been a polarizing figure in Czech society, enjoys support/trust of about half of the Czech population, much more than the government or parliamentary chambers (but less than mayors or local governments)[5]. More than four years remain until the end of his second presidential mandate. Only health problems, which the media often speculate about, may become an effective stop to his political style.

 Notes

[1] For details see Brunclík, Miloš, and Michal Kubát. 2018. Semi-presidentialism, Parliamentarism and Presidents: Presidential Politics in Central Europe. London and New York: Routledge.

[2] Several Zeman’s rivals from the 2018 presidential contest were elected senators, such as Jiří Drahoš, Pavel Fischer or Marek Hilšer.

[3] Art. 68 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic

[4] Zeman was once the party’s chairman and even prime minister between 1998 and 2002. However, since a significant portion of social democratic MPs did not support Zeman in the 2003 presidential elections, Zeman’s relationship to his party changed for the worse and this event has plagued their relationship since then.

[5] Červenka, Jan. 2018. Confidence in constitutional institutions and satisfaction with the political situation. October 2018. Praha: CVVM. (Full text is available in Czech only).

Magna Inácio – The 2018 Presidential Elections in Brazil: A Turning Point?

A far-right president, Bolsonaro, was elected in Brazil, propelling the most radical political shift in Brazilian politics since the redemocratization. In the runoff election, Bolsonaro secured 55.8 million votes (or 55%), a 10% margin of victory ahead the leftist candidate, Haddad.

The former army captain, Bolsonaro, successfully turned himself into the mouthpiece of the politically dissatisfied. Under the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone”, his strident rhetoric echoed nationalistic, conservative and identity-based issues against corruption, crime, and moral crisis. To broaden his electoral appeal, he won over markets by pledging a deep policy shift toward market-friendly reforms under the charge of his ultra-liberal economic advisor, the would-be minister of finance. Even without clear proposals, and by means of contradictory signs, he successfully packaged all the issues into a promise of an alternative government, expressing not only a rejection of leftist administrations headed by PT, the presidential party for 13 years, but of the whole political system. Branding himself an outsider, Bolsonaro spiced up his anti-establishment appeals with controversial remarks about basic democratic tenets. His statements signalled little tolerance for political opponents and activists, and his proposal to change the Constitution raised concerns of authoritarian threads put forth by his government.

The exceptionality of this presidential election partially explains the electoral success of Bolsonaro, a backbench deputy, nominated as a presidential candidate by a small party and managing limited campaign resources. This election had a frontrunner candidate, former president Lula, deemed ineligible by the electoral courts due to his conviction for corruption crimes. At the same point of the campaign, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally and campaigned from his hospital bed and from his home until Election Day. The commotion caused by this violent event restrained his rivals’ negative ads against his electoral platform and political discourses. He did not take part in TV debates with other candidates, a contest highly valued by Brazilian voters. Instead, he broadcast himself extensively using social media and, at the same time, he blocked his running mate and economic adviser from taking a public position on sensitive issues of his electoral platform. In addition, the electoral process was heavily poisoned by misinformation, rumors and fake news disseminated through social media by campaigners and extremist supporters.

But, is this only an exceptional election, or a turning point in Brazilian politics? We are probably witnessing a more radical change than occurred with the first victory of a leftist party at the presidential level in 2002. This is signaled not only by Bolsonaro’s profile and his path to the presidential seat. He is the most visible face in this process. Other electoral effects reveal a shift far beyond that.

First, the political polarization has assumed a centrifugal dynamic in this election. The political divide evolved into voter fury against the political establishment, mainly the most presidentialized parties. These anti-system feelings and strong rejection of established parties has spread to legislative and subnational races. Electorally, it boosted the Bolsonaro candidacy, but also changed the face of the legislative branch. The electoral volatility showed a considerable transfer of votes to right-wing parties. Although Bolsonaro´s party was the most rewarded, several small parties also gained seats. The seat-shares of the centrist parties reduced considerably, raising concerns about their pivotal roles in moderating legislative decisions in the next legislature. On the left side, parties maintained their legislative strengths, given the coattail effects of their presidential candidates, ending the presidential race in the second and third positions. However, it shadows the future of a stronger, united opposition to Bolsonaro’s government.

It led to a second consequence, a higher legislative fragmentation. The effective numbers of the parties (EFN) was raised to 16.5 and 13.5, in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, respectively. It showed not only changes in the interparty competition within the congress. The anti-establishment feelings also triggered a tsunami of legislative turnover, skyrocketing to 52% and 48% of legislators in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate, respectively. It greatly benefited conservative outsiders and freshmen candidates, mostly affiliated with right-wing parties. The conservative-leaning seat-shares has increased considerably with the election of religious-minded and military deputies. However, it is still not clear how aligned they are with the liberal reforms in the economic policy area. Thus, the next congress will be not only more fragmented, but also populated by cross-pressured legislators.

It raises the cost of forming political majorities, even if the president decides to walk away from coalitional presidentialism and govern through ad hoc coalitions. Thus, the expectations that 2018 elections would foster the conditions to overcome five years of political and economic turmoil in Brazil seems to be unrealistic.

Georgia – Presidential election: First-round results and expectations for the second round

The last direct presidential election in Georgia before the constitutional change to indirect election was held on October 28. The presidency will be weakened following last year’s constitutional amendments. However, the battle for the presidency has still been intense.

A large number of candidates contested the presidential election, but the results of the first round showed that the main fight was between the so-called Independent Candidate but, in effect, the candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Salome Zourabichvili, and Grigol Vashadze, who was nominated by the United National Movement. Despite claims by the ruling party that its candidate had won at the first round, the Central Election Commission confirmed that a second round would be needed. In the end, the Central Election Commission announced that Salome Zurabishvili had won 38.64% in the first round and Grigol Vashadze 37.74%. Davit Bakradze from the European Union came third with 10.97%.

source: Photo from https://on.ge/elections/2018/results

These results were somewhat unexpected for the ruling party. However, confidence in Georgian Dream is very low as the country’s socio-economic situation has deteriorated significantly and citizens are dissatisfied with the government’s activity. If we look at the election results, we see that just 46.74% of the electorate participated in the elections. The outcome of the election is a protest against the policies of the ruling party. For example, Zourabichvili’s statements regarding relations with Russia and the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 were not supported by a large part of society. Most voters supported pro-Western political parties. In addition, Georgian Dream lost support because they did not have a candidate from their own party. The general secretary of the party said that citizens sent us a message that many things in the country need to be replaced, quickly and efficiently, and taking into consideration the interests of each citizen.[10] However, Gedevan Popkhadze, a member of the parliamentary majority said that if Grigol Vashadze were to win the presidential election, this would be a real step towards the beginning of the civil war.

The second round will be very tense as the opposition candidate has a real chance to win. At the same time, though, Georgian Dream will need to persuade those voters who did not come to the polls to vote at the second round and support their candidate. It is equally important for the opposition forces to support each other. The European Union’s candidate, Davit Bakradze, said that he would support Grigol Vashadze. He was also supported by the Republican Party, which did not have its own candidate in the presidential election. Zurab Japaridze, the presidential candidate of Girchy, said that he would vote for Grigol Vashadze in the second round. The candidate of the Labor Party will not support any candidate. The leader of the Free Democrats, Levan Samushia, called on voters to choose Grigol Vashadze. The Patriots Alliance announced that they and the government are “natural partners” and that they will support Salome Zourabichvili. [1]

One of the nationalist groups, “Georgian Mars”, said that the Georgian Dream needed to take two steps to get their support: announce that there will be no marijuana cultivation law and early parliamentary elections. [2] The position of the Georgian Orthodox Church is important in the elections. The Catholic Patriarch of Georgia met with representatives of the Georgian Dream and then the candidate of the United Opposition Grigol Vashadze. The candidate of the United Opposition said at the meeting with the Patriarch of the meeting that the second round should be held in a democratic environment without any insult and confrontation. [3]

Everybody knows that the fight in this election is not just for a presidential post whose power is formally restricted and whose deliberate weakening and discrediting has been carried out by Georgian Dream since 2013. In the second round, voters will have to make a difficult decision. On the one hand, confidence in the ruling party is very low. On the other hand, the government is threatening voters that if they support the opposition, former President Saakashvili and his government will return to Georgia. One thing is clear. The division of power today is essential and the victory of the opposition candidate in the presidential election will be more useful for the country’s future democratic development.

Notes

[1] ვინ ვის (არ) დაუჭერს მხარს II ტურში  http://netgazeti.ge/news/315636/

[2] ქართული-მარში-მეორე-ტურში-ზურაბიშვილის-მხარდაჭერისთვის-ოცნებას-მოთხოვნებს-უყენებს https://on.ge/story/29685

[3] https://1tv.ge/news/grigol-vashadze-patriarqtan-shekhvedraze-visaubrebt-rom-meore-turi-mshvid-demokratiul-garemoshi-sheurackhyofebisa-da-dapirispirebebis-gareshe-unda-chatardes/