A tale of two curry-leaf trees

When I planted our older, potted, curry leaf tree last summer, I thought where I was putting it would be protected and that the tree would do better in its new ground location than where it had been growing in the pot. Apparently not.

That is it, in a spot protected by taller trees and a fence, with only a few leaves on it in early February. (It is an evergreen, but will drop leaves in response to sharp cold snaps.) Meanwhile, an offspring of the tree, growing next to a different fence where the parent used to be, looks great.

Sometimes plants really surprise me. The potted one looked pretty unhappy its first winter at the location when we had some significant cold snaps. But the offspring has shown no leaf loss this winter, even though we’ve had a couple of periods of temperatures in the high 20s.

Both should be fine–the transplanted one gets less sun this time of year but will get plenty as we get farther into spring and summer. And it shows no major stress, even if it has few leaves at this point. In fact, with another cold snap coming, it may be better off than its offspring on account of being somewhat dormant.

Spring 2018. Or is it winter?

Sometimes in a climate like this one, the seasons kind of mash together. It was an unusually warm January, and some trees are in bloom now. Yet this morning the temperature was 30F and there were ice crystals on the grass.

First blossom one one of our almond trees–8 Feb.

The Flavor Delight aprium is in bloom, 11 Feb.

The blooming is not early, despite the January warmth. The almond depicted above usually has its first bloom around the same date in February: the 12th in 2017, 6th in 2016, 3rd in 2015. The Flavor Delight likewise tends to have its first several blossoms open around now: 14th in 2017,  7th in 2016, 15th in 2015.

What is somewhat more unusual is below-freezing temperatures at this time of year. (I am sure they were common at this point in February decades ago, but not recently.) The latest date of a below-freezing temperature in 2017 was 25 Dec. (29F, though it was 32 on 24 Feb.), in 2016 2 Jan., in 2015 3 Jan, and in 2014 5 Feb. And the current forecast calls for a few days of low temperatures in the 20s and 30s. This could be bad for pollination of the trees in bloom and for tender young leaf growth on the citrus and some other trees.

That is the nature of a Mediterranean climate–“spring” begins in early February, but winter can keep hanging on.

South Africa: No confidence vote looming?

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa is attempting to get President Jacob Zuma to resign. Media coverage of this (such as a BBC story from 5 Feb.) too often implies that this is a “normal” presidency with a fixed term. However, despite the title, as far as executive survival in office is concerned, South Africa’s head of government is a prime minister. He can be removed by a vote of no confidence.

See the Constitution of South Africa, Article 102(2):

If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the President, the President and the other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.

It could hardly be more clear than that. So if the ANC (which has far more than a majority of assembly seas) wants Zuma out, there’s no question how this will end. Zuma may have his own reasons to want to make the party go through the spectacle of a no-confidence vote, rather than step down “voluntarily”, but he does indeed serve at their pleasure.

It is also not as if is unusual in parliamentary systems for parties to replace their leader and the prime minister before an election. In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I show that roughly a third of PMs in parliamentary democracies lose office by an intra-party procedure (rather than by losing a general election or leading a coalition that collapses). We did not note the timing of such removals relative to elections, but there is little doubt that many of the party-initiated removals take place closer to the next election than the preceding one. (In most such systems, the election can be called early on initiative of the new PM. The South African constitution also has a provision for early election, at the initiative of the assembly majority itself–Art. 50.)

Already this past December the ANC’s convention narrowly voted to elect Cyril Ramaphosa as head of the party (over Zuma’s ex-wife). He will lead the party in the campaign for the general election of 2019, whether or not Zuma is still president at the time.

A key difference in South Africa, compared to most other parliamentary systems, is that the prime minister is also the head of state–hence the title, President. In fact, other constitutional provisions in South Africa seem lifted from an actual presidential system (i.e., one in which the head of government is popularly elected for a fixed term). For instance, Article 89 has a provision for impeachment:

  1. The National Assembly, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members, may remove the President from office only on the grounds of ­

a. a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;

b. serious misconduct; or

c. inability to perform the functions of office.

It is hard to imagine what this is doing in a parliamentary constitution! If, like most parliamentary republics, the head of state (“President”) and the head of government (“Prime Minister”) were separate persons, the presence of both provisions quoted here would make sense. But what purpose does an impeachment clause, requiring a super majority, have in a constitution that lets the assembly remove the combined president/PM by a much simpler procedure?

The pressure is ramping up, the State of the Nation speech has been postponed, and the rumors are running rampant ahead of a special meeting of the NEC. The party leadership body could “recall” him in a manner similar to how Thabo Mbeki’s term ended early in 2008. However, that is a party procedure with no legal standing and thus would not be binding on the President.

Will he resign, or will the ANC need to invoke Art. 102?


Costa Rica first round and Cyprus runoff

Today Costa Rica has held the first round of its presidential election, along with concurrent elections for congress. Cyprus has held the runoff of its presidential election.

Costa Rica has used a variant of “qualified plurality” to elect its presidents since the current democratic regime was established in 1949. The first round is decisive if the leading candidate has over 40% of the vote. Otherwise there is a runoff between the top two. No runoff was ever required until 2002 (when the leading candidate had 38.6%). In 2006, a runoff was narrowly averted when the leader got 40.9% (with a runner-up right behind, at 39.8%). A runoff was required in the most recent election before today’s, in 2014 (although the second candidate threw in the towel before the runoff).

Opinion polls collected at a Wikipedia article show that this year’s first-round contest is too close to call, with at least three candidates closely separated.

In a live blog at Tico Times, the following observation is made (7:30 p.m. entry):

Will this unusual election, when, as our columnist Alvaro Murillo has pointed out, a candidate’s party identity has become all but irrelevant, mark the end not only of the 20th century’s bipartisan system but also of remaining loyalty to the traditional National Liberation Party? Have national divisions been redrawn along the lines of social issues such as abortion and gay marriage?Will the chaotic campaign have driven voter turnout even further down…

The decline of partisanship is perhaps indeed something recent for Costa Rica, but the “two-party” system seems to have ended a while ago. Hence the frequent need for runoffs after decades of never having one. Already in 2014, I commented on the country’s “record fragmentation”. Moreover, it was the National Liberation Party candidate who decided in 2006 that his runoff chances were too weak to remain in the race.

In Cyprus, incumbent president Nicos Anastasiades of the Democratic Rally (DISY) has been reelected. The first round featured three candidates within a range of 25% to just over 35%. This may have been a case in which the runoff pairing affected the ultimate result, although I certainly do not know enough about Cypriot politics to say if that is plausible or not. (Cyprus uses the more common majority-runoff formula.)

Unlike Costa Rica, Cyprus has non-concurrent elections. The latest assembly elections were in 2016, and DISY won 18 of the 56 seats. (Next election is not till 2021.)

Like Costa Rica, Cyprus is a pure presidential system. I wish I knew more about how presidents govern in Cyprus with that level of partisan fragmentation. For that matter, I wish I knew more about what governance has been like in Costa Rica with the high fragmentation of the past four years. It is likely that whichever candidate is eventually elected president of Costa Rica this year also will face a highly fragmented congress.

Colombia’s upcoming counter-honeymoon election and coalition presidential primaries

Colombia will have its congressional elections in March, followed by the first round of the presidential election in May. A story in El Tiempo (in Spanish) correctly notes that the congressional election will be critical for helping simplify the currently large field of candidates for the presidency:

Las elecciones para Congreso, del 11 de marzo, pueden ser claves en lo que tiene que ver con la campaña a la presidencia.

Loosely translated, the 11 March elections for Congress can be key to the presidential campaign.

I define a counter-honeymoon election as one late in the president’s term. The time within a term is a continuous variable, which can be scored as 0 when it is concurrent (same time as the president) and approaching 1.0 the closer it is to the next presidential election. This is how Taagepera and I define “term time” in Votes from Seats (2017). There’s no hard cutoff at which the election enters the category, counter-honeymoon, but 0.75 is a good approximation.

Colombia’s congressional elections come at at term time greater than 0.9, and thus are among the best examples of the phenomenon. And the term lengths for president and congress are the same (4 years) so, with rare exceptions, Colombia has only counter-honeymoon elections, unlike some countries that have a mix of different elapsed times at which elections can occur, due to different term lengths or provisions allowing dissolution.

In addition to the congressional elections, Colombia holds presidential primaries (consultas) also on the same date in March. Primaries are not required, but several parties use them. This time there are also pre-election coalitions of parties that are using primaries to decide on a joint candidacy for the first round. So, obviously these will affect the congressional elections–but also vice versa. Some of the parties entering such coalitions are stronger in some regions than in others, and will use their party organizations not only for the legislative elections but also to try to push their preferred candidate in the primary.

Chile has had coalitional presidential primaries (for the Concertación) and Colombia has had party presidential primaries concurrent with assembly elections. But I think this upcoming election season in Colombia might be the first time anywhere that coalitional primaries and assembly elections have been concurrent.

(Thanks to Steven Taylor, off-blog, for calling my attention to the article, and for thoughts on the coalitional presidential primaries.)



I am happy to report that I finally got around to having the old domain map to this one. From now, it should work to use http://fruitsandvotes.com and get here. For the past however long, using the old URL would take you to an error page.

The old post-specific links still won’t work, because of the difference in how URLs form the old hosted site (numbers) and the current Word Press site (title words). But at least it no longer will look as if the blog is dead, as must have been the case to many folks stumbling upon an old URL and trying it out.

Down with the State of the Union

Transplanted here from 2012 (and perviously from 2008 and originally from 2006, with many comments from the the original and subsequent years; links may suffer from linkrot after all these years.)

Something over at PoliBlog reminded me of why I pay no attention to the State of the Union address: It’s a worst-of-both-worlds form of political communication: All the pomp of a Speech from the Throne without any of the give-and-take of Question Period.

Steven takes issue with Lewis Gould’s characterization, from an essay called Ban the Bombast!:

More like an acceptance speech at a national convention than a candid review of the nation’s situation at the outset of a new year, the State of the Union has evolved into a semi-imperial speech from the throne.

Steven suggests that Gould’s “throne” characterization implies the president always get what he wants. Rather, for me, the reference reminds me precisely of what is wrong with the State of the Union address: It is not like a real throne speech at all.

“Speech from the throne” is the term used (with certain variations) in Westminister parliamentary systems. The head of state reads a statement about what “my government…” will do in the coming year. Then once it, and the dignity of the Queen (or her representative in Canada and other Commonwealth Realms) pretending that the government speaks for everyone, is over, things go back to normal. And that normal involves the head of government being hissed and booed and subjected to harsh questions in parliament.

In this respect, the State of the Union is really the worst of both worlds. The head of state stands before the people’s representatives (oh, and the senators, too) and delivers something allegedly about the nation as a whole. But then, as head of government–and therefore a partisan leader–he (i.e. the same person, unlike in Westminster systems) never sticks around to answer tough questions and subject himself to ridicule for the absurdities he has just mouthed. Instead, the opposition has to send someone to a TV/radio studio to give an equally absurd speech that hardly anyone listens to, and thus an opportunity for the sides to engage each other when people actually are paying attention is squandered.

I say dump the whole thing and in its place:

    • (1) go back to the head of state being kept off the floor of the separate legislative body and instead have him send a written message to congress


(2) have the head of government stick around after presenting his plans and spin and make him take questions–preferably weekly, as in Canada and the UK.

That is, keep true to the separation of powers by dumping the image of dignity and superiority that its one-way communication from the “throne” of Congress implies, or make the President jostle and spar with the very same representatives of the people he’s speaking before.