Tag Archives: presidential system

Senegal – Back to presidentialism?

Newly reelected President Macky Sall has given his prime minister, Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, the unenviable task of eliminating his own position. This will entail changing Senegal’s constitution — once again — and reintroduce a presidential system.

Despite Senegal’s history of relative political stability, the country’s constitutional history has been far from stable. Senegal is at its fourth constitution, since 1959, and has changed government system several times already. In between constitutions, there have been numerous constitutional amendments, most of which have been passed by a legislative vote without resorting to a referendum.

In August 1960, Senegal adopted its second constitution — and its first as an independent, separate republic — after abandoning the short-lived Mali Federation created by the first 1959 constitution. The 1960 constitution was modeled on the 1958 French example with a dual executive: with an indirectly elected president as head of state and a prime minister (“cabinet president”) appointed by the president, but accountable to the National Assembly. Léopold Sédar Senghor was elected Senegal’s first president and his close political ally Mamadou Moustapha Dia became the country’s first prime minister.

This two-headed executive system did not survive a rapidly mounting power struggle between Senghor and Dia that culminated in a constitutional crisis in 1962. Legislators were about to take a no confidence vote in Dia, when the prime minister ordered the army to hinder access to the National Assembly building. Senghor accused Dia of a constitutional coup attempt and had him arrested. The military remained loyal to the president and Dia spent the next 12 years in jail. Senghor promptly took steps to avoid a similar situation in the future and initiated a new, presidential constitution that was approved by referendum in March 1963 (the country’s third constitution in four years). Senghor was reelected in December of that year by popular vote for a four-year presidential term, without term limits. In 1967, in the first of what was to be a be a total of 20 revisions to the 1963 constitution, the presidential term was increased to five years.

Senegal returned to a dual executive system in 1970 with the reintroduction of the prime minister position, in an effort to defuse tensions in a context of social unrest with student demonstration and labor strikes. Senghor initiated a referendum on a constitutional change that this time resulted in a fully fledged semi-presidential government system, providing for a directly elected president and a prime minister accountable to parliament (modeled on the 1962 revised French constitution). This revision also introduced a two-term presidential term limit. This limit was, however, removed again in the fifth constitutional revision of April 1976.

Before finishing his fourth elected term, Senghor resigned on December 31, 1980. Prime Minister Abdou Diouf became president and served out the rest of the term. Shortly after being elected president on his own account in 1983, Diouf initiated a constitutional change to return Senegal to presidentialism. The argumentation presented for the revision included the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness of government action and the expressed desire for a more direct contact between the president and the population. This time, presidentialism survived for eight years, till 1991. With the return to semi-presidentialism in 1991, as the third wave of democratization swept across Africa, Senegal also reintroduced presidential term limits. The term limits were, however, removed again in 1998, in the 19th revision to the 1963 constitution.

When Abdoulaye Wade won the presidency in 2000, marking the first time that executive power transitioned from one party to another in Senegal’s history, the new president initiated the elaboration of a new constitution. The country thus got its fourth and current constitution adopted by referendum in 2001. Senegal retained a semi-presidential system of government, and reintroduced presidential term limits. This new constitution has not fared much better than the old one, however, in terms of amendments. By 2010, the constitutional text had already been revised 15 times, according to Robert Elgie.

Senegal – Changes in government system and presidential term limits

1960Dual executive system, no presidential term limits
1963Presidentialism
1970Semi-presidentialism, term limits introduced [removed again in 1976]
1983Presidentialism
1991Semi-presidentialism, term limits reintroduced [removed again in 1998, reintroduced in 2001]
2019??Presidentialism??

President Macky Sall, shortly after being elected in 2012, initiated a constitutional revision to remove the senate from Senegal’s democratic architecture, but has overall had a less piecemeal approach to constitutional reform. In 2016, the government introduced a series of amendments that touched 20 articles of the constitution and were passed by referendum. Chief among these was the reduction of the length of presidential terms to five years, from the seven years it had been increased to under Wade. Sall’s second term, after his reelection in February of this year, will thus be reduced to five years.  

Sall is now following in the footsteps of Diouf, moving to return Senegal to presidentialism. Perhaps it is his shortened presidential term that provides Sall with a sense of urgency and the desire to streamline decision-making processes. His arguments for returning to presidentialism echo those of Diouf, saying that eliminating the prime minister position will help “reduce administrative bottlenecks” and “bring the administration closer to the people.” His critics allege it is a power grab. It is striking that Sall did not mention his plans to change government system during his campaign for reelection. The first indication of his intentions came in an announcement on April 6, by Mahammed Dionne whom he had just reappointed prime minister. The government thereafter moved quickly and on April 17 adopted a constitutional amendment removing the prime minister position.

The proposed constitutional amendment was on April 24 sent to the National Assembly that will now review and debate the proposed changes. A vote is set for May 4th. It will require a three fifth majority to pass the amendment by legislative vote, a likely outcome in a legislature where the presidential coalition controls a 75 percent majority (125 out of 165 seats). Should the legislative vote pass with less than 60 percent, a referendum is required. The text of the constitutional amendment has not yet been made public, but an alleged copy is circulating online. Reportedly, besides transferring responsibilities as head of government to the president, the revised text also foresees a clearer separation of powers between the legislature and the executive: on the one hand the legislature can no longer topple the cabinet through a no confidence vote, on the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the legislature as is currently the case.

There is no indication that the proposed constitutional amendment will touch on presidential term limits. Hopefully Sall will not follow in the steps of another previous president – Wade – who stood for a third term despite term limit provisions. Wade argued in 2012 that he should be allowed to run again because presidential term limits had been reintroduced in 2001, after he was elected, and could not be considered retroactively. Elsewhere on the continent, Côte  d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara has argued that the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 reset the term limit counter and that he could therefore run again in 2020, if he wanted to. In Senegal, the difference is that if the amendment passes, the country will have a new government system, but not a new constitution. It remains to be seen whether this is a sure bulwark in a country and region where term limits have proven fickle in the past. In neighboring Guinea, President Alpha Conde and his supporters seem increasingly intent on initiating a constitutional referendum that would lift term limits before Conde’s second and last term comes to an end next year. Despite significant democratic progress in West Africa over the past decade, the notion of presidential term limits does not yet appear to be firmly entrenched.

Turkey – Putting an entire state structure under construction

Turkey’s move to a presidential system with the 2017 constitutional amendments came into force following the general elections in June 2018. This move necessitates a transformation of the entire state structure, administrative law, and institutions. Since the foundation of the Republic in 1923 Turkey has not faced such a vast institutional transformation. It would not be wrong to label the new era as “the second republic”.

Since the first Ottoman Constitutional period in 1876, the chosen political system was mostly parliamentary system. The convention system (1920-24), and the semi-presidential system (2014-2018) were briefly tried, but served as transitional periods mostly. A presidential system has never been implemented until now. Therefore, the new presidential republic signifies a big departure in the political history of the country as well as the state tradition. Accordingly, almost the entire state structure has to be adapted to the new system.

In the former republican state structure, the executive branch was dual; there was the council of ministers headed by prime minister, and the president. The ministries were designed hierarchically from the centre towards the periphery under the authority of ministers. Political decisions were made in the council of ministers and parliament. Accordingly, political responsibility to parliament was shared by all members of the council. The political centre was parliament. Ministers were mostly members of parliament. The administration of state institutions was executed in accordance with acts of parliament. Governments needed a vote of confidence from parliament and parliamentary legislation in order to put their program into practice. Political parties holding a majority of seats were also influential over the executive and legislative practice.

Now, the president has replaced the council of ministers. Ministers are not the hierarchical administrative superiors for the lower ranking civil servants. The administrative structure is not designed in accordance with legislation any more. Presidential decrees have replaced legislation to designate ministries, all state institutions, the duties and responsibilities of civil servants etc. Former structures have been abolished by presidential decrees. The president has already issued 15 decrees to reorganise the state. Most of the former bureaucrats and civil servants had to be retired early. The current condition for many state institutions is chaotic. Some of them have been abolished under decree no.703; some of them have been renamed, united under single institution and reorganised Twenty-six ministries have been reduced to sixteen. There are also newly founded offices and policy committees under the presidency. In addition to ministries, there are four specific offices and nine policy committees in ministerial service eras such as health, education and economy that are directly under the presidency. Ten other separate institutions are also directly run by the president such as national intelligence service, the presidency of religious affairs, Turkish sovereign wealth fund.

There are four important characteristics of the new system:

a. It is created to unite, not to divide the state structure. The separation of powers cannot be seen in the structural organisation. Accordingly, hardly any checks and balances are left in the system. State power is organised and united under the presidential office and regulated by presidential decrees.

b. The assembly lost a big chunk of its former powers including a general law-making power in every subject. The assembly does not even have new parliamentary procedures currently. It does not have important permanent committees to engage in checks and balances, or committees of inquiry as in strong legislatures such as the US or Chile.

c. Ministerial offices have also lost their former position. It seems there are superior and parallel offices under the presidency to plan and execute policies. All important decisions are to be made by the president or presidential office. This potentially slows the bureaucracy down to a great degree.

d. The organisational structure resembles a holding company. The president intends to run the state like a company, and eliminate the old bureaucratic elite by creating superior and more loyal inner offices. He even appointed some outsiders like former CEOs or businessmen as ministers.

While the Turkish state structure has been reshuffled, President Erdoğan is having the most difficult time in his political carrier due to the deepening economic crisis. It is hard to predict how Turkey is going to manage to transform its state structure and perform efficiently under such bad economic conditions. It will also test President Erdoğan’s argument that the new system is capable of good management. So far he has managed to put the blame on foreign forces, such as USA for deliberately rising exchange rates and waging an economic war on Turkey, but eventually he will need to tackle the country’s economic problems and get good results under the new system as he promised to his voters.

Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part II: Progress and Possibility in Taiwan

Talks of constitutional reforms are sweeping across the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East Asia: the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. Constitutions capture the principles – some say, the most sacred principles – around which institutions, legislation, rules, and processes of a country are built.[1] Constitutional reforms, then, are generally significant and painstaking undertakings, often requiring supermajorities in the legislature or the electorate or both to ratify. And, this may be rightfully so: if they are to amend or revise principles that underpin the political, economic, and social structures of a country, the process should not be based on changeable and changing attitudes. Given the significance, the concomitant grip of constitutional reforms across several of the East Asian with a president as head or co-head of government is interesting, if not curious. What level of public support is there for these reforms? And, how likely are these reforms to pass?

In a previous instalment, I discussed the level of public support in the Philippines for constitutional reform.[2] In this article, I examine the level of public support for reforms in Taiwan. Article 12 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution, i.e., the amendments to the Constitution, stipulates that amendments may be initiated by one-fourth of the total members of the legislature, currently set at 113 seats by Article 4 of the constitutional amendments. A quorum of three-fourths of the legislature is required, and revisions are passed if at least three-fourths of all present approve the revisions. The amendments must be ratified by more than 50 percent of all eligible voters at a referendum held in six months from the public announcement of the revisions.

There is significant domestic and international interest in the constitutional reforms proposed and considered in Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen swept into office on January 16, 2017, with an absolute majority of 56.1% of the 66.3 percent turnout; her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), also achieved a first with an absolute majority in the legislature. As the first woman elected to the presidency of Taiwan with majority legislative support of a party that has variously been in favour of independence from China, there is considerable interest in how the president and her government would navigate the political path between independence and the “one China” consensus. Constitutional revisions provide important signals.

Domestically, calls for constitutional reforms follow from efforts to improve governance or representation. Thus, at the most recent 2017 DPP national congress, President Tsai noted in her address as chair of the party on the need to contemplate constitutional revisions to heed public demands for a “more efficient government.” Internationally, focus on the constitutional reforms in Taiwan takes into account that such revisions may pave a path for the nation to declaring independence from China. In particular, the current Constitution defines the Republic of China according to “existing national boundaries” with a “free area” and a “mainland area.” A constitutional revision that changes the existing definitions of territory, then, would be considered an assertion of independence.

What amendments have been proposed? In Taiwan, talks of constitutional reform turned concrete when 41 legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sent a proposal on September 27, 2017, for amendments that include the following:

The proposal follows President Tsai’s address to the DPP’s national congress in September 2017. However, the President herself is considered to be steadfast on maintaining the status quo. And, although the 41 DPP legislators exceed the minimum of 29 needed to initiate a constitutional revision, it does not capture uniform support for the revisions within the party: although a core bloc favours independence, moderates in the DPP support the status quo.
Meanwhile, the legislature made short shrift of the proposal, with the speaker rejecting the motion on October 5, 2017, following objections from the People First Party caucus. The Kuomintang separately reiterated its opposition to any revisions that would change the nation’s territory. Indeed, President Tsai asserted that constitutional revisions must come from the people, a “bottom-up” effort and not one initiated by the DPP without public participation. For the moment, then, constitutional reforms have returned to the backburner.

Notes

[1] Strauss, David. 2010. The Living Constitution. New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Yap, O. Fiona. 2017. “Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part I: Progress and Possibility in the Philippines.” https://presidential-power.com/?p=7050 <accessed November 8, 2017>