Category Archives: Presidentialism and parliamentarism

Institutions and Political Leadership in the Age of ‘Post-truth Politics’

This post is about institutions and political leadership. There are two elements to this topic – institutions and leadership – but typically only one of them gets any attention – institutions. Here, I want to say something about both elements, beginning with leadership.

What is political leadership? How should political leadership be defined? What is the ontology of political leadership? What does political leadership look like? How do we observe it? What behaviour constitutes leadership. What is behavioural political leadership?

There was a great deal of discussion in the 1970s and 1980s about how best to define political leadership and there was no consensus answer. Currently, we have no agreed scientific definition. The question is whether we do not have such a definition either because as a political science profession we have all decided that there is no definition of behavioural leadership to be found, or because we have chosen not to look for one.

However, recent work by scholars such as Cas Mudde on populism has shown us that the definition of difficult concepts can be made clearer. We may wish to revisit the debate about the definition of political leadership in this light.

For example, if we define political leadership to include a normative component such as the idea that leadership as an essentially positive behaviour – along the lines of James MacGregor Burns – then leadership can only be a force for democratic good. From this perspective, behaviour that weakens democracy – by Orbán, Trump, Salvini, etc. – is, by definition, not an act of leadership, no matter how popular the behaviour and the people who are engaging in the behaviour may be. In other words, perhaps people such as Orbán and Trump are not really behaving as leaders. Perhaps they are not really exercising political leadership. We can only make such statements, though, if we have a working definition of the concept that can provide a scientific basis for making them.

The absence of a definition of political leadership is a problem. There is now a genuine public and academic interest in the concept of political leadership. Yet, as academics, we have ignored the concept for many years. This means either that our work can safely be ignored because we do not have the scientific grounds on which to make any expert statements about the concept, or, worse, that we when make professional, expert, or academic statements about the exercise of political leadership in public, our work can be classed as mere opinion, as ideologically motivated comment, as fake news. This is because there is no science of political leadership.

So, if we want to make statements about whether the behaviour of x or y leader constitutes the exercise of leadership, whether they are exercising good or bad leadership, etc, then we need some conception of leadership, some definition of the concept that is clearer than we currently possess.

The study of institutions and political leadership is bound up with this discussion.

In the absence of a consensus scientific definition of behavioural political leadership, as academics we have come to use the terms leader and leadership in a certain way. We have come to understand a political leader as anyone who holds a position of high political office – presidents, PMs, etc. Equally, we have come to understand political leadership merely as the actions of those people, whatever those actions might be, whatever their behaviour might be, however good or bad, right or wrong, they might be. The exercise of behavioural political leadership is not a specific, defined sub-set of the type of behaviour that presidents, PMs, etc engage in, it is any and all of their behaviour.

We are perhaps missing something by thinking of leadership in this way, yet we gain something too. We lose the ability to make a Burns-like statement that someone such as Orbán or Trump is not really behaving as a leader. However, we gain the ability, first, to clearly identify the set of people – the leaders – that we are studying – presidents, PMs, etc. – and, second, we gain the ability to focus on any and all outcomes that we might happen to be interested in. That is to say, if leadership is not sub-set of the type of behaviour that presidents, PMs, etc engage in, but any and all of their behaviour, then we have the potential to study anything they do and say that we are studying leadership.

The study of institutions is central to this positional way of thinking about political leadership. When political leaders are merely institutional office holders, then the study of political leadership is necessarily bound up with institutions in that regard. When leadership outcomes are any and all outcomes that we might happen to be interested in, then the study of political leadership is necessarily bound up with the institutional context in which leaders operate. To the extent that we assume different institutions shape behaviour in different ways, then thinking about leaders as mere office holders and leadership as merely the actions of office holders gives us the potential not only to focus on institutions and study empirically why leadership outcomes vary from one place to another, but also to make recommendations about what sorts of institutional changes might be made to generate better leadership outcomes.

Thinking about leaders and leadership in this way, I want to make three empirical points about leadership and institutions.

First, we have concentrated too much of our attention on leadership in the context of headline regime-level institutions – presidentialism vs parliamentarism. True, we can say with some assurance certain things about regime-level institutions. Samuels and Shugart have identified some discrete regime-level institutional effects. For example, in parliamentary systems leaders lose office for party political reasons more often than leaders in semi-presidential and presidential systems. However, in other areas we need to be much more circumspect. In relation to democracy as an outcome, the debate about institutional effects is much more unresolved than many people believe. The empirical results about the relative merits of presidentialism and parliamentarism for democracy are sensitive to case selection, time period, model specification, etc. We have to acknowledge that many factors affect democratisation. Institutions are only one.

Second, this does not mean that institutions do not matter. However, we need to move beyond the study of headline regime-level institutions and look at how individual institutions combine to generate leadership outcomes. Institutions can combine to open up space for individual leaders to govern in a personalised way. They can also close down that space if they are designed appropriately. Indeed, institutions in parliamentary and semi-presidential regimes can combine in similar ways to generate similar leadership outcomes, opening up or closing down space equally.

For example, a Hungarian-style parliamentary system with an electoral system that encourages a coherent single-party majority that supports the PM creates the potential for personalised PM leadership. Equally, a French-style semi-presidential system with an electoral system that encourages a coherent single-party majority that supports the president creates the potential for personalised presidential leadership. The Samuels and Shugart thesis still applies. In Hungary the party could still bring down the PM whereas in France the party in parliament cannot bring down the president. Typically, though, the institutional design of both countries has opened up the space for both the Hungarian PM and the French president to govern in a personalised manner.

What allows the French and Hungarian systems to be so personalised is not the regime-level structures. It is the combination of the type of electoral system, the process of judicial appointments, the rules governing the organisation of political parties, the constitutional powers of the president and PM, and plenty of other institutional features too. In other words, the space that is opened up or closed off to top-level leaders is a function of the combination of many discrete institutional features. When we study institutions and political leadership, we need to look at the combination of these discrete institutional features, rather than merely the headline regime.

Third, this means that we also need to study these discrete institutional features in themselves. If we are worried about how leaders can abuse institutional features, then we need to look at all institutions and how they can be abused by leaders who want to engage in personalised leadership. For example, what is the power of a president to dismiss a constitutional court justice, or to prevent a PM from dismissing a constitutional court justice? This is far from a top-level, regime-defining institutional feature, but it can be an essential element of whether there is democratic backsliding in a country or not. We know from work on democratic backsliding that would-be authoritarian leaders will use any institutional feature to try to get what they want. We have to be mindful of how any institution can be used and abused. We have to be mindful of how any of those discrete institutional features can combine with each other to create a potentially difficult situation for democracy. We have to move away from the study of just presidentialism or parliamentarism and think about institutional features more generally.

To go back to the beginning, it is important to realise that there are two elements to the study of institutions and political leadership – institutions and leadership. What this means is that when we study institutions and political leadership, we have to do two things. We have to study institutions. We have to study how the effects of institutions. We have to study how those effects can be used and abused. We have to think about institutional reform and how we can generate better leadership outcomes. But we also have to think about the concept of political leadership itself, or at the very least we have to think about whether we want to think about the concept of political leadership. What behaviour constitutes political leadership? If we have an answer to that question, then we can start to explore which institutions correlate with behavioural political leadership. This would certainly be a step forward in the study of institutions and political leadership.

This is a revised version of a presentation that was given on 27 September 2018 to the German Political Science Association conference at the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. The theme of the roundtable was Political Leadership in the Age of “Post-truth Politics” – Potentials and Risks?”.

Latvia – President will be elected by an open vote in 2019

This post is a follow up to the debate on how the Latvian president should be elected.

The next presidential election in Latvia will be held in June 2019. According to the Constitution, the President is elected by Parliament in a secret ballot by a majority of no fewer than 51 of the 100 members of Parliament.

The mode of election and the scope of the power of the President has been debated both during the first period of independence and since then, with many expressing the willingness for the direct election of the President.

Since June 2011, 11,004 people have signed the public initiative Manabalss.lv (My Voice) for a change to introduce a directly elected president.

Meanwhile, the debate about electing the president through an open vote rather than secret ballot has been going on. Since my previous post in July, 26 people (11 509 October 18 versus 11 483 July 4) have signed the public initiative to elect the State president by an open vote of no fewer than a 51-vote majority of the members of Parliament. This number was enough to initiate changes in legislation leading towards an open vote.

At the same time, on September 20 MPs supported the idea of five MPs from the Greens and Farmers Union about direct presidential elections. 70 MPs voted “FOR”, 15 “AGAINST” and two abstained. So far, several initiatives have been submitted to Parliament for a directly elected President, but the amendments have never been examined in a parliamentary commission.

On September 26, the Legal Commission of Parliament supported the amendment for the third reading on the open vote. The amendments were supported by parliament in the third (final) reading on October 4.

Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of the 100 deputies. 91 MPs were registered for the vote, with 85 MPs voting “FOR”, 3 voting “AGAINST”, and no one abstaining.

To make the process of openly electing the President in Latvia, it is also necessary to amend the Law on the Election of the State president and the Parliament Order Roll. Amendments to the Presidential Election Law are included in today’s (October 18, 2018) agenda of the Parliament sitting.

State president Raimonds Vējonis did not use his suspensive veto power after the adoption of the amendments to the Constitution and promulgated the law on October 16, 2018.

The changes to the Constitution will take effect on January 1, 2019.

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.

Latvia – How should the President be elected?

In Latvia, the President is elected by Parliament in a secret ballot. Members of Parliament have no obligation to reveal which candidate they support. Article 36 of the Constitution of Latvia states: “The President of the Republic of Latvia shall be elected by secret ballot by a majority of not less than 51 members of the Parliament”.

Over the past few years, there have been discussions initiated both by State presidents, the media, and society about the election process for the State president. Should the president continue to be elected by a secret ballot or an open ballot in parliament, or should the president be directly elected?

Currently, the vote on the President is the only secret vote in the Parliament. All other votes – on laws, the election of officials, such as the Speaker of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the judges of the Supreme Court and the judges of the Constitutional Court, the State Auditor, the President of the Bank of Latvia, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission and other officials – are open.

The current President of Latvia, Raimonds Vejonis, was elected on June 3, 2015, in a secret ballot with 55 votes “FOR” and 42 votes “AGAINST”. At that time Vejonis stated that he was ready to support the direct election of the President.

In June 2017 President Vejonis suggested that President should be elected by a popular vote and invited the Parliament to amend the Constitution accordingly. He urged MPs to ensure that the 2019 Presidential election would be held by popular vote.

The idea for a direct Presidential election has been discussed for some time. Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of the 100 elected parliamentarians.

At the same time, 11,483 people have signed the public initiative portal Manabalss.lv (my voice) to change the way the State president is elected. The proposal is to reword Article 36 of the Constitution in the following way: “The President of the Republic of Latvia shall be elected by open vote with no less than 51 majority of the Parliament members”. The idea is that the Presidential elections in Latvia would be more open and transparent, that voters could find out how their elected members voted and who is responsible for the result.

MPs of the Unity, National Alliance and Harmony parties, support the initiative, while MPs from the Greens and Farmers Union and Latvia From the Heart are against.

From February 2015 until April 2017 there was a working group in Parliament looking at the possible extension of the mandate of the President and the evaluation of the election procedure. Composed of a single representative from each party in Parliament, the main conclusion of this working group is that the current procedure for the election of the President should be changed. The President of Latvia should be elected by the people of Latvia in direct, general, equal and secret elections.

On June 12, most of the members of Parliaments’ Legal Commission (5 votes “FOR”, 3 votes “AGAINST”) supported the amendments to the Constitution proposed by the opposition party, the Association of the Regions of Latvia, which stipulates an open ballot for the election of the President by parliament. The representatives from the Unity and the National Alliance “For All Latvia” – “Fatherland and Freedom” / LNNK, supported the amendments, while most of the members of the Green and Farmers’ Union did not vote.

On June 20, President Vejonis said, in effect, that an open ballot was not open enough. The President pointed out that, even before an open vote, political parties agree on how they will vote, and it is not possible for each MP to express an individual opinion, because of party loyalty.

The debate is ongoing and this will be followed up in future posts.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

On defining regime types (II) Clauses and Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armenia – The election of a ceremonial president, but what about the ‘new’ Prime Minister?

On March 2, the Armenian parliament elected the next president of the country. The ‘winner’ (and only candidate) was Dr Armen Sarkissian[1], formerly an academic, Armenian prime minister, and  Armenian ambassador to the UK. However, Dr Sarkissian’s prerogatives will be mostly ceremonial, as the 2015 constitutional reform transferred most of the president’s governing powers to the prime minister. While the current President Serzh Sargsyan has not openly expressed his intention to run as prime minister[2] (to be selected in April), he played a crucial role in the nomination of president-elect Armen Sarkissian, fuelling rumours about him becoming prime minister. This triggered not only unhappiness from the opposition, but also protest rallies.

A new (ceremonial) president

In January, President Serzh Sargsyan asked Armen Sarkissian to stand as president. This was not an obvious choice, as Dr Sarkissian has been living abroad (mostly in the UK) for the past decades, holding first academic fellowships and then diplomatic posts. He is known for being a close friend of Prince Charles, who in 2016 hosted a gala dinner to support “Yerevan My Love”, a charity set up by Sarkissian. Additionally, he has been a senior advisor for companies such as British Petroleum, Alcatel and Telefonia. On occasions, doubts have been raised about the transparency of his business activities.

Sarkissian’s nomination was widely supported by the ruling block. Other than being the candidate of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), Dr Sarkissian was also backed by the junior coalition partner Dashnaktsutyun. Additionally, the Tsarukian’s alliance, which is officially in the opposition, neither openly opposed Armen Sarkissian’s nomination nor proposed an alternative candidate. In brief, the Yelk bloc, which holds 9 out of 105 parliamentary seats, was the only coalition to oppose Sarkissian as the (sole) candidate president[3]. Against this background, it was no surprise when he was elected by a landslide in the first round. He is due to take office on April 9. In the immediate aftermath of his election, Armen Sarkissian expressed gratitude to his predecessor for his support and guidance in the past months, and made clear that his mandate will be in full continuity with Serzh Sargsyan’s work and vision. In Dr Sarkissian’s words: “I am ready to completely devote myself (…) to a cause which is actually also a continuation of the first, second and third of your presidencies.[4]

His election was marked by some controversy over his eligibility, as a dozen leading NGOs suspected that he did not meet the citizenship requirements. As per the 2015 constitution, presidential candidates must have been solely Armenian citizens for the previous six years. While Armen Sarkissian vehemently declared that he has renounced his British citizenship (acquired in 2002) in 2011, some evidence seems to suggest that he did so only in 2014. Furthermore, he never presented any UK-issued formal document about his citizenship status. However, despite the concerns of the opposition and civil society, members of cabinet dismissed these allegations as groundless.

Other than that, the close relationship between the President and President-elect cast some doubts on the legitimacy of the latter. According to the independent Armenian analyst Saro Saroyan, these dynamics are remarkably worrisome: “Will he [Armen Sarkissian] act as a puppet constrained by the lack of legitimacy or as a person with amorphous powers? If the import of such a president to Armenia is to the “credit” of Serzh Sargsyan, there can by default be no other decision in determining the personality of the prime minister. Serzh Sargsyan will be making this decision too”[5]. From this statement, two points can be inferred. The first one concerns the genuine political capital enjoyed by president-elect Armen Sarkissian. The second one is the extraordinary engagement of Serzh Sargsyan in this presidential election, as it seems to confirm his alleged willingness to become premier.

Who wants to be a prime minister?

In 2015, when a constitutional referendum was announced, rumours started to circulate about President Serzh Sargsyan’s political ambitions. As he was serving his second presidential mandate and was barred from seeking election for a third time, it was suspected that transitioning from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system was a way for President Sargsyan to retain his power, in the guise of prime minister. In recent times, such suspicion has been reinforced by the further enhancement of the premier’s prerogatives. For instance, the National Security Service and Police will be reporting directly to the premier. Additionally, the prime minister will reside in Bagramyan 26, which is the current presidential residence, and the presidential staff will be considerably downsized (while the prime minister’s team will be enlarged)[6]. These changes, which add up to the (dramatic) constitutional empowerment of the prime minister’s powers, further reinforced the opposition’s firm belief that Serzh Sargsyan will be nominated by the HHK as the next premier. As observed by analysts and members of the opposition, Serzh Sargsyan “Would not have vested such broad powers in anyone except for himself”.

The HHK party, supported by the junior partner Dashnaktsutyun, enjoys a parliamentary majority solid enough to install any candidate of its choice.  Remarkably, even though President Serzh Sargsyan has not announced his plans yet, senior members of his party (HHK) have indicated that he is the ideal prime minister. Eduard Sharmazanov, the deputy speaker of parliament, said that the HHK party will formally discuss it after April 9, as a final choice is not due to until April 16. However, in his opinion, President Sargsyan would be the most qualified candidate. Similarly, Vahram Baghdasarian, the head of the HHK parliamentary faction, said that Serzh Sargsyan is the most suitable person for the job, also due to the tensions with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. By contrast, the opposition considers the handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as one of the reasons why Serzh Sargsyan should step down. According to Nikol Pashinyan, the head of the Yelk faction, the 4-days-war with Azerbaijan in April 2016 exposed the poor conditions of the Armenian army, which was still equipped with weapons from the 1980s. In spite of this evidence, Sargsyan did not take any concrete action to improve the situation[7].

Last weekend, rallies started to take place in the city centre. As noted by Mr Pashinyan, at this point, only massive grassroots protests can prevent Serzh Sargsyan from becoming prime minister. In Pashinyan’s words: “If the people are decisive, and as many go onto the streets as on March 1, 2008, I guarantee that we will prevent the next reproduction of Sargsyan[8].” In this regard, a newly-formed group called “Front for the State of Armenia”, aims at becoming a key platform for protest and change, uniting both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition. The next rally is already scheduled for March 16.

Notes

[1] Some sources transliterate his last name as Sargsyan. However, ‘Sarkissian’ is the most widely used version.

[2] In 2015, as a result of a constitutional referendum, the powers of the President were drastically reduced and, conversely, those of the Prime Minister were dramatically enhanced. Even if President Serzh Sargsyan never gave unequivocal statements about his long-term political ambitions, from the beginning this reform was widely suspected to be a tool to extend his power after his second, and last, presidential mandate. This blog gave extended coverage to this topic, analysing the details of the reformthe processes before the vote and the pertinent debate in 2016 and 2017.

[3] This post, previously published on this blog, deals with the 2017 parliamentary election, explaining in detail which parties and coalitions were elected.

[4] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2018. ‘Armenian president-elect vows to continue incumbent’s policies’, March 3 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[5] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2018. ‘Karabakh issue ‘resolved’, no need in talks with Baku – Armenian pundit’, March 5 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[6] ARMINFO News Agency. 2018. ‘In parallel with the reduction of the powers of the president of the country, his apparatus will be reduced’, March 7 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[7] Ani Mshetsyan. 2018. ‘Nikol Pashinyan: The only thing that can force Serzh Sargsyan to abandon the post of prime minister is the will of the people’. Arminfo News Agency, March 5 (retrieved through LexisNexis).

[8] Ibidem.

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.

Thomas Sedelius and Jonas Linde – Democracy and Government Performance: Parliamentarism, Premier-Presidentialism, President-Parliamentarism, and Presidentialism

This is a guest post by Thomas Sedelius, Dalarna University, and Jonas Linde, University of Bergen. It is a summary of their co-authored article that was recently published in Democratization. The full text article is free to download here.

Do semi-presidential regimes perform worse than other regime types? Following the classical argument once raised by Juan J. Linz (1990; 1994) that presidentialism and semi-presidentialism are less conducive to democracy than parliamentarism, a number of studies have empirically analysed the functioning and performance of semi-presidentialism. With the notable exception of Elgie (2011), however, there is a lack of large-N studies where democracy and government performance are actually measured across the two subtypes of semi-presidentialism (premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes). Robert Elgie’s systematic and comprehensive study offers several important findings on the performance of two types of semi-presidentialism, but it does so in isolation from parliamentary and presidential regimes. Our study is an attempt to address this gap in the literature.

By using indicators on regime performance and democracy from a dataset containing 173 countries, we examine the performance records of premier-presidential and president-parliamentary regimes in relation to parliamentarism and presidentialism.

Guided by Linz’s argument on the “perils of presidentialism”, and by Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey’s (1992) proposition that president-parliamentary regimes are more perilous to democracy than other regime types, we test three basic hypotheses.

H1: Parliamentarism performs better than other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance.

H2: Premier-presidentialism performs better than president-parliamentarism and presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

H3: President-parliamentarism performs on a par with, or worse, than presidentialism in terms of democracy and government performance.

For measuring democracy, we select four frequently used indicators: Freedom House’s index of civil liberties and political rights and Polity IV combined, Polity IV on its own, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy, and the Executive Constraints indicator from Polity IV, which refers to the extent of institutionalized constraints on the decision-making powers of chief executives. For measuring government performance, we use the Government Effectiveness indicator from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, the Empowerment Rights Index from CIRI Human Rights Data Project, and the Human Development Index from UNDP.

Following a series of descriptive reports, we run some basic multivariate analyses with a conventional set of controls including GDP/capita, population size, ethnic fractionalization, proportional representation, and different world regions.

Overall, our findings do not support the proposition that parliamentarism performs better than all other regime types in terms of democracy and government performance (H1). Rather we observed a pattern where premier-presidentialism performs almost as good – and on some measures even better – as parliamentary regimes. Neither the measures of democracy nor the measures of government performance show significantly better records for parliamentary regimes than for premier-presidential ones. This indicates that a parliamentary constitution with an indirectly elected president does not necessarily go along with better political performance than a premier-presidential one with a popularly elected but weak or medium weak president. Thus, to the extent that we think about semi-presidentialism in terms of premier-presidential regimes, we have reasons to question strong propositions about the “perils of semi-presidentialism”.

However, the picture certainly looks different with regard to president-parliamentary regimes. While premier-presidential regimes are closer to parliamentary regimes, president-parliamentary regimes display performance records more similar to pure presidentialism, and it performs even worse on most indicators (H2, H3). When it comes to the level of democracy, the only regime type to perform significantly worse than the parliamentary one – on four separate measures and with conventional controls – is the president-parliamentary regime type. The differences in terms of government performance are less pronounced. Although there is a tendency of slightly poorer performance by presidential-parliamentary regimes also in terms of government performance, and significantly so on one indicator, our results demonstrate that the type of constitutional system seems to affect democracy more strongly than government performance.

Shugart and Carey’s general recommendation to stay away from the president-parliamentary form of government certainly finds support in our data. In our study, we mostly refrain from making claims about causal mechanisms behind the observed pattern. However, we allow some general comments on the importance of presidential powers in relation to the four regime types. We show how variation in presidential powers follow closely the four regime types – weakest among the parliamentary regimes and strongest among the president-parliamentary regimes. We know that case studies on e.g. post-Soviet countries where the system has shifted from president-parliamentary to premier-presidential constitutions provide additional support to the negative impact of president-parliamentarism on democracy. For instance, Elgie and Moestrup (2016) show that reduced presidential powers and a shift to a more balanced semi-presidential system have been associated with better democracy records in e.g. Armenia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. A general trend among the post-Soviet countries is that the presidents have used their control over the administration to curb the opposition and thereby directing the trajectory of constitutional developments in their own favor. The outcome has been increased power of already powerful presidents – a straight road to the consolidation of autocracy.

Our study is limited to the extent that it draws on cross-sectional data only, and we acknowledge the need for more sophisticated analyses. In addition, the study can make no valid claims of having disentangled endogeneity challenges regarding institutions and political outcomes. Yet, we reveal a general pattern with regard to the four regime types on performance. Based on our findings, we claim that democratic performance is likely to be better with a parliamentary or premier-presidential form of government. If the most positive accounts about semi-presidentialism are relevant, such as executive flexibility, power-sharing, and a uniting president, those are most likely to be identified under the premier-presidential form of government. Our data give no support for general recommendations to avoid dual executives or popularly elected president with limited powers.

Finally, and well in line with more recent scholarship, we argue that discussions about the pros and cons of semi-presidentialism should include the distinction between its sub-categories as well as considering dimensions of presidential power.

References

Elgie, Robert. Semi-Presidentialism: Sub-Types and Democratic Performace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Elgie and Sophia Moestrup (Eds.). Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Linz, Juan J. “The Perils of Presidentialism.” Journal of Democracy 1, no. 1 (1990): 51-69.

Linz, Juan J. “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference?” In: Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. (Eds.) The Failure of Presidential Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, 3-87.

Shugart, Matthew S. and John M. Carey. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Thomas Sedelius is Associate Professor in Political Science at Dalarna University, Sweden. His research covers semi-presidentialism, political institutions, transition, democratisation, and East European politics. His work on semi-presidentialism has appeared in journals such as Democratization, Government and Opposition, and East European Politics, and also include The Tug-of-War between Presidents and Prime Ministers: Semi-Presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe (Örebro Studies, 2006). Thomas currently leads a research project (2015-2018) financed by the Swedish Research Council on semi-presidentialism and governability in transitional countries.

Jonas Linde is Professor of Political Science at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Norway. His research has dealt with different aspects of political support, perceptions of corruption, quality of government, e-government and post-communist democratization. Linde’s works have been published in journals such as Governance, European Journal of Political Research, International Political Science Review, Political Studies, Government Information Quarterly and Government and Opposition.