GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

I was wrong about Yanukovych

If Yanukovych wanted to have any chance of staying on as president, he would have had to follow Friday’s agreement by shoring up his support in parliament and ensuring that he had the government security forces behind him. He would have had to maintain communication with the opposition leaders to ensure that they remained committed to the agreement and to show that he was following through on his commitments. There’s no guarantee that he would have succeeded in these things, but they were necessary for him to have a chance at continuing.

Instead he left Kiev and went to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city and a center of support for his presidency. In his absence, there have been enough defections from his party in parliament that the opposition is effectively in control. Parliament has freed Tymoshenko from prison, allowing her to replace Yatseniuk, a capable but less charismatic politician, as the direct leader of her party, the largest party in the opposition. With Yanukovych absent and without a prime minister, the effective head of government is the speaker of the parliament. Parliament has just replaced the pro-Yanukovych speaker with an ally of Tymoshenko.

Yanukovych can’t maintain power without the support of the security forces. The anti-riot police are exhausted after their unsuccessful attempts to seize Independence Square from the Maidan protesters. Their failure and Yanukovych’s absence has probably left them demoralized. Their top commander has gone before parliament and announced that they will not oppose the “people”, meaning the protesters. The Interior Minister, who controls the anti-riot police, has been replaced with an opposition figure. The police in general have disappeared from Kiev. Parliament is being guarded by Maidan self-defense groups, who are also guarding the presidential offices and residence to prevent looting. In other words, civil order is now being guaranteed by the protesters rather than the police, and the protesters seem to be well disciplined and effective. (A BBC producer tweeted that a protester guarding the president’s residence warned him not to step on the grass. The Maidan self-defense forces are on the job!)

If Yanukovych is to recover power at this point, it would have to be through a military counter-coup. But the head of the paratroopers and the head of military intelligence have both joined the head of the anti-riot police in pledging not to oppose the “people”, and the willingness of the military to act against the protesters was always in doubt anyway.

Yanukovych needed the the opposition leaders who signed the agreement with him to remain committed to the agreement and to sell it to the protesters. But Yanukovych’s inaction has lead Yatseniuk to call for his resignation and Klitschko to call for elections by May 25. As the opposition gains power, the agreement that gave Yanukovych whatever chance he had of hanging on to power a little longer has been discarded.

Opposition to the Maidan protesters is strongest in the east and south of Ukraine, where the protesters are viewed as “fascists”, among other things. But in Kharkiv, where pro-Yanukovych politicians are gathering to support the president, news reports have anti-government protesters gathering in the thousands, with pro-government protesters numbering in the hundreds. The police, who recently were beating anti-government protesters, are now protecting them from the pro-government protesters. Even the Crimea, essentially a Russian enclave within Ukraine, is divided between pro-Maidan Tartars and separatist pro-Russian groups.


As I was writing this, BBC reported that “Ukraine’s parliament has voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych and set elections for 25 May.” The Ukrainian constitution requires a presidential impeachment process that starts with parliament creating an ad hoc commission to investigate charges. The commissions recommendations have to be accepted by two thirds of the parliament and reviewed by the Constitutional Court. Then and only then can the president be removed by a three-fourths majority in the parliament. Since this procedure hasn’t been followed, Yanudovych’s removal is unconstitutional.

ICTV has broadcast a message from Yanukovych calling events in Kiev “vandalism, banditry and a coup.” There have been no reports of vandalism or banditry, but a democratically elected president is being removed without following constitutionally mandated procedures. That probably counts as a coup. During the three months of the crisis, I don’t recall any opinion surveys that showed a majority in favor of removing Yanukovych. A large part of the population will view his removal with horror. In spite of their rhetoric, the Maidan protesters are not “the people”. The Ukrainian people are badly divided and the new government will have its work cut out for it establishing its legitimacy and persuading the population that it represents all of Ukraine and not just an anti-Yanukovych faction that has seized control of the capital.

EU/US sanctions

Will either the EU or the US impose more sanctions on members of Ukraine’s government before 10 May?

The forces opposed to each other in Ukraine are about evenly matched, and neither side can win. The Maidan protesters seem to be unwilling to give up their demand that Yanukovych step down, and Yanukovych is willing to talk about new elections, but seems unwilling to commit himself to them. There doesn’t seem to be much possibility of an agreement that would end the crisis.

Over the course of roughly three months, Yanukovych has displayed a pattern of alternating half-hearted attempts to negotiate with half-hearted attempts to suppress the protests with force. The negotiation attempts have failed, and the unsuccessful suppression attempts have gained the protesters new supporters, made them more intransigent, and prolonged the crisis.

The actual leaders of the protesters are more operational organizers than strategic planners. They’ve organized self-protection groups, food supplies, medical care, and the other things necessary for the protests to continue day to day. But their strategy is to continue the protests until Yanukovych steps down. The politicians who are capable of forming alliances with other parts of Ukrainian society and understanding what compromises have to be made to reach their goals are not in control. The Maidan acts and the leaders of the political opposition have to make the best of it, effectively undercutting any strategic behavior on their part.

Unless Yanukovych suddenly develops the ability to make painful commitments and carry them out, or the Maidan protesters suddenly acquire a leadership capable of strategic thinking and making compromises, the crisis is going to continue for a while. There will be new episodes of violence and the EU and/or the US will impose more sanctions.

While I was writing this, the New York Times reported that Yanukovych and the political opposition leaders have reached an agreement that includes a return to the 2004 constitution and early elections in December. A council representing the Maidan protesters voted 34-2 in favor of the agreement. Yanukovych may follow through with the agreement if he believes that he can rebuild his support by December and win an election. Reversion to the 2004 constitution reverses the changes made during Yanukovych’s presidency that gave him more power. Having acquired the extra power during the course of one presidency, he may believe that he can re-acquire the power during a second presidency.

On the other hand, the members of the Maidan council that voted for the agreement, along with the opposition leaders, are going to have to persuade the protesters to accept the agreement. That’s going to be difficult. Furthermore, Russia has refused to sign off on the agreement and appears to be opposed to it. Ukraine desperately needs a multi-billion dollar loan and Yanukovych is unwilling to meet the IMF’s terms, which leaves Russia as the only possible lender. That gives Putin a lot of leverage if he wants to undermine the agreement.

Until both sides have fully committed themselves to the agreement, I’m expecting the crisis to continue and forecasting more sanctions. But I’m happy to say that I’m making that forecast with less confidence.

Will Yanukovych exit the Ukrainian presidency before 10 May?

I see three ways Yanukovych could vacate the presidency before 10 May:
1) He could lose a snap election
2) The oligarchs (big business owners) could pressure him into resigning.
3) He could lose his support base in the south and east.

Yanukovych still retains enough power that there isn’t going to be an election before 10 May unless he agrees to it. If he did agree to a snap presidential election, he would probably lose. According to a recent survey, he would get roughly 30% of the vote in the first round of voting. That’s more than any of the candidates of the splintered opposition, but not enough to win. In the second round of voting, he would be facing only one opponent. The survey shows him losing by a large margin, regardless of who his opponent was. Against any of the major opposition figures, he would get 36%-46% of the vote, while the survey shows possible opponents getting 54%-64%. The survey was conducted between 24 Jan and 1 Feb, and the results released around 7 Feb.[1] Up until roughly 4 Feb, the president and members of his party were talking about holding early presidential elections, but on 3 Feb they started rejecting the idea[2], and after around 7 Feb I can’t find any news reports of the president or his party considering early elections. Within the last week, the EU has publicly called for early presidential elections,[3] but Yanukovych hasn’t responded.

After Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential elections, his government brought criminal charges against her that are widely viewed as politically motivated.[4] Having established the principle that you imprison your opponent after defeating them in an election, and having resisted strong international pressure to release her, he’s not eager to lose an election himself, particularly when the biggest opposition party is still the party founded and lead by Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko herself is known to hold a grudge and to use the power of office to settle scores.[5]

A further reason for avoiding an election that would likely be won by the opposition is the fact that people who are likely to defeat him are in favor of joining the EU. In order to join, Ukraine would have to make its courts independent of the government. Croatia reformed its courts when it joined the EU, and one of the results of this is that the prime minister largely responsible for bringing Croatia into the EU was later convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. In Ukraine, Yanukovych is thought to be afraid of being arrested if he vacates the presidency.[6]

The odds of the oligarchs pressuring Yanukovych into resigning are low. Yanukovych is still powerful and individuals who oppose him risk retaliation, even among the oligarchs. His family is corrupt and has made enemies by forcing the sale of businesses at below market prices, but the victims have been less wealthy than the oligarchs who command political power.[5] The victims are millionaires, not billionaires. In isolated cases, individual oligarchs have used the blocs of parliamentary delegates they control to oppose the government, but this happens when their business interests are threatened. In almost all cases, they use political power to support their businesses rather than to further ideological goals, and this usually means supporting the government.[5][7]

Yanukovych is a Russian speaker who didn’t learn to speak Ukrainian until he was in his 50s. His political opponents occasionally made fun of the grammatical errors he made when he first started speaking Ukrainian. This makes him a sympathetic figure for many of his fellow Russian speakers. The protesters who want to remove him from power are politically diverse. What they all have in common is a desire for better, less corrupt government. This desire is shared by voters in the Russian speaking areas, but some of the more prominent groups among the protesters are right wing nationalists who use a lot of anti-Russian language. In terms of attracting voters, this is analogous to running for mayor in Boston by attacking the Irish. The anti-Russian component of the protest is repelling the voters who are Yanukovych’s support base and who might otherwise be inclined to support reform.[8][9]

And finally, there’s the problem of fatigue. The people who are spending their days at the barricades are not earning a living. The small and medium-sized businesses that are providing the protesters with food and supplies are providing them for free.[10] As the protests continue month after month, they become an increasing drain on the protesters’ resources. The longer Yanukovych can stave off political change, the more likely he is to survive. At the moment, he seems to be avoiding committing himself to any irrevocable choices and playing for time.

Some Russian analysts believe that many of the protesters are seasonal workers who will have to leave the protests in spring and summer in order to return to their jobs and earn a living.[11] I don’t know how true that is, but if Yanukovych believes that it is true, it would certainly encourage him to delay making any changes as long as possible.

Yanukovych will not resign or call snap elections that he is likely to lose because either will put him in a much worse position, both politically and personally. Most oligarchs prefer a Yanukovych presidency that generally supports their business interests to the risk and uncertainty of an opposition, most of whose leading figures are less oligarch-friendly. A large number of Ukrainians who claim Russian heritage are not going to support an opposition that prominently includes people they view as anti-Russian bigots. And eventually, the outrage over Yanukovych’s U-turn on the EU and his attempts to suppress the protests, as well as the excitement of the barricades, will wear off and the protesters will want to return to a more normal life. Yanukovych appears to have settled on a strategy of out-waiting his opponents.


Ukraine State of Emergency

Will Ukraine officially declare a state of emergency before 10 May 2014?

A State of Emergency is declared by the president, and then must be confirmed by a majority of parliament within two days.[1] It would essentially authorize the president of Ukraine to use more force in putting down the protests. He would be able to ban rallies, make it harder for the protesters to organize by cutting telephone and Internet access, enforce a curfew, and call in the military.[2]

For the immediate future, the signs are that Yanukovych won’t declare a State of Emergency. The ruling Party of the Regions has discussed declaring a State of Emergency, but has apparently decided not to. A party member reports that in comments Yanukovych made to the party, he ruled out the use of force and committed himself to calling early elections, both for president and for parliament, if he cannot reach an agreement with the protesters.[3] Another member who has previously been a speaker of parliament, said that he didn’t think there were enough votes to confirm a declaration.[4]

The director of a Kiev-based think tank says that “Yanukovich is no [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, in the sense that he is terribly afraid of any bloodshed and he would rather call for changes in the constitution and early elections than order a full-scale combat operation…”[3] Another expert says that “My forecast is that there will be no forcible clearance. There will be a silent war of terror, which, in fact, has already lasted a month…”, which is to say that he thinks force will be used, but it will be more subtle than a State of Emergency.[5]

But the situation is fluid and this could change very quickly. The think tank director believes that there is still a possibility of declaring a State of Emergency, and he believes the president could find the votes to confirm it.[5]

A study of the use of violence in elections states that “Leaders are more likely to crack down when they think an election might unseat them (or their party) from power and they face few constraints on their authority and so have reason to believe they can get away with violence.” and “When judiciaries become more independent of the executive office, or when other checks on government power develop, election violence becomes less likely even when a leader or party’s position in power is seriously threatened.”[6] The Ukrainian protests are not an election, but they are a contest for power. As the study suggests, both sides are using as much violence as they think they can get away with. Being able to predict whether the government might declare a State of Emergency over a period longer than a week or two requires understanding the checks on the president’s ability to use force.

Ukrainian courts have been more independent in the past than they are now. For 2013, Freedom House gave Ukraine a score of 4 out of 7 for political rights, and a score of 3 for civil rights. It’s overall status was “Partly Free”.[7] This is not the most oppressive society in the world, but the courts can’t be counted on as a check on government power. The criminal justice system has been rather forgiving to thugs who attacked journalists, and it sometimes requires special effort to prosecute criminals with ties to the ruling party.[8]

Freedom House rated the Ukrainian Internet as “Free”, which means that individuals could freely communicate and publish their own reporting and analysis. The press was rated as “Partly Free”.[9] In spite of that, the press can’t be counted out. The riot police have apparently targeted reporters. The Institute of Mass Information reports that more than 40 journalists have been beaten, many of them while wearing visible identification, so the police knew that they were beating reporters.[10] This suggests that the government sees their reporting as a threat. A lot of the Ukrainian media is owned by oligarchs who could once be counted on to ensure that the media supported the government. But since the protests started, some oligarch-owned TV channels have been giving air time to the opposition, and at least one oligarch-owned newspaper has been reprinting online articles that criticized the government.[11]

Another constraint on the government’s ability to use violence is the willingness of the police and the military to follow orders. The government has been able to rely on the riot police, but there are reports of the regular police giving support to the protesters in the western parts of the country.[12] The police in Kiev and other cities where protests are occurring are drawn from the same population as the protesters, and tend to have the same sympathies. Similarly, many military recruits come from the central and western parts of Ukraine where the main protests are occurring. Many of them are likely to refuse to follow orders if they are ordered to attack the protesters.[13] There’s a good chance that declaring a State of Emergency would raise the level of violence without giving the government any more control over the country.

Ukraine is partly controlled by informal “clans” of businessmen and politicians, lead by the so-called oligarchs. The oligarchs have either gotten themselves elected to parliament, or have funded the campaigns of blocs of delegates whose votes the oligarchs control.[14] Rinat Akhmetov controls a bloc of 50 delegates out of 450, slightly more than 10% of the parliament. He also owns his own TV channel. Dmitry Firtash controls another bloc, and owns Ukraine’s biggest TV network. In both cases, the TV reporting supports the owners business and political interests.[15]

An article published in the Caucasus Analytical Digest sums up Yanukovych’s government this way:

Ukraine is now ruled by the so-called “Donetsk clan,” a group of individuals who made their careers in the Donbas, the industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. Like the clans of other industrially developed regions, the post-Soviet practice of securing and developing businesses through informal, and sometimes illicit, deals produced tightly-knit networks of politicians, entrepreneurs, and criminals in Donetsk. The Donetsk style of governance is based on authoritarianism and rent-seeking, described by van Zon, a researcher of Ukrainian politics, as “the merging of political and economic power with total suppression of dissent and unbrindled corruption.[16]

The Constitutional Court issued a ruling in 2010 that transferred some power from the parliament to the president. That shift increased the power of the ruling Donetsk clan and correspondingly decreased the power of other oligarchs.[14]

This sets up conflicts between Yanukovych’s Donetsk clan and the oligarchs of other areas as Yanukovych’s group attempts to gain control of local politics and business. In the city of Dnipropetrovsk, a conflict over the appointment of the provincial governor in 2010 led local oligarchs to support the anti-government protesters when the protests started in 2013. A newspaper owned by one local oligarch has been publishing articles critical of the government, while the TV channel owned by another has been supporting the protesters.[11] An attempt by the Donetsk clan to force the sale of a factory at a third of its estimated value led two other businessmen to display a live feed of the Kiev protests on a large outdoor screen at an upscale shopping mall. The two businessmen have fled the country, but say they have no regrets. One of them said, “”We want to live in Europe, not in an outpost of the Russian empire,”[16] exactly the sentiments of the protesters.

Regardless of whether the oligarchs are pro-Russian, pro-European, allied or opposed to the Donetsk clan, almost all feel threatened by concentration of political power in the presidency and the resulting loss of power by oligarch-controlled voting blocs and local clans.[14] Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian oligarch, whose daughter is Vladimir Putin’s godchild, condemned government violence when the protests started.[16] Akhmetov, a member of the Donetsk clan and a close ally of Yanukovych for decades, issued a condemnation of government violence on his company website in January and called for negotiations. He’s been negotiating with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the opposition leader the US is pushing as a possible Prime Minister. He controls the electricity supply to the parts of Kiev controlled by the protesters, but hasn’t cut the power. His normally pro-government TV channel has given air time to opposition leaders.[11] More than 70 parliamentary members of the government’s majority have stated that they are opposed to a violent crackdown and will vote against a State of Emergency.[14]

Western banks are worried about the conflict and have started refusing to extend credit to some Ukrainian oligarchs. Problems with his Swiss bankers may have led Akhmetov to have his parliamentary bloc vote for the resignation of the Azarov cabinet and against the laws directed at suppressing protests. Some of the oligarchs’ families live in western and central European capitals, and their businesses depend on European capital markets. These things are threatened by possible targeted financial and visa sanctions.[11] And regardless of how they earned their fortunes, whether through legal or corrupt means, the oligarchs can best defend themselves against the government through the rule of law and protection of property rights, along with returning power to the parliament and the oligarch-financed delegates.

Since the protests started the EU and the US have started paying more attention to Ukraine. The EU and the IMF are offering aid, but the aid is conditional on political and economic reforms.[19] Yanukovych wants to stay in power, wants a large loan to help tide Ukraine over its immediate financial problems, wants foreign investment, and wants access to European markets for the oligarch’s businesses. The political changes the EU and US want will weaken presidential power and will not make his hold on the presidency any more secure. The loans on offer are much smaller than Yanukavych wants and won’t help him stave off the sorts of economic problems that would cost him a second term as president. If Yanukovych accepts EU and US aid, he will have to give up any idea of declaring a State of Emergency.

Ukraine’s relationship with Russia since independence, and Yanukovych’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, has been very poor.[20][21] The opinion of many knowledgeable Ukrainians is that Putin despises Yanukovych, and Yanukovych fears Putin.[20] Putin’s goal is to force Ukraine into the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, blocking it from joining the EU. But Putin is offering a $15 billion loan, and isn’t trying to interfere with the way Yanukovych’s government rules Ukraine, so Russian aid doesn’t rule out a State of Emergency.

The protests in Kiev began as pro-Eu demonstrations, but have become anti-Yanukovych protests. The protesters’ goal is to remove Yanukovych from power.[8][22] His two attempts to suppress the protests, once at the beginning and again in January, only made them stronger. Under a State of Emergency, the protests would be sure to grow and spread, and Yanukovych can’t be sure that the police or military would follow orders to suppress the protests. Most of the oligarchs continue to support him publicly, but are concerned about the spread of disorder and don’t seem to support declaring a State of Emergency. And the concentration of power in his own hands, along with the exploitation of state power by his Donetsk clan has cost him the support of individual oligarchs and made the remainder reluctant to see Yanukovych get more power. Whether or not he accepts EU and US aid, a State of Emergency would probably result in sanctions. So a State of Emergency seems unlikely.

But it can’t be ruled out. Yanukovych might still declare one as a last gasp effort to retain power, if the protesters seem to be on the verge of winning and he has nothing to lose. I’m forecasting a 25% chance of Yanukovych declaring a State of Emergency before 10 May.


Will Morsi receive the death sentence for espionage?

The available information on Egyptian ex-president Morsi’s legal problems is a bit confusing, but as near as I can tell, he’s facing four trials and the trial relevant to this question involves espionage, a capital crime in Egypt.[1] He’s also facing other trials involving capital crimes. Several news sources claim that the espionage trial also involves charges of terrorism, but it appears to me that he’s being charged under the espionage laws, not the terrorism laws.

An announcement titled “The Biggest Case of Espionage in the History of Egypt” from the office of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat claimed that[2]:
– Morsi opened “channels of communication with the West via Turkey and Qatar.”
– Morsi was involved in a plot with Hamas and Hezbollah.
– The Muslim Brotherhood was “the reason behind violence inside Egypt to create a state of ultimate chaos.”
– Members of the Muslim Brotherhood used secret tunnels to enter Gaza, where they received military and media training.

The regional director for Human Rights Watch has called the charges “pretty fantastical”.[3] In a trial of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and two aides involving related charges, three of the judges stepped down because “a feeling of embarrassment” over the case.[4] Apparently, the prosecutors handling the Muslim Brotherhood trials are willing to push the law to the limits, even if it means losing the occasional judge.

In other trials, Morsi is facing charges of fraud, insulting the judiciary, the murder of anti-government protesters while he was president, and the murder of prison officers during a prison break in 2011.[4]

The Muslim Brotherhood and the military each have strong support from different groups of Egyptians.[5][6] Both inspire strong opposition. A poll taken in September indicated that Egypt was roughly evenly divided on whether Morsi’s overthrow was a good thing.[6] Each group has a large, committed base, and is a threat to the other.

Sisi is obviously planning to run for president. The acting president has promoted him to Field Marshall, a title whose only significance seems to be that the holder is planning to retire soon. Shortly afterward, the supreme council of the armed forces gave their approval for Sisi’s candidacy. The media reports that people close to Sisi expect him to announce as soon as nominations officially open.[6]

The charges appear to be designed to undercut the legitimacy of Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood. They conspired with non-Egyptians, they studied military and media tactics with non-Egyptions, they committed fraud, they insulted or murdered Egyptian officials, they murdered Egyptian protesters, and they created violence and chaos in Egypt. Sisi and the military are presenting themselves as the guardians of order and the protectors of Egypt.

It seems very unlikely that Morsi will be acquitted. There are three factors that I think will determine his sentence. The first is how much of a threat Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are to military-backed rule and Sisi’s candidacy. The greater the threat, the more likely a death sentence. Given the force with which the military has put down demonstrations and the number of protesters killed, it’s pretty clear that the military thinks the threat is serious. Both Sisi and the military are currently popular[7]. While turnout for the constitutional referendum was only 39%, 98% of those that voted, voted for the military backed constitution.[8] But Sisi is likely to loose that support if he can’t find rapid solutions to Egypt’s problems, and the military seems to be aware that he’s not likely to find rapid solutions. One senior officer called the presidency “a poisoned chalice.”[6] A large part of the military’s support could swing back to the Muslim Brotherhood. At the moment Morsi is the Brotherhood’s most important public figure. The question is whether, once Sisi’s government gets into trouble, an imprisoned Morsi is a bigger rallying point for the opposition than a martyred Morsi.

The second factor is what happens after the verdict. I don’t know what the new constitution says about criminal law. The point of the new constitution wasn’t to rewrite the criminal laws, so I’m assuming that they haven’t changed much. In the past, someone convicted of a crime had two levels of appeal. For a death sentence, the Mufti (the government appointed head Muslim cleric) gave an opinion on whether the sentence was appropriate. The opinion is non-binding, but it would be politically difficult to carry out a death sentence after the Mufti declared it inappropriate. The president had the power to pardon a convict or to commute a death sentence to imprisonment for life. I have one source that says the president could commute a death sentence to a fixed term of imprisonment[9] and one that says he could not.[1] For simplicity, I’ll ignore that possibility. In practice, pardons have been very rare[9], and in a political case like this it’s hard to imagine the government going through the trouble of convicting Morsi and then pardoning him, so I’ll ignore that possibility also. Should Morsi receive a death sentence, that leaves Sisi with the options of carrying out the execution or commuting it to life imprisonment.

It’s not clear what the Mufti’s role in this would be. In an ordinary criminal trial, the possibility of the Mufti declaring a death sentence inappropriate probably acts as a constraint on judges’ tendency to give death sentences. But the Mufti is a government appointee and this is a political trial. That is likely to act as a constraint on the Mufti. The Mufti’s effect on the probability of a death sentence is determined by the judges’ expectations concerning the opinion issued by the Mufti, post sentencing. In this case, I don’t think the judges expect the Mufti to issue an opinion against a death sentence, due to the Mufti’s position as a government appointee and the importance of the trial to the government.

The third factor is the other trials Morsi is facing and the sentences he receives there. If the government intends to execute Morsi, the courts may give him multiple death sentences in order to make commutation seem less reasonable. If they don’t intend to kill him, then one death sentence would be easier to commute. It’s also possible that the government is keeping its options open, in which case a smaller number of death sentences leaves the government less committed to an execution.

Obviously, I’m assuming that the government has a way of signaling the judiciary what the desired sentence is. In cases where the government has the judiciary in its pocket, some system of signaling usually exists.

My guess is that Sisi is going to be cautious. Killing a thousand pro-Brotherhood demonstrators didn’t cost the military a lot of support as long as it happened during a time of disorder. But Sisi is presenting himself as the candidate of order and doesn’t want his government to be associated with disorder. Although the military seems to have majority support right now, that support includes swing voters who once voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and could become supporters in the future. Sisi doesn’t want to create sympathy for Morsi among them by killing him. Condemning Morsi to death and then commuting the sentence would give Sisi a chance to look firm but compassionate. So I’m predicting that Morsi will receive one death sentence, followed by commutation to life imprisonment, and the remaining sentences will be imprisonment, either life or term.

Based on what I know of his charges[10] and looking over a list of Egyptian capital crimes[1], he appears to have three trials involving capital charges: one trial involving the deaths of protesters in 2012, another involving the deaths of prison guards during the prison breakout in 2011, and a third trial involving espionage. Since I don’t have the knowledge that an Egyptian lawyer would have, and I don’t know the specifics of the charges, I’m going to assign equal probability to each of the three trials producing a death sentence. Allowing myself 10% for an outcome I’m not expecting, that leaves 30% for each of the three trials. However, there also a possibility that the three trials will produce more than one death sentence. So for the espionage trial, I’ll raise the probability of a death sentence to 40% and forecast a 25% chance of a life sentence, a 25% chance of a term sentence, with a 10% chance of something I’m not expecting.

Prediction Killers

Of the things that could cause my forecast to be wrong, these are the ones that seem to me to be most obvious.

Since I’m not an Egyptian lawyer, not only are there things I’m aware of that I don’t know about Egyptian justice, there’s a boatload of things I’m completely unaware of. The news reports on Morsi’s trials are vague on the details, so there could be more or less trials and more or less capital charges than I’m aware of. I’m glossing over all of that by assigning equal probabilities of a capital outcome to each trial.

My guess about Sisi’s caution is just a guess. Cautious people usually don’t overthrow governments. Even if he is cautious, he may be reading the political situation differently than I am, and he may have different ideas about caution. The judiciary may be more independent than I believe it is. Assuming that the number of death sentences Morsi will receive correlates with the government’s desire to actually execute him is a big assumption.

9. International Federation for Human Rights, The Death Penalty in Egypt, April 2005, n 415/2, available at: [accessed 7 February 2014]

Will Thailand renew its State of Emergency?

Will the Thai government renew its sixty day State of Emergency before it expires?

The question really has two parts: will Yingluck renew the SoE if she is in power, and will her replacement renew the SoE if she is not in power?

Losing power is a very real possibility for Yingluck. There are corruption probes underway against her at the National Anti-Corruption Commission and a petition for impeachment against her with the Thai Senate. In addition, the Democrat party has filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to have Yingluck’s Puea Thai party disbanded.[1]

According to Vicha Mahakun, a member of the NACC’s probe panel, if the NACC determines that Yingluck is guilty of corruption, the case goes to the courts. Yingluck will have to stop working as prime minister but she will legally remain the PM until the courts find her guilty.[2] Under a parliamentary system, she can only be PM if her party remains in power, which means that another PT party member will have to step in as acting PM until the court reaches a verdict.

Vicha Mahakun suggests that impeachment before the Senate would reach a conclusion before a court case.[2] Just under half of the Thai Senate is appointed by the Senate Selection Committee, which is made up of people appointed by the king.[3] Add in the elected Senators who are royalist, and you’ve got a royalist majority that’s very likely to vote against Yingluck.

Yingluck remains PM only as long as her party is in power. If her party is disbanded, a new PM must be named to replace her. Article 7 of the current constitution states “it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” What that means exactly is subject to debate.[4] However, in the 2011 elections, the PT party got 265 seats while the Democrat party got 159 (out of 500).[5] The Democrat party seems to be the obvious candidate to head a new interim government if the PT party no longer exists.

An interesting point is that while Yingluck has declared a State of Emergency, she hasn’t done anything with the powers a SoE givers her. While the police are widely considered PT party supporters[6], judges are appointed by the king[7], and the courts are royalist and pro-Democrat party. Two previous incarnations of the PT party have been dissolved by the courts[8]. Police actions that result in violence are likely to go badly for the government in the courts. The government is therefore holding its emergency powers in reserve. As long as the anti-government protesters continue to disrupt elections, the government will want to ensure it has as much legal flexibility as possible, but actual use of its expanded police powers is likely to bring mixed results.

So we have three possible scenarios when the SoE comes up for renewal. The first is that Yingluck is still in power, the second is that another PT member is acting PM while she defends herself against NACC charges, and the third is that she has been removed from power, either through impeachment or by dissolution of the PT party.

It’s pretty clear that Yingluck intends to continue the electoral process until the lower house of parliament has a quorum. Before the election, candidates were unable to register in 28 of the country’s 500 voting districts, making a quorum impossible. (A quorum requires 475 members.[5]) The government held the elections anyway, knowing that the by-elections necessary to bring the lower house up to a quorum are likely to take a few months. The government will want to maintain its expanded police power during that period. So it will most likely extend the SoE.

The government’s policy won’t change under an acting PM. As long as the PT party is in power, it will continue working towards a quorum and will want to maintain the SoE.

If Yingluck is removed from power, the UDD (aka red shirts) will consider it to be a coup. So far, the UDD has been avoiding confrontations that might lead to violence.[9] However, it is prepared to resist any coup, military or otherwise. Even the military would have trouble asserting control in large parts of the country[6], and a civilian government certainly wouldn’t find it any easier. So in the event that either Yingluck is removed from power and is replaced by a Democrat lead government, the new government would probably not only renew the SoE, but would be forced to extend it across the whole country.


Addendum to Thai elections

The Monkey Cage (the blog) has a post on election violence. Some quotes:

Leaders are more likely to crack down when they think an election might unseat them (or their party) from power and they face few constraints on their authority and so have reason to believe they can get away with violence.


When judiciaries become more independent of the executive office, or when other checks on government power develop, election violence becomes less likely even when a leader or party’s position in power is seriously threatened.

Thailand has two governments: the unelected government centered around the king’s ability to make appointments, and the mostly elected government headed by Yingluck. (Just under half of the Senate is appointed by a committee made up of the king’s appointees. The remainder of the Senate and the House of Representatives is elected.) The behavior of the two governments leading up the the election follows the pattern described by Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Susan D. Hyde in the their Monkey Cage post.

Hafner-Burton and Susan D. Hyde specifically mention the importance of independent courts. In Thailand judges are appointed by the king. Suthep Thaugsuban, Democratic party member and protest leader, has been indicted for sedition. Since he’s trying to overthrow an elected government, that’s perfectly reasonable. He’s also been indicted for giving orders as a member of a previous government that led to the deaths of around ninety red shirt protesters. Assuming that there’s evidence to support the indictment, that’s not unreasonable. Yingluck Shinawatra has a case against her in the courts for her government’s rice subsidy scheme. Granted that the scheme is horrible policy, this is still making it a crime for a government to create policy. And hundreds of her party’s parliament members are being tried for voting for a law that would have eliminated the appointment of Senators and made it entirely elected. (The law passed but was declared unconstitutional.) This is essentially criminalizing parliamentary voting.

The Thai courts are part of the unelected government. In spite of the serious charges against him, Suthep has not been arrested and police presence around the protests has been minimal. The protesters have been able to block intersections in Bangkok, forcefully bar would-be candidates from registering, lock voting areas and prevent voters from voting, and interfere with the distribution of ballots. They have driven the government out of its offices. They’ve been able to use illegal means to prevent the government from carrying out legally mandated activities. And the government has not tried to stop them.

I don’t believe that Yingluck has been so restrained out of the kindness of her heart. Even though she’s the head of an elected government, her government is, in effect, the opposition to an unelected government reluctant to relinquish power. While she has control of the police, the courts would almost certainly penalize her if she used them too freely. On the other hand, the protesters aren’t terribly concerned about the courts and Suthep continues to move around Bangkok.

So politics in Thailand at the moment consists of an elected government faced with severe constraints in conflict with an unelected government with fewer constraints. The unelected government’s power is being threatened and it can get away with a higher level of force. The elected government has to be more restrained.

One final quote:

…election violence may be a symptom of a threatened and potentially weakening incumbent government rather than a sign that democratization – and future protection for human rights – is doomed.

The violence around the election may not be so much a sign that Thailand is falling into chaos, as it is a sign that a group of people who have been accustomed to exercising a large amount of power find themselves weakened and their hold on power threatened.

Thai elections on Feb 2

Will Thailand hold elections on February 2?

Events have overtaken this forecast. More accurately, I’m too slow. When I started researching the question, most commentary seemed to suggest that elections wouldn’t take place. It quickly became obvious to me that they would, for the simple reason that Yingluck Shinawatra would gain nothing from delaying them. However, I don’t know a lot about Thailand, so I continued looking for information on things that would cause her to delay the elections. Between that and the various other things in life that have to be taken care of, I’m finally posting and it’s the day before the elections. Actually, in Thailand, it is the day of the elections. So this isn’t much of a forecast. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to post the information I’m working with and my analysis and see what response I get. The contents of my Thai election file follow.


A bit of background: The north of Thailand is poor and contains a third of the country’s voters. They’ve been ignored by Thailand’s political elite since the country started electing democratic governments in the 1930s. A rich business man named Thaksin Shinawatra formed a political party that courted northern votes and won every general election since 2001. Thaksin left Thailand to avoid prosecution for corruption and his party is currently lead by his sister Yingluck, who is now Prime Minister. Her government is opposed by the Democratic party, which has not won a general election in twenty years. The government introduced a bill into Parliament to allow Thaksin Shinawatra back into the country. A few members of the Democratic party organized the current protests in response. These protests forced Yingluck to dissolve Parliament and call new elections on 2 Feb. The protesters and the Democratic party are opposed to holding elections because they will lose. Instead, they want an appointed “peoples’ council” to rewrite the constitution. In addition, they want to ban the entire Shinawatra family from politics.


1) Yingluck Shinawatra
* Prime Minister.
* Member of Pheu Thai political party.
* Sister of Thaksin Shinawatra (founder of Pheu Tai political party).
* Allied with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, aka the red shirts).

For purposes of forecasting, Thaksin, the PT party, the current government, and the UDD can be represented by the person of Yingluck. Without buying into the accusation that she is Thaksin’s puppet, it’s clear that they communicate extensively and she is the public face of decisions that they make together. Even though Thaksin is in exile, the PT party is his creation and he’s the actual party head, even if he isn’t listed in the official hierarchy. As the current Prime Minister, Yingluck is very influential in the party. The nominal head of the party is probably a distant third behind the Shinawatras in terms of power.

The UDD opposed the PT bill to grant amnesty to Thaksin because the PT tried to sweeten it by also offering amnesty to the opposition leaders being investigated for the murder of UDD protesters in previous protests. Clearly the UDD maintains some independence from the Shinawatras. It is less willing than Yingluck to compromise in order to bring Thaksin back from exile. But as far as the election is concerned, the UDD is backing Yingluck in both goals and tactics.

2) Suthep Thaugsuban
* Leader of PDRC (protesters)
* Member of Democratic party
* Previous Deputy Prime Minister in an unelected Democratic government.

The government has indicted Suthep for the murder of red shirt protesters, due to his decisions as a member of the government during previous UDD protests. He has also been indicted for what is variously translated into English as rebellion, insurrection, sedition, and treason. That’s a capital crime, but he’s unlikely to hang. The Thais don’t execute criminals very often, and there’s a long tradition of pardoning royalist coup plotters. The police obviously know where to find him and haven’t made any move to arrest him.

Suthep is the leader of the PDRC, the group organizing the protests. As far as the elections go, he also represents the opposition Democratic party, and the political establishment. (I’m not going to use the word “elite” because the opposition is more varied than that.) The political establishment includes the judiciary and the government bureaucracy, along with the Election Commission. Military officers tend to be royalist, so there’s probably a lot of support for Suthep in the officer corps, even if the military is publicly refusing to take sides. Suthep’s leadership is somewhat nebulous. All of these groups agree on the goal of canceling elections and their distaste for the Shinawatras, but they don’t necessarily agree on tactics. Suthep is the current leader of this block by virtue of his leadership of active protests and his visibility. Unlike Yingluck, he’s not irreplaceable. If the various parts of the establishment decide for a change in tactics, another leader will be pushed to the front. For many Yingluck opponents, support for Suthep is less a matter of following his leadership than it is a matter of allowing him to carry on as long as they see some advantage. For others, the illness of the king and the resulting inability of the political establishment to adjust to political change makes Suthep’s intransigence the only available option.

The PDRC protests look good on TV, and it’s been estimated that a fifth of the Bangkok population is involved. Participation comes from all classes. However, for most, participation involves stopping by the protests after work and blowing whistles.

Nonetheless, Suthep is currently the public face of dissatisfaction with PT government. He’s disrupted candidate registration and advance voting, and will disrupt voting on voting day. Apparently, this will be enough to take advantage of provisions in the Thai constitution requiring a quorum in the lower house of Parliament and deprive Yingluck of the chance to quickly form a new government.

3) Bhumibol Adulyadej
* King of Thailand.
* Appoints top military leaders and most top bureaucrats.
* Appoints members of the Election Commission.

The king is old, sick, and possibly dying. Thailand’s laws make impossible for Thais to talk about this publicly, so no one knows how sick he is. Four years ago, an article in the Economist quoted Thai fund managers concerned about “a change that cannot be mentioned.” Four years later, the change still cannot be mentioned, and it’s still expected at any time. However, while the king is 86, his closest adviser is 93, and another long time source of support, the head of the Thai Buddhist clergy, recently died at 100. So the king’s incapacity, and the problems that go with it, could drag on for many more years.

The king’s power to make appointments puts him at the center of a system of patronage that extends into the army and the bureaucracy and shares power with the elected government. His illness leaves this system without clear direction. The crown prince, who may become king at any time, was a close friend of Thaksin. He may have renewed that friendship recently. Fear of a pro-Thaksin king is at least part of the reason that the political establishment is willing to overthrow a government in order to eliminate the Shinawatras from politics. Without guidance from the king, the system can’t adapt to change. Suthep’s intransigence seems like a solution to the problem of the sudden arrival of a new political power that threatens to overwhelm the established network centered around the king.

4) Army
* Carried out 18 coups (not all successful) since the 1930s.
* 10 of those coups occurred during the reign of the current king.

Under Bhumibol’s reign, threats to the political establishment were handled with military coups. The army would stage a coup, the generals would go visit the king and receive a pardon, the army would eventually yield to a civilian government that was more compliant, and cycle would repeat at the next threat of unacceptable change.

That no longer works. The immediate threat to the royal system is Yingluck and the various people she represents. If the army stages a coup and the king finally dies, the new king may be pro-Thaksin and the coup leaders may have the rug pulled out from under them. Furthermore, the army is not as united as it once was. The old class system that bound the officer corps together is breaking down. In addition, there’s the problem of the “watermelons”; green (army uniform) on the outside, but red (pro-Thaksin) on the inside. The top leadership is royalist and pro-Suthep, but there’s enough Thaksin support that no one can be sure that the army would remain unified during a coup. During the last coup, the UDD was getting advance warning from within the army of military operations. This time, there’s a chance that an attempted coup would see some soldiers actively supporting the government.

5) Election Commission
* Administrator of Thailand’s elections.
* Arbiter of Thailand’s election laws.

The election commissioners are all appointed by the king, acting on the advice of the Senate. 73 members of the Senate (out of 150) are selected by the Senators Selection Committee. The Senators Selection Committee consists of the chairman of the Election Commission and various members of the judiciary, all appointed by the king. So the king appoints the election commissioners with the advice of people selected by the king’s appointees. The individual commissioners seem to be competent and seem to want to do their jobs well, but in a conflict that pits Yingluck’s government against a largely royalist political establishment, of which the Election Commission is clearly part, the commissioners cannot be considered entirely impartial.

Policy position

Nominally, the issue is whether to hold elections on 2 Feb. In order of their support for elections:
Yingluck > Election Commission > Bhumibol = Army > Suthep

Yingluck is strongly in favor of holding elections. Everyone else is opposed to one degree or another. The Election Commission doesn’t want to hold elections, but wants to carry out its duties competently. The king is probably aligned with the army. The army brass privately supports Suthep. Suthep is strongly opposed to holding elections.


Bhumibol> Army > Yingluck > Suthep > Election Commission

The king appoints the army’s leaders and the country’s top bureaucrats, giving him a tremendous amount of influence with unelected power figures. The army is 250,000 people with guns and a history of coups. They can stop the election and impose a government of their choice. As Prime Minister, Yingluck is at the top of the elected government. Suthep leads the protesters, but his influence is mostly limited to his power to create disorder. His goal is not to force Yingluck to negotiate, but to prompt the army to overthrow the government in order to restore order. The Election Commission is required by law to comply with the prime minister. The most it can do, in opposition to Yingluck, is issue public warnings about the risk of violence if an election occurs.

Importance of the issue to the actor

Yingluck = Suthep > Election Commission > Army > Bhumibol

Suthep is trying to overthrow a democratically elected government by non-democratic means. If he fails, the system he represents will lose a lot of influence and he may be tried for treason. Yingluck is fighting for her political life, her brother’s return from exile, her family’s survival in politics, her party’s continued existence, and the interests of her political base. The Election Commission’s job is holding elections. Unlike Yingluck, Suthep, and the Election Commission, the army can sit this out. The king is sick enough that his illness may prevent him from following events as closely as the other actors.

Election Commission > Bhumibol = Army > Yingluck > Suthep
The Election Commission is opposed to holding elections on 2 Feb, but is under pressure from the government to hold them anyway, and can only postpone them in cooperation with the government. Publicly, it’s been going back and forth. The king is too sick to get actively involved, and the army is more divided that it was in the past. Both will accept an outcome they consider less than ideal for the sake of maintaining order. Yingluck has shown some flexibility in trying to deal with Suthep and the protests. Suthep has shown no flexibility at all.


The Army

The military will not stage a coup. In the event of an anti-Thaksin coup followed by the death of the king, the leaders could end up having to answer to a new pro-Thaksin king. In addition, the military is divided over the political situation. Some units of the army may not obey the commands of coup leaders. Thaksin supporters in the army will be feeding information to Yingluck’s government and the UDD. And the UDD will resist a coup. Even without violence, they can make post-coup government very difficult for the army. The military’s top brass may lose their jobs under a new king, but not under a new government. The military’s instutional interests aren’t threatened by Yingluck’s government. Given the riskiness of a coup and the lack of immediate negative consequences from a Yingluck victory, the military will stay neutral, aside perhaps from assisting the police in maintaining order.

The King

Bhumibol is too ill to get involved.

The Election Commission

The commission is legally obligated to carry out elections. A decision by the Constitutional Court allows the commission to postpone an election in cooperation with the prime minister, but not by acting on its own. The royally appointed commissioners are seen by Yingluck’s government as part of the royalist opposition, and its efforts to postpone the election part of the oppositions attempts to remove Yingluck from power. Therefore they can’t persuade Yingluck to agree to a postponement, and they will be compelled to hold elections on 2 Feb.

Suthep Thaugsuban

Attendance at the protests has been declining. It’s becoming clearer to the old establishment that Suthep’s protests aren’t going to eliminate the Shinawatras and his refusal to negotiate eliminates the possibility of gaining anything else from the situation. His power peaked in the first half of January. His followers will be able to partially disrupt the elections and there will be some violence. His success in preventing some districts from electing parliament members means that by elections will have to be held in the first couple of months after the 2 Feb elections. His declining influence means that enough of these will be successful that Yingluck will eventually be able to form a government, with the establishment Suthep represents considerably weakened. In the absence of a capable king, there’s no obvious candidate for an opposition leader with the authority to negotiate a new political regime with the Shinawatras. It will take time for the establishment to replace the king’s patronage with new institutions and find new ways of selecting leaders.

Yingluck Shinawatra

So far, after the miscalculation of the amnesty bill, Yingluck has done everything right. I’m predicting that she’ll be able to keep that up and eventually form a new government. She and Thaksin realized that in the absence of an effective king, the current laws give the advantage to whoever has elected power. She loses that advantage if she resigns and governing power passes back to the king’s appointees. The Shinawatras will be eliminated from politics if yet another group of royal appointees creates yet another constitution. She will do everything possible to stay in office, and the odds are that she will succeed.

Prediction Killers

These that the things that I’m aware of that could cause my predictions to be wrong.

The Army

If there’s enough violence, the army could feel compelled to step in and restore order. There’s been some talk of moving the capital either to the north or to the south, or creating separate governments. So far, no one has taken the suggestions seriously. But if some one did get serious and the army felt that Thailand’s existence as a unified country were threatened, it would act. If the king died in the next few weeks and the new king was less pro-Thaksin than feared, the army might feel less constrained about carrying out a coup.

The King

Since no one is allowed to talk about the king’s illness, no one knows for sure how serious it is or what form it takes. It’s possible that the king could have a temporary recovery and start negotiations with Yingluck, or at least authorize others to negotiate with her.

Suthep Thaugsuban

Suthep’s followers could create enough violence to draw in the army. They could remain numerous and active enough to disrupt enough elections to prevent a parliamentary quorum, preventing Yingluck from forming a new government.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Yingluck could miscalculate at any time and use the police in ways that incite the protesters to more violence, or that re-energize them and cause them to return to the streets in numbers that match early January. The rice-subsidy case currently being handled by the courts could result in her being banned from politics. The government hasn’t been able to borrow the money it needs to pay rice farmers for rice pledged under the rice sudsidy scheme, and farmers have been blocking highways in protest. If this continues, it could cost her support in the north and undermine her ability to maintain her caretaker government until there’s enough members elected to the parliament to form a new government.