Tag Archives: prime ministerial appointment

Semi-presidentialism – Can presidents influence coalition outcomes?

This post is based on my article ’Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ The Coalition Potential of Presidents in Semi-Presidential Republics—Insights from Romania” in East European Politics and Societies.

The research article published by East European Politics and Societies sought to investigate the basis of the power of presidents to shape coalitions in semi-presidential systems, using the case of Romania. The findings put forward by the article contribute to the weakening of the theory that semi-presidential systems are inherently affected by a process of growing presidentialization.

Throughout my study of coalition governments more generally, the question about the potential systematic influence of presidents in their formation and evolution has often risen. To know who has the upper hand and the final say in the process of government formation is of chief importance to the students of political institutions. However, previous research on coalitions rarely addressed the topic related to the powers of the president, with recent findings claiming that in European democracies presidents have a substantial ability to induce their preferred governments. The case of Romania disputes these claims and shows that the mechanisms of a multiparty regime mostly limit the president’s exclusive bargaining advantage to nominating the prime minister and then, much as in a parliamentary democracy, render him or her dependent on the coalition potential of his or her own party.

President Klaus Iohannis, prime minister Mihai Tudose and Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the dominant party in the coalition, the Social Democrat Party (PSD) (2017). Although a ‘friendly’ government is not always in the president’s cards, more often than not, he finds himself dancing to their tune.

Romania is a young, consolidating, semi-presidential European democracy and a fertile ground for the presidentialization of politics, according to the measures proposed by previous research. Samuels and Shugart use the Romanian presidential elections of 2004 to open their 2010 seminal volume and highlight influence of presidents on government formation in semi-presidential republics: “The results of the direct presidential election thus not only took government formation out of the hands of the largest parliamentary party and the largest parliamentary coalition, but also served to break a pre-election agreement, altering the partisan balance of forces that parliamentary coalitions and parliamentary elections had established.”(p.2)[1]

Nevertheless, an in-depth, qualitative investigation of the same case generated surprising insights by showing this outcome to be rather the exception than the rule and entails certain conditions to be met. Overall, the study shows that when the president and prime minister (or a plausible designate prime minister of a presidentially “unfriendly” majority) enter a competition to shape a coalition in this institutional format, they enter as equals. The weight of their supporting parties makes the difference in deciding the winner.

Methodologically, the article supports the need for more in-depth qualitative study of such matters, mostly since there are insufficient accounts for the informal aspects of presidential authority in government formation. Ignoring such aspects, which we can only uncover through elite interviews, could lead to incomplete results.  Although there are limitations linked to respondents’ subjectivity when asked about the direct involvement of the president in off-the-record negotiations for government formation, including accounts of first hand participants is a valuable addition to our understanding. The article relies heavily on semi-structured discussions with prime –ministers, ministers or important witnesses at sensitive moments linked to the role of the president in coalition formation.

Firstly, the article makes a distinction between cases when coalition cabinets and presidents were in a situation of partnership (whether the president and the prime minister were from the same party or not) and cases of coalition cabinets and presidents in a situation of conflict (Table 1). It proceeds with a selection of a case where the president played an important role in government formation and could make use of his prerogative to name the prime minister from his loyal party, which thus became a formateur, and compared it with one where he could not (Romania has only had male presidents). The conditions to induce a preferred government are highlighted with the case of the 2004 parliamentary elections and the active involvement of president Traian Băsescu in government formation. In contrast, while maintaining the same actors and the same institutional design, the analysis goes on to show a different situation following the 2012 elections.Finally, it emphasises how, all things considered, the coalition appeal of the party behind the president makes the final difference in government formation, regardless of his or her exclusive prerogative to name the prime minister.

The implications of this study go beyond uncovering the dynamics of coalition formation in Romania. The study shows that although a president could find within the semi-presidential system the institutional incentives to try to increase his or her influence in government formation, he or she remains firmly limited by the coalition potential of his or her party, regardless of context-driven peaks of increased informal authority. It also argues that in choosing cases for a comparative analysis of coalition formation and administration, there is reason to go beyond a differentiation between semi-presidential and parliamentary regimes.


[1] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart, Presidents, Parties and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Power Affects Party Organization and Behaviour (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 2

Kosovo – Still awaiting a new government and presidential choice(s) for the prime minister post

Three months after a snap parliamentary election was held in Kosovo on 8 June, the country’s parliament has not started to work and a new government is yet to be formed. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has been called upon twice to rule over who should be nominated as prime minister and what is the correct procedure for the election of the speaker of parliament.

A previous post explained how government formation became a difficult constitutional matter in the aftermath of the general election.

Atifete Jahjaga, the non-partisan head of state elected by the parliament with cross-party support in 2011, had to decide whether to nominate outgoing prime minister Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which topped the polls and held 37 seats in the 120-seat parliament; or to nominate Ramush Haradinaj of the opposition Alliance for Future of Kosovo (AAK), which signed a post-election coalition agreement with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the newly established Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), and claimed to have secured the support of the parliamentary majority. She asked the Constitutional Court to clarify the president’s role in government formation on 19 June.

The Court decided in favour of the PDK nomination. In its 1 July ruling, the Court argued that the president should nominate for prime minister the candidate proposed by the political party or coalition that was registered in the general election under one name and obtained the highest number of seats in the assembly. Thus, the Court specifically ruled out the possibility of nominating as prime minister a candidate put forward by a post-election coalition and opened the way for Hashim Thaci’s third appointment as prime minister.

In the meantime, the battle between the ruling PDK and the anti-Thaci coalition moved on to the election of the speaker of parliament. Under Article 67.2, “the president of the assembly is proposed by the largest parliamentary group and is elected by a majority vote of all deputies”. While PDK holds 37 seats in the new parliament, the opposition LDK, AAK and Incentive for Kosovo control 47 seats. To ensure that they will be able to propose the speaker of the parliament, the three parties formed a joint parliamentary group on 11 July. However, PDK still argued that the right to nominate the speaker of parliament belongs to the party that won the most votes in the election.

In accordance with Article 66.3, President Jahjaga decided that the parliament should convene on July 17. Following the parliament’s constitutive session and the election of the new leadership, she was also supposed to appoint the new prime minister.

However, things took a different turn. The chair of the first parliamentary session held on 17 July refused to recognize the LDK-AAK-NISMA group. The argument was that parliamentary groups could only be formed after the election of the president and deputy presidents of the assembly. As a result, the opposition parties boycotted the session and left the room when PDK’s proposal for the speaker of parliament was put to vote. In the absence of quorum, the meeting was suspended. However, the opposition returned later on and elected Ifa Mustafa, LDK’s proposal, as President of the Assembly in the absence of PDK. Naturally, PDK contested the election and asked the Court to rule on its constitutionality. President Jahjaga also decided to wait for the Court’s verdict before appointing the prime minister.

In its 22 August ruling, the Court found the election of speaker unconstitutional both procedurally and substantially. On the first ground, the meeting called after the adjournment of the Constitutive Session due to lack of quorum was declared illegal. On the second ground, the Court referred to its previous decision regarding the parties entitled to be consulted first about the appointment of the prime minister. The final ruling was that the Constitution prioritizes election results as a criterion for recognizing the largest party or coalition in the new assembly with the right to nominate the next speaker of parliament.

The constitutive session of the Assembly will be resumed on 12 September. Both the opposition and the ruling PDK are claiming the post of the speaker of parliament and are hoping to form the government. The opposition parties have announced that Self-determination will vote against the PDK nominees and are expecting to elect Ifa Mustafa as president of the assembly once again. The ruling party is counting on the support of the ethnic minorities, who do not want new elections to be called.

President Jahjaga is likely to play an important role in this context. Provided that all four opposition parties vote against Thaci, whom the president is expected to appoint as prime minister first, she will need to make a second nomination within ten days. The Constitution is however silent on whether the president should appoint a second candidate from the same party or not. Nevertheless, if the government fails to win majority support for the second time, the president needs to announce new elections, which should be held within the next forty days (under Article 95.4). In its first ruling, the Constitutional Court acknowledged that the president has full discretion in making the second nomination. In a more peculiar fashion, though, the Court also underlined that the president’s main responsibility is to find a solution that avoids new elections.