Election order in emerging democracies

Marc Lynch:

I’m uneasy about the proposed Egyptian election schedule — I would prefer to see elections to a caretaker President first, then Constitutional reforms and finally Parliamentary elections — but I’m encouraged by the continuing forward momentum.

This seems like an odd preference to me. I can’t think of a single case anywhere in which there was a “caretaker” president elected as the first stage of a transition to elected government. In fact, I do not know if there could be such a thing as an elected president who was a mere caretaker. As soon as a president is elected, he is democratically legitimated, for better or worse. And constrained by what, if there is not yet a new constitutional framework–or even a legislature–in place?

It seems far better to elect a constituent assembly, which would also serve as an interim legislature, first. Or, as in some transitions, for the provisional (and thus still authoritarian) government to promulgate a new constitution (preferably with as wide a consultative process as possible), followed by legislative and, depending on the constitutional form, presidential elections. But electing only a president before a democratic constitution is in place seems suboptimal to me, as well as rare (if not unprecedented).

13 thoughts on “Election order in emerging democracies

  1. I think the Lynch model was last tried when M Cornelius Sulla was appointed dictator ad legibus scribundum. I am not sure Sulla is quite the example you are looking for.

  2. I’m not sure exactly what Lynch is thinking, but there are some reasons to prefer an interim president. One could easily imagine Egypt going through the entire constitutional assembly process, followed by the election of a military-backed president who proceeds to mostly ignore the constitution and legislature. Electing an interim president without a military background might reassure Egyptians that reform will be meaningful.

  3. Vasi, why is an election to pick an interim president less likely to elect someone back by the military, than an election to pick a “real” president after the adoption of a new constitution?

  4. Bob, it’s not, it’s just sooner. Before everyone’s put the time and effort into creating a new constitution; before the current opposition has committed itself to the new regime; and before the communal spirit subsides.

  5. There is the Romanian example of holding elections quickly for a president and a constituent assembly, both for just two-year terms. That is the only case I have thought of where an “interim” president was elected. But note that there was also an assembly elected at the same time, whereas Lynch is suggesting only a president, initially. I can’t think of any case where this has been done, and as I said above, it seems like a bad idea.

    Also note that Romania’s early post-“revolutionary” election is a prime example of an election held so quickly that the opposition was not yet sufficiently organized to participate effectively. (The winner was Jan Iliescu of the National Salvation Front, which was made up mainly of ex-regime officials. He and his party also won re-election two years later, but with a sharply reduced vote share.)

  6. @Vasi

    Sulla indeed retired of his own accord (and made somewhat of a song and dance about how virtuous he was being) but only after seizing power by force, slaughtering thousands of his opponents, rewriting the constitution to entrench his party in power forever and giving all future tyrants the first example of dirty war as a way to deal with your opposition.

  7. Not sure where this would fit, bit do Michigan and Wisconsin perhaps tell us there is a case for a confirmation vote 6 months or a year after an executive is first elected? In many jobs you are on probation for the first 6 months to a year when you get made permanent.

  8. And how should such a Constituent Assembly be elected?

    Even Charles de Gaulle in 1945 went for List-PR… (closed list, d’Hondt, districts=départements)

  9. I think most constituent assemblies in recent decades have been elected by fairly “permissive” electoral rules, with the exception of some that were simply rigged by a sitting government (e.g. Venezuela’s most recent experience).

    As I said in my remarks on Tunisia a few days earlier, I think it should be highly proportional PR (and I meant list PR of some sort, although I suppose in some settings a case could be made for STV).

  10. It looks like Yemen is trying some version of the Lynch plan.

    The president “elected” today (only one candidate) is supposed to serve for just two years. If there were also legislative elections, the news coverage has ignored them (entirely possible, I suppose).

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