Tag Archives: semi-presidentialism

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

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

The dataset (v2.0) is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please cite the dataset as:

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

References

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

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

Semi-presidentialism – A new country-years dataset

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

The dataset (v2.0) is available here.

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

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

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

Please cite the dataset as:

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

Reference

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

Political Leadership: A Pragmatic Institutionalist Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

New publications

Yonatan L. Morse, ‘Presidential power and democratization by elections in Africa’, Democratization, Online first pp. 1-19.

Yonatan L Morse, ‘Electoral authoritarianism and weak states in Africa: The role of parties versus presidents in Tanzania and Cameroon’, International Political Science Review, Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2018, pp. 114–129.

Marino De Luca, ‘The end of the French primary? Measuring primary election impact on electoral performance in the 2017 French presidential election’, French Politics, Online First.

Cynthia McClintock, ‘Reevaluating Runoffs in Latin America’, Journal of Democracy, Volume 29, Number 1, January 2018, pp. 96-110.

Fortunato Musella, Political leaders Beyond Party Politics, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Battal Yılmaz, The Presidential System in Turkey: Opportunities and Obstacles. Palgrave, 2018.

Dan Slater, ‘Party cartelization, Indonesian-style: presidential power-sharing and the contingency of democratic opposition’, Journal of East Asian Studies, Online First.

Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Alissandra T. Stoyan, ‘Gendered Opportunities and Constraints: How Executive Sex and Approval Influence Executive Decree Issuance’, Political Research Quarterly, Online First.

Gregory J. Love and Leah C. Windsor, ‘Populism and Popular Support: Vertical Accountability, Exogenous Events, and Leader Discourse in Venezuela’, in Political Research Quarterly, Online First.

Marina Costa Lobo, ‘Personality Goes a Long Way’, Government and Opposition, 53(1), 159-179, 2018.

Łukasz Jakubiak, ‘Formulas of cohabitation in rationalised parliamentary systems of government. The cases of France and Poland’, Journal of Comparative Politics, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 51-65, Jan. 2018.

Rolando Tarchi, ‘La forma di governo del Messico: dal presidenzialismo imperiale alla “parlamentarizzazione” del presidenzialismo?’ [The Mexican form of government: from the “imperial presidentialism” to a parliamentarization of the presidential system?], Vol. 33, No. 4, (2017): DPCE Online 4-2017, available at: http://www.dpceonline.it/index.php/dpceonline/article/view/468

Machiko Tsubura, ‘“Umoja ni ushindi (Unity is victory)”: management of factionalism in the presidential nomination of Tanzania’s dominant party in 2015’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, Online first pp. 1-20.

Bulgaria – An EU Presidency and a Prime Minister’s Ambition

EPA/Julien Warnand

Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov welcomed by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R). Juncker is know to call the PM ‘his golden boy’.  EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

1 January marked the start of Bulgaria’s first presidency of the Council of the EU. This position amplifies international attention towards the country’s process of democratization and demands further investigation of the political practice in institutional power sharing. The following text is an overview of some of the key issues that Bugaria’s EU presidency will highlight in the next six months: (1) inter-institutional conflict over anti-corruption laws; (2) the dynamics between the parties in the governing coalition; (3) PM Boyko Borisov’s political strength.

  • Fighting corruption: a Bulgarian method

Bulgaria is a premier-presidential semi-presidential republic. This means that control over the government is assigned to the parliament, while the directly elected president shares some executive powers with the PM. The president can also veto legislation. President Rumen Radev used this veto right on 2 January 2018 against new anti-corruption law supported by the parliamentary majority. This is a controversial piece of legislation. According to it, the chair and all the members of a special anti-graft committee meant to investigate high public officials would be appointed by the parliament with a simple majority. The president claims this provides the framework for the parliamentary majority to manipulate the institution’s authorized use of special intelligence means – such as wiretapping – to target political adversaries. PM Borisov’s main coalition party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and partner United Patriots support the law, claiming that it answers to the demands of the European Commission for decisive action against corruption.

The Bulgarian constitutional semi-presidential framework favours the implementation of decisions made by the parliamentary majority and limits the powers of the president once the government is formed without his own party. Consequently, we can expect that the president’s veto will be ruled out through a new vote in parliament and that the government backed legislation could soon enter into force.

The controversy surrounding this piece of legislation shows the potential for institutional disagreement when PM and president come from a different political support base. Such policy related conflict is not uncommon in situations of cohabitation and we could easily anticipate its outcome. The constitutional semi-presidential framework favours the implementation of decisions made by the parliamentary majority and renders the president weak once the government is formed without his own party. Consequently, we can expect that the president’s veto will be ruled out through a new vote in parliament and that the government backed legislation could soon enter into force. But this particular conflict is more than ”business as usual’ cohabitation skirmishes.

The debate on the framing of anti-corruption legislation law is telling about the state of elite commitment to consolidate the rule of law in Bulgaria and warns about the democratic progress of the country. Radev was elected president with the support of the main opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). BSP had also proposed their version of an anti-corruption investigative agency whose head would be named precisely by the president. The competing propositions show a lingering understanding that in a young democracy such as Bulgaria, institutions could be created or shaped having in mind the immediate political benefits brought by a temporary distribution of power. While more advanced in its anti-corruption fight, a similar inter-institutional clash takes place in neighbouring Romania. In the Romanian case, the parliamentary majority is currently working on legislative reforms that would eliminate the president from the procedure to appoint the general prosecutor, the chief prosecutor of the National Anti-corruption Agency (and their deputies) and the chief prosecutor of the Organised Crime and Terrorism Investigation Agency.

  • The far-right, from Sofia to Brussels

GERB formed the government with the political alliance United Patriots (UP).  UP consist of three parties – Ataka, led by Volen Siderov, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, led by deputy PM for Economic and Demographic Policy Valeri Simeonov, and the Bulgarian National Movement, led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Krassimir Karakachanov. The extremist and racist public positions of the UP leaders regarding immigrants and the Roma communities have constantly raised international concerns. The UP ministers that assumed ministerial portfolios and their views are now expected to ‘shock Brussels’.[i] Nevertheless, while their rhetoric stems out, their views on limiting immigration are embraced by all parliamentary parties. Also, PM Borisov has so far proved to be in control of his coalition partners, satisfactorily addressing their demands without losing his status as Brussels’ ‘golden boy‘. As a result, the UP parties have moderated their tone in 2017 and in view of the EU presidency. Opinions may not change on the way from Sofia to Brussels, but their international public discourse could prove to be more restrained than it has previously been on the home front.

Moreover, the prospect of Bulgarian racism and xenophobia at the highest level of European decision making is but a teaser of what could follow once Austria takes over the presidency on 1 July. While the main political presence in both Sofia and Brussels is now secured by GERB ministers, the incoming Austrian government numbers five ministers from the far right Freedom Party (FPO), including the Minister of Interior and an FPO supported Foreign Minister.

  • Boyko Borisov: a balancing act

PM Borisov is highly concerned with internal stability during this period, satisfying requests from different segments of society to avoid any protests. He asked for restraint and ‘more patriotism’ from the socialist led opposition not to initiate a planned vote of no confidence for 17 January, pointing at them as inopportune trouble makers. He secured a truce with the opposition party Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and its leader Ahmed Dogan.[ii] Internationally, Borisov has set up the Bulgarian presidency as a ‘Balkan presidency’, proposing an ambitious agenda for a clearer European perspective for the Western Balkans. This choice of priority is a manifesto of a pro-European stance which Western Europe expects and favours. This comes in contrast with the pro-Russian image that president Radev and the BSP have been painted by Western media despite no practical proof of defiance against NATO or EU policies.

A seasoned politician, Borisov knows how to use the momentum of the presidency to boost his political capital internally and externally. He wants the following months to be all about his and his government’s successes. In contrast, a less politically experienced Radev avoided reference to the EU Presidency in his end of the year speech on 31 December 2017. Should Borisov successfully continue this balancing act between his coalition partners, citizens’ interest groups and Western European expectations, the resulting political stability would come in handy in delivering justice reforms without significant civic protest or objections from Brussels.  In the longer run, it could also help in winning the debate concerning the changes to the electoral system to his party long term benefit.[iii]

Conclusions

In its 12th year of EU membership, the Bulgarian state continues to grapple with a multitude of ‘sins’ familiar to observers of the democratization process of post-communist states, from unaddressed high-level corruption to power personalization and legislative instability. The EU presidency in itself may not structurally affect political activities, but it serves to highlight elite priorities and the political strategies on the ground. So far, this translates into a focus on the PM and his long term self-empowering ambitions of institutional reform.

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[i] Out of similar concerns, another interesting point on the EU calendar is the meeting of the EU Environmental Council to be led by UP supported Environment Minister Neno Dimov, known for a 2015 statement that global warming is a manipulation.

[ii] The power of DPS is far greater than its legislative size as it is also the party of Bulgarian oligarch and media mogul Delyan Peevski.

[iii] GERB favours an electoral reform towards a majority run-off system from which it (and BSP) could also benefit in the medium and long run. President Radev and smaller parties support a mixed electoral system.

 

Huang-Ting Yan – Comparing the democratic performance of semi-presidential regimes in the post-communist region: Omnipotent presidents and media control

This is a guest post by Huang-Ting Yan of the University of Essex. It is based on a  recent article in Communist and Post-Communist Studies.

Since countries in the post-communist region have adopted semi-presidentialism as a constitutional design, their democratic performance has varied. Stable democracies have persisted in most countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but Eurasian countries appear to be transitioning into an enduring dictatorship. Why does democratic performance vary across semi-presidential regimes in the post-communist region?

A comprehensive review of the existing literature shows two major theoretical interpretations. The first is constitutional heterogeneity. Semi-presidentialism is divided into premier-presidentialism and presidential-parliamentarism. Of these, premier-presidentialism functions better than presidential-parliamentarism because control over the government is clearly assigned to the parliament. Put another way, a premier-presidential country is less likely to suffer from the situation under which both the president and parliament claim constitutional legitimacy to control the government (i.e. the use of extra constitutional power to solve a political stalemate). Further, presidential-parliamentarism endangers a democracy because over-concentration of power by the president marginalises the prime minister and the parliament. In such situations, the system of checks and balances is insufficient for limiting the exercise of presidential power.

The second interpretation zeroes in on political circumstances despite an unreached agreement. For example, a president politically at odds with a prime minister exacerbates the risk of democratic collapse in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This political stand-off does not have a significant effect on regime survival when more countries are added into the analysis. It is also theoretically plausible that when neither the president nor the prime minister—not any party or coalition—enjoys a substantive majority in the legislature, executive/legislative deadlock paves the way for democratic failure. Empirical analyses, however, cannot confirm this theoretical expectation.

This article supports the concept that a constitutionally powerful president impedes democratic development but argues regarding whether a president effectively exercising power granted by the constitution is dependent on political circumstances. First, under the cohabitation, a president’s influence decreases because the prime minister from the other party or coalition—who holds most seats in the parliament—will scrutinise a president’s actions. A president also finds it difficult to employ constitutional power when he/she is from the same camp as a premier, though the president faces an oppositional majority in the parliament. Further, a president is not immune from a coalition partner’s restrictions on either personnel appointments or policy making if a coalition government forms. Finally, imposing preferred policies is much more difficult for a president without the certain support of parties in a hung parliament. By contrast, a president that coexists with a co-partisan prime minister leading a single-party majority government often enjoys parliamentary support. This situation acts in his/her best interest. This research, therefore, argues that a constitutionally powerful president supported by a single-party majority cabinet leads to poor democratic performance.

What is the causal pathway behind a powerful president buttressed by a single-party majority cabinet towards poor democratic performance? For autocrats in electoral authoritarian regimes—to which all post-communist semi-presidential dictatorships belong—, how to prevent a divided opposition from coalescing in elections is a key to maintaining durable dictatorial rule. Media freedom plays an important role. Media facilitate power struggles that emerge between the authoritarian camp and the opposition by shaping public discourse and providing a collaborative forum for opposition voices. Media freedom also permits recruitment and mobilisation of the public to participate in public actions, which empower inefficient collective actions against dictators and promote democratisation. For the reasons outlined above, media control is necessary for a dictator or powerful president whose party holds most seats in the parliament and who probably enacts media-related laws without hindrance, using them to discourage oppositional mobilisation through the free media. The result in such cases is defeat that gradually nibbles away at the opposition in the next several elections. This paper, therefore, argues that the causal pathway from a constitutionally powerful president to poor democratic performance is buttressed by a single-party majority cabinet and a higher level of media control.

Using a quantitative analysis and comparative case studies of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, this paper verifies the convergent pathway from powerful presidents’ media control to poor democratic performance. As for the quantitative analysis, this research found —compared with other types of cabinets—that a constitutionally powerful president combined with a single-party majority cabinet decreased democratic performance, and media control mediated the partial effect of this type of combination on poor democratic performance.

In terms of comparing the two cases, a similar pathway to poor democratic performance was identified. First, Presidents Heydar Aliyev (Azerbaijan) and Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan) monopolised the process of drafting the constitution and chose the presidential-parliamentary system, which granted them more power. Second, the ruling parties, the New Azerbaijan Party and Nur Otan, respectively established and led to the division and marginalisation of the opposition by employing executive resources. Thus, they swept elections. Third, an over-concentration of power by the president, in which the combination of presidential-parliamentarism with a single-party majority cabinet resulted, increased a president’s room to act peremptorily. As a result, stricter control over the media, which aimed to impede the opposition from disseminating information detrimental to the incumbent and organising through communication tools, decreased the opposition’s probability of replacing existing institutions in elections, facilitating the emergence of a closed polity.

In conclusion, this research verified that a constitutionally powerful president coupled with a single-party majority cabinet puts democratic performance at risk through media control. The implication is that an appropriate strategy for improving democracies in the post-communist region should focus on two dimensions: constitutional design and political circumstances. Further, media control, the author strongly believes, is not the only reason to account for internal causal mechanisms, so future research should identify more common explanatory factors that mediate the relationship between an omnipotent president and poor democratic performance. Finally, in addition to cabinet types which relate to parliamentary support for the executive, it is also important to take the president’s role in the party into consideration. That is, presidents without power to control elites of their parties are less likely to exercise power in their interest even if granted considerable power by the constitution and buttressed by a single-party-majority cabinet.

Rui Graça Feijó – On forest fires and Portuguese semi-presidentialism

This is a guest post by Rui Graça Feijó of CES/UCoimbra and IHC/UNLisboa

Since late 2015, Portugal has had a minority government led by the Socialist Party – the second largest in the House – and supported by some sort of confidence and supply agreement with the two parties to its left that provide it with a majority in critical moments. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, from the centre-right, was elected a few months after the new government, was reluctantly inaugurated by the outgoing President Cavaco Silva, and distanced himself from the right-wing coalition in parliament and the legacy of his presidential predecessor who wanted the new president to dissolve the House and call fresh elections. Instead, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated publicly that the government would have until the local elections scheduled for October 2017 the chance to prove  its value and capacity. In between time – and in spite of some gestures to appease his electorate – the president did not stop supporting the prime minister and never questioned his legitimacy. In an earlier post, I discussed the possibility that a form of co-government was emerging nicknamed “Costelo” (an amalgam of  PM Costa and President Marcelo). This support was highlighted last June when the country was hit by a severe forest fire (with over 60 casualties) and the President stepped in to claim that “all that was humanly possible had been done”, backing up the government in the face of mounting popular shock for the failure of the civilian protection system.

On October 1, local elections returned a very comfortable victory for the Socialist party – as if the government had been excused for its June failure and in the recognition that new economic and financial policies had largely turned the page of austerity, offering the prospect not only of economic growth, unemployment reduction, deficit control, but more importantly, the recovery of some purchasing power and improved conditions of access to social utilities by millions of Portuguese. The right-wing parties were defeated – and this is particularly true of the largest one, the PPD/PSD, whose leader and former PM announced that he would step down when fresh party elections are called in January. In the face of these results, there would be no reason for the president to challenge the legitimacy of the government or to change his previous stance.

However, on Sunday October 15, a new wave of forest fires broke out, claiming another 45 victims. This second fire exposed the fragility not only of decades-old forest policies, but the inability of the current government to draw adequate conclusions from the June events – it had merely asked for an “independent inquiry” lasting over three months, with little having been done in the meantime to reform the civilian protection authority, which is ravaged by scandals. The shock in the country was even bigger than in June: twice the government had badly failed those who live far away from Lisbon.

After a very uninspired speech by the PM, the President took a bold initiative. He addressed the country from the heart of the ravaged areas. In a short sentence, he asked for a “new cycle of policies” that will force the government to consider “what, by whom, how and when” these new policies are to be devised and implemented. He mentioned that budgetary priorities should be considered again – this was only three days after the budget had been formally presented in the House. And he made it clear that the government needed to refresh its parliamentary legitimacy – either by presenting a confidence motion or winning a no-confidence motion presented by the right wing CDS party, which had fared quite well in the local elections. Unless his plea was heard, he would make use of “all his constitutional powers” to see that the Portuguese would not be let down yet another time, implying he might choose to dismiss the PM or dissolve the parliament. His popularity soared to the point that a left-of-centre commentator wrote: this is the example we can tell our children and grandchildren when they ask us why do we elect a President by universal, direct vote. Only a small number of voices claimed that the President had overstepped his competences. The last barometer (Expresso online, 17 November) shows that the president is the only politician who has risen in popularity to a very high net figure of 62.5% (70% positive, 7.5% negative opinions).

The government responded by immediately accepting the resignation of the minister in charge of Home Affairs. It held a special meeting of the cabinet to approve a string of measures to fight forest fires and reform forest policies which met the approval of the President. It announced that new items would be incorporated in the budget before the final vote. It defeated the no-confidence motion in parliament – although the left-wing partners kept a critical stance during the debate and did not approve all the government’s decisions on this issue. In brief, even if some of this activity was anticipated before the presidential speech, the government was seen as responding to the President’s ultimatum.

This episode lasted less than a week but has shown very clearly that the President, who is a professor of constitutional law, interprets his relations with government not only on a merely institutional basis – as some still argue ought to be his role – but that he believes the government must enjoy political confidence. In his view, the President has the power to oversee government policies and take action if he considers them to be failing to secure minimum standards – as was the case of the forest fires. Here we touch upon a critical point in the definition of the subtype of semi-presidentialism that exists in Portugal, as the dynamics of the relations of power are clearly at stake. The constitutional definition of a dual responsibility of the PM both before the President and the parliament cannot simply be divided in two: a political confidence vis-à-vis the House, a merely institutional confidence regarding the President, as much of the literature on Portugal has sustained. Marcelo has made it clear that, as long as he is President, he enjoys the right to set political boundaries to the action of the government. Going further than merely stating “strategic goals” aimed at capturing a “broad consensus (and being timid in the actual formulation of specific policies), Marcelo is moving one step forward. Take the example of the issue of the homeless. He has publicly asked the government to prepare measures aimed at eradicating homelessness by the end of his term (2021), but rather than waiting for the prime minister to present him with the government’s proposals and discussing the matter with him, Marcelo promoted meetings (which he chaired) to which he “invited” the junior minister in charge of the dossier, plus a number of national NGO’s and, critically, representatives of the Church – intervening directly in the design of public policies in tune with his “social-christian” (and rather assistencialist) personal views on the issue. This is an example of a presidential intervention in the formulation of public policies with few precedents.

It has been assumed that, in semi-presidential systems, there is an inbuilt pendulum which sometimes favours a “presidentialisation” of the situation, and which at other times oscilates in the opposite direction. One well-known commentator proposed thinking of the current situation as “semi-presidentialism of assembly”, given the fact that parliament played such an important role in the formation of Antonio Costa’a government. In other words, when parliaments have solid majorities, the role of the president tends to be less prominent than when different solutions emerge in the House. The example of President Marcelo somewhat defies this “rule”. Confronted with a minority government supported by a majority that has shown no signs of fracturing on critical issues, Marcelo has nevertheless created a high political profile for himself, intervening on a daily basis in the media on everything – as if he were still the political commentator that he was for fifteen years on prime time TV. His influence is directly linked with his popularity (a problem that the previous president, Cavaco Silva, felt acutely during his second term). And President Marcelo’s popularity – which he considers to be his best political asset – comes from a combination of support for the popular measures of the government and incisive criticism of its failures

Much as he is inclined to respect the formal political legitimacy derived from the existence of a majority in the House and to be willing to cooperate with the PM, President Marcelo’s speech on October 17, 2017 marked a decisive moment in the debate on the nature of the relations between the president and the PM in the Portuguese semi-presidential system in a way that emphasized the political competences of the head of state, and thus the double nature of the dependency of the prime minister before both the House and the President. There may be a time when those competences are more dormant, others when they surface more vigorously – but they remain in the DNA of Portuguese semi-presidentialism.

New Publications

Manuel Alcántara, Jean Blondel, Jean-Louis Thiébault (eds.), Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, Taylor and Francis, 2017.

Stephen Gardbaum, ‘Political Parties, Voting Systems, and the Separation of Powers’, The American Journal of Comparative Law, Volume 65, Issue 2, 2017, Pages 229–264, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcl/avx030.

Huang-Ting Yan, ‘Comparing democratic performance of semi-presidential regimes in the post-communist region: Omnipotent presidents and media control’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Available online 12 October 2017.

Chong-Sup Kim and Seungho Lee, ‘Regime types, ideological leanings, and the natural resource curse’, Constitutional Political Economy, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-017-9245-y

Ludger Helms, ‘When less is more: ‘Negative resources’ and the performance of presidents and prime ministers’, Politics, Online First, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0263395717738964.

John Ishiyama, Marijke Breuning and Michael Widmeier, ‘Organizing to rule: structure, agent, and explaining presidential management styles in Africa’, Democratization, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2017.1391793.

Marina Costa Lobo, ‘Personality Goes a Long Way’, Government and Opposition, Online First, doi:10.1017/gov.2017.15.

Fabian Burkhardt, ‘The institutionalization of relative advantage: formal institutions, subconstitutional presidential powers, and the rise of authoritarian politics in Russia, 1994–2012’, Post-Soviet Affairs, Volume 33, 2017, Issue 6, pp. 472-495.

Steven Fish, ‘ The Kremlin Emboldened: What Is Putinism?’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 46-59.

Myung-bok Bae, ‘Tackling the Imperial Presidency: The Case for Constitutional Amendment’ (South Korea), Global Asia, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 24-28.

Chrtistopher A. Martínez, ‘Democratic Tradition and the Failed Presidency of Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Online first.

Raymond Kuhn (ed.), The 2017 French Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, special issue of Modern and Contemporary France, vol. 25, no. 4, 2017.

Chris Edelson, ‘Could President Trump Rely on Legal Advice to Order the Offensive Use of Military Force at His Discretion?’, PS: Political Science & Politics, Volume 50, Issue 4, October 2017, pp. 953-957.

Gi-Wook Shin and Rennie J. Moon, ‘South Korea After Impeachment’, Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 117-131.

Ioannis N. Grigoriadis, Democratic Transition and the Rise of Populist Majoritarianism. Reform and Transition in the Mediterranean: Constitutional Reform in Greece and Turkey, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

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.

Notes

[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

Georgia – The president’s veto of the constitutional reform is overridden

On September 26, 2017, the Parliament of Georgia approved a set of constitutional amendments on their third and final reading with 117 lawmakers voting in favor and two against.[1] On October 9, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, vetoed the constitutional amendments and returned the draft bill to Parliament together with his objections. The president noted six points, four of which reflected commitments made by the governing Georgian Dream party before the Venice Commission. These were: the issue of the electoral bonus for the winning party at legislative elections, the creation of electoral blocks, and issues relating to the constitutional court and religious freedom. The president also noted Georgian Dream’s initiative relating to the introduction of a fully proportional electoral system in 2020. Finally, the president suggested the introduction of an indirect presidential elections at some time in the future rather than after the 2018 election.[2]

President Margvelashvili suggested that if Georgian Dream were to accept these proposals, then it would demonstrate that Georgia had a “European” political culture and that the government would be acting in accordance with the Venice Commission.

On October 13, the parliament of Georgia overturned the president’s objections with 117 votes and approved the initial version of the document. [3] The ruling party announced several days before the plenary session that they would support president’s objections if the president suggested only two changes: allowing the parties to form electoral blocs for the next parliamentary elections in 2020, and allowing the so-called bonus system.

The next step in the constitutional reform was the signing of the constitutional amendment. As the presidential veto had been overturned, many experts believed that the president would not sign the bill into law. According the Georgian constitution, if President fails to promulgate a law within the specified timeframe, the Chairperson of Parliament shall sign and promulgate it.[4] However, one week after the president had vetoed the bill, President Margvelashvili signed the amendments into law. The president made a special statement before signing the amendments. He said that it was extremely difficult for him to sign the Constitution. However, he said that he would do so to avoid any destabilization.[5]

The new constitution will enter into force following the next presidential elections in 2018. This means that the 2018 presidential election will still be held directly. More generally, the president remains the head of state, the commander-in-chief and the country’s representative in foreign relations, but no longer ensures “the functioning of state bodies within the scope of his/her powers granted by the Constitution.” At the following presidential election, the president will be elected by way of an electoral college composed of 300 members, including MPs, members of two Autonomous Republics and local government representatives. Thus, semi-presidentialism will be remain in Georgia until after the 2018 presidential election. Next year will show how successful the amendments turn out to be.

Notes

[1] http://parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/saqartvelos-parlamentma-konstituciuri-kanonis-proeqti-mesame-mosmenit-miigo.page

[2] President Margvelashvili Sends Six-Point Motivated Remarks to Parliament, https://www.president.gov.ge/en-US/pressamsakhuri/siakhleebi/saqartvelos-prezidentma-parlaments-6-punqtiani-mot.aspx

[3] The Parliament overrode the Presidential veto on the Constitutional Changes, 13 Oct 2017,  http://parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/parlamentma-sakonstitucio-cvlilebebze-prezidentis-veto-dadzlia.page

[4] Constitution of Georgia, August 24, 1995, http://www.parliament.ge/uploads/other/28/28803.pdf

[5] President Margvelashvili: It Is Extremely Difficult for Me to Sign This Constitution, but We Should Take All Steps to Avoid Possible Causes of Destabilization, https://www.president.gov.ge/en-US/pressamsakhuri/siakhleebi/giorgi-margvelashvili-chemtvis-uagresad-dznelia-am.aspx