Category Archives: Semi-presidentialism

Steffen Ganghof – On consistently defining forms of government: A reply to Robert Elgie

This is a guest post by Steffen Ganghof, Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Potsdam


I recently introduced the concept of semi-parliamentary government as part of a comprehensive typology of democratic forms of government 1 (Ganghof 2018). The typology sees “semi-parliamentary government” as one of six basic ways to structure the principal-agent relationship in a democracy (Table 1). It exists when the legislature is divided into two parts, both of which are directly elected, but only one of which has the constitutional right to dismiss the cabinet in a vote of no-confidence.

The typological innovation had three related goals: (1) to apply the existing typological approach more consistently, (2) to highlight semi-parliamentary systems as a neglected form and (3) to theorize new semi-parliamentary designs as reform options in democratic nation-states as well as the European Union. Here I will focus on the first goal.

One worry raised by Robert Elgie (2018, blog post) is that my approach has too many classificatory clauses or dimensions. Yet we must not conflate two separate issues. One is whether we should include criteria other than the origin and the survival of the executive, in particular the rules of assembly dissolution. As I never proposed this (see Table 1), there is no disagreement here and no need for adjectives like “semi-fixed”.

The real disagreement concerns what the consistent application of the established criteria requires (Ganghof et al. 2018b). Robert maintains in his post that “[i]f we stick to the separate origin and survival of the executive and legislature, we get the three standard categories (presidentialism, semi-presidentialism and parliamentarism).” I think this statement is incorrect and that it shows the predicament of the existing approach.

To see this, let us first ignore the internal divisions within both the executive and legislature. The focus on the origin and survival then gives us a four-fold table (consisting of the two outer columns in Table 1). It distinguishes pure parliamentarism and pure presidentialism from the two “mirror hybrids” that exist in Switzerland (assembly-selected fixed-term cabinet) and existed in Israel (directly-elected but assembly-dependent prime minister). In this elegant and consistent typology neither semi-presidentialism nor semi-parliamentarism are distinct types; both are merely sub-types of parliamentarism.

To delineate semi-presidentialism as a distinct type, as Robert wants to do, he has to make a further distinction between “single” and “dual” executives in otherwise parliamentary systems. Indeed, other leading scholars like Samuels and Shugart (2010: 27) first distinguish between systems with single and dual executives and then use the fourfold table to subdivide the single-executive systems. This two-step classification procedure is straightforward, but also somewhat ad hoc and inconsistent. For if we introduce the internal division of the executive into the typology or classification, we ought to do the same for the legislature. After all, just as only one part of the executive may be dependent on assembly confidence, only one part of the legislature may be required to supply it. There is a logical symmetry here that existing classifications neglect. Their asymmetric focus on the internal division of the executive would at least have to be justified, but I am not aware of any such justification.

The same asymmetry and inconsistency shows when we consider the criterion used to distinguish semi-presidential from parliamentary systems. The criterion is the direct election of the president. This criterion is usually not justified explicitly and, again, not applied consistently. If direct election is used as a criterion for an agent’s sufficient democratic legitimacy – for being a primary rather than subsidiary agent of voters – then it ought to be applied to the legislature as well. This is what my typology and the concept of semi-parliamentarism do. They systematically consider the role that direct election plays in constituting a typologically relevant internal division within executive and legislature.

In sum, I contend that the proposed typology results from a symmetric application of long-established criteria. In contrast to Robert, I think it is inconsistent to treat semi-presidentialism and semi-parliamentarism differently. Either both are sub-types of parliamentarism or both are distinct types. The two forms of hybridization can also be combined, as is the case in the Czech Republic, but there is no logical reason to see the semi-presidential characteristic of this case as being conceptually prior to its semi-parliamentary characteristic.

As mentioned, the proposed typology has two other goals. One is to conceptualize and analyze a neglected form of government. A recent symposium in the Australian Journal of Political Science has confirmed the usefulness of the concept of semi-parliamentarism in this regard. For example, Marija Taflaga (2018: 252) states that it “better describes politics as it really is practiced” and offers a “simpler and more coherent description of the Australian system.”

The other goal, and the most important one for me, is to guide our thinking towards new semi-parliamentary designs as reform options for democracies, not only but especially for presidential systems (Ganghof 2016, 2018). In my view, this heuristic function is an important purpose of typologies. And if this is the purpose, the number of democracies that fall into each category is quite irrelevant. The current empirical predominance of democracies with directly (or at least popularly) elected presidents certainly tells us nothing about their normative justifiability.

A crucial insight of the analysis of semi-parliamentary constitutions is that they can potentially reap all the alleged benefits of presidential systems highlighted in the political science literature – constitutional separation of powers, pre-electoral identifiability, post-electoral clarity of responsibility, cabinet stability, a single system-wide constituency, and issue-specific coalition building in the legislature – but without the cost of concentrating massive executive power in a single human being and thereby “presidentializing” political parties (Samuels and Shugart 2010).

This raises deep and thorny questions about the democratic justifiability of presidentialism. As Josep Colomer (2013) and others have reminded us, presidentialism has deep monarchical roots. Maybe it is time for us to think about how we can separate what is good about presidentialism from what is dangerous for the quality and survival of democracy. The analysis of semi-parliamentarism would not be a bad place to start.

References

Colomer, Josep M. 2013. “Elected Kings with the Name of Presidents. On the origins of presidentialism in the United States and Latin America.” Revista Lationamericana de Politica Comparada 7:79-97.

Ganghof, Steffen. 2016. “Combining proportional and majoritarian democracy: An institutional design proposal.” Research & Politics 3 (3):1-7.

———. 2018. “A new political system model: Semi-parliamentary government.” European Journal of Political Research (57):261-81.

Ganghof, Steffen, Sebastian Eppner, and Alexander Pörschke. 2018a. “Australian Bicameralism as Semi-Parliamentarism: Patterns of Majority Formation in 29 Democracies.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):211-33.

———. 2018b. “Semi-parliamentary government in perspective: concepts, values, and designs.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):264–9.

Samuels, David, and Matthew Shugart. 2010. Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers – How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taflaga, Marija. 2018. “What’s in a name? Semi-parliamentarism and Australian Commonwealth executive-legislative relations.” Australian Journal of Political Science 53 (2):248-55.

On defining regime types (II) Clauses and Conditions

Steffen Ganghof has recently introduced the concept of semi-parliamentarism. For him, parliamentarism is where all the directly elected chambers of the legislature (whether one or two) have the constitutional right to hold the government collectively responsible, whereas semi-parliamentarism is where only one of the directly elected chambers of the legislature can do so. In other words, under semi-parliamentarism there are two directly elected chambers, but one of them (usually the upper house) does not play a part in the collective responsibility of the PM and cabinet. There are currently two semi-parliamentary countries in the world – Australia and Japan.

I like this definition. It allows us to reliably classify a set of countries merely by applying certain rules to publicly available constitutional information.

Two points. First, I understand why Steffen wants to identify semi-parliamentarism as a separate category, but I wonder if it might not be better to think of it as a sub-category of parliamentarism. This allows us still to see the interesting constitutional feature of the Australian and Japanese cases without losing sight of the basic feature of parliamentarism in both, namely the government’s survival in office is not separate from the legislature. If so, we might think of Australia and Japan as being semi-parliamentary parliamentary regimes. (That is not a typo).

Second, it raises the question of how many consequential classificatory clauses we should include when defining regimes. If we stick to the separate origin and survival of the executive and legislature, we get the three standard categories (presidentialism, semi-presidentialism and parliamentarism). We’ve now added a semi-parliamentary clause. Yet, the semi-parliamentary clause also applies to semi-presidential regimes too. So, the Czech Republic could be classed as a semi-parliamentary semi-presidential regime. Actually, though, we might think of the Czech Republic as a semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime (i.e. a semi-parliamentary sub-type of the premier-presidential sub-type of semi-presidentialism). We could go further still. There are currently only two semi-parliamentary regimes in the world, but there is a potentially important classificatory difference between them. In Japan, the lower house of the legislature can be dissolved early but the upper house cannot, whereas in Australia there can be a double dissolution of the two houses. So – and bear with me – let’s add a classificatory clause and label Japan a semi-fixed regime and Australia a flexible regime. If so, then Japan would be a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary regime or, perhaps, a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary parliamentary regime. Accordingly, the Czech Republic would be a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime.

There is a beautifully Linnaean aspect to this exercise that I find extremely attractive. The classification of the Czech Republic as a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime is reliable. It is based merely on the application of certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. There’s another aspect to this Linnaean-type classificatory exercise that could also be attractive. It’s not impossible to think that it might have empirical implications. Perhaps the Czech Republic’s combination of constitutional features is consequential relative to countries with a different combination of features. We would need some theories to tell us what we might expect from any particular combination relative to others. But we might end up with some hypotheses that could be empirically tested.

That said, I doubt that the classification of the Czech Republic as a semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regime is going to catch on very soon. More than that, there is no particular reason why we could not add other classificatory clauses too. Last week, I discussed the addition of a super-majority clause to constitutional classifications. It would be easy to think of other clauses that could be added. However, by the time we combine classificatory clauses, we can quickly end up with very small numbers of real-world examples. The number of semi-parliamentary parliamentary regimes in the world is already only two. The number of semi-fixed (and fixed) semi-parliamentary regimes in the world is just one. The number of semi-fixed semi-parliamentary premier-presidential semi-presidential regimes is also only one (I think). This is not empirically helpful.

The only way to reliably classify regimes is through the application of certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. Only by doing so can we avoid subjective, contestable, sometimes even esoteric country classifications. For sure, if we rely on only a small number of classificatory clauses, the resulting regimes can include a very heterogenous set of countries that render empirical application problematic. However, if we add more clauses, then we have a more homogenous set of countries in each category, but we can very quickly end up with the n = 1 problem that also renders empirical application problematic.

To me, the solution is to accept that there is a basic Linnaean-like classificatory exercise. This exercise is purely taxonomic. It does not necessarily generate categories that are empirically useful, but then that is not its purpose. This is how ‘Duverger’ problem was solved 20 years ago when it came to defining semi-presidentialism. It is also to accept, though, that there is a separate empirical exercise. Here, we need to be pragmatic. Sometimes, the Linnaean-like classificatory categories may be useful empirically, but sometimes they may not. So, we have theories whereby it can still make sense for us to compare the effects of presidentialism relative to parliamentarism, as well as premier-presidentialism relative to president-parliamentarism. However, I cannot imagine a theory whereby it would make sense for us to compare the effects of the heterogenous set of semi-presidential countries relative to anything else. Equally, comparing the effects of semi-parliamentary countries relative to others is problematic when currently the n = only 2. That said, we can, for example, compare the effects of semi-presidentialism relative to parliamentarism conditional upon some measure of presidential power. This condition allows us to disaggregate the heterogenous set of semi-presidential countries in a way that doesn’t undermine the Linnaean-Like classificatory exercise and that could still be empirically useful. By the same token, we can certainly have theories that tell us what the relative effect of semi-parliamentarism might be, even if the number of cases is currently so small that valid conclusions about those effects are difficult to reach.

Paul Chaisty and Timothy J. Power – Explaining single-party cabinets under minority presidentialism

This is a guest post by Paul Chaisty and Timothy J. Power. It is based on their paper ‘Flying solo: Explaining single-party cabinets under minority presidentialism’, that is currently available in European Journal of Political Research.

It is now widely acknowledged that presidents whose parties lack majority support in their assemblies attempt to overcome their minority status by building cross-party alliances. Since the onset of the Third Wave of democratisation, presidents in general, and minority presidents in particular have governed with multi-party cabinet coalitions on a frequent basis. Like prime ministers in parliamentary systems, presidents do this through the formation of cabinet coalitions, defined minimally as the awarding of at least one portfolio to a party other than the nominal party of the president. The preponderance of minority presidents and coalition governments has increased as party systems have become more fragmented. Between 1974 and 2013, on average just over half of all minority presidents in political systems that meet minimum democratic standards have governed with multiparty cabinets.

Nonetheless, a large proportion of minority presidents continue to govern with single party cabinets. Whereas 20 per cent of minority prime ministers in parliamentary systems formed their cabinets on a single party basis between 1974 and 2013, unipartisan governments were observed in minority presidential systems almost half of the time (49 per cent). This is puzzling given the many benefits that presidents derive from sharing executive power. Over the last decade, political scientists working almost exclusively on Latin American politics have found for instance that minority presidents who form coalitions increase their legislative productivity (Saiegh 2011) and lower the likelihood of impeachment or removal in times of crisis (Pérez-Liñán 2007).

What explains the adoption of single-party cabinets by minority presidents? In our new article, ‘Flying solo: Explaining single-party cabinets under minority presidentialism’, published last month on-line first by the European Journal of Political Research, we explore this puzzle through cross-sectional time-series analysis of all situations of minority presidentialism in both democracies and semidemocracies between 1974 and 2013. Our analysis covers 610 country-years of minority presidential situations, in which we observe a roughly even split between cabinet coalitions and unipartisan government. Hypotheses are tested that relate to the size and distribution of the formateur (presidential) and largest non-formateur parties that make up the legislature; the nature of party linkages and ideological distance between the president and possible partisan allies; and the extent of reactive veto powers held by the president.

We show that the decision by minority presidents to ‘fly solo’ – that is, to appoint a cabinet made up exclusively of co-partisans – is a function of four main factors: the size of the president’s own party; the concentration of legislative seats in the hands of one non-formateur party; the degree of particularism in the party system; and the institutional capacity of the president to kill or amend unwanted legislation passed by the assembly. Minority presidents who are close to a majority in the assembly, who face a dominant alternative party on the floor, who coexist with party systems in which particularism predominates over programmatic politics, and who possess strong veto powers are significantly more likely to preside over unipartisan governments. Other factors that have been hypothesised to affect presidential strategies – for example the imminence of presidential elections – are found to have little or no effect on this most fundamental of cabinet choices. All of these findings are robust to the inclusion of regional controls.

Of all the factors that we consider in this analysis, the size of the formateur party in the legislature is the strongest stand-alone predictor of single-party cabinets. When all the other variables are held at their means, executives whose parties controlled 49.8 per cent of the seats in the assembly (the maximum value for a minority president under our coding rules) are 47 percentage points more likely to form a unipartisan cabinet than presidents with no legislative co-partisans. We note that this effect takes a linear form: the probability of a non-coalitional outcome increases more or less monotonically in line with the size of the formateur party (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Predicted probabilities of unipartisan cabinets for four key causal variables, at minimum and maximum values with confidence intervals.

The dominance of a single party over the bloc of non-formateur parties in the assembly is also found to be highly significant. When all other variables were held at their means, those non-formateur parties that controlled 100 per cent of the non-formateur bloc are 46 percentage points more likely to coexist with single-party governments than when the largest non-formateur party held less than 10 per cent of the seats within the non-presidential contingent. Minority presidents operating within party systems characterised by particularistic linkages are also more likely to have single-party cabinets (18 percentage points more likely) than minority presidents facing programmatic party systems. Finally, minority presidents who command strong veto powers are 46 percentage points more likely to form single-party cabinets than presidents with no veto power, holding all other variables at their means.

Therefore, we have moved a bit closer to solving a vexing puzzle about minority presidents. The takeaway message is that presidential authority matters, and it has specific and directional impacts on minority presidents. Their cabinet decisions are affected not only by how close they are to a working majority, but also by the size and salience of prominent nonformateur parties. Presidents whose parties do not control a majority of the assembly are keenly aware of legislative mathematics. These mathematics (i.e. seat distributions) are normally measured by the effective number of parties (Laakso and Taagepera, 1979) or by a Herfindahl fractionalisation index (e.g. Figueiredo et al., 2012).We contend that these aggregate measures are blind to the size and identity of existing political parties, and instead we profile the nonpresidential contingent by measuring the dominance of a single non-formateur party within this bloc. This indicator is far more actor-sensitive than measures of party fragmentation: it captures the relevance of any organised alternative to the party of the incumbent; it can be thought of as a measure of positional rivalry or competition rather than one of dispersion. Simply put, the configuration (as opposed to the fragmentation) of the nonpresidential contingent in the assembly may affect not only the likelihood that invitations to join the cabinet will be issued, but also the probability that these invitations will be accepted.

Our analysis also concurs with recent work that places greater importance on the non-cabinet strategies that presidents use to manage particularistic parties (Kellam 2015; Chaisty and Chernykh 2017). This work shows that presidents may desist from using cabinet powers when forming coalitions in particularistic party systems. Hence, presidents who choose to form single-party cabinets may still form multi-party legislative coalitions in other ways.

Finally, our analysis suggests that the reactive legislative powers of presidents matter. Far from what is implied in a textbook ‘separation of powers’ model, most directly elected presidents around the world have substantial legislative authority, including the power to veto bills either wholly or partially. In this analysis, we find that those minority presidents with strong reactive vetoes are more likely to form unipartisan governments.

Our global, large-N research design trades away some ‘depth’ in return for ‘breadth’. However, the findings here suggest promising avenues of inquiry for presidentialism research in regions where data quality is high and omitted variables can be reinserted (e.g., Latin America), and may help us to establish some parameters for crafting appropriate case study research on the strategic choices of minority presidents.

References:

Chaisty, P. & Chernykh, S. (2017). How do minority presidents manage multiparty coalitions? Identifying and analyzing the payoffs to coalition parties in presidential systems. Political Research Quarterly 70(4): 762–777.

Figueiredo, A.C., Canello, J. & Vieira, M. (2012). Governos minoritários no presidencialismo latinoamericano: Determinantes institucionais e políticos. Dados 55(4):839–875.

Kellam, M. (2015). Parties for hire: How particularistic parties influence presidents’ governing strategies. Party Politics 21(4):515–526.

Laakso, M. & Taagepera, R (1979). Effective number of parties: A measure with application to West Europe. Comparative Political Studies 12(1):3–27.

Pérez-Liñán, A. (2007). Presidential impeachment and the new political instability in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Saiegh, S.M. (2011). Ruling by statute: How uncertainty and vote buying shape lawmaking. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chad changes constitution – from semi-presidentialism to a presidential system

Today Chad’s National Assembly is scheduled to vote on a new constitution that will change the country’s political system from semi-presidential to presidential. The text adopted in a cabinet meeting on April 10 is based on recommendations from participants in an eight-day forum held in March, boycotted by the opposition.

The outcome of the vote is fairly certain, given that President Idriss Déby’s party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS), controls a solid majority of seats – 117 out of 188 seats or 62 percent – in a legislature that has not been renewed since 2011. Two allied parties of the MPS hold an additional 14 seats (7.5 percent), totaling more than the two thirds required to adopt constitutional changes by legislative vote, without going through a referendum. The move to bypass a referendum is criticized by opposition political parties as well as civil society groups as “illegitimate,” notably given that the National Assembly’s mandate is itself questionable. Chadian Catholic Bishops have also called for a referendum, noting that “a large part of the Chadian population is unaware of what is happening.”

The new supreme law of the country will inaugurate the IVth Republic, replacing the previous constitution governing the IIIrd Republic in place since 1996. The 1996 text was a result of the 1993 national conference organized by Déby in an effort to legitimize his rule after ousting former President Hissène Habré in 1990. As was the case in other former French colonies in Africa that undertook political openings in the early 1990s, Chad adopted a semi-presidential constitution closely modeled on that of the Vth French Republic [May and Massey 2001, p.15]. It was amended in 2005 to remove presidential term limits, and again in 2013 to allow the president to belong to a political party and making it possible for the executive to remove judges.

So what prompted this change of constitution? Why abandon semi-presidentialism and return to a presidential system, given that the existence of a dual executive does not appear to have cramped Déby’s style thus far? Déby – in power since 1990 – has had an impressive list of prime ministers – incumbent Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacké is number 16. One of his predecessors – Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye – even served twice in the role, with 12 years of interval. On average, prime ministers of Chad have stayed less than two years (no one has reached three years). This frequent circulation has prevented prime ministers from establishing their own power base and ignite presidential ambitions. By completely eliminating the prime minister function, Déby does away with a position that could be used by a potential competitor to launch a bid for the presidency in the next election.

Déby promised during his campaign for reelection in 2016 to reintroduce presidential term limits [see previous blog post here]. The new constitution does in fact limit presidential terms to two, while lengthening their duration from 5 to 6 years. However, term limits are not retroactive, meaning that when Déby ends his current term in 2021, he can run for another cumulative 12 years.  This kicks the issue of succession a long way down the road. Déby – 65 years old today – would by 2033 be 81.

Changes, in addition to the removal of the prime minister post and the reintroduction of term limits, include:

  • Raising the age limit for presidential candidates from 35 to 45 years, leading to accusations of “gerontocracy” in a country where life expectancy for men is 49 years and for women 52. The move is intended to “avoid us having our Macron,” quipped one observer on social media.
  • Making it easier for the president to dissolve the National Assembly: before, under the semi-presidential constitution, the president’s ability to dissolve the legislature required that the National Assembly dismiss the government twice in one year; now, the constitution only makes vague reference to “persistent crises between the executive power and the legislative power.”
  • Limiting the number of independent oversight institutions by reducing the Constitutional Council, the Court of Accounts and the High Court of Justice to chambers under the Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice in particular used to be an independent institution with responsibility for voting on the impeachment of the president.

So to conclude, Déby appears to have bought himself some peace of mind with the new constitution. He will be the sole leader of the executive, no longer having to change prime ministers every two years or so to keep the ambitions of potential challengers in check. The issue of succession is shelved for the next 15 years with the introduction of non-retroactive term limits, and the pool of potential contestants has been reduced significantly by the 10-year increase in the minimum age for presidential candidates. Finally, the ability of other institutions to check his powers while he prolongs his stay in the presidential palace has been reduced. The question remains whether popular dissatisfaction and the power of the street could succeed in bringing about Déby’s downfall, as happened in Burkina Faso when Blaise Compaoré sought to further extend his presidency. Déby has strong support among European powers and the US given Chad’s role as a lynchpin in the fight against terrorism. The US took Chad off its travel ban list earlier this month. The position taken by the Chadian security forces would be crucial for the outcome of any attempted uprising.

On defining regime types (I) Including a super-majority clause

In a recent post, I linked to a new time-series, cross-sectional dataset on semi-presidentialism. The dataset provides an annual, cross-national coding of semi-presidential countries since 1900. V2.0 is available here.

The dataset contains two codings of semi-presidentialism. One conforms to – let’s call it – the standard definition. Here, semi-presidentialism is where the constitution provides for a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature. The other adds another clause. Here, semi-presidentialism is where the constitution provides for a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature other than by a super-majority vote. The second coding was added to V1.0 along with codings for countries that conform to – let’s call them – the standard definitions of premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism plus countries that confirm to those definitions with the addition of an equivalent super-majority clause.

Where does the need for a coding that includes a super-majority clause come from? I have been aware for some time that Samuels and Shugart (2010, p. 30, fn 4) excluded countries, such as Madagascar, from their list of semi-presidential regimes because of the introduction in the Constitution at a certain time of a super-majority requirement. In fact, they classed Madagascar as presidential for this reason (e.g. ibid. p. 33 and p. 258). Yet, I don’t remember seeing any definition of semi-presidentialism that explicitly includes this clause. Also, as far as I am aware, it isn’t part of any formal definition of the concept that Samuels and Shugart provide and the equivalent clause isn’t included in their (or Shugart and Carey’s) definition of premier-presidentialism or president-parliamentarism. So, it seems to be post-definitional add-on, or an implicit assumption of the formal definition.

In one sense, I’m indifferent as to whether a super-majority clause should be included as part of the definition of semi-presidentialism, because even if it is included it still allows for the reliable classification of countries. No expert knowledge is needed to determine whether a country should be classed as semi-presidential or not. We just need to apply certain rules to publicly available constitutional information. This reliability is the most important part of the classification process.

Three points, though. First, if it is to be operationalised, then I think the clause should be stated as part of the definition. If it isn’t stated, then for me semi-presidentialism still includes countries with a super-majority requirement. If it is stated, then it obviously excludes them. In other words, we should avoid post-definitional add-ons or implicit definitional assumptions.

Second, I think it is still better to class countries with a super-majority requirement as semi-presidential (or as a sub-category of semi-presidentialism) rather as presidential. After all, the constitution does still allow the legislature to bring down the government, whereas under presidentialism, by definition, it does not. Sure, it might take an extraordinary and almost unimaginable set of circumstances for, say, a two-thirds majority to come together and bring a government down, but constitutionally it could happen. (Think how opposing parties can vote together to end a nominally fixed-term legislature). In other words, whether or not it happens is a matter of politics not the constitution. If we are classing countries on the basis of constitutions, which is the only reliable way of doing so, then surely it is better to think of a country with a super-majority clause as being semi-presidential not presidential? The survival of one part of the executive is still not separate from the legislature.

Third, a super-majority requirement has implications for the classification of parliamentary regimes too. Maybe there are no examples, but what if there was a super-majority clause in a nominally parliamentary regime? For me, this would still make the country with such a clause parliamentary, although we might want to think about classifying the country as a sub-category of parliamentarism. Whatever the choice, I would be wary of classifying that country as presidential.

This is all very nerdy. But why stop there? Next week, I am going to discuss the classificatory implications of introducing other clauses.

Semi-presidentialism, premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism – A new country-years dataset

This new dataset provides time-series, cross-sectional data for the presence of both semi-presidentialism and the two sub-types of semi-presidentialism – premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism – since 1900. The dataset uses the same country names, country years, and country ids. as the V-Dem data set, allowing them to be easily merged.

The dataset (v2.0) is available here.

There are two codings of semi-presidentialism in v2.0.

In sp1, semi-presidentialism is defined as the situation where a country’s constitution establishes both a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature (Elgie 2011). This coding includes cases where a constitution requires a super-majority for the dismissal of the prime minister and cabinet by the legislature.

In sp2, semi-presidentialism is defined as the situation where a country’s constitution establishes both a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature by no more than a vote of an absolute majority of one or more houses of the legislature. In other words, this coding excludes cases where the PM and government can be held collectively accountable only through a super-majority vote in the legislature.

In sp1, the following countries are classed as semi-presidential, whereas in sp2 they are not: Algeria (all years), Burkina Faso (1977-80), Burundi (1992-96), Cameroon (all years), Central African Republic (2016), Egypt (2007-11), Kyrgyzstan (1996-2007), Madagascar (all SP years since 1996), Mali (all years), Republic of Congo (2016), Rwanda (all years since 2003), Togo (all years), Tunisia (1989-2001), and Vietnam (all years).

The presence of semi-presidentialism (both sp1 and sp2) is coded as 1, its absence as 0. The start year is the year of the introduction of semi-presidentialism in the constitution if the date is on or before 30 June. If the start date is 1 July or later, then the following year is recorded as the first full year of semi-presidentialism. The end date is recorded for the year that the constitution ceased to be semi-presidential at whatever point in the year it ended. The end of semi-presidentialism is marked by a constitutional change. This can be a constitutional amendment introducing another type of system, or a suspension of the constitution.

This version also codes the premier-presidential and president-parliamentary sub-types of semi-presidentialism. The definitions are:

  • President-parliamentarism is a sub-type of semi-presidentialism where the prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible to both the legislature and the president.
  • Premier-presidentialism is a sub-type of semi-presidentialism where the prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible solely to the legislature.

These sub-types were first identified by Matthew Shugart and John Carey. The above definitions are consistent with Shugart and Carey (1992).

In the dataset, pp1 and pp2 code premier-presidentialism as 1 and president-parliamentarism as 2. If a country is not semi-presidential, then the coding is 0. All pp1 codings are based on the definition of semi-presidentialism in sp1. All pp2 codings are based on the definition of semi-presidentialism in sp2.

If there are any mistakes, then please let me know (robert.elgie@dcu.ie). If there are any questions, please contact me at the same email.

Please cite the dataset as:

Robert Elgie (2018), Semi-presidentialism, premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism – A new country-years dataset [Blog post, 3 April]. Retrieved from http://presidential-power.com/?p=7869.

References

Elgie, R. (2011), Semi-presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Shugart, M. S. and J. M. Carey (1992), Presidents and Assemblies. Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Semi-presidentialism – A new country-years dataset

This new dataset provides time-series, cross-sectional data for the presence of semi-presidentialism since 1900. The dataset uses the same country names, country years, and country ids. as the V-Dem data set, allowing them to be easily merged.

The dataset (v2.0) is available here.

Semi-presidentialism is defined as the situation where a country’s constitution establishes both a directly (or popularly) elected president and a prime minister and cabinet that are collectively responsible to the legislature (Elgie 2011). It includes cases where a constitution requires a super-majority for the dismissal of the prime minister and cabinet by the legislature. It also includes cases where the legislature’s motion of no-confidence in the prime minister and cabinet immediately triggers a legislative election. It does not include cases where there is only individual prime ministerial responsibility to the legislature (e.g. South Korea), or where the legislature can pass a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister and cabinet, but where the president can ignore it and either keep the prime minister in place or immediately reappoint the same person as prime minister.

The presence of semi-presidentialism (sp) is coded as 1, its absence as 0. The start year is the year of the introduction of semi-presidentialism in the constitution if the date is on or before 30 June. If the start date is 1 July or later, then the following year is recorded as the first full year of semi-presidentialism. The end date is recorded for the year that the constitution ceased to be semi-presidential at whatever point in the year it ended. The end of semi-presidentialism is marked by a constitutional change. This can be a constitutional amendment introducing another type of system, or a suspension of the constitution.

If there are any mistakes, then please let me know (robert.elgie@dcu.ie).

Please cite the dataset as:

Robert Elgie (2018), Semi-presidentialism – A new country-years dataset [Blog post, 29 March]. Retrieved from http://presidential-power.com/?p=7869.

Reference

Elgie, R. (2011), Semi-presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performance, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Romania – An Underused Presidency?

Can the president of a semi-presidential republic build a politically independent and effective check-and-balance on government and parliament? The question continues to instil both scholarly and general interest debates. Recent political developments in Romania have once again brought to the public eye the matter of whether a president can actively and constructively contribute to government formation, the policy making process and agenda setting. And should s/he do so? In the present text I discuss what tools the current president has chosen to use from his ‘toolbox’, and what he stays away from.

  1. The Newest Government Formation

On 29 January 2018, Iohannis nominated his third prime-minister from the Social Democrat Party (PSD) in the course of approximately one year. The exclusive prerogative of nominating the prime-minister shines a spotlight on the president. The government was once again formed without his own National Liberal Party (PNL), prolonging a period of cohabitation. His supportive part of the public expected the president to lead the opposition in extensive negotiations for an alternative government formation. However, he quickly accepted the proposal of the parliamentary majority. Bargaining duration was of one day only. Consequently, he not only contradicted public expectations, but also some of the most recent empirical studies claiming that presidents have an interest in seeing their parties succeed and are willing to act to facilitate their success (Savage, 2017; Anghel, 2017). For the time being, the president has chosen not to instrumentalize his constitutionally prescribed role in cabinet formation to influence its outcome.

Iohannis shows a loose connection to his party (PNL), from whose ranks expectations of support and leadership have always existed. The PNL itself has a weak performance in the role of the main opposition party, which could incentivize the president’s doubts regarding its coalition potential or ability to assume governance.  Coupled with what his supporters perceive as a disengagement from public life, this might bring into question the interest of the president in pursuing a second mandate.

  1. Veto Power

The president of Romania has the right to veto legislation on constitutional grounds by reference to the Constitutional Court or for any other grounds by returning the bill to parliament. MPs may repass a bill through ordinary majority, and the president cannot veto it a second time. The table below shows the number of times president Iohannis made use of this prerogative (see Koker, 2017 for a comparison with the veto use in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe). The third column shows how many laws passed with his consent. When comparing figures, we could infer a working relationship between parliament and president, and a consensus oriented elite. Most of the laws sent back to parliament have actually undergone a process of re-examination and have not been repassed in their exact initial form.

The major source of tension between the president and the parliament is the set of laws on justice reform supported by the government and the majority of MPs. In the proposed bills, the president’s own institutional role in the anti-corruption fight has been watered down. Iohannis has constantly shown a different approach to the government’s plans and even joined street-protests against a government ordinance that would have decriminalised some forms of public office abuse. He is expected to use this ‘tool’ and veto the justice laws once they reach him for promulgation. This prospect, coupled with some anticipation of a severe societal backlash, has so far influenced the government’s actions and is delaying a resolution.

President Klaus Iohannis and PM Sorin Grindeanu (18/01/2017) Iohannis appeared unexpectedly during a cabinet meeting where an emergency decree to pardon certain detainees and amend the Penal Code was to be discussed. PhotoSource: A3 Press

The same issue related to anti-corruption prompted the president to use two more of his executive attributions: calling for national referenda and taking part in the cabinet sessions when matters related to national security or foreign policy are discussed. Iohannis successfully prevented the government’s first attempt to pass the draft emergency decree to pardon certain detainees and amend the Penal Code by unexpectedly attending a would be decisive cabinet meeting in January 2017. He also announced his (unfulfilled) intention to call for a national referendum concerning this amnesty bill, should it not be withdrawn. Iohannis’s use of formal presidential ‘tools’, in the context of recurring mass street protests, has so far delayed the government’s plans to reform the justice laws.

  1. Informal Powers

Most investigations on the powers of the president in multi-party systems agree that the president has a formally more or less limited role, in accordance to the Constitution.  Scholars have so far provided few inquiries into the informal aspects of presidential authority. The few studies that exist are focused on the USA and showed how presidents rely on their electoral legitimacy and visibility to influence the policy process via their public positions and symbolic actions (Strauss and Sunstein, 1986; Ashley and Jarmer, 2016). We should expect it to be the case for any directly elected president, and expand our research agenda.

In the case of Romania, the president’s public appearances are an underused tool. He is reactive in his (e.g) public statements, does not engage in unscripted dialogue with media representatives and mostly limits his activities to technical or ceremonial appearances. His priorities appear locked in preserving the status quo in the justice system, and does not appear willing to set other directions to the public agenda and use his own electoral legitimacy to get people to think about new issues or believe in particular actions. Three years in his (five year) mandate, we could conclude that informal powers are not among his preferred tools of action.

Conclusion

When compared to years of presidential activism by former president Traian Băsescu (2004 – 2014) and the symbiotic relationship he had with his Liberal-Democrat Party (PDL), we can conclude that the mandate of president Klaus Iohannis turned Romania away from a path of increased presidentialization (Samuels, Shugart 2010) and party presidentialization (Passarelli, 2015).

The present text acknowledges that formally, a major effect of the president on the political life is conditional on the inclusion of his or her own parliamentary party in the cabinet. Institutionally, he or she has a limited number of tools to use as effective check-and-balance on government and parliament. Nevertheless, the question remains whether the willingness of presidents to use informal powers (symbolic actions, visibility, leadership abilities, electoral legitimacy, and a working relation with their own party) may not also condition the final output. The use of informal powers by popularly elected presidents in presidential and semi-presidential systems[i] to affect government formation, policy making and agenda setting would benefit from further empirical research.


[i] This blog also suggested that even presidents who are not directly elected can make a constructive contribution in government formation. See the case of Germany.

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach
Robert Elgie
Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

This book provides a philosophically informed, institutionalist account of political leadership. It is rooted in a Peircean version of the American pragmatist philosophical tradition and privileges the study of institutions as a cause of leadership outcomes. The study includes identifying the psychological effects of presidentialism and parliamentarism on leader behavior, a study of the impact of institutions on electoral accountability for economic performance, studies of president/cabinet conflict in Europe, presidential control over cabinet composition in France, and constitutional choice in France and Romania. It adopts a multi-method approach, including a lab experiment, large-n statistical tests, and Qualitative Comparative Analysis, as well as two in-depth process-tracing case studies. The aim is to show that an institutional account has the potential to generate well-settled beliefs about the causes of leadership outcomes.

In this post, we outline the work in one chapter. In this chapter, we re-examine Hellwig and Samuels’ (2007) article on economic voting and the clarity of institutional responsibility. Like Hellwig and Samuels, we are interested in the relative effect of parliamentary and semi-presidential institutions on electoral accountablility for economic performance. We are also interested in exploring the effect of variation in presidential power on economic voting in this context. In short, we are interested in whether institutions condition the extent to which presidents and prime ministers are rewarded/blamed for good/bad economic performance.

To address this issue, we update Hellwig and Samuels dataset, noting certain revisions to the way in which they record the vote at elections with the aim of maximising the reliability of the values in the dataset. We then use exactly the same estimation technique as Hellwig and Samuels.

There is insufficient room here to go through the results in depth. (Which is just an ill-disguised invitation to buy the book). There is also no space to describe how the variables have been operationalised. Again, all that material is in the book. Here, we just wish to provide a flavour of the results.

We find support for Hellwig and Samuels’ basic finding that electoral accountability for economic performance is greater under high-clarity elections, i.e. where there is a single-party government, than low-clarity elections where there is not.

More interestingly, our results also show support for Hellwig and Samuels’ finding that the electoral accountability of the president’s party for economic performance is significantly greater during periods of unified government relative to cohabitation. Figure 1 reports the basic results of our models in the same way that Hellwig and Samuels present them in their paper.

Figure 1    The conditional effect of cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

However, there are some differences between Hellwig and Samuels’ results and ours. Perhaps most notably, we find that electoral accountability for economic performance is significantly greater at presidential elections than legislative elections. This makes sense. At presidential elections, the clarity of responsibility is likely to be clearer because voters can hold a single person/party responsible for the state of the economy. This is the result that Hellwig and Samuels expected to find in their work, but which was not returned. Using the updated version of their dataset, we now find support for their intuition. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2         The conditional effect of the type of election on economic accountability

While we are concerned with re-testing Hellwig and Samuels’ thesis, we are really interested in exploring how presidential power shapes the clarity of responsibility for economic voting. Hellwig and Samuels do not follow up on this issue in their article. So, we are trying to build on their work by integrating presidential power into their analysis.

We find that presidential power does help us to understand how institutions shape electoral accountability for economic performance. For example, when we include presidential power in the model we find that there is significantly greater economic voting at presidential elections with strong presidents. Again, this makes sense. When there is a strong president, the clarity of responsibility should be higher. Voters know better whom to reward or blame. By contrast, when there is a weak, non-executive presidency, we would not necessarily expect the incumbent president or their party to be held accountable for economic performance. (See Figure 3 relative to Figure 2).

Figure 3        The conditional effect of presidential power and type of election on economic accountability

In addition, we also find that electoral accountability for economic performance is conditional upon presidential power during cohabitation. In these periods, there is significantly greater economic voting during periods of unified government when there is a strong president. (See Figure 4 relative to Figure 1). In other words, the combination of unified government and presidential power shapes economic voting at elections under semi-presidentialism.

Figure 4         The conditional effect of presidential power and cohabitation in semi-presidential regimes on economic accountability

These are only a flavour of the results in the chapter. Spoiler alert, not all results are as expected. Most, though, are.

We would like to thank Hellwig and Samuels for supplying their dataset for replication purposes. Obviously, all results presented here and in the book are the author’s responsibility alone.

Reference

Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels (2007), ‘Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes’, British Journal of Political Science, 38: 65-90.

Moldova – Temporary Suspensions of the President of the Republic

The constitutional choices made in the Republic of Moldova throughout the past 25 years cover an intriguing variety of executive-legislative relations. In the style of a ping-pong game (Fruhstorfer 2016), the idea of going back and forth between a parliamentary and semi-presidential system is a constant theme in the political discussion. At the moment, the game has moved back to a semi-presidential system. This change was not based on a constitutional amendment, but a decision of the constitutional court to declare the 2000 amendments unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). This decision helped to diffuse the massive protests after a corruption scandal and bank heist in course of which the country lost approx. 1 billion USD (Kottasova 2015, see also Brett et al. 2015). During this crisis, the constitutional court showed an unprecedented level of judicial activism that was, as we will discuss below, no isolated case. It was the start of the Moldovan political elite relying on the constitutional court to help solve inter-institutional conflicts. It is also an example of how a ruling elite tries to preserve its hegemonic status (see Hirschl 2004). To address these issues, this post will briefly describe the chain of controversial decisions of the constitutional court concerning the president since 2016. This is followed by an analysis of the most recent decision to temporarily suspend the president.

The constitutional court and the direct presidential election

In a controversial and surprising decision in March 2016, the constitutional court ruled the 2000 constitutional amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016) and de facto re-established the 1994 constitution and reinstated the direct election of the president. (For an analysis of this court decision, see an earlier post). The first presidential elections under the reinstated 1994 constitutional order took place in November 2016. Igor Dodon won the run-off vote with 52.28% of votes (47.82 voted for Maia Sandu). As in many semi-presidential systems, this led to a period of cohabitation with the government of Pavel Filip. This per se conflictual situation is exacerbated by the constant, yet informal influence of Vlad Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc is a wealthy oligarch, chair of the PDM (Democratic Party of Moldova), and is incredibly unpopular according to recent polls (IRI.org 2017, originally cited by Popșoi 2017). But he managed to transform the PDM that won only close to 16% of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary election into the main political force in Moldova. Right after the election, it was unclear how confrontational the Filip-Plahotniuc-Dodon relation might be. Since then, we have seen an “inter-institutional deadlock” (Popșoi 2017), which is, according to a variety of independent observers, only a sham to disguise how Plahotniuc and Dodon have consolidated their power with the help of each other.

The suspension of the president

The activism of the court in recent years has often targeted the presidency, yet the suspension of the president in October 2017 and again in January 2018 added a whole new chapter to the already complicated relations between the president and government. Much of the reasoning behind the motivation of Dodon and Plahotniuc is highly speculative, so it seems useful to describe the facts first.

In October 2017, the Moldovan Constitutional Court suspended the president temporarily. The reason was Dodon’s refusal to appoint Eugen Sturza as Minister of Defense, an appointment process that had already started in December 2016. Early in 2017, the constitutional court had issued an interpretation of Art. 98 of the constitution, whereby the president can only reject the nomination of a cabinet member once (Constitutional Court 2017). Thus, the repeated refusal to appoint Sturza led the government to appeal to the constitutional court again. The court first decided that the refusal to confirm a cabinet nomination is considered a violation of the constitution and can led to a temporary suspension. This suspension was issued by the court and was in force until the acting president (the head of parliament) appointed the new minister.
Yet, the constitutional procedure stipulated by Art. 89 would have been entirely different:

(1) In the event where the President of the Republic of Moldova commits grave offenses infringing upon constitutional provisions, he may be suspended from office by Parliament if two-thirds of the members cast their votes in support of suspension.
(2) The motion requesting the suspension from office may be initiated by at least one-third of the members, and it must be brought to the knowledge of the President without delay. The President may give explanations on the actions for which he is being censured before Parliament.
(3) If the motion requesting suspension from office meets with approval, a national referendum shall be organized within 30 days for removing the President from office.”( Constitution of the Republic of Moldova)

A temporary suspension – not because of health reasons – is thus an invention of the constitutional court that sets a dangerous precedent. Two months later the government again appealed to the court to temporarily suspend the president from office, because Dodon refused to appoint seven new ministers. And again in early 2018, two days after the decision of the court on the second appeal, a third complaint reached the court for another temporary suspension, because the president refused to sign a law banning alleged Russian propaganda. According to Art. 98, the president has only a suspensive veto power, but has to promulgate a law after the initiative is reconfirmed by parliament. However, Dodon refused to promulgate the law and the interim president (again the speaker of parliament) appointed both the ministers and promulgated the law.

Any assessment of the role of the constitutional court, the president and the head of the PDM in this complicated power structure is hardly possible without a partisan reading. Some describe Plahotniuc as a pro-democratic, pro-western figure and the PDM as the main party that guarantees democratic development (RFE/RL 2017). But Plahotniuc is also profiting from East-West tensions, has autocratic tendencies and is accused of corruption (Popșoi 2017a). In any case, he is a main player within the government, although he has no formal governmental role (he is member of parliament and chair of the PDM). Dodon’s role and motivations are less clear. On the one hand, he was the former head of the Socialist Party and has a declared pro-Russian stance. This is a logical explanation for his refusal to promulgate the anti-Russian propaganda law. On the other hand, he cooperated closely with Plahotniuc and the PDM to change the country’s electoral law to a mixed electoral system. This move was widely condemned by international actors (among them most importantly the Venice commission, see Venice Commission 2017). Some observers have even argued that Dodon has reached an informal agreement with Plahotniuc and informally supports the political course to hold his position (see for example Necsutu 2017). Authors have described this as a “political cartel narrative” (Popșoi 2017a) with the aim of a Russia-backed coalition between the Socialists (PD) and the PDM after the upcoming parliamentary elections in November this year.

Beyond the speculation about the motives that led Dodon to comply with the course of Plahotniuc, it is clear that the constitutional court is instrumentalized in allowing the ruling elite to preserve their newly won influence and power. The inter-institutional deadlock is nothing new for the Republic of Moldova and neither is the issue of EU integration vs. close ties with Russia. Neither is necessarily beneficial for democratic development, but both always seemed possible to overcome. Yet, what will have a lasting influence on the downward spiral of Moldovan democracy is the unprecedented involvement of the court in the power struggle that will undermine what is left of the public’s trust in the constitutional court.

Literature

BBC (2016): Pro-Moscow figure Igor Dodon claims Moldova presidency. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37970155. November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Brett, Daniel; Knott, Ellie; Popsoi, Mihai (2015): The ‘billion dollar protests’ in Moldova are threatening the survival of the country’s political elite. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/09/21/the-billion-dollar-protests-in-moldova-are-threatening-the-survival-of-the-countrys-political-elite/, September 21 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Constitutional Court (2017): http://constcourt.md/libview.php?l=en&idc=7&id=938&t=/Media/Noutati/The-President-of-Moldova-may-only-once-decline-PMs-proposal-of-Cabinet-reshuffle/ [accessed January 14 2018]
Fruhstorfer, Anna (2016): Moldova, in: Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein, Springer VS, 359-387.
Kottasova, Ivana (2015): How to steal $ 1 billion in three days. http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/07/news/economy/moldova-stolen-billion/. May 7 [accessed January 10, 2018]
IRI.org (2017): Public Opinion Survey (2017). http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/iri_moldova_poll_march_2017.pdf. [accessed January 10, 2018]
Necsutu, Madalin (2017): Dodon Response to Suspension Puzzles Moldova’s Socialists, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/dodon-response-to-suspension-puzzles-moldova-s-socialists-01-10-2018 [January, 14, 2018]
Popșoi, Mihai (2017): Moldovan President Igor Dodon Suspended by the Constitutional Court. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/10/25/moldovan-president-igor-dodon-suspended-by-the-constitutional-court/ [last accessed January 15, 2018]
Popșoi, Mihai (2017a): Moldovan Politics 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/12/27/moldovan-politics-2017-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ [accessed January 15, 2018]
Venice Commission (2017): Joint opinion on the draft laws on amending and completing certain legislative acts, in: http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)012-e [accessed January 10, 2018]