Category Archives: Presidentialism

Donald Trump: The Populist Political Superhero

This is a guest post by Andrea Schneiker (University of Siegen, Germany). It based on her recent article ‘Telling the Story of the Superhero and the Anti-Politician as President: Donald Trump’s Branding on Twitter’ in Political Studies Review which is available here.

With heads of states such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Donald Trump, populism has climbed into the driver’s seat of powerful states. While much has been written on populism, and populist foreign policy in particular, we still know little about populist leadership. If one defining principle of populism is its anti-elitism, how can populists such as Donald Trump maintain the illusion of not belonging to the ruling elite, once they become heads of state? The figure of the superhero can help us to answer this question. By adopting the image of a superhero, populist leaders can pretend to be ordinary citizens while at the same time ruling the country. Donald Trump is the prime example of such a ‘populist political superhero’. In the following and based on an analysis of Donald Trump’s tweets — posted on his account @realDonaldTrump between March 2016 and January 2019 — I will briefly explain the characteristics of the superhero that make it a perfect fit for populist leadership, and highlight the consequences of such populist leadership for democracy and for foreign policy.

Instagram post by Donald Trump Jr. from 21 October 2017 (© Donald Trump Jr. 2017, displayed here under fair use)

Just like Spiderman, Superman or James Bond, the superhero marketed by Donald Trump is an ordinary citizen who, in case of an emergency, uses his superpowers to save others, in this case: the United States of America. To portray himself as an ordinary citizen, Donald Trump not only presents himself as a proud husband and father, but also regularly claims that he is close to everyday citizens and understands the problems and needs of ordinary Americans. For example, he tweets that he knows what they are worried about—namely, ‘rising crime, failing schools and vanishing jobs’ (1 August 2016). Furthermore, in line with the figure of the superhero, Donald Trump claims that he is the only one who can solve and respond to these problems and needs. No matter whether it is about national security, economy, or tax laws, Donald Trump proposes that he is the only one who can fix even existential problems.

According to Donald Trump, the need for a superhero to solve the problems of ordinary Americans and the nation as such arises from the inability of politicians to do so. Hence, the populist superhero is necessarily an anti-politician. Consequently, it is no surprise that Donald Trump uses words such as ‘politician’ and ‘politics’ in a derogatory way. He presents ‘politicians’ as by definition apart from the people, as an elite class, as the establishment. He portrays his rival politicians as incompetent, unable to solve problems, and as untrustworthy – supposedly his complete opposite. This strategy was not limited to his presidential campaign in which he, for example, criticized his rival Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) for ‘never [having] created a job in her life’ (20 October 2016) and declared that ‘Owned by Wall St and Politicians, HRC is not with you.’ (1 October 2016). Donald Trump continues to blame politicians for their incompetence after he became President. In November 2018, for example, he tweeted ‘Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot.’ (19 November 2018).

Yet, in contrast to superheroes such as Superman, the populist superhero Donald Trump cannot operate in secrecy or in disguise. In order to differentiate himself from his competitors and politicians, Donald Trump has to convince the audience (his electorate), that he is better suited than anyone else to deliver on this promises, i.e. to solve problems. Hence, Donald Trump needs the world to know that he, and only he, can fix and has fixed a situation. Otherwise, he could not use his alleged exceptional problem-solving capacity as a unique selling point.

Twitter as communication channel fits perfectly the requirements of such populist leadership. It is fairly anti-elitist in that it is easily accessible as wireless technology allows for a tweet to be posted and read from almost anywhere at any time. On the one hand, Twitter provides a platform that Donald Trump can use to tell the world whatever he has done or plans to do. On the other hand, in order to know about what Donald Trump is doing, people do not have to listen to press conferences or read the newspaper – they just need to access Twitter. People can also ‘follow’ Donald Trump or even address him directly by using his @username reference – @realDonaldTrump. All these features create the impression of proximity between Donald Trump and ordinary citizens.

Yet, this is just an illusion, because this type of populist leadership, and the use of Twitter to communicate it, denigrate democratic politics. The populist political superhero reflects an understanding of political decision-making as an authoritative setting of ‘the truth’ by one supposedly competent individual, instead of through a deliberative process based on pluralistic ideas and interests. Furthermore, claims that current problems such as lacking job opportunities are the fault of incompetent politicians (rather than complex political decision-making and interdependencies in a globalised world) arguably oversimplify the issue. Such simplifications can be posted on Twitter without having to engage in a dialogue and without taking into account different opinions. In contrast to, for example, press conferences, Twitter allows Donald Trump to evade critical comments and debates, because questions and comments can remain unanswered. Twitter even, at least in theory, allows for blocking individual users and their comments.

Populist leadership in terms of a superhero is not only consequential for domestic politics. It also has effects on the international level, because it leads to a rejection of multilateralism. The latter generally requires some sort of power restraint and willingness to make compromise based on agreed-upon rules that equally apply to all participating states. Hence, multilateral forms of decision-making are incompatible with the requirements of the superhero – they do not allow Donald Trump to present himself as the one and only problem-solver. In multilateral settings, Donald Trump is just one head of state among many others. Therefore, he prefers bilateral negotiations or what he calls ‘deals’. These allow him to show the world that he is in control of the process, for example by continuously updating the public via Twitter on the state of the negotiations. Thereby, Donald Trump can also present himself as the only person being able to negotiate agreements with other states. This becomes apparent when looking at the US’ relations with North Korea or at the trade negotiations with China. Regarding the latter, Donald Trump for example tweeted that ‘President Xi and I […] are the only two people who can bring about massive and very positive change, on trade and far beyond’ (3 December 2018) and that ‘No final deal will be made until my friend President Xi, and I, meet in the near future to discuss and agree on some of the long standing and more difficult points.’ (31 January 2019).

Overall, the figure of the populist superhero not only explains how populists can continue to pretend to be separate from the elite even after ascending to power; it also reveals populists’ disregard of democratic decision-making processes at the domestic level and for multilateral agreements on the international level.

Andrea Schneiker ( is assistant professor (‘Juniorprofessorin’) in Political Science/International Relations at the University of Siegen, Germany. Her research focuses on Global Governance, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Political Communications. She is author and co-editor of several books, including ‘Researching Non-state Actors in International Security’ (Routledge 2017, co-edited with Andreas Kruck) and ‘Humanitarian NGOs, (In)Security and Identity’ (Routledge 2015). She tweets at @ASchneiker.

Magna Inacio – Overshadowing the honeymoon opportunities: Bolsonaro’s first month in power

An overshadowed honeymoon has been giving contours and rhythm to Bolsonaro’s first weeks in power. During the honeymoon, the new administration’s first 100 days, presidents usually count on the public’s good will and send strong signals of presidential leadership when presenting a clear governing agenda on Day One. Since “not all presidents are created equal”, the honeymoon phase is an exceptional chance for the president to wisely allow voters, political representatives and opponents to update their feelings about the new incumbent. The value of the first weeks is even greater when strong polarization, political uncertainty, and distrust prevailed during the electoral campaign. Despite these well-known advantages, some presidents allow, or cannot avoid, the overshadowing of the initial steps of their administrations.

Stabbed during an electoral rally, Jair Bolsonaro did not intervene much in the debates of the political campaign. Instead, he intensively resorted to social media to rhetorically reinforce his image as an anti-system candidate. His populist appeals fed the hopes of social conservative groups, and he voiced fury against corruption and committed himself to ultraliberal economic reforms. Backed by a weak partisan coalition, but supported by a massive number of religious leaders, anti-corruption activists and radical opponents of the leftist Worker’s Party (PT), Bolsonaro defeated established parties and won the presidential race with 55% of the valid votes.

The first test of Bolsonaro’s leadership skills was the “presidential transition” process. It is quite an institutionalized process in Brazil when, for 55 days, outgoing and incoming administration teams work together and the latter organize themselves to assume governing responsibility. Bolsonaro’s limited participation in the presidential campaign, along with high expectations about the content of his governing agenda, raised political uncertainties about which policies he was committed to and on which policies he would be able to deliver. Reforms to overcome the economic crisis and the state fiscal deficit, such as the reform of the pension system, had been initiated by outgoing President Michel Temer, who conducted a pronounced pro-market policy-shift after the impeachment of the leftist president Rousseff. However, he became a lame duck president after corruption scandals broke the ruling coalition, interrupting the costlier reforms. Shifting the weight of economic decisions to the minister of economy was Bolsonaro’s only move toward these reforms. Everyone expected pronouncements from the president about these reforms during the transition, but the little we knew about Bolsonaro’s policy preferences did not increase much.

It was also expected that, after winning the presidency, Bolsonaro would signal how he was going to handle his minority status in Congress, to get support for his promised policies. During the campaign, Bolsonaro strongly associated Brazil’s problems with the prevailing model of “coalition presidentialism,” on which past governments have been building legislative support, as a source of corruption and wrongdoing. Avoiding commitments to partisan bases, he claimed that nationalism should be the true motivation for inter-branch cooperation. The president-elect left legislative parties’ leaders “out of the loop”, and placed loyal campaigners and the military at center stage. Thus, the transition period did not contribute to dissipating uncertainties.

President Bolsonaro was sworn into office on January, 1st, 2019. His honeymoon period began with 65% of Brazilians declaring their optimism over the economic prospects under the new administration. However, some missteps during its first 30 days have set off alarms about the strengths of the president’s leadership. In the following, we call particular attention to intra-government management and the relations with Congress.

Cabinet Management

Miscalculations in the formation and management of the inaugural cabinet may have cost the president some reputational losses. This is particularly a risk when a new party assumes power and the president, such as Bolsonaro, lacks experience in the executive branch. At the beginning of his term, politicization, flip-flopping, and erratic cabinet politics increased the misgiving or skepticism about this president’s leverage to coordinate the executive and advance economic structural reforms.

A radical politicization of the executive, with the nomination of campaigners loyal or ideologically close to the president, to ministerial and high-level positions, has engulfed even more the institutionalized and specialized agencies whose efficiency can be hurt by such a strategy. “True believers” in the conservative agenda voiced by Bolsonaro were nominated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, and promptly announced deep changes in the core policies carried out by these structures and bureaucracies. The dismissal of all nominees considered to be sympathizers of leftist parties was one of the first acts of the loyal campaigner and Chief of Staff.

Without party coordination, this politicization was led by the “president’s men”. It broadened the space for fights within Bolsonaro’s electoral coalition for open positions. Cross-pressured by these groups, Bolsonaro flip-flopped on the nomination of several would-be ministers. Flip-flopping became evident, for the most part, in the organization of state agencies. The candidate, who had campaigned for a drastic reduction of the cabinet to 15 ministries, ultimately admitted to the need for 22. Flip-flopping marked Bolsonaro’s attempts to dismantle or transfer agencies in charge of policies that he opposed. For instance, his initial announcement of the elimination of the Ministry of the Environment was cancelled following opposition from the agrobusiness sector, worried about the negative impact on exports.

These management missteps damage the reputation of the president; even more so, when a lack of communication strategy amplifies them. Bolsonaro’s insistence on communicating each decision by Twitter and live-streaming web videos has allowed everyone to follow this presidential flip-flopping closely. More dramatically, the 6-minute speech delivered by Bolsonaro during the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, followed by a cancellation of interviews, showed how costly these missteps can be for a reputation still being built.

Difficulties in accommodating the demands of his mixed coalition, left their marks on the final make-up of the cabinet. Nonpartisan super ministers of the Economy and of Justice had been appointed early; however, the whole cabinet was known only a few days before the inauguration. Loyal campaigners, or leaders of parliamentary fronts, were the only six ministers with previous legislative careers. Military officials assumed more ministerial and high-level positions than expected, corresponding to 7 out of 22 ministers. Beyond the defense policy, they are in charge or sharing responsibilities of inter-ministerial coordination and inter-branch relations inside the Presidential Office. Their significant participation in the government, for the first time since Brazil’s re-democratization, has raised concerns about civilian control over the military and potential intra-cabinet conflicts between civilian and military cabinet members.

Inter-branch (dis)coordination

Despite the presidential coattail effect on legislative and governorship elections, Bolsonaro was elected as a minority chief executive – as all members of the Brazilian “presidents’ club” have been. However, the president did not follow his predecessors in forming a coalition government to overcome this challenge. Instead, Bolsonaro has said he will govern with the backing of legislative coalitions, based on policy compromises.

The high levels of parliamentary fragmentation and legislative turnover could favor this presidential calculation. The effective number of parties is 16.5 and 13.5 in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, respectively.  The electoral endorsement from powerful “parliamentary fronts”, such as the famous “Beef, Bible, and Bullet” groups, boosted Bolsonaro’s expectations to coordinate executive-legislative relations based on these shifting coalitions.

This expectation is unrealistic: the president/his party are neither the median legislator nor are they able to cartelize the legislative agenda without a multi-party alliance. A party of amateurs is backing the president. It is unable to lead any efforts to build a stable legislative coalition. Despite its exceptional growth in the last election, it holds only 11% and 4.9% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, respectively. Most legislators are either outsiders or newcomers recently affiliated with the presidential party, just like Bolsonaro. The election to speakership positions showed the continuing capacity of the established parties to control the agenda and to check executive moves inside the Congress. The current Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies won a new mandate by leading a large legislative coalition, with 58% of the deputies. Despite the presidential party having taken part in this alliance and grabbing some important committee chairmanships, it shows the persistence of the partisan bias of these Chambers, where all executive proposals must be introduced. 

There is a one-month lapse between the presidential inauguration and when the new legislature starts in Brazil. It makes the president and his cabinet the most visible actors in the spotlight, able to get media coverage for engaging the public and stakeholders in addressing governing challenges. Beyond the first-mover advantages derived from the presidential powers, the president can frame the legislative debate before the new Speakers and party leaders take their seats. Surprisingly, Bolsonaro and his team did not seize these opportunities. On the contrary, ambiguous messages and negative records marked this period. Under these conditions, legislative parties stepped back before compromising with the president.

The government has not really engaged in the lawmaking process since the transition. Congressional leaders’ expectations of discussing final adjustments to the 2019 budget law with the new administration were disdained by the future Minister of the Economy. This fed into misgivings about either his lack of expertise in the public sector or his willingness to make unilateral decisions.  The content of the most anticipated executive bill proposal, the reform of the pension systems, is still unknown, and ambiguous signals have suggested conflicts among government groups. The military personnel resists change to their special pension-system, while the Minister of the Economy defends broad reforms. To show some action, the president has resorted to regulatory and administrative decrees in order to implement some electoral promises. Through the issuing of decrees, the new administration has facilitated gun ownership in Brazil, the monitoring of NGOs – Non-Governmental Organizations – by the Presidency, and given more nominees the power to declare secrecy over official documents, among others.  These decrees are, of course, properly understood by the legislative parties to signal that the minority president is willing to engage in unilateral actions.

Yet, the honeymoon has been overshadowed by an event that challenges Bolsonaro’s ability to manage a crisis. A judicial investigation has put the president’s family on the spot in a very sensitive area, a corruption scandal. It was revealed that a friend of the president’s son has been investigated for suspicious bank transactions while he was a staff member in the office of Flávio Bolsonaro, a state representative until 2018. Afterward, it became known that Flávio has employed family members of an alleged gang leader, from Rio de Janeiro, in this office. After denying his involvement, Flavio claimed his right to legislative immunity since he was elected senator, which was later rejected by the Supreme Court. The president, his sons and close allies have been discrediting these accusations and aggressively attacking the press on social media. On the other hand, the vice-president gained his momentum by defending the free press and judicial institutions investigating any possible wrongdoing involving government members. Bolsonaro knows that any reputational losses in this anti-corruption territory can greatly reduce his political leverage for keeping the military under his leadership and getting support from Congress.

The first 30 days of Bolsonaro’s administration have been intense. His initial decisions and moves indicated potential problems in cabinet management and inter-branch relations which could aggravate, rather overcome, his political weaknesses inherent to having been elected as a minority president. However, if the honeymoon of his administration has been overshadowed, it was caused by the president himself.

Karel Kouba and Tomáš Došek – Fragmentation of presidential elections and governability crises in Latin America: a curvilinear relationship?

This is a guest post by Karel Kouba and Tomáš Došek. It is based on their article in Democratization and is available here.

While full reversals of democratic order have been rare in Latin American countries since their transitions to democracy, other, less pernicious, forms of political instability have become common. Challenges to sitting presidents through the threat of impeachment or coups are the primary manifestations of governability crises (Valenzuela 2004), although others consider it as a flexibilization of the presidential regimes and thus a way of ousting unpopular presidents without a democratic regime breakdown (Marsteintredet and Berntzen 2008). We understand governability crises in a broader sense which also includes other forms of conflictive relationships between the president and the congress (Pérez-Liñán 2006).

Existing literature holds that the probability of a governability crisis or an interrupted presidency is higher in more fragmented party systems. In our recent article in Democratization, we depart from this argument in two ways. We argue that we need to focus on the level of fragmentation of presidential elections (and not only the party system itself) and that the relationship between presidential election fragmentation and governability crises is not linear but actually curvilinear (with both the least and the most fragmented elections being most conducive to political crises).

This conclusion permits the reconciliation of two apparently conflicting arguments present in the literature. The academic debate has revolved particularly around the choice of presidential electoral systems (runoff or plurality) and about how these shape the patterns of electoral competition. On the one hand, the use of runoff electoral rules, and especially the fact that the second round had taken place, is associated with higher legislative fragmentation and ideological polarization, which in turn correlates with the occurrence of presidential breakdowns making the absolute majority rule “extremely damaging to democracy” (Chasquetti 2001). On the other hand, however, the opponents of the plurality rule suggest that runoff elections promote democratic consolidation and their introduction in Latin American countries has been a positive institutional innovation (McClintock 2018). Opening up the political competition to political actors that challenge the traditional (and often undemocratic or post-authoritarian) parties as well as greater ideological moderation and wider popular acceptance of the winning candidate are among the principal mechanisms linking runoff rules to better democratic governance.

We tested the implications of our theoretical argument on a sample of 102 Latin American presidencies that have originated in competitive and direct elections between 1978 and 2013. To operationalize governability crises, we used an ordinal index developed by Pérez-Liñán (2006) creating a four-point scale between normal politics on one side and military interventions to oust the president or disband the congress at the other extreme. Running five ordered logistic regression models we show how the curvilinear relationship between presidential election fragmentation and the incidence of governability crises holds under different model specifications. In short, the quadratic term both increases the explanatory power of the model and points in the expected direction as both low and high levels of fragmentation are associated with an increased probability of crisis. The intermediate values of presidential election fragmentation, or around 3 to 4 effective presidential parties contesting the election, are most conducive to political stability. We display this relationship graphically across the range of values of the effective number of presidential candidates. This coding scheme used for the dependent variable indicating the extent of a political crisis assigns a value between 1 (i.e. stable “normal politics”) and 4 (the most extreme instability in the form military intervention).

In the article, we also posit that the causal mechanisms at both extremes are different, as suggested by the notion of equifinality (different causal paths leading to the same result, that is in this case, a governability crisis). In fact, causal mechanisms are context-specific, that is their explanations for how the same phenomenon can vary in time and space. The causal mechanism that translates high levels of party/presidential fragmentation to governability crises has been thoroughly studied and demonstrated in various cases of interrupted presidencies. Extreme fragmentation prevented presidents from having a sufficient “legislative shield” and functional government coalitions (Pérez-Liñán 2007). In combination with social mobilization (Hochstetler 2006), this weakened presidents’ positions and eventually contributed to presidential instability. This was, for example, the case of interrupted presidencies in Ecuador and Bolivia (Mejía Acosta and Polga-Hecimovich 2010; Buitrago 2010, among others).

However, the overconcentration of the presidential contest is almost as likely to destabilize politics. We identify three analytically different mechanisms that describe such processes and use short case studies to illustrate them. First, we focus on refoundationalist politics as a consequence of previous crises of representation that could trigger a governability crisis. Second, we argue that overinstitutionalized parties and party systems often maintained by plurality electoral rules prevent alternative leaders from entering the competition, and that this petrification of politics is unhealthy for democratic stability. Third, we focus on the internal conflicts within the traditional parties whose leaders are encouraged to abandon their party and form a personalist vehicle of their own to contest elections. We illustrate these scenarios with the cases of Venezuela (which combines to a certain degree the first two paths) and Honduras (which exemplifies the last two paths).

We conclude in line with McClintock’s recent work that there are risks associated with an extreme overconcentration of the party system. Thus, to the extent that concentrating the presidential contest has been advocated to avoid further legislative fragmentation and governability crises, this advice cannot be generalized across the board without caveats. Both runoff and plurality rule have their advantages supported by some formidable theoretical arguments. Consequently, the institutional advice that is consistent with our theoretical argument is the preference for a runoff rule with a reduced threshold in the first round. This middle-of-the-road rule might avoid the overconcentration of the contest between two competing blocs by facilitating access of challenger parties to the presidency, while at the same time safeguarding against the proliferation of weak candidates.

Karel Kouba is an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Philosophical Faculty, University of Hradec Králové, Czech Republic. He specializes in voting behaviour and electoral institutions in Latin American and post-communist countries. He can be reached at Website:

Tomáš Došek is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Instituto de Ciencia Política, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile. His research focuses on political parties, electoral reforms and subnational politics in Latin America. He can be reached at Website:

Haiti – A new prime minister and the politics of retrenchment of President Jovenel Moïse

Article 156 of the constitution of Haiti stipulates that the prime minister runs the government and is responsible before the parliament, which can at any time decides his fate with a vote of confidence or no-confidence. This constitutional prerogative of the parliament was in full display two months ago when, on July 14th, following an interpellation by the chamber of deputies, the then prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, announced his resignation after it was clear that he would be voted out by a majority of legislators from his own party. This was the consequence of violent and deadly demonstrations that had rocked the capital a week before, when angry protesters took to the streets to denounce the decision of the government to increase fuel prices, following a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund.

After the events that took place on that fateful July 7th , a large group of businessmen and legislators from the ruling PHTK party decided that it was the moment to seal the fate of Lafontant. They joined the growing chorus of political opponents that had been asking for the departure of the government. The resignation of the prime minister marked the first moment since the beginning Jovenel Moïse’s young presidency that the opposition had been able to score an important political point. But, this win came when many people had defected from his own party, taking advantage of the weakness of the president in the wake of the violent demonstrations to force his hand to change the primer minister. In this sense, the events that brought down the government are the result of the calculus of different actors who are trying to advance different objectives in the present context.

The preference of the president, Jovenel Moïse, would have been to maintain Jack Guy Lafontant as his prime minister. He made clear on several occasions before the events that finally forced his hand that he wanted no changes. On April 24th when he reluctantly agreed to change 27% of the cabinet, he made it clear over a period of several weeks that he was against the idea. Only after the defection of many legislators from his party did he finally accepted to swear in five new ministers.

The fact that it took the president an entire week to finally come to terms with the idea of the resignation of Lafontant after the riots of July 7th , when political actors both from his party and the opposition had signed off on the Prime Minister, shows that the president was not at all convinced that such a change was necessary.

It took Jovenel Moïse a full month to find a new prime minister. He is Jean Henry Céant, a former presidential candidate. Céant then spent exactly another month forming a new cabinet of 18 ministers, in which 33% (6 out of 18) are left over from the old government. Two months after the last wave of protests, the president was finally able to convince a majority of the legislators of his own party to approve the declaration of politics of the new government. On September 14th and 16th, the Senators and the Chamber of the Deputies approved the Cabinet and, Céant became the 21th Prime Minister since 1988 in Haiti.

But, from what we know of the negotiations between the president and the legislators from his own party, it is clear that the road to the nomination of Céant and the formation of the government was not smooth. Many legislators vented their frustration and criticisms in public when it was clear that they would not have the ability to secure their preferred outcomes. With the next legislative elections scheduled to take place at the end of next year, the majority that voted in favor of the new government has been promised a substantial amount of money for their constituency. In the coming months, if for any reason the government does not maintain its end of the bargain, it is possible that the country will experience another episode of instability in the government.

The opposition parties whose demonstrations in the street finally led to the fall of the Lafontan’s government have not been able to capitalize from the instability they created. Even though the new primer minister, Céant, is from a branch of the opposition, they have not been able to secure any relevant position in the cabinet. All of the Ministers are from the ruling PHTK party or political groups around the President.

With the resignation of Lafontant, many in the opposition asked for a “cohabitation”, where the opposition parties would govern alongside the President. Such a scenario would be their best second outcome, since they have not enough political strength to force out President Jovenel Moïse, as they have been trying to do since his election. But the reality is that the opposition has very little sway in this conjuncture. Its presence in both chambers of parliament is merely testimonial. In fact, recent events are more a product of internal infighting in the PHTK and the miscalculations of Prime Minister Lafontant.

The goal of the opposition in the coming months will be to maintain street demonstrations against the government. During the discussions around the formation of the new government, many cases of corruption in which the name of individuals from the PHTK were cited. The opposition parties seem poised to keep mobilizing around this issue in an attempt to discredit the president. Their ability to maintain pressure around these cases will be vital for their relevance in the near future.

Executive oversight in Russia


The Russian State Duma does not have a reputation for grilling executive officials. Especially since United Russia – the Putin-supporting “party of power” – has controlled a majority of seats in the 450-seat lower chamber of the Federal Assembly, the Duma has done little to act as a check on executive behaviour. In that way, it acts as we expect other parliaments do in non-democracies – a source of strength, rather than irritation, for executive actors.

Nevertheless, the State Duma has the formal capacity for some form of executive oversight. During “government hour” sessions, executive officials are invited to respond to questions from deputies. Figure 1 shows the frequency of these sessions, 2005-2017.

Figure 1: Frequency of “government hour” sessions by year, 2005-2017. Source: author’s calculations based on “government hour” planning documents, available from (last accessed 14 August 2018).

The mere fact that these nominal oversight sessions take place does not, of course, tell us if this is more than mere performance. A key question is whether deputies ask needling, critical questions.

Another important question is who is invited to be questioned by deputies. One way to classify Russian executive actors is by whether their respective bodies are controlled directly (formally, at least) by the president or the government. According to article 32 of Federal Constitutional Law number 2 from 1997 (with amendments), the president directly controls the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Defence, Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Emergency Situations, as well as a number of federal agencies and services, including the Federal Security Service (FSB). All other executive bodies are formally controlled by the government.

This divide in direct control is found in other states, including Vietnam, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Myanmar. In the latter, for example, the Constitution states that the military controls a number of core bodies, such as the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Border Affairs, and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

We can think of this executive divide in terms of delegation and principal-agent relationships. In most (if not all) regimes, there will be a leader – whether that be, for example, a monarch, president, general secretary, or a collective body, such as a junta. For shorthand, we can refer to them as “autocrats”. At the same time, the executive can contain other actors, to whom responsibility for certain portfolios are delegated. Thus, whereas the “autocrat” likely retains control over sensitive portfolios relating to security and state sovereignty, non-“autocrat” elements of the executive can be delegated portfolios relating to, say, economic policy.

This division is attractive to elites, not least because it allows for blame deflection during periods of economic hardship. The “autocrat” can use other executive actors as a buffer from societal criticism – something that has been on display recently in Iran, where the president, Hassan Rouhani, was recently grilled by legislators over the deteriorating economic situation. The Guardian Council is, therefore, partially shielded from popular opprobrium.

Executive oversight in the legislature also allows “autocrats” to keep tabs on delegated executive portfolios. By subjecting non-“autocrat” elements of the executive to legislative scrutiny, the hope is to reduce possible agency loss – that is, that agents end up pursuing their own interests, rather than those of their principals.

Going back to Russia, we can ask a basic question: Does executive oversight performed by parliamentarians differ when aimed at officials from president-controlled bodies (PCBs) compared to government-controlled bodies (GCBs)?

In a recent article on executive oversight in the Vietnamese National Assembly, Paul Schuler – a political scientist from the University of Arizona – demonstrates that legislators are able to discuss “hot topics” relating to portfolios delegated from the Communist Party of Vietnam to the government. By contrast, “hot topics” relating to the policy areas of those executive portfolios directly controlled by the Party are off limits. The Party, therefore, allows the legislature to engage in executive oversight, but only in areas that will not make the Party vulnerable to direct critique.

Does the same happen in Russia? To get at this, we can ask a simpler question: Are PCB officials subjected to fewer “government hour” sessions in the State Duma than their GCB colleagues? To answer this, Maxim Ananyev – a Lecturer in UCLA’s Political Science Department – Paul Schuler, and I collected data on “government hour” sessions, 2005-2017. Basic information relates to the date of query sessions, as well as the identity of executive officials, and whether they have posts in president- or government-controlled bodies.

The Russian case is particularly interesting, given Vladimir Putin’s stint as prime minister, 2008-2012. Constitutionally barred from holding a third consecutive term in the presidency, Putin made use of the formally semi-presidential nature of the Russian Constitution, moving to the premiership until resuming the presidency in 2012, with Medvedev moving to the prime ministership.

This switch in formal roles is interesting insofar as it means that Putin’s direct control over executive bodies varied over time. Now, some readers will, no doubt, say that formal control means nothing – especially in Russia and especially with regard to Putin. That hunch may well be well-grounded. At the same time, it is an empirical question amenable to study whether Putin’s move to the premiership affected executive oversight behaviour in the State Duma. Indeed, we can generate some expectations. If Putin remained the “autocrat”, 2005-2017, but was not president, 2008-2012, then it is plausible that he would want to use mechanisms to keep tabs on the performance of those bodies he was used to controlling directly – that is, president-controlled bodies – but which were now controlled (formally, at least) by President Medvedev. Executive oversight in the Duma could be one such mechanism. If that were the case, then we would expect to see increased PCB oversight, 2008-2012.

Figure 2 presents data on the percentage of “government hour” sessions involving officials from PCBs by year. The horizontal dashed line marks the percentage of all executive bodies that are controlled directly by the president. If PCBs were overseen at the same “rate” as GCBs (proportional to their makeup of the executive as a whole), then “government hour” appearance figures should fall around this line.

Figure 2: Percentage of all “government hour” appearances involving officials from president-controlled bodies by year, 2005-2017. Bars around data points represent 95% confidence intervals. The dashed vertical lines mark the approximate break points between the Putin and Medvedev presidencies. The dotted horizontal line marks the average percentage of all executive bodies that are PCBs for the period as a whole. Source: author’s calculations based on “government hour” planning documents, available from (last accessed 14 August 2018).

The pattern is striking. During Medvedev’s presidency, there was a dramatic increase in PCB oversight. On Putin’s return to the presidency, there was a dramatic decrease in PCB oversight. This pattern is consistent with the idea that Putin used “government hour” sessions to keep tabs on president-controlled bodies during his time as prime minister. It is plausible that he was able to do this, given the stronger ties he had (compared to Medvedev) with legislative agenda-setting actors, such as the State Duma speakers during his premiership, Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Naryshkin. When Putin was president himself, however, PCB oversight was largely lower than would be expected if PCB officials were scrutinised at the same rate as GCB officials (proportional to their makeup of the executive as a whole).

Presidential inaugurations in Russia take place on 7 May. That means that 2008 and 2012 need to be split into Putin and Medvedev periods. Figures 3 and 4 present data on the percentage of “government hour” sessions involving officials from PCBs by presidential periods within these two years.

Figures 3 and 4: Left figure – percentage of “government hour” appearances in 2008 involving officials from president-controlled bodies by president. Right figure – percentage of “government hour” appearances in 2012 involving officials from president-controlled bodies by president. Bars around data points represent 95% confidence intervals. Source: author’s calculations based on “government hour” planning documents, available from (last accessed 14 August 2018).

The patterns are consistent with the picture provided by figure 2: PCB oversight was higher during Medvedev’s presidency than during Putin’s presidencies.

One clear alternative reason for why president-controlled bodies might be overseen by legislators with less vigour than government-controlled bodies is that PCBs handle sensitive subjects. The regime leadership might make clear that such topics are off bounds for parliamentary scrutiny. However, if this were the case, we should not observe changes in PCB oversight across the Putin and Medvedev presidential periods, as the sensitivity of executive bodies should remain relatively stable over time. But we, clearly, do not observe this.

There are a few anomalies with respect to the “autocrat” delegation explanation, however. Firstly, 2008 – why did PCB oversight remain low during Medvedev’s first year in the presidency? Secondly, 2013 – why did PCB oversight not fall even more dramatically on Putin’s return to the presidency? And, finally, 2017 – what explains the upshot in PCB oversight?

Along with answering these questions, much more analysis remains to be done. Most importantly, we need to explore whether meaningful oversight of the executive does, in fact, take place during “government hour” sessions. And we need to entertain alternative explanations. For example, might increased PCB oversight during Medvedev’s presidency reflect his preference for more transparency or checks on executive power?

Regardless of the real answer, this preliminary analysis joins the growing body of work challenging the idea that legislatures in authoritarian regimes are merely ‘rubber stamps’. Evidence from Russia suggests this can involve oversight of the executive in parliament, but needling questions are directed at bodies not directly controlled by Putin.

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.


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.


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.

Ignacio Arana Araya – The “personal” versus the “institutional” presidency: An artificial divide

This is a guest post by Ignacio Arana Araya, Institute for Politics and Strategy, Carnegie Mellon University

Mainstream media and political analysts seem obsessed covering the eccentricities and peculiarities of the occupant of the White House, adventuring how Trump’s limitations as a statesman may have undesired impacts on executive governance. Trump’s unpredictable behavior and decision-making style have stunned many observers, but both recent and historical presidents of the Americas also had flamboyant personalities (and performances). Idiosyncratic presidents, in fact, have always existed. Not so long ago, Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1999-2013) and Abdalá Bucaram of Ecuador (1996-1997) used to hit international headlines for their extravagances. Bucaram, popularly nicknamed “El Loco,” was eventually impeached by Congress for – officially – being a madman. What these eccentric characters remind us is that those who hold the most important political offices in their countries bring their unique personalities to power with them, and such uniqueness has an impact on their performance. However, students of the presidency have generally failed to quantitatively measure how the personality traits of the leaders may impact executive governance.

Arguably, this failure occurs mainly because students of the presidency have failed to absorb research on differential psychology. This brand of psychological research studies the individual differences of humans, or how people differ from each other in how they feel, act, think and behave. Absorbing the theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions of the differential psychology literature would also allow integrating the research of scholars who focus on the “personal” presidency and those who center on the “institutional” presidency.

Both research streams have run through parallel corridors, leading to conflicting views on how the presidency works. The president-centered (also called “personality-centered”) approach examines decision making in the executive branch based on presidential behavior. Scholars from this group examine the ability of presidents to persuade individuals and organizations to accommodate policy making to their preferences. They argue that the heads of government have plenty of room to act and decide at their own discretion. Since the individual attributes of the leaders influence policy outcomes, it is necessary to analyze the personal characteristics of the leaders to understand executive politics (Neustadt 1960; Barber 1972; Greenstein 2009).

In contrast, presidency-centered (also called “institutional presidency”) studies minimize the importance of presidents as individuals and center the explanation of policy outcomes on the institutional setting in which heads of government work (e.g., Moe 1993; Dickinson 2004; Lewis 2008). The central assumption in this approach is that different presidents will behave similarly in identical contexts. It regards the study of the characteristics of the leaders as unworthy because more explanatory leverage is -supposedly- gained when scholars analyze the effect of institutional factors on policy outcomes.

The opposing theoretical views have contributed to a divide of students of the presidency along two methodological lines with little interconnection. While presidency-centered researchers mainly conduct statistical or game-theoretic analyses, most president-centered studies are qualitative.

I argue that the division wall between presidency-centered and president-centered explanations of the presidency is built on unsound foundations. Presidency-centered scholars have assumed that the personal characteristics of presidents 1) are of little relevance to understand their behavior and that 2) such features cannot be systematically measured because they are idiosyncratic. Although president-centered researchers do not share these assumptions, they have also failed to recognize that 1) on differential psychology there is a broad consensus on what human personality is, and that 2) personalities tend to be stable over time.

These misconceptions have had profound consequences. Presidency-centered researchers claim that presidents cannot be used as units of analysis in quantitative studies (e.g., King 1993) and that analytically little is lost leaving the uniqueness of the heads of government aside. However, a vast corpus of psychological research contradicts the assumption that the specificity of presidents is irrelevant to understand their behavior. The literature on differential psychology has shown that all individuals have stable personality differences and that these differences strongly explain their behavior (Judge et al. 1999; Goldberg 1990; McCrae and Costa 1997; Costa and McCrae 1992). Since personality traits are stable, they can be systematically studied. Presidents can be treated as units of analysis in statistical analyses. Although president-centered scholars recognize the importance of the personal characteristics of the presidents, they have often discussed psychological attributes of the leaders arbitrarily, paying little attention to psychological research (e.g., Greenstein 2009).

I propose that to have a deeper understanding of the presidency, we need to start testing hypotheses that include presidency-centered and president-centered paradigms. To do so, it is necessary to reposition the individual differences of leaders as a central cause of political phenomena in quantitative research. And we cannot do that unless we absorb the knowledge produced from the discipline that has studied how humans differ from each for the last 130 years.


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