Category Archives: Indirectly elected presidents

Albania – Government formation after months of partisan turmoil

In this post, I examine the most recent developments in Albania after an unconventional presidential election in April, a months-long boycott of parliament by the oppositional Democratic Party (DP), and the parliamentary election with Socialist Edi Rama as clear winner of a majority that enables him to govern without a coalition partner.

Presidential election in April 2017
Since February 2017 the oppositional DP was boycotting the Albanian Parliament. Despite calls by the European Union and several European governments the DP was determined in its course. Among their demands were the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the formation of a caretaker government. This parliamentary boycott – that could not be solved by several rounds of EU-led negotiations – not only resulted in a political stalemate that largely influenced and hindered the political decision making but also impacted the presidential election. As explained in a blog post published earlier this year, Albania is a parliamentary system with a president elected by parliament. Candidates are nominated by at least 20 deputies. In the first three rounds a presidential candidate has to gain the support of 3/5 of the members of parliament, i.e. 84 votes out of the 140 seats (Art. 87). The constitution stipulates a maximum of five rounds. Only after three rounds failed, the majority requirement changes. The fourth ballot (and the fifth) require only the absolute majority and are held between the two leading candidates from the third round. In case the fifth round fails as well, parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place within 60 days. (Art. 87).

Hence, after three rather unconventional rounds of presidential elections, the president/chairman of the Albanian Parliament, Ilir Meta was elected as 7th President of the Republic of Albania. This presidential election was unusual because the ruling Socialist Party did not nominate a candidate during the first three rounds of presidential elections. Party representatives declared that they are not “nominating anyone for president to demonstrate its willingness to conduct a dialogue with the opposition [DP, author] over the next president and achieve a consensus with all political forces in the country” (EurAsia Daily 2017).

Parliamentary elections in June 2017
As could be expected the election of Meta as President was heavily criticized by the DP, a fact a lot of observers deemed hypocritical because of Meta’s ties to both DP and the Socialist Party. And although some DP deputies threatened to boycott both the parliamentary elections and local elections, the parliamentary elections were held in June 2017 after the leaders of the main parties – Edi Rama and Lulzim Basha – agreed on several measures to meet the demands of the boycotting DP. Next to the inclusion of representatives of the opposition in the cabinet and as heads of some state agencies, the center-right opposition was also put in charge of the Central Electoral Commission (Mejdini 2017). This agreement ended the three-months long boycott by the DP and allowed the parliamentary election to be rescheduled. Within the short campaign time, Prime Minister Rama ran mostly on an anti-corruption and a pro-EU message. And his declared goal was to get enough support among the electorate to govern without a coalition partner (Keleka 2017). With the lowest voter turnout since the end of communist rule (44.9%) (Keleka 2017), the Socialist Party of Rama won the majority of 48 % and 74 seats in parliament. This means a plus of 9 seats compared to the previous election. The DP of Basha won 29 % and 43 seats in parliament (a minus of 7 seats) (RFE/RL 2017). With this result, Edi Rama exceeded expectations and was able to form a new government. As Article 96 of the constitution stipulates, the prime minister is nominated by the president with the approval of the party with a majority of seats in parliament. With the now absolute majority of the Socialist Party secured, the old and new Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the new cabinet on August 27.

What to expect from the new government?
The results of the parliamentary election allow the Socialist Party to govern without a coalition partner – “a unique opportunity for a country that has been marred by political divisions and coalition in-fighting to pursue an ambitious agenda of reform and European integration” as Fras (2017) has convincingly stated. But some observers have also identified a concrete threat to the democratic development in Albania, the tendency to rely on so-called Balkan strongmen (Fischer 2007 and 2010), strong leaders without a proper check by other institutions. Prime Minister Rama faces no real opposition at this point. The president – Ilir Meta – does not have a lot of constitutionally assigned competences. His authority beyond the constitutionally assigned power is certainly limited because of his difficult election by a boycotted parliament and his long and controversial political career with allegations of corruption and not a lot of partisan support. Some authors and analysts have even suggested that it was Rama’s intend to place Meta in a position where he could not become a threat against his political ambitions (see for a collection of these statements Koleka 2017). At the same time, the electoral defeat and the months long boycott has left the main oppositional party – DP – and its leader in a precarious position: “In Albania’s strongly divided personality politics, Lulzim Basha’s decision to push the old DP grandees aside could cost him his post. His earlier decision to abandon an election boycott was a smart move but the defeat might lead to the party’s collapse” (Fras 2017) and the re-structuring of the whole party system. But Rama’s presentation of his cabinet also offered a glimpse into his ideas about the future of Albania. He announced a near equal representation of male and female ministers and emphasized his clear commitment to a fast EU-accession. Taking up this leading role – also among Western Balkan leaders – is certainly a hopeful sign for the whole region.

EurAsia Daily (2017): Political crisis in Albania: parliamentarians failing to elect president
Fischer, Bernd J, 2007. ed. Balkan strongmen: dictators and authoritarian rulers of South Eastern Europe. Purdue University Press.
Fischer, Bernd J. 2010. “Albania since 1989: the Hoxhaist legacy.” In Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, 421–44. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press. Accessed August 05, 2014
Fras, Max (2017): Prime Minister Edi Rama takes total control in Albania, but who can keep him in check?, in:
Mejdini, Fatjona (2017): Albania Opposition to Join Govt Ahead of Election, in:
Koleka, Benet (2017): Albanian Socialists to get parliamentary majority: partial vote count, in:
RFE/RL (2017): Albania’s Socialists Secure Governing Mandate In Parliamentary Vote, in:, June 27.

New book series – Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics: Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli (series editors)

We are announcing a new book series, Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics. The series is edited by Robert Elgie and Gianluca Passarelli and the books will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. The series will include books on all aspects of presidential politics. We are currently accepting proposals for books in the series. The first volume, authored Philipp Köker, will be published in 2017.

Palgrave Studies in Presidential Politics will include books on contemporary presidencies, including presidential powers, the administrative presidency, and presidential advisers, as well as the history of presidential offices, and presidential biographies. The series will also include books on presidential elections, including presidential party politics, and the media and presidential communication.

The series will focus on presidents throughout the world including the US, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including both directly elected and indirectly elected presidents. The series will publish single-country and comparative studies of presidential politics. The series will also publish books on individual presidents. The series will focus primarily on empirical studies of presidential politics, but it could include volumes on conceptual or theoretical aspects, such as how to measure presidential power.

The series will publish books that look at the reform of presidential politics, e.g. the reform of presidential elections. However, it will not publish obviously partisan, clearly normative, or personally critical studies of presidents or presidential politics. The series will have a disinterested, academic focus.

The series will normally take the form of 80,000-word monographs, or edited volumes. However, shorter books, or Palgrave Pivots, will also be considered. To submit a proposal, you should complete a proposal form. These are available from Ambra Finotello (, or from the series editors.

For further information about the series and to submit a proposal for consideration, please contact Ambra Finotello ( at Palgrave, or the series editors, Robert Elgie (, and Gianluca Passarelli (

Feel free to send an informal e-mail to the series editors if you wish to discuss a book idea prior to the formal submission of a proposal. We look forward to hearing your ideas for books and to receiving your submissions.

Switzerland – Indirect presidential elections with a twist

Yesterday, Johann Schneider-Ammann, from the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) was elected as the new Federal president. Having been elected as vice-president the year before, his election was no surprise with most attention attached to the election of the remaining six Federal Councillors.

The Swiss National Council | photo via wikimedia commons

The Swiss Federal President differs from the other presidents discussed on this blog. Rather than being the head of state or head of the executive, s/he is merely chairperson of the seven-person ‘Federal Council’ which acts collectively as both head of state and head of government. While the Federal President is is the highest representative of the Swiss state and is ‘primus inter pares’ (first among equals) with regards to other members of the Federal Council s/he has no authority over the other Federal Councillors. Although elected by parliament, neither the president nor the collegiate government of the Swiss Federation is responsible to or dependent on the legislature. The Federal President, too, differs in the mode of election from other presidents. S/he is elected only for a one-year term in a joint session of both houses of parliament from among the members of the Federal Council and (usually) after having been elected to serve as vice-president in the previous year. Re-election is possible, yet not for consecutive terms; the constitution also forbids the election of a serving president as next year’s vice-president.

For these reasons, we do not usually include Switzerland or the Swiss presidency in the coverage of this blog. The election also tends to receive very little international coverage (as frequently lamented by Swiss journalists). Nevertheless, looking at election over time can prove to be an interesting and insightful exercise. Although the winner of the election is more or less predetermined, there is significant variation among the individual results pointing at political dynamics beneath the surface of the data and illustrating the need for further study and investigation. On the occasion of yesterday’s election, I therefore take a look back at the presidential elections in Switzerland during the last century based on a new data set of the votes obtained by Swiss Federal Presidents between 1919 and 2015.

% of votes obtained by Swiss Federal Presidents, 1920-2016 (c) Presidential Power

The Federal President is elected by a joint of session of both parliamentary chambers – the National Council (proportional representation; currently 200 members) and the Council of States (two representative per state, 1 per former ‘half-state’; currently 46 members) in the first winter session of the parliament (which now coincides with the first session after each parliamentary election). To be elected, a candidate must obtain the absolute majority of valid votes – the latter is often up to 25% lower than the number of National Council members as invalid votes have become established means of expressing discontent over the election of a predestined candidate (and some do not even pick up a ballot paper). The vast majority of presidents in the last 100 years has nevertheless managed to obtain the votes of over 60% of the members of parliament. The record for the highest number of votes obtained during the last 100 years is jointly held by Hans-Peter Tschudi and Willi Ritschard who both obtained 213 out of 246 votes (85.59%) – both when running for their respective second time. Given that nine others presidents obtained at least 80% of votes of total members, this record is however not as striking as its opposite. The record for lowest number of votes obtained is held by Micheline Calmy-Rey who received just 106 votes for her second candidacy and was only elected due to fact that only 223 ballots (out of 246) were collected by members of parliament and only 198 valid votes were cast.

% change in support by number of repeated candidacies

Out of the 96 elections held between 1919 and 2015, 32 were contested by previous office holders – 23 presidents then served a second term, two presidents were re-elected three times thus serving four terms. Factoring in his first term as president in 1915 respectively, Giuseppe Motta even served five terms. The re-election is thereby conditioned by the continued membership in the Federal Council where presidency and vice-presidency are decided (albeit informally) by the seniority principle. On average, former president can generally sustain their support base in parliament (former office holders only lose 1.45% votes per election attempt), yet there are great variations. While Calma-Rey already achieved only 147/246 votes (59.8%) for her first candidacy as federal president (and thus the lowest share of support among members of parliament for a president since 1935), she lost 16.7% in her second candidacy compared to these numbers (a record loss). Five other presidents, too, lost a two-digit percentage, but as their previous results ranged between 70-80%, the loss was less dramatic. On the other hand, presidents with meagre results in the first election could boast their result in the second attempt. For instance, Pascal Couchepin was first elected president with 166/246 votes in 2003 but received an above-average result of 197/246 votes in 2008.

Results for vice-presidency and presidency compared

The result presidential candidates obtained as vice-president (usually) a year before their election as president would appear to be a better predictor of the support for (all) presidential candidates. A first look at the scatter plot above seems to confirm this, yet the correlation coefficient is merely R2=0.2661 thus showing only a weak correlation. Overall, the variation between results appears to be even greater than between the results of repeated candidacies. While the average change is a mere 2.31%, gains and losses of up to 20% are not unusual.

Rather than being entirely ‘pre-determined’, the electoral results for Swiss Federal Presidents can thus be an important indicator of the relationship between legislature and executive and the evaluation of the leadership capabilities (or past leadership) of individual Federal Councillors. To return to the case of Micheline Calmy-Rey, both of her comparatively poor results can be explained by criticism of her activities as head of the foreign policy department which she headed during her membership in the Federal Council 2003-2011. Similar explanations can be found for other examples of poor or excellent performance in Swiss presidential election, illustrating that there is variation worth studying even in a consociational democracy with a multi-party collegiate executive such as Switzerland which is due to its uniqueness often avoided by political scientists. Even comparison with other countries are possible (e.g. with the number of votes received by government candidates in indirect presidential elections). Last, this brief analysis has of course not included a number of other interesting factors, such as the timing of parliamentary elections, the parliamentary power balance and party membership of Federal Presidents, or the votes received by Federal Councillors before being put forward as (vice-)president. If you have further ideas on how to find and explain patterns in these election results, please feel free to leave these in the comments below.


Brij V. Lal – Fiji: A new president elected

This is a guest post by Professor Brij V. Lal from the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University

On 12 October 2015, the Fijian parliament elected a new president, Major General Jioji Konrote, over the opposition nominee Ratu Epeli Ganilau, son of Fiji’s first president Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. Konrote becomes the first non-indigenous Fijian and the first persons of non-chiefly background to occupy that high office. Under Fiji’s 2013 Constitution, the president is the Head of State who exercises ceremonial functions and responsibilities and acts only on the advice of Cabinet or a Minister. Expected to be a person of exemplary character with a record of distinguished service and, at the time of election, without any party political affiliation, the president also acts as the ceremonial commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

Major General Konrote fits the bill on all these counts. He is a distinguished former military officer, having joined the Royal Fiji Military Forces in 1968, and capping his career as the only Fijian solder so far to act as Force Commander of UNIFIL. Upon retirement, he became the permanent secretary of Home Affairs and Immigration and later Fiji’s High Commissioner to Australia. In 2006, he joined the unequivocally Fijian nationalist party of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL), and was appointed Minister of State for Immigration. In the 2014 general elections, he opportunistically changed sides and joined Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s Fiji First Party, SDL successor’s sworn enemy, and was appointed Minister of Employment, Labour Relations and Productivity. Such personal and political contortions are not uncommon in Fiji. Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola was a key architect of the 1987 coup but now professes non-racialism.

Konrote’s elevation was as much a surprise as it was controversial. The person most frequently mentioned as the likely government nominee was former high court judge, Fiji’s current ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Nazhat Shameem, but her reputation was judged too compromised by the murky events surrounding the coup of 2006 to command widespread support and respect across the communities, especially among nationalist-minded indigenous Fijians to whom the presence of any Indo-Fijian in a high office is an anathema. It was expected that the President would be a consensus candidate as befitting an office symbolizing the unity of the nation. But Prime Minister Bainimarama is by temperament and inclination not one for consensus politics. Colloquially put, it is either his way or the highway. The National Federation Party, with three members in parliament, abstained from voting in protest against the government’s unilateral decision. Konrote received 31 votes to Ganilau’s 14.

In hindsight, Konrote’s appointment is a safe bet for the Bainimarama government for several reasons. Unlike the person he defeated, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, he does not have an independent political base of his own. Ganilau did, as a scion of the chiefly system, backed by the majority indigenous Fijian political party. It is a strange irony that upon retirement as the commander of the Fijian military in 1999 to join politics, Ganilau had nominated Bainimarama as his successor and had served in his post-2006 coup administration as Minister of Home Affairs. Konrote is from Rotuma, a small island group some 641 kilometres northwest of Fiji which has, despite its tiny size, provided a disproportionate number of senior public figures in Fiji. Paul Manueli was Fiji’s first local commander of the Fiji military. Daniel Fatiaki was Fiji’s chief justice and Visanti Makarava was the head of the now bankrupt National Bank of Fiji. Their success has bred silent resentment among many Fijians.

Konrote is a person of indeterminate, malleable political persuasion, not one with an identifiable political conviction, having served in two bitterly opposed political camps in the span of a few years, one fiercely nationalistic and the other that professes multiracialism. He will be no threat to the government. Konrote’s military background will reassure the military which enjoys a guardian role over the constitution. Former members of the military now occupy some of the most prominent positions in the country, as president, prime minister, several cabinet ministers, permanent heads of departments, and as diplomats. The military now has unprecedented visibility in Fiji’s public life, and the nexus between the military and politics which will only strengthen in years ahead. It is widely believed that Konrote will keep the presidential seat warm until Bainimarama is ready to move up to the Government House after another term or two in parliament.

Bainimarama’s Fiji is a deeply polarized society. The government’s bulldozing approach is deeply resented, and indigenous Fijians feel that their interests and concerns are disregarded. Ganilau was nominated by the opposition following the traditional protocols of consultation with Fiji’s leading Fijian confederacies (traditional power groupings); his defeat will simply serve to reinforce the feeling of marginalization and exclusion. President Jioji Konrote, who will take office in November upon the retirement of the incumbent, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, has a tough road ahead of him, fulfilling his constitutionally prescribed roles and healing the self-inflicted wounds in his country

Anna Fruhstorfer – Constitutions and Presidents. How formal rules constrain and empower

This is a guest post by Anna Fruhstorfer. It summarizes the main argument and findings of her PhD thesis, Constitutions and Presidents. How formal rules constrain and empower, which was Defended at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in July 2015 (PhD committee: Silvia von Steinsdorff, Zachary Elkins, Ellen Imoergut.



Although presidential power is a hot topic in political science research, little attention was paid to presidents in non-presidential systems with a powerful parliament and prime minister. So far, scholars have mostly been focusing on semi-presidential systems, whereas parliamentary systems with an indirectly elected president like in Germany or Estonia are hardly ever discussed (with the exception of Tavits 2009). Thus, in my research, I study presidential power in both parliamentary and semipresidential systems. In addition, little is known about the role of constitutions in presidential power. Treating constitutions as the explanatory variable is unusual. However, some influential studies have sought to explain the central role of constitutions in the conceptionalization of presidential power. From different angles, Amorim Neto and Strøm (2006), Tavits (2009), Schleiter and Morgan-Jones (2010) or more recently Bucur (2013) have significantly contributed to our understanding of presidential power. Nevertheless, because these studies are mostly concerned with explaining why a discrepancy between constitution and reality occurs, they do not pay much attention to how constitutions influence reality. In my thesis I answer the how question. I argue that specific characteristics of constitutional power make presidential institutions more sensitive to outside influences than others. Therefore, presidents that act within these institutions adapt their behavior accordingly. What emerges from these actions and what we can observe are different patterns of presidential leadership.

Empirically, that means that I conduct a comparative case study of 46 countries for a time frame of up to 75 years.[1] First, I compile an original dataset for these countries (CPS dataset)[2], which is based on a new measurement tool of constitutional presidential strength (CPS index). Secondly, using the dataset, a principal axis factor analysis is used to confront the unidimensional perspective of presidential power and form two dimensions of constitutional power. This two-dimensional perspective then lays the ground for the third step; a typology of presidential institutions with four types (CPS typology).

Measurement of constitutional presidential strength

In the course of the development of the stated argument and the conceptualization of power, it became clear that established measurement tools of presidential constitutional power do not always adequately describe the president’s role in parliamentary systems. Nevertheless, these facts were necessary for my research project. Hence, I have developed the index of constitutional presidential strength (CPS) for this study. It advances established tools to better capture the functional logic of parliamentary systems, to facilitate both low-level and high-level constitutional competences, and to enhance methodological and conceptual issues.

Conceptually, the CPS index emphasizes the functional logic of parliamentary systems. This means that it treats the power distribution with the government’s survival placed in the parliament’s hands as its most important element. Methodologically, the CPS index builds on Fortin’s (2013) description of measurement shortcomings of other measurement tools. The CPS dataset, established by implementing this measurement tool, provides a unique data collection of presidential power. From a historical-comparative perspective, the measurement and the data display a picture of great diversity of presidential power within a system of checks and balances. As a result, I observe consistently higher values compared to the normalized overview proposed by Doyle and Elgie (2015), as well as to individual measurement tools. The main reason for these differences is that the CPS index provides a more pronounced portrayal of the presidential role in power-sharing modes. The differences in the constitutional power in Germany and India as parliamentary systems and Austria and Mozambique as semi-presidential systems stand in stark contrast to each other. Some directly elected presidents are therefore not even strong on paper, such as in Austria, Iceland, Ireland, Macedonia or Montenegro, while indirectly elected presidents are already strong on paper, e.g. Bangladesh (1972-1974; 1991-2013), Estonia, India, Latvia, or Slovakia.

From a large-N perspective, empirical evidence shows that the two groups of directly and indirectly elected presidents differ significantly from each other. Hence, statistically, direct election goes hand in hand with a higher level of constitutional power (as well as the president’s role in the cabinet and the command of the armed forces)

T-Test for differences between directly and indirectly elected presidents

Levene’s Test for Equality of Variances t-test for Equality of Means
F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference Std. Error Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference
Lower Upper
Constitutional Power Equal variances assumed 129.167 .000 -22.415 3285 .000 -6.12560 .27329 -6.66143 -5.58977

Patterns of presidential de-facto power

Based on this comparative perspective, I further stressed the effect of constitutions on how their power shapes and determines presidential behavior in decision-making. Whereas these effects are diverse, there are also clear patterns. The strong-weak spectrum of constitutional power cannot fully account for these different patterns of de-facto power. An exploratory factor analysis (PA) of the measurement data indicates that constitutional power is indeed a two-factor construct (see also Fortin 2013).

These 2 dimensions are the basis for a typology of presidential institutions with 4 types, which can be characterized by the differences in their level of discrepancy between constitution and reality. Semi-presidentialism research has already shown that countries have alternate patterns of leadership (Elgie 1999, 283). These patterns vary between “dominant pattern(s)” (ibid.), be it either a dominant president, a dominant executive, or “a shift from one dominant pattern of leadership to another” (ibid.). What I argue and provide evidence for on a case-based description, is that these patterns are driven by the constitutional structure.

Presidential institutions labeled the notary (e.g. Austria, Germany, Albania, Czech Republic), i.e. with little power on both dimensions, are not able to change their de facto role. Empirically neither a patrimonial leadership legacy combined with a problematic democratic development, such as in Albania, nor exceptional political situations, such as in 1999/2000 Austria, nor even the newly introduced direct election in Czech Republic allow for an increase of presidential de-facto power.

The same pattern can be observed for presidential institutions like the almighty (e.g. Georgia, Bangladesh, Ukraine). Presidencies with above-average competences on both dimensions are so powerful, that they do not (have to) vary their de facto role. These almighty presidencies are largely insensitive to outside influences. Their dominance in most power-sharing situations offers hardly any room for other political actors to establish an influential position. The strong negative correlation with the democracy level of this type is therefore no surprise.

For presidencies labeled custodian and firefighter (e.g. France, Slovenia, Moldova, Poland, and Ukraine), varying patterns of de facto power can be observed. These cases confirm expectations and established literature regarding the questions of why the de-facto power of presidents varies[3] – surprisingly both for directly and indirectly elected presidents within these two types. The Estonian case (and Moldova after 2000), for example, provides some evidence for different patterns of presidential de-facto power. Presidential involvement or ‘activism’ (Köker 2014) increases in times of cohabitation; Estonian Presidents for example veto legislation more often and with a higher frequency in this situation. In times of cohabitation, indirectly elected presidents do not have roots in the ruling party. In most cases, the constitution does not even stipulate a role in cabinet meetings. Presidents therefore lose any influence on the decision-making process within the cabinet and the parliamentary majority. Thus, it is no surprise that these presidents use their legislative veto power frequently.


Research on presidential power points to multiple, interrelated causes for the varying de-facto power of presidents. I claim that constitutions structure the choices and thereby create a path for the direction of the power distribution. By defining how the game is played and laying the ground for the battle, they frame who gains and who loses power. This argument has been illustrated for several countries, but this can only be the starting point for further research. A large-N test of this may use for example the number of candidates in presidential elections as proposed by Cheibub and Chernykh (2008) as a dependent variable for a comparison of presidential de-facto power in different democratic and regional settings.


Amorim Neto, Octavio, and Kaare Strøm. 2006. “Breaking the Parliamentary Chain of Delegation: Presidents and Non-partisan Cabinet Members in European Democracies.” British Journal of Political Science 36 (4): 619–43.

Bucur, Cristina. 2013. “Who fires ministers? A principal-agent approach to ministerial deselection.” PhD Thesis, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

Cheibub, José A., and Svitlana Chernykh. 2008. “Constitutions and Democratic Performance in Semi-Presidential Democracies.” Japanese Journal of Political Science 9 (3): 269–303.

Doyle, David, and Robert Elgie. 2015. “Maximizing the reliability of cross-national measures of presidential power.” British Journal of Political Science.

Elgie, Robert. 1999. “Semi-Presidentialism and Comparative Institutional Engineering.” In Semi-Presidentialism in Europe, edited by Robert Elgie, 281–99. Comparative European Politics. Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press.

———, ed. 1999. Semi-Presidentialism in Europe. Comparative European Politics. Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press.

Fortin, Jessica. 2013. “Measuring presidential powers: Some pitfalls of aggregate measurement.” International Political Science Review 34 (1): 91–112.

Hicken, Allen, and Heather Stoll. 2013. “Are All Presidents Created Equal? Presidential Powers and the Shadow of Presidential Elections.” Comparative Political Studies 46 (3): 291–319. DOI: 10.1177/0010414012453694.

Köker, Philipp. 2014. “Czech Republic – A new government and the evolution of semi-presidentialism.” Accessed October 20, 2014.

Schleiter, Petra, and Edward Morgan-Jones. 2010. “Who’s in charge? Presidents, assemblies, and the political control of semipresidential cabinets.” Comparative Political Studies 43 (11): 1415–41.

Tavits, Margit. 2009. Presidents and Prime Minsters. Do Direct Elections Matter? Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press.


[1] For this I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Comparative Constitutions Project, in particular the University of Texas, Austin.

[2] I label this constitutional presidential strength (CPS) to avoid any possibility of confusion with the different conceptualizations of presidential power presented and with other measurement tools.

[3] This list of arguments explaining why presidential de-facto power varies under certain conditions is infinite. Every country holds its unique set of surprises. One important explanation that proves solid is the role of the president as de facto party leader (Bucur 2013). Additionally party cohesion in combination with cohabitation (Amorim Neto and Strøm 2006), (Elgie 1999), and the proximity of presidential and parliamentary elections (Hicken and Stoll 2013) explain the situation in a variety of countries.

Anna Fruhstorfer is a postdoctoral researcher at Humboldt University Berlin at the Department of Social Sciences. Her main area of research is Comparative Politics, with a regional emphasis in Eastern Europe. Her research concentrates on presidents, parliaments and the relation of law and politics, in particular constitutional politics. She is also affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin via the Comparative Constitutions Project.

Veto et Peto – Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe, 1990-2010

This post summarises the main argument and findings of Philipp Köker’s PhD thesis
‘Veto et Peto: Patterns of Presidential Activism in Central and Eastern Europe’ (UCL, 2015).
You can download the full thesis from UCL Discovery here.


The Belweder – Residence of Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski | © Philipp Köker 2008

The presidents of the new democracies that emerged in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after 1989 have been subject to a great number of studies. Thereby, political scientists have often focussed on presidents’ powers – be it to enhance or develop classifications of regime types, or to study their impact on democratic consolidation or economic development. However, comparatively little has so far been written on how president actually use the varying powers at their disposal. Therefore, the aim of my study was to map patterns of presidential activism – defined as the discretionary use of formal powers by the president – and explain why and when presidents decide to become active.

Until now, there have only been few attempts to explain the use of presidential powers in the context of European parliamentary and semi-presidential systems. One of the most useful in this regard is Margit Tavits’ (2008) ‘political opportunity framework’ which I also adapted for my study. Based on studies of intra-executive conflict Tavits argues that variations in environmental factors – the relative ‘strength of other political institutions and the constellation of political forces in parliament and government’ (ibid. 35) – determine the level of consensus between the president and other institutions and thereby create opportunities for activism. In contrast to Tavits, however, I argue that these factors do not eclipse the role of the mode of presidential election. Rather, in line with the traditional argument I asserted that popularly elected presidents should be more active than their indirectly elected counterparts. This is because they are agents of the public rather than parliament and lack the constraints and potential for punishment faced by presidents elected in parliament (for more detail, see pp.41-46 and pp.68-69 of my thesis). My main hypotheses were therefore:

  1. Directly elected presidents are more active than indirectly elected presidents.
  2. Presidents are most active during cohabitation, least often when relations with the government are unified.
  3. Presidents are more active when parliamentary fragmentation is high.
  4. Presidents are more active when the government’s seat share is small.
  5. Presidents are more active if their party’s seat share in the assembly is small (or if they have no parliamentary support base).

It is clear that research design, case selection, and the quality of data matters greatly in arriving at meaningful and reliable conclusions. In order to both achieve generalisable results and gain in-depth insights into the practice of presidential activism, I employed a nested analysis framework which combined large-N statistical analyses with qualitative case studies. The presidencies of CEE presented a particularly suitable set of cases for this type of comparative analysis for several reasons [2]. First, the regions boasts a mix of directly and indirectly elected presidents with varying degrees of power. Second, the new democracies in CEE were not only created during the same and comparatively short period of time, but also faced analogous domestic and external pressures during democratic transition. Last, as previous studies usually had to rely on proxies to measure presidential activism, I created an original cross-section time-series data set on the use of presidents’ legislative powers – vetoes, judicial review requests, and legislative initiatives – in CEE between 1990 and 2010 for my statistical analysis. For my case studies, I conducted 65 semi-structured interviews with high-ranking presidential advisors, (former) government members and MPs, and a number of national experts.

Patterns of presidential activism
In order to analyse my data on presidential activism, I used both negative binomial and event history regression models. For the sake of simplicity I only show some descriptive statistics on the use of presidential vetoes here. My regression models generally confirmed the majority of my hypotheses, particularly with regard to presidential vetoes – the most prominent and most frequently used presidential power. In line with the table below, my model results showed that presidents used their veto power significantly more often than indirectly elected presidents. Furthermore, presidents were more active during neutral relations with the government and cohabitation and the effects of the governmental and presidential seat shares, too, showed the expected effects. Echoing findings from the study of presidential veto use in the United States, president also vetoed more frequently the more bills were passed by parliament. Contrary to my expectations, however, coefficients for parliamentary fragmentation did not reach statistical significance.

Use of presidential vetoes in CEE 1990-2010 - (C) Philipp Köker 2015

The statistical analyses of presidents’ use of judicial review requests and legislative initiatives unfortunately brought less striking results. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that they are only relatively rarely used or only few presidents have the right to use them which complicated statistical modelling. Nonetheless, the results for presidential vetoes provided a sufficient basis for proceeding with so-called ‘model-testing small-N analysis’ – a second step in the nested analysis approach that is aimed at verifying the results of the quantitative analysis, further testing the robustness of the model, and illustrating the causal mechanisms at work.

Presidential activism in practice
Based on the predictions of the statistical models of presidential vetoes, I selected 12 president-cabinet pairings in four countries (Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) for qualitative analysis. The guiding principle of the selection of countries (two directly, two indirectly elected presidents; two powerful, two weak presidents) as well as the the selection of president-cabinet pairings was to achieve a well-balanced mix of cases for in-depth analysis. Due to the results of the statistical models, the case studies focussed on presidential vetoes and the degree to which the factors included in my statistical models could explain instances (or the lack) of the use of vetoes. They also included a section on presidential activism in government formation which – given the lack of appropriate data – could not be adequately analysed statistically and was intentionally left for the qualitative part.

The in-depth analysis of presidential activism, which was greatly facilitated by the insights gained through interviews with those involved, generally confirmed my hypotheses and provided strong evidence that the hypothesised mechanisms actually insist. In particular, the mode of presidential election emerged as one of, if not the most important factor in explaining presidential activism. The popular mandate gained through direct elections gave presidents significantly more freedom in their actions but also required them to be more active to ensure their re-election – this was not only confirmed through my interviews with presidential aides but also evidenced by a number of presidents’ public statements. Indirectly elected presidents on the other hand acknowledged their dependence on parliament and therefore used their powers less often as not to interfere in the work of their principal. The relationship between president and government as well as the government’s strength in parliament were equally shown to be key determinants in presidents’ decisions to use their powers. Yet the qualitative also demonstrated that the size of presidents’ support base in parliament only becomes relevant when their party participates in government or when high thresholds are needed to override a veto. In addition, the qualitative analysis suggested an additional explanatory factor for presidential activism not included in my theoretical and statistical models – divisions within and between government parties provided additional opportunities for activism and could explain vetoes under otherwise unfavourable conditions. Last, my (albeit brief) analysis of presidential activism in government formation, censure and dismissal called for re-thinking the use of non-partisan cabinet ministers as a proxy for presidential involvement. Not only were non-partisans often appointed without presidential involvement but presidents were also very actively involved in placing co-partisans in the cabinet.

Conclusion & look ahead
Comparative work on the actual use of presidential powers – particularly in European political systems – is still rare. My study could provide one of the first large-scale studies of presidential activism in these systems and thereby confirm a number of assumption which could previously only insufficiently be tested. The nested analysis approach furthermore ensured a better understanding of both statistical results and qualitative findings which will help to inform future studies and further theory development. My study however only produced limited evidence on the influence of factors related to presidents as individual (‘president-centred’ factors) – a group of factors particularly prominent in the case study literature on European presidents. While it appeared that these variables certainly have the potential to enhance the understanding and explanation of presidential activism, more research based on strong theory is needed to further examine their effect. In addition, it would seem sensible to analyse the use of presidential vetoes using data on individual bills which would allow to take those factors that could not be adequately addressed in the statistical models used in this study into account.

Tavits, Margit. 2008. Presidents with Prime Ministers: Do direct elections matter?. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

[1] The full study can be downloaded from UCL Discovery by clicking here. If you are interested in the interviews I conducted with presidential advisors (and other political elites), a paper on these appeared last year in SAGE Research Methods Cases and will soon also be adapted as a video for SAGE‘s new teaching collection.
[2] I defined CEE as those countries that joined the EU in 2004/2007, i.e. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Due to the fact that the Slovenian presidency does not possess any legislative powers, it was excluded from this study.

Latvia – President Bērziņš and the arithmetic of presidential re-election bids

During the last months, the possibility that Latvian president Andris Bērziņš will not be re-elected at the end of his first term this summer has been a recurrent topic of public debate in Latvia. Although the governing coalition – in which Bērziņš’ ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ is a major partner – holds significantly more than the required 51 votes to re-elect him, more and more government deputies have voiced their opposition to re-electing him for another term. Bērziņš has not yet publicly declared his intentions and until now there is no clear alternative candidate. Nevertheless, the debate highlights a recurring problem of Latvian coalition governance and showcases the arithmetic of presidential re-election bids in parliamentary systems.

Bērziņš first election in 2011 was overshadowed by the dissolution of the parliament by a referendum initiated by his predecessor, Valdis Zalters, following parties’ failure to agree on Zatlers’ re-election and parliament’s refusal to lift the immunity of an MP accused of corruption. Therefore, Zatlers’ re-election was unlikely from the start and Bērziņš – the only other candidate – won in the second round of voting with a 53:41 margin. Apart from his own party, however, only the social-democratic ‘Harmony Centre’ officially supported his candidacy and other parties decided not to impose a whip on its deputies, so that it is difficult to ascertain which other parties (or at least the majority of their deputies) eventually supported him. Even though no other candidates have officially been announced yet, this lack of clarity on his initial election does not make it easier for Bērziņš to decide whether or not to run again.

seat distribution latvia 2

The problems for Bērziņš lie both within the governing coalition and beyond. At first glance, it would seem likely that Bērziņš as a representative of the third largest party in parliament and the second largest in the coalition (commanding only 2 seats less than Prime Minister Straujuma’s ‘Unity’) should be re-elected to guarantee continued good relations between president and government. However, ‘Unity’ representatives still remember all too clearly Bērziņš’ unprecedented intervention in the formation of the first Straujuma cabinet (see also previous blog posts here & here), so that party leadership sees a possibility to select a more passive candidate. Furthermore, it is rumoured that senior party figures in Unity (including speaker and party leader Solvita Āboltiņa) have an interest in becoming president themselves. Yet as none of them currently has the full support of the Unity faction, the official party line is that it will support a candidate from another candidate to provide for a better sharing/separation of powers. Meanwhile the National Alliance (the third coalition) has openly speculated about nominating Egils Levits as their candidate for president. Levits, a judge at the European Court of Justice, former minister of justice and well-respected law professor and diplomat, might thereby be a candidate who would be able to draw votes from both government and opposition parties.

Eventually, the problems of agreeing on a common presidential candidate appears to be symptomatic for Latvian coalition governments. In previous presidential elections, government parties frequently fielded their own candidates only in two out of six managed to get a common candidate elected (Nikolenyi 2014). While the Latvian presidency is less powerful (not the least due to its indirect election), its shorter term length (3 years 1993-1999; 4 years 1999-present) makes it a more ‘speculative’ post which can be made subjected to political deals more easily. Furthermore, following president Zatlers successful post-presidency career (his – now defunct – ‘Reform Party’ won the second largest share of votes in the 2011 elections), the post has possibly also become more attractive to politicians who find themselves in the middle (rather than the end) or their political career.

President Bērziņš finds himself in a difficult situation. Leaders of parties have stated that they would wait for the president to make his intentions clear before announcing any candidates of their own or openly declaring support for his re-election. Even Bērziņš could convince at least some Unity deputies to support him, it seems unlikely that ‘Harmony Centre’, currently the largest of all parties in parliament (24/100 seats) and thus key to a victory without support from all government parties, would elect him again. Harmony’s opposition to Bērziņš is thereby not only linked to the president himself, but also to his party. On the one hand, party leader Urbanovics still resents Bērziņš for not providing more support in obtaining access to to classified information (a highly contentious issues given the party’s association with the ethnic Russian minority). On the other hand, Harmony was forced to concede committee seats to the ‘For Latvia from the Heart’ party due to a lack of support from the Union of Greens and Farmers. While Bērziņš’ re-election is not impossible, the fact that he has to ‘make the first move’ with incomplete information appears to be his biggest disadvantage.

Csaba Nikolenyi – Indirectly Elected Presidents: The Importance of the Rules of the Game

This is a guest post by Csaba Nikolenyi of the Department of Political Science, Concordia University

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 19.55.34

In my newly released book on Institutional Design and Party Government in Post-Communist Europe (Oxford University Press), I devote a chapter to the assessment of the relationship between the rules of indirect presidential elections and divided government. In democracies, where the chief executive is elected directly by the voters, the notion of divided government refers to split partisan control of the executive and legislative branches. In democracies with indirectly elected presidents, however, the notion of divided government is much less explored. In my study, I do not approach the question of presidential choice and divided government from the perspective of the head of state; instead, my interest is in understanding how particular institutional conditions help, or not, the governing majority of parties to acquire control over the presidency where the constitution provides for an indirectly elected head of states.

Among the ten post-communist EU member states, there are four that had indirect presidential elections as of 2010: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, and Latvia. Since then, the number has dropped to three as a result of the Czech Republic having adopted a constitutional amendment that made the presidency a directly elected office in 2012. I find that in all four cases the rules of the game, specifically the congruence of the presidential election process with the selection of the prime minister, has systematically affected whether the incumbent government coalition of parties will capture the presidency or not. In Hungary and Latvia the rules of winning both the legislature and the executive favor the majority coalition in government. As a result, we tend to see few instances of divided partisan control over the two branches. In contrast, the presidential election rules in the Czech Republic, until 2012, and in Estonia, make it very difficult for the governing coalition to do so: in the former case the selection of the president required bicameral assent, and, in the latter case the winning candidate needs a qualified 2/3 majority in the unicameral Riigikogu. As a result, divided government has been a more frequent outcome in these latter cases.

Do these differences matter? After all, conventional wisdom has it that indirectly elected heads of state tend to have more of a symbolic role than effective political power. I suggest the contrary. Margit Tavits has convincingly shown that presidential power is not always and directly a function of the way in which the chief executive is chosen. At times, an indirectly elected head of state can wield more power over parliament, and political life in general, than a directly elected one depending on factors such as the prevailing balance of powers among parties, personal assets, and, very importantly the formal powers of the office. In the context of East Central Europe, for example, Vaclav Klaus, former (indirectly elected) president of the Czech Republic, was well known for his ability to wield power far beyond what many other directly elected presidents in the region could. In short, it does matter who wins an indirectly contested presidency and, therefore, the rules of the game are very important.

The process of finding the next head of state can be in and of itself an important factor that either supports the institutionalization of the democratic system or paralyzes it. Slovakia abolished the indirectly elected presidency after multiple rounds of balloting in 1998 failed to produce a winning candidate leaving the office vacant for six months and creating considerable political and constitutional turmoil. Similarly, the election of Vaclav Klaus in 2003 was the end product of a prolonged sequence of three rounds of ballots that left the Czech Republic paralyzed for two months. In addition to producing divided government, Klaus’ eventual victory also led to continued acrimony within the ranks of the governing coalition. In fact, it was during the 2003 presidential election process that serious calls in favor of moving to a direct presidential election, as Slovakia had done a few years prior, surfaced. The case of Latvia shows that even a simple majority requirement, that should favor the candidate of the governing coalition, may not be sufficient to generate a straightforward presidential election if the party system is too fragmented: in 1999 it took six rounds of balloting in the Saeima to find the winning candidate, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

All of this leads to a specific recommendation that institutional designers may take to heart. Juan Linz famously argued that presidentialism, i.e. having a powerful directly elected head of state, is perilous for a new democracy for several reasons including the divisive zero-sum nature of the presidential election. I argue that an indirectly elected presidency may be just as divisive and perilous for a new democracy unless the rules of the game are planned carefully. If the constitution calls for an indirectly elected presidency it is best to have such rules in place that will keep the number of rounds, and the possibility of a protracted or failed balloting, to a minimum. Having a presidential election rule in place that requires the winning candidate to have a special qualified majority tends to exacerbate political divisions in two ways: i) they tend to lead to divided government and conflict between the legislative majority and the head of state; ii) and they increase the likelihood of protracted or failed votes. The current political crisis in Lebanon, where the legislature has failed to elect a new president after thirteen rounds of voting at the time of writing, is a stark reminder of the negative political consequences of such rules in a different part of the world. Simple majority rules allowing for limited rounds to elect the head of state may reinforce the political power of the governing majority by reducing the likelihood of divided government. As such, they lead to greater concentration of power than qualified majority election rules do. Nonetheless, they lead to smoother, more efficient and more predictable outcomes that reduce the strain on the institutional structures of a new democracy.

Csaba Nikolenyi received his PhD from the University of British Columbia in 2000 and was hired by Concordia University the same year. His research focuses on the comparative study of political parties, electoral systems and legislatures in post-communist democracies as well as on the political systems of Israel and India. He was former English Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Political Science (2006-11). He served as Code Administrator in the Faculty of Arts and Science between 2009 and 2011 and as Chair of the Department of Political Science between 2011 and 2014. Currently, he is the Director of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. Dr. Nikolenyi has published extensively in comparative politics journals and has authored two books: Minority Government in India (Routledge 210) and Institutional Design and Party Government in Post-Communist Democracies (Oxford University Press, 2014). He was a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2007-8) and the Centre for European Studies at the Australian National University (2012).

How competitive are indirect presidential elections in Europe? Part 2

In a recent article, I presented figures for the competitiveness of direct presidential elections in democracies around the world.[1] In a contribution to a new volume, I report figures for the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in Europe.[2] The editor of the volume, Professor José M. Magone, has allowed me to build on the information in a couple of Tables in the book prior to publication. I am very grateful to him.

In the previous post I looked at the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in terms of the number of ballots it took to elect the president and the time taken to do so. In this post, I look at the number of candidates at the election.

Unlike direct presidential elections, one of the characteristics of indirect presidential elections in many countries is that new candidates can enter the contest after the first ballot. So, just as the share of the vote in direct presidential elections is reported on the basis of the first ballot, here I am reporting figures for the number of candidates at the first ballot of indirect presidential elections. Obviously, this can be misleading. For example, if a candidate is sure that a successful election will not take place at the first or subsequent ballots, s/he can wait until a later ballot to stand in the hope of being able to portray himself/herself as a unifying figure. While this scenario is possible, it is difficult to capture in cross-national comparisons. So, I report the figures the number of candidates at the first ballot in the Tables below. (The range of elections covered is reported in the previous post).

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Albania 1.3 2 1 2
Estonia 2.8 4 1 1
Germany 3.3 8 1 1
Greece 2 6 1 4
Hungary 2.25 3 1 1
Italy 11.5 18 5 0
Kosovo 1.5 1 1 1
Latvia 2.2 4 1 2

Notes: No systematic information is available for Malta. The figures for Hungary are from 2000 (inclusive). The figures for Italy exclude so-called ‘voti dispersi’.

Here are figures for countries that used to hold indirect presidential elections, but that have since shifted to direct elections.

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Czech Rep. 3 4 3 0
France 5 8 3 0
Slovakia 3.5 4 3 0

The most striking finding is that, with the exception of Italy, the average number of candidates at the first ballot is relatively low. Indeed, relative to direct presidential elections (see figures below), the number is much smaller. This is obviously the result of ballot rules, the nature of party discipline in the legislature, and relatively small number of parliamentary groups. By contrast, in direct presidential elections there is usually some way that non-party or dissident party candidates can find their way on to the ballot.

In addition, whereas Iceland and Ireland are the only countries with directly elected presidents that have some tradition of uncontested elections, we find that in parliamentary republics uncontested elections have occurred in a higher proportion of countries. It should be remembered, though, that in parliamentary republics an uncontested election does not necessary mean a successful election. Sometimes opposition parties will refuse to stand a candidate, leaving the candidate of the largest party as the sole candidate but one who does not necessarily have a large enough majority for election, especially if there is a super-majority requirement. So, uncontested elections do not necessarily signify low political stakes in parliamentary republics.

If there is variation in the average number of candidates across indirect and direct presidential elections in Europe, the figures are fairly similar if we compare the average number of candidates at indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections. This calculation adjusts for the candidates at the first-round of direct presidential elections who compete but who only win a small fraction of the vote. Are there only a small number of candidates who realistically stand a chance of winning, or are votes dispersed relatively equally across a lot of candidates? Arguably, this is a better comparison because it controls for the very different type of ballot rules in the two systems. There are figures for the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections in the previously cited article.[1] Here, I report figures by country for the average number of candidates with the average effective number of candidates in brackets:

Austria 3.1 (2.1); Bulgaria 13 (3.1), Croatia 11.3 (4.2), Cyprus 5.3 (2.3), Czech Rep. 9 (5.7), Finland 7.2 (3.7), France 10.6 (5), Iceland 1.9 (1.5), Ireland 2.3 (1.9), Lithuania 7.6 (3.4), Macedonia 4.5 (3.5), Montenegro 4 (2.9), Poland 11.8 (3.4), Portugal 4.6 (2.4), Romania 13 (3.9), Serbia 10.5 (4.8), Slovakia 9.7 (3.3), Slovenia 7 (3).

So, from these two posts what could we conclude?

In terms of differences, I think we can say that there is the potential for indirect presidential elections to take a very long time and for them to result in stalemate. This is rare, but it has happened.

In terms of similarities, I think we can say that even if there is the potential for stalemate, in most cases the process of electing the president in parliamentary republics takes around the same amount of time as the process of voting at two-ballot direct presidential elections. I think we can also say that the number of candidates is relatively similar if we compare the average number of candidates in indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections.

Overall, perhaps what this suggests is that the difference between the two systems lies predominantly in the manner of elections and their effects – the length of campaigning, the degree of television coverage, the involvement of citizens, the presidentialization of parties – rather than their competitiveness in terms of the average number of ballots, time, or candidates.

[1] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.[1] Robert Elgie, ‘The President of Ireland in comparative perspective’, in Irish Political Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 502-521, December 2012. A slightly revised version was also published in John Coakley and Kevin Rafter (eds.), The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2013, pp. 17-39.Next week, I will look at competitiveness in terms of candidates.

[2] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.

How competitive are indirect presidential elections in Europe? Part 1

In a recent article, I presented figures for the competitiveness of direct presidential elections in democracies around the world.[1] In a contribution to a new volume, I report figures for the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in Europe.[2] The editor of the volume, Professor José M. Magone, has allowed me to build on the information in a couple of Tables in the book prior to publication. I am very grateful to him.

One of the tropes about indirect presidential elections is that they are so competitive it can be difficult even to elect a president. In Moldova in 2009-2010 this was certainly the case. There was an unsuccessful attempt to elect the president in May-June 2009, precipitating a parliamentary election, followed by another unsuccessful attempt in November-December 2009. This led to a referendum in September 2010 on the introduction of the direct election of the president. This reform failed and new parliamentary elections were held in October 2010, after which an interim president served in office until a president was finally elected in 2012. In Slovakia in 1998 the failure to agree on a president after five rounds of balloting and 10 votes led, like in Moldova, to the appointment of an interim president and a referendum in 1999 on the direct election of the president. Here, though, the referendum was successful. Equally, even though a president was elected by parliament in the Czech Republic in 2008, the difficulties associated with the election were such that they also precipitated the introduction of direct presidential elections there too. So, there is something to the idea that indirect presidential elections can be so competitive that they can be problematic and even destabilising, particularly when party discipline is strong, parliament is divided, and/or a super-majority requirement is needed.

Generally, we can think of the competitiveness of indirectly electing a president both in terms of the number of ballots and the time taken to elect the president. The more ballots and the more time, the more competitive.

In relation to the former, we see from the Tables below that it has taken a considerable number of ballots to elect some presidents in certain countries. Indeed, presidential elections in Italy strongly conform to the stereotype that indirect elections can be difficult and highly competitive affairs. The 1953 French presidential election, which took 13 ballots to complete, was also instrumental in creating this stereotype at least amongst a certain generation of academics. That said, in every European country in the timeframe indicated, including Italy on two occasions, a president has been elected at least once on the first ballot. Overall, with the exception of Italy, the mean number of ballots across the set of countries currently using indirect elections is not hugely greater than the standard two-round system that is used for most direct presidential elections in Europe.

Country Year of first (last) election No. of elections Average no. of ballots Highest no. of ballots Lowest no. of ballots
Albania 2002 3 3 4 1
Estonia 1992 5 3.4 5 1
Germany 1949 15 1.9 4 1
Greece 1975 8 2.3 5 1
Hungary 1990 (info. only from 2000 inc.) 3 1.7 3 1
Italy 1948 11 9.5 23 1
Kosovo 2011 2 2 3 1
Latvia 1993 6 2.3 6 1
Moldova 2001   (all figures exclude 2009) 3 1.67 3 1

I have no systematic details for Malta

Here are figures for three countries that no longer directly elect their president.

Country Year of first (last) election No. of elections Average no. of ballots Highest no. of ballots Lowest no. of ballots
Czech Rep. 1993 (2008) 4 4.5 9 1
France 1947 (1958) 3 5 13 1
Slovakia 1993 (1998) 2 6.5 10 3

In terms of time, the process can certainly be longer than direct presidential elections. In these latter elections, there is usually a two-week gap between the first and the second ballot. However, even leaving aside the Moldova example discussed above, in the Czech Republic in 2003 it took six weeks for parliament to elect the president. In Greece in 1990 the process of electing a president began on 19 February and ended on 4 May with a parliamentary election in between caused by the failure to agree a president. In general, though, indirect presidential elections do not always go on and on. For example, in Italy, even though it took 23 ballots to elect President Leone in 1971, the whole process took 15 days, pretty much the same amount of time between the two rounds of a typical direct presidential election. I don’t have systematic information, but my sense is that the average time taken to indirectly elect a president, i.e. from the first ballot to the successful election, is probably a little shorter than the standard two week period required by a two-round direct presidential election.

In a post next week, I look at the level of competition in terms of the candidates at the presidential election.

[1] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.[1] Robert Elgie, ‘The President of Ireland in comparative perspective’, in Irish Political Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 502-521, December 2012. A slightly revised version was also published in John Coakley and Kevin Rafter (eds.), The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2013, pp. 17-39.Next week, I will look at competitiveness in terms of candidates.

[2] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.