Monthly Archives: August 2014

Historic cases of semi-presidentialism

This post was originally published at The Semi-presidential One

Here is a full list of historic cases of semi-presidentialism.

The entry date is the date when a semi-presidential constitution was formally adopted. The exit date is the date when there was a change in the constitutional status. This may be a move from semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism (e.g. Moldova). More often than not, though, the exit date corresponds to a coup and the suspension of the constitution (e.g. Burkina Faso in December 1980). If the old constitution is subsequently restored, I record a new period dating from the time when the old constitution was reactivated (e.g. Mauritania).

Angola (1992-2010), Austria (1929-1933)
Burkina Faso/Upper Volta (1970-1974, 1978-1980), Burundi (1992-1994)
Central African Republic (1981, 1992-2003, 2005-2013), Comoros (1979-1985, 1992-1999), Congo-Brazzaville/Republic of Congo (1992-1997), Congo-Kinshasa/Dem. Rep. of Congo (1990-1997), Cuba (1940-1952, 1955-59)
Egypt (2007-2011, 2012-2013)
Germany (Weimar Republic) (1919-1933), Guinea-Bissau (1993-2012)
Kenya (2008-2010)
Madagascar (1992-2009), Mauritania (1991-2005, 2006-2008), Moldova (1994-2001)
Niger (1991-1996, 1999-2009)
Peru (1979-1992)
Rwanda (1991-1993)
Senegal (1970-1983), South Korea (1980-1987), South Vietnam (1967-1975)
Tunisia (1988-2011)
Yemen (1994-2011), Yugoslavia (2000-2003)

Note also that some of these countries are currently semi-presidential, having returned to semi-presidentialism at a later date.

List of periods of cohabitation in semi-presidential countries

This post was first published at The Semi-presidential One

This post records periods of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet. Presidents classed as non-party cannot generate any periods of cohabitation.

1.) April 1966-April 1970:
President – Franz Jonas (SPÖ); PM – Josef Klaus (ÖVP); government – ÖVP
2.) Jul 1986-Jan 1987:
President – Kurt Waldheim (ÖVP); PM – Franz Vranitzky (SPÖ); government – SPÖ, FPÖ
3.) July 2004-Jan 2007
President – Heinz Fischer (SPÖ); PM – Wolfgang Schüssel (ÖVP); government – ÖVP, FPÖ/BZÖ

1.) January 1995 – February 1997:
President – Zhelyu Zhelev (SDS); PM – Zhan Vasilev Videnov (BSP); government – BSP, BZnS(AS), DE
2.) July 2001 – January 2002
President – Petur Stoyanov (SDS); PM – Simeon Borisov Sakskoburggotski (NDSV); government – NDSV, DPS
3.) January 2002 – August 2005:
President – Georgi Sedefchov Purvanov (BSP); PM – Simeon Borisov Sakskoburggotski (NDSV); government – NDSV, DPS
4.) July 2009 – January 2012
President – Georgi Sedefchov Purvanov (BSP); PM – Boyko Borisov (GERB); government – GERB (minority)

Cabo Verde
September 2011 –
President – Jorge Carlos de Almeida Fonseca (MPD); PM – José Maria Pereira Neves (PAICV); government – PAICV
Technically, there was also a very brief period of cohabitation from 1 Feb 2001 to 22 Mar 2001. On 1 February, José Maria Neves of the PAICV took up the post of PM, but the outgoing MPD President António Mascarenhas Monteiro did not leave office until 22 March.

February 2010 – December 2011
President – Ivo Josipović (SDP); PM – Jadranka Kosor (HDZ); Coalition – HDZ, HSS, HSLS, SDSS

Czech Republic
October 2012 – July 2013
President – Miloš Zeman (Party of Civic Rights – Zeman’s people, SPOZ); PM – Petr Nečas (Civic Democratic Party, ODS); Coalition – ODS, TOP 09, LIDEM

1.) December 1926 – December 1927
President – Lauri Kristian Relander (ML); PM – Väinö Alfred Tanner (SDP); Government – SDP
2.) December 1928 – August 1929
President – Lauri Kristian Relander (ML); PM – Oskari Mantere (ED); Government – ED, KOK
3.) March 1946 – July 1948
President – Juho Kusti Paasikivi (KOK); PM – Mauno Pekkala (SKDL); Government – SKDL, SFP, ML, SDP
4.) July 1948 – March 1950
President – Juho Kusti Paasikivi (KOK); PM – Karl August Fagerholm (SDP); Government – SDP
5.) March 1950 – November 1953
President – Juho Kusti Paasikivi (KOK); PM – Urho Kekkonen (ML); Government – ML, ED (until Sep 1951), SFP, SDP (Jan 1951-July 1953)
6.) May 1954 – October 1954
President – Juho Kusti Paasikivi (KOK); PM – Ralf Johan Gustaf Törngren (SDP); Government – SFP, SDP, ML
7.) October 1954 – February 1956
President – Juho Kusti Paasikivi (KOK); PM – Urho Kekkonen (ML); Government – ML, SDP
8.) February 1972 – September 1972
President – Urho Kekkonen (ML/KESK); PM – Kustaa Rafael Paasio (SDP); Government – SDP
9.) April 1991 – March 1994
President – Mauno Henrik Koivisto (SDP); PM – Esko Tapani Aho (KESK); Government – KESK, KOK, RKP/SFP, SKL
10.) March 1994 – April 1995
President – Martti Ahtisaari (SDP); PM – Esko Tapani Aho (KESK); Government – KESK, KOK, RKP/SFP, SKL (to June 1994)
11.) April 2007 – June 2011
President – Tarja Kaarina Halonen (SDP); PM – Matti Taneli Vanhanen (KESK); Government – KESK, RKP/SFP, VIHR

1.) March 1986 – May 1988
President – François Mitterrand (socialists); PM – Jacques Chirac (RPR); government – RPR, UDF
2.) March 1993 – May 1995
President – François Mitterrand (socialists); PM – Edouard Balladur (RPR); government – RPR, UDF
3.) June 1997 – May 2002
President – Jacques Chirac (RPR); PM – Lionel Jospin (socialists); government – socialists, communists, greens, left-radicals, citizens’ movement

October 2012-November 2013
President – Mikheil Saakashvili (United National Movement – UNM); PM – Bidzina Ivanishvili (Georgian Dream); Coalition – Georgian Dream

Germany (Weimar)
1.) June 1920 – May 1921
President – Friedrich Ebert (SPD); PM – Konstantin Fehrenbach (Z); Government – Z, DPP, DVP
2.) November 1923 – May 1925
President – Friedrich Ebert (SPD); PM – Wilhelm Marx (Z); Government – Z, DDP, DVP, BVP (until June 1924)
22 Nov 1922 – 13 Aug 1923
President – Friedrich Ebert (SPD); PM – Wilhelm Cuno (non-party); Government – technocrats plus Z, DPP, DVP

1.) August 1952 – September 1953
President – Ásgeir Ásgeirsson (AF, Social Democrats); PM – Steingrímur Steinthórsson (FSF, Progressive party); Coalition – FSF (Progressive party), SSF (Independence Party)
2.) September 1953 – July 1956
President – Ásgeir Ásgeirsson (AF, Social Democrats); PM – Ólafur Thors (SSF, Independence Party); ; Coalition – FSF (Progressive party), SSF (Independence Party)
3.) August 1996 – 1998
President – Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (AP, People’s Alliance/SFK, Social Democratic Alliance); PM – Davíd Oddsson (SSF, Independence Party); Coalition – FSF (Progressive party), SSF (Independence Party)

1.) February 1948 – June 1951
President – Sean T. O’Kelly (FF); PM – John A. Costello (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour, National Labour, Clann na Poblachta, Clann na Talmhan
2.) June 1954 – March 1957
President – Sean T. O’Kelly (FF); PM – John A. Costello (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour, Clann na Talmhan
3.) March 1973 – July 1977
Presidents – Erskine Childers (June 1973-Nov 1974), Cearbhall O Dalaigh (Dec 1974-Oct 1976), Patrick Hillery (from Dec 1976) all FF; PM – Liam Cosgrave (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour
4.) June 1981 – March 1982
President – Patrick Hillery (FF); PM – Garret FitzGerald (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour
5.) December 1982 – March 1987
President – Patrick Hillery (FF); PM – Garret FitzGerald (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour
6.) December 1990 – February 1992
President – Mary Robinson (Lab); PM – Charles J. Haughey (FF); Coalition – FF, PD
7.) February 1992 – January 1993
President – Mary Robinson (Lab); PM – Albert Reynolds (FF); Coalition – FF, PD
8.) June 1997 – September 1997
President – Mary Robinson (Lab); PM – Bertie Ahern (FF); Coalition – FF, PD
9.) March 2011 – November 2011
President – Mary McAleese (FF); PM – Enda Kenny (FG); Coalition – FG, Labour

1.) November 1996 – February 1998
President – Algirdas Brazauskas (LDDP); PM – Gediminas Vagnorius (TS-LK): Coalition – TS-LK, LKDP, LCS
2.) February 2003 – April 2004
President – Rolandas Paksas (LLS/LLP); PM – Algirdas Brazauskas (LSDP); Coalition – LSDP, LDDP (merged with LSDP), LRS (part of Brazauskas electoral coalition), NU-SL

1.) November 2002 – May 2004
President – Boris Trajkovski (VMRO-DPMNE); PM – Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM/ZMZ): Coalition – SDSM/ZMZ, DUI
2.) August 2006 – April 2009
President – Branko Crvenkovski (SDSM/ZMZ); PM – Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE); Coalition – Until July 2008 VMRO-DPMNE, DPA, NSDP, DOM; From July 2008-; VMRO-DPMNE, DUI

1.) June 1993 – July 1996
President – Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat (MUAN/MNDP); PM – Puntsagiyn Jasray (MAKN/MPRP): Government – MAKN/MPRP
2.) June 1997 – April 1998
President – Natsagiyn Bagabandi (MAKN/MPRP); PM – Mendsaikhany Enkhsaikhan (MUAN/MNDP); Coalition – MUAN/MNDP and DU (MSDN/MSDP)
3.) April 1998 – December 1998
President – Natsagiyn Bagabandi (MAKN/MPRP); PM – Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj (MUAN/MNDP); Coalition – MUAN/MNDP and DU (MSDN/MSDP)
4.) December 1998 – July 1999
President – Natsagiyn Bagabandi (MAKN/MPRP); PM – Janlavyn Narantsatsralt (MUAN/MNDP); Coalition – MUAN/MNDP and DU (MSDN/MSDP)
5.) July 1999 – July 2000
President – Natsagiyn Bagabandi (MAKN/MPRP); PM – Rinchinnyamyn Amarjargal (MUAN/MNDP); Coalition – MUAN/MNDP and DU (MSDN/MSDP)

February 1995 – January 1996
President – Mahamane Ousmane (CDS); PM – Hama Amadou (MNSD): Government – MNSD, PNDS

1.) December 1991 – Jun 1992
President – Lech Wałęsa (NSZZ); PM – Jan Olszewski (PC); Government – PC, ZChN, PL
2.) June 1992 – July 1992
President – Lech Wałęsa (NSZZ); PM – Waldemar Pawlak (PSL); Government – PSL, PC, ZChN
3.) July 1992 – October 1993
President – Lech Wałęsa (NSZZ); PM – Hanna Suchocka (UD); Government – UD, KLD, ZChN, PChD, SL-Ch, PPG, PL
4.) October1993 – March 1995
President – Lech Wałęsa (NSZZ); PM – Waldemar Pawlak (PSL); Government – SLD, PSL
5.) March 1995 – December 1995
President – Lech Wałęsa (NSZZ); PM – Józef Oleksy (SdRP/SLD); Government – SLD, PSL
6.) October 1997 – October 2001
President – Aleksander Kwaśniewski (SdRP/SLD); PM – Jerzy Karol Buzek (AWS); Government – AWS, UW (to June 2000)
7.) November 2007 – April 2010
Lech Aleksander Kaczyński (PiS); PM – Donald Tusk (PO); Government – PO, PSL

1.) March 1986 – October 1995
President – Mário Soares (PS); PM – Aníbal Cavaco Silva (PSD); Government – PSD
2.) April 2002 – July 2004
President – Jorge Sampaio (PS); PM – José Manuel Barroso (PSD); Government – PSD, CDS-PP
3.) July 2004 – March 2005
President – Jorge Sampaio (PS); PM – Pedro Miguel Lopes (PSD); Government – PSD, CDS-PP
4.) March 2006 – June 2011
President – Aníbal Cavaco Silva (PSD); José Sócrates (PS); Government – PS

1.) April 2007- December 2008
President – Traian Băsescu (PD/PD-L); PM – Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu (PNL); Coalition – PNL, UDMR
2.) May 2012-
President – Traian Băsescu (PD/PD-L); PM – Victor Ponta (PSD); Coalition – PSD, PNL until March 2014, then PSD, UDMR

São Tomé e Príncipe
1.) October 1994 – December 1995
President – Miguel Trovoada (ADI); PM – Carlos da Graça (MLSTP-PSD); Coalition – MLSTP-PSD, PCD
2.) December 1995 – November 1996
President – Miguel Trovoada (ADI); PM – Armindo Vaz d’Almeida (MLSTP-PSD); Coalition – MLSTP-PSD, PCD
3.) November 1996 – January 1999
President – Miguel Trovoada (ADI); PM – Raul Bragança Neto (MLSTP-PSD); Coalition – MLSTP-PSD, PCD
4.) January 1999 – September 2001
President – Miguel Trovoada (ADI); PM – Guilherme Posser de Costa (MLSTP-PSD); Coalition – MLSTP-PSD
5.) March 2004 – September 2004
President – Fradique de Menezes (MDFM-PL); PM – Maria das Neves Ceita Baptista de Sousa (MLSTP-PSD); MLSTP-PSD, Ue-K (inc ADI)
6.) September 2004 – Jun 2005
President – Fradique de Menezes (MDFM-PL); PM – Damião Vaz d’Almeida (MLSTP-PSD); Coalition – MLSTP-PSD, ADI
7.) January 2010 – August 2010
President – Fradique de Menezes (MDFM-PL); PM – Joaquim Rafael Branco (MLSTP-PSD); Coalition – MLSTP-PSD, PCD
8.) August 2010 – September 2011
President – Fradique de Menezes (MDFM-PL); PM – Patrice Trovoada (ADI); Government – ADI

November 2006 – May 2007
President – Boris Tadić (DS); PM – Vojislav Koštunica (DSS); Government – DSS, G17+, SPO, and NS

1.) December 2004 – January 2006
President – Janez Drnovšek (LDS); PM – Janez Janša (SDS); Coalition – SDS, NSi, SLS, DeSUS
2.) December 2012 – March 2013
President – Borut Pahor (SD); PM – Janez Janša (SDS); Coalition – SDS, NSi, SLS, DeSUS, LGV

Sri Lanka
1.) August 1994 – November 1994
President – Dingiri Banda Wijetunge (EJP); PM – Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (SLMP/SLNP); Government – SLMP/SLNP
2.) December 2001 – April 2004
President – Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (SLMP/SLNP); PM – Ranil Wickremasinghe (EJP); Gove

Presidents and Paupers II: How much do CEE presidents earn?

Presidential salaries – particularly during and after the European financial crisis – have been a hotly debated topic in a number of European republics and several office holders have voluntarily taken a pay cut. Last year, I wrote two blog posts about the earnings of Western and Central and Eastern European presidents or my old blog ( which proved to be highly popular and generated some media attention. The posts which are reproduced here today and tomorrow try to answer the questions How much do presidents actually earn? Did the crisis have an impact on presidential salaries? And how do their earnings relate to other factors?


The rich and the poor

For this post I collected data on presidential salaries including lump sums that are paid on a monthly basis without being designated for a specific function. The numbers presented below are however exclusive of benefits such as housing, allowances for hiring personal staff, use of cars/planes etc. The former type of benefits varies greatly between countries and these benefits are very difficult to compare (especially when one also includes allowances for spouses). However, one can say that in general those presidents who earn more also receive more additional benefits. Unfortunately, this does not apply to pensions. All data – except salary of Czech president Zeman – relates to the last quarter of 2012.

presidential salaries & average income_bar chart_newThe bar chart shows that in absolute terms Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic is the top earner among the Central and East European presidents. With currently € 9,172 per month Gasparovic receives almost six times more than his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu (who earns a meagre € 1,529). Even though the differences in the national gross average monthly income are not as large, they are still visible. Slovenia is front-runner with € 1,546 while Bulgaria trails behind with less than a quarter (€ 384). The average presidential monthly salary is € 5,118, the gross average monthly income in Central and Eastern Europe is € 776.

Presidential salaries in perspective

When setting presidential salaries in perspective, the national average income is obviously the best reference value. When ranking presidential salaries as % of the national average income the order changes (although only the Slovenian and the Bulgarian president jump several places). Front-runner is once again Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic who earns 1167% of the national average income (although he now has to share the first place with Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite) and Romanian president Basescu, too, remains in his [last] place with his salary being only 335% of the national average income. Although in fourth place in the absolute ranking, Slovenian president Borut Pahor is now in the second last place – his otherwise upper-midrange salary (€ 5,419) is only 3.51 times more than the national average. On the other hand, while Bulgarian president Plevneliev’s € 2,356 is less than half of his counterparts’ average income, it is still 614% of what his fellow citizens earn. On average, CEE presidents earn 667% of the national gross average income.

Presidential salaries as % of national average income_newBoth bar charts do not necessarily suggest that a higher presidential salary is a function of a higher national gross average salary. Nevertheless, the scatter plot below shows that there is still a weak positive correlation (R=0.4187) between presidential salaries and the average income of their voters. Slovenia is the clear outlier – even before the 17% salary cut, the president earned considerably less than one could have expected from the national gross average income.

presidential salaries_scatterplot_new

What about power and elections?

Another interesting point of comparison for presidential salaries are presidents’ actual powers and their mode of election. To start with the latter: popularly elected presidents earn more than their indirectly elected counterparts. While the popularly elected heads of state in CEE earned € 5,375 (680% of the national average income), indirectly elected presidents earned € 4,519 (608% of the national average). Of course, there are only three indirectly elected presidents in the sample and the average would have looked a little different half a year ago when Vaclav Klaus was still the (indirectly elected) Czech president and earned up to €12,715 a month.

Looking a the relation between presidents’ powers and their salary, there is no obvious direction. The correlation between the adjusted presidential salary (as % of national gross average income) and the score on Metcalf’s (2000) revised measurement scheme is only R=0.15.

presidential salaries and powers_new

This post first appeared on on 19 July 2013.

Presidents and Paupers I: How much do Western European presidents earn?

Presidential salaries – particularly during and after the European financial crisis – have been a hotly debated topic in a number of European republics and several office holders have voluntarily taken a pay cut. Last year, I wrote two blog posts about the earnings of Western and Central and Eastern European presidents or my old blog ( which proved to be highly popular and generated some media attention. The posts which are reproduced here today and tomorrow try to answer the questions How much do presidents actually earn? Did the crisis have an impact on presidential salaries? And how do their earnings relate to other factors?

Austrian president Heinz Fischer is the highest paid president in Western Europe (if you do not count the Chairman of the Swiss Confederate Presidency) | photo by GuentherZ via wikimedia commons

Presidents’ absolute salaries in comparison

Given different regulations about salaries, lump sums and other benefits it is difficult to establish universally how much presidents actually earn. For this post I tried to ascertain (accurately, I hope) presidents’ yearly gross annual income exclusive of benefits. However, I decided to include so-called 13th/14th salaries as these are part of the taxable income and many presidents were either entitled to receive those or were recently deprived of them (see more under the penultimate subheading). Although the national gross average income would certainly be easier to interpret as a point of reference, I had chosen the 2012 GDP per capita for the sake of reliability. I was also not able to find reliable data for Cyprus (please leave a link in the comment section if you know a reliable source).

Western european presidents_absolute annual salary_presidentialactivism.com_

The bar chart shows that there is a huge variety in presidents’ salaries in Western Europe. The top-earner is the Swiss Federal President, i.e. the chairperson of the seven-person collegiate presidency that is elected ‘President of the Confederation’. Members of the Federal Council receive €360,358 annually, the president receives an additional €9,735 (i.e. 370,093 annually). The runner-up and top earner among the ‘normal’ presidents – the Swiss-type collegiate presidency is worldwide unique – is the Austrian president. Current incumbent Heinz Fischer receives a gross annual salary of €328,188 which consists of 12 regular monthly salaries + two additional monthly salaries (not benefits) of €23,442 each. George Abela, the president of Malta,, on the other hand earns the least with just €56,310 and thus almost six times less than the Austrian counterpart. The average presidential gross annual salary is €191,149, the average GDP per capita (2012) is €30,860. There are only few presidents who earn a similar absolute gross yearly salary, although this looks different for relative yearly salaries.

Setting earnings into perspective

Absolute numbers are always present a somewhat distorted image in cross-country comparisons, which is why it is good to set presidents’ gross annual income into perspective. As mentioned above, I use the respective country’s GDP per capita from 2012 as a point for comparison.

Western european presidents_relative annual salary

There is a lot of change of positions when comparing absolute and relative gross annual income. While the Maltese presidents is still the lowest paid democratically elected head of state in Europe with 350% of the GDP per capita, previous front-runner Switzerland is with 606% of the GDP/capita only 12 percentage points above the Western European average. Greek president Karolos Papoulisas – in absolute earnings rather on the lower end of the spectrum – now finds himself in third position as his annual gross salary is more than eight times more than the GDP per capita (and this even though his salary had already been halved last year – more on this below). The top-earners in relative terms are by far the presidents of Italy and  Austria. Their gross annual salary amounts to almost nine times more than the nominal GDP per capita.

Western european presidents_scatterplot

The correlation between GDP per capita and presidential salaries is surprisingly high (R=0.8) and Switzerland is the only real outlier. The plot also shows that Finnish president Niinistö earned less than one could have expected from the GDP per capita – even before his salary cut.

The crisis and its consequences

The crisis has certainly taken its toll on presidential salaries in Western Europe as several presidents experienced a pay cut or voluntarily cut their own salary. French president Hollande cut his salary by 30%, Irish president Higgins voluntarily waived 23.5% of his salary, Finnish president Niinistö waived 20%. In Greece, parliament cut the president’s salary by 50% (and abolished a €6,240/month  representational allowance) after president Papoulias had suggested it. Papoulias had previously already waived his salary for a whole year as well as his right to a 13th and 14th monthly salary. Cypriot president (who could not be included in this ranking because of missing data) also waived his additional monthly salaries and cut his salary by 25% after his predecessor had already seen a 20% salary cut.

On the other hand, German president Gauck and Austrian president Fischer recently saw an increase in their income. In 2012, Gauck’s gross yearly income went up from €199,000 to €217,000 while Fischer receives has a modest €411 more in his bank account every month since the beginning of this year (this increase also applies to his two additional monthly salaries so that overall the gross yearly income went up by €5,754). At least in the case of Germany, this increase should not be seen too controversial. The president’s earnings are still rather average (see also scatter plot above) and had not been increased for almost a decade (furthermore, the salary is indirectly tied to the income of federal clerks).

Powers and mode of election

With relation to presidential powers and the mode of presidential election, the results contrast those from Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the absolute results depend on whether Switzerland is included or not. Directly elected presidents have a gross yearly income of €183,355 (573% of the GDP per capita), while indirectly elected presidents (Switzerland included) earn €202,061 (664%) and thus more in absolute and relative terms. However, if one excludes Switzerland (which might be sensible due to the exceptionalism of the Swiss collegiate presidency) the gross yearly income is only €160,511 (703% of GDP per capita) which in absolute numbers is less but significantly more in relative terms.

When it comes to the relationship between presidential powers (measures taken from Siaroff 2003) and presidential income the correlation is R=0.0002 and thus non-existent.

***Sources (click on the country names)***

This post first appeared on on 1 August 2013.

John Carey – Presidentialism 25 Years After Linz

From the archives

This is the consolidated version of three guest posts by Professor John Carey. The posts are based on the keynote address that he gave to the Conference on Coalitional Presidentialism at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, on May 2, 2014.

John Carey

Presidentialism 25 Years After Linz

Does constitutional regime type affect outcomes we care about? One of the most influential answers to that question was offered by Juan Linz about 25 years ago. At the time, most of Latin America was emerging from long stretches of military authoritarian rule. Politicians, activists, and academics were asking whether anything could be done to minimize the risk of repeating the region’s longstanding pattern of democratic breakdowns. I first encountered Linz’s paper on the Perils of Presidentialism, which was circulating in samizdat form in the late 1980s, just as I entered grad school.

I would summarize Linz’s central claim as, “If Latin America had had parliamentarism instead of presidentialism in the mid-20th Century, it might have avoided Pinochet’s regime in Chile, 20 years of military dictatorship in Brazil, Argentina’s Dirty War, Operation Condor (which pioneered the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ before that term was ever dreamed up), and a host of other catastrophes.” As a new grad student, this struck me as an incredibly exciting proposition – that if we could just get the formal rules right, we could avoid incalculable injustice, violence, and suffering. What more important challenge could political science take on than to figure out whether this was actually right? Could we figure out how to engineer constitutions to minimize the risk, even on the margin, of democratic breakdowns, and the parade of horrors that can follow?

With the wave of democratizations cresting in Latin America, and building in sub-Saharan Africa and throughout Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it was a no-brainer that the survival of democratic regimes mattered. The effects of non-democracy in all these contexts were so apparent. And Linz made a compelling case that presidentialism undermined democracy. What’s more, of all the ways presidentialism did this, in Linz’s account, stifling the development of strong parties and stable party coalitions was the most important. Democracy didn’t endure on a national level without competition among viable political parties, and the central pillar of Linz’s critique was that parliamentarism fostered strong parties and collective accountability whereas presidentialism undermined them.

Linz’s concern, amplified by Mainwaring’s seminal article on the “difficult combination” of presidentialism and multi-partism, had a huge impact on how a whole generation of scholars studied presidentialism. An avalanche of research followed into whether and how presidentialism affects democratic outcomes, much of which directly challenged Linz’s claims.

What are the central post-Linzian lessons on presidentialism? One is that, Linzian skepticism notwithstanding, presidentialism, and its hybrid cousins that combine popularly elected presidents with some measure of cabinet dependence on parliament, have multiplied far more rapidly than pure parliamentarism in recent decades, to the point where there are now about equal numbers of regimes in each category. The research also showed that presidentialism is not necessarily a recipe for democratic regime collapse, or for the impossibility of stable party coalitions in support of presidents. Along similar lines was the evidence that strong formal authorities for presidents don’t necessarily doom presidential democracy. They might even provide tools for the maintenance of coalition-based presidentialism that is distinct from a Madisonian vision based on conflict between the elected branches.

A lot of the most influential scholarship came out of Brazil, a country that commands our attention for a variety of reasons. One is, of course, is that Brazil is a giant. Another is that it produced a remarkable cohort of scholars, both Brazilian and others, who have focused on Brazilian presidentialism. But as important as any of this is the drama of the story they had to tell. Remember that Brazil was often singled out in the early presidentialism scholarship as an institutional basket case – fragmented, personalistic, clientelistic parties, untrammeled presidential powers. Twenty years ago, it was seen as the perfect presidential storm, yet it transformed into everyone’s darling. For classic liberals, the former dependency theorist who used the presidency to deliver economic stabilization without ignoring poverty was irresistible. For the left, successive Worker’s Party presidents who extended social welfare programs and oversaw measurable reductions in economic inequality looked even better.

But if the evolving accounts of Brazilian presidentialism presented challenges to Linz, the post-Linzian comparative scholarship also provided support for a number of his original claims. Presidential democracies do operate differently from parliamentary ones on a number of counts. Legislative parties and coalitions exhibit lower voting unity under presidentialism than under parliamentarism. Presidents have lower “batting averages” than do parliamentary executives in getting their policy initiatives approved as law. There are more broken campaign promises and less ‘mandate accountability’ under presidentialism than under parliamentarism.

So is it possible to size up the progress in the study of presidentialism? What approaches have provided the most traction? I think the advances beyond Linz followed from two key shifts in how scholars of comparative institutions approached the study of presidential systems, but that each of those shifts has brought its own set of limitations and challenges.

One shift was the increasing appreciation of the problems that omitted variables, and endogeneity, present for the comparative study of institutions. Jose Cheibub’s focus on presidentialism in the aftermath of military dictatorships was a huge advance here, demonstrating that, planted on similar soil to parliamentary regimes, presidential democracies were not more likely to collapse – but that the soil conditions where presidentialism takes root are systematically less hospitable to democracy. Robert Elgie’s efforts to parse the impact of variants of semi-presidentialism on regime collapse were similarly exemplary. (And I, for one, am sympathetic to the argument that divided control over the cabinet encourages regime crises.)

Lurking behind the whole question of whether and how regime type might matter to democratic performance was a question Adam Przeworski posed in a paper about ten years ago called “Is the science of comparative politics possible?” The point – not really new then, and even more familiar by now – was that institutions are the products of context, and the array of factors encompassed by the word “context” here inevitably shapes the outcomes we care about – stability, democracy, prosperity, equality, justice, security, public goods provision, etc. Przeworski’s concern, of course, just foreshadowed the “identificationist” wave that was about to wash over our discipline.

We have to ask: Can presidentialism research respond to changing expectations and standards for inference that the identificationists demand? I’m not asking this question in a kind of rhetorical build-up to a big reveal. I honestly cannot think of a research agenda in political science that presents bigger challenges for identification and inference than the study of how constitutional regime type at the national level affects the quality of democracy. I don’t have a solution, but it would require an ostrich-like capacity for denial not to acknowledge the problem in a review of this sort.

The other key post-Linzian shift was the influence in research on comparative presidentialism of theories of legislative politics initially developed in studies of parliamentary democracy and of the US Congress. The list of names here is long – and includes Tsebelis, Laver, Shepsle, Schofield, Strom, Huber, Krehbiel, Cox, McCubbins, Feddersen, Diermeier, and others. I won’t risk tedium by rehearsing the long list of studies that have applied or adapted their theories by testing them against evidence from presidential regimes. What I want to do, instead, is to raise a warning flag that we have, I think, occasionally prioritized the theories as objects of our research over more basic questions about the quality of democracy – the sort of questions Linz would not have lost sight of.

In the last decade, I have reviewed more manuscripts than I care to recall that stated their central goals as “filling gaps” in the empirical examination of existing theories. Let me suggest that when we find ourselves describing our motivation this way, it’s time for a little introspection. I’m not without blame here. I’ve spent plenty of time deep in the weeds of legislative roll calls or district-level election returns, parsing data for evidence to support hypotheses the fascination of which escapes most of my colleagues – and reviewers – never mind my parents, siblings, or children.

I’m not saying all of our research needs to reveal how to prevent the next Dirty War. Shedding light on the factors that tip the balance of influence between executives and legislatures in one direction or another is a time-honored vocation. But Madison and Montesquieu and Locke all made the case that the balance of powers mattered because it affected the likelihood of tyranny. They persuaded their audiences that the separation of powers could affect outcomes that everyone recognized as important. And remember that, for Linz, too, tyranny was front and center. My worry is that, for all the theoretical advances in the study of presidentialism since Linz, we have too often lost sight of why we, or our audience, should care.

In an article published just recently in Democratization, Paul Chaisty, Nic Cheeseman, and Timothy Power emphasized why we should care, even if we now know (or are reasonably confident) that presidentialism does not necessarily pave a straight road to tyranny. They write: “Twenty years of research have shown presidentialism to be remarkably durable, and in particular its multiparty variant has vastly over-performed relative to early predictions … [However, the authors go on to wonder whether] … The very same presidential tools that enhance governability may also undermine accountability.” I agree that the governability—accountability trade-off is what scholars of presidentialism should be studying, and I want to highlight some recent studies of presidentialism that imagine new ways to think about accountability – ways that I think would be relatively easy to explain to your aunt at Thanksgiving, or if you got interviewed by Terry Gross or Melvyn Bragg.

In an article forthcoming in Comparative Political Studies, “The Successor Factor: Electoral Accountability in Presidential Democracies,” Ignacio de Ferrari builds on the tradition (from Powell, to Stokes, to Samuels & Hellwig) of measuring accountability as the ability of voters to reward or punish an incumbent, governing party for economic performance. De Ferrari codes presidential candidates from governing parties as either incumbents (who were eligible to run again), successors (candidates anointed by outgoing incumbents), or non-successors (unconnected to incumbent presidents).

De Ferrari shows that the link between economic performance and the incumbent party candidate’s electoral fate varies systematically with incumbent/successor/non-successor status. This isn’t shocking – indeed, it would be pretty surprising if this were not the case. But then consider that de Ferrari finds no relationship between the economic performance of the incumbent government and the status of the candidates the president’s party nominated. That is, economically successful presidents were no more likely than unsuccessful ones to be able to anoint their successors. These are puzzles, and they suggest that the factors that determine whether we are in the world of high or low accountability (at least as measured by electoral rewards for economic growth) are opaque in many presidential systems.

Consider also a couple of papers by Ryan Carlin and Shane Singh, also based on data from Latin America. In one, “Executive Power and Economic Accountability,” the authors show that the stronger the constitutional and partisan powers of the president in a given country, the stronger is the relationship between a survey respondent’s evaluation of the economy and her evaluation of the president. Again, not surprising – maybe even reassuring – this suggests that citizens, in the aggregate, adjust their expectations for presidential performance according to the authorities their president wields. Yet in an article forthcoming in Political Research Quarterly, “Happy Medium, Happy Citizens: Presidential Power and Democratic Regime Support,” Singh and Carlin show that respondents’ satisfaction with the performance of democracy in their country is non-monotonically connected to those same formal authorities. The conditions that foster the tightest possible bond between economic performance and presidential approval are not the same ones that foster the greatest satisfaction with democracy more generally. So accountability in presidential democracies is not an easy animal to track and hunt.

What I’m suggesting is close attention to how we assess accountability, about what citizens want from their democracies, and what those democracies ought to deliver. If GDP growth is our indicator of good economic stewardship, then we should fear for accountability when a political system does not appear to reward growth. But maybe citizen satisfaction, measured in surveys, is a more appropriate measure of good performance. Or some measure of agreement between public support for policies and their rate of adoption? Or something else altogether?

n a spasm of curiosity, I collected data on regime type (presidential, parliamentary, or semi-presidential hybrid) from Robert Elgie’s website for 131 countries with populations above 1,000,000. Of these 41 are parliamentary, 43 are presidential, and 47 are hybrids. 97 of  the 131 (34, 33, and 30, respectively) had Polity scores of 5 or higher in the most recent year. Then I collected data from the World Bank, Polity IV, the United Nations, and Transparency International on the most recent annual measures on a wide range of regime performance and policy outputs that I think any sentient observer ought to care about: levels of democracy and stability, poverty, economic inequality, taxation, corruption, physical insecurity, and the rule of law.

Parliamentary regimes are, on the whole, wealthier than presidential ones and than hybrids.  This graph shows the distributions of Purchasing Power Parity across the regime types:

Figure 1

A lot of the performance indicators I’m going to look at here are correlated with national wealth, the distribution of which is skewed and the effects of which are likely subject to diminishing returns. So the graphs that follow will be scatterplots, and some fitted plots, of various outcomes we should care about against a log transformation of per capita wealth. Presidential regimes are marked by red Xs, parliamentary regimes by green dots, and hybrid regimes by blue triangles.  We can look quickly at the scatters and size up whether one regime type or another is over-performing or under-performing, relative to others at the same level of wealth.

Looking first at democracy levels, as measured by Polity IV. Wealthier countries are more democratic, but there’s no clear pattern of any of our three regime types systematically over- or under-performing.

Figure 2

The same is true for regime stability, as measured by the World Bank’s Stability Perceptions Index, which reflects“perceptions of the likelihood that the government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically-motivated violence and terrorism.”

Figure 3

So – so far, my crude, cross-sectional snapshots are consistent with the more systematic evidence presented by Cheibub and others that presidentialism, per se, is not inconsistent with democratic stability. But when we look at some further indicators of regime performance – again, with my crude measures – the picture for presidentialism is less encouraging.

Taxation is the cornerstone of government capacity to deliver public goods. We know that wealthier states tend to tax at higher rates, and of course parliamentary regimes are better represented at that end of the scale. Nevertheless, if we look at the distribution of regimes above and below the best linear fit line, parliamentary regimes are about twice as likely to be over-performers than under-performers, and for presidential regimes, the reverse is true.

Figure 4

In this plot, the green line shows the linear fit for the relationship between per capita wealth and taxation for presidential regimes, and the blue line shows parliamentary and hybrids pooled, and we can see that the positive relationship is driven by the latter set.

Figure 5

We might ask whether the distinct patterns for presidential and other regimes are driven by the inclusion of non-democratic cases, but dropping all regimes with Polity scores below 5 only strengthens it. Wealthier presidential democracies actually tax marginally less as a share of GDP than do poorer ones; the reverse is true among parliamentary and hybrid regimes.

Figure 6

Maybe the tax share of GDP is not an ideal measure of government accountability. Let’s consider some other things that are affected by government policies in pursuit of public welfare. The next graph shows Gini indices of economic inequality plotted against per capita wealth.

Figure 7

There’s substantial dispersion but, on the whole, wealthier societies are slightly less unequal than poorer ones. But again, look at the relative distribution of presidential, as opposed to parliamentary regimes above and below the best fit line. Or easier, here are the linear fits for presidential regimes and for the pooled set of parliamentary and hybrids.

Figure 8

Economic inequality rises with wealth among presidential regimes whereas it declines in the others. In an article entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” forthcoming in Perspective on Politics, but already lighting up the wonkosphre, Gilens and Page make the case that there is massive elite bias in influence over public policy outcomes in the United States. This graph raises the question: Does the Gilens and Page result generalize beyond the United States to other presidential systems?

If we look at poverty rather than economic inequality, we don’t get as dramatic a difference between regime types – richer countries tend to have lower poverty rates across the categories – but presidential regimes again under-perform on poverty mitigation.

Figure 9

There is a discernible difference between presidential regimes and others, with poverty rates about 10% higher across the range of income levels.Figure 10

Another conventional indicator of government accountability is corruption, so let’s take a look at Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. (Remember, higher TI scores represent less perceived corruption among its survey respondents.)

Figure 11

The pattern here is a little less stark, but the fitted plots suggest that, as countries increase in per capita wealth, the rate of improvement on corruption is flatter among presidential regimes than among parliamentary systems and hybrids.

Figure 12

We get a similar kind of pattern if we consider another key government function – guaranteeing individual physical security. The data here show homicide rates from the comprehensive United Nations report released last month. Again, there’s a general pattern of greater security in richer countries, but the rate of improvement with wealth is flatter among presidential regimes than the others.

Figure 13

Finally, we can look at the less concrete, but more catholic conceptions of Rule of Law, or of Accountability, compiled by the World Bank as Governance Indicators. These are based on a combination of survey responses and expert assessments. On both their Rule of Law index, and their Accountability index, we see the same familiar pattern, with improvement across wealth levels in presidential regimes lagging that in parliamentarism and the hybrids.

Figure 14

Figure 15

I want to emphasize that these scatterplots are just suggestive. I collected the data because, as I thought about what we’ve learned about presidentialism since Linz, I went back to Linz’s essay, and then reviewed much of the literature on presidentialism that followed. In part, I found myself conducting the inevitable scorekeeping exercise. Linz appears to have been more right about some things than others. (By the way, when I’m done playing, I’d be happy to have a record even close to his.) But when you read Linz, why he cared about regime type is never in doubt. So much outstanding research has followed Linz. My words of encouragement as we continue this work is that our scholarship should be as clear as Linz’s was with regard to why we care about the phenomena we study.

John M. Carey is the Wentworth Professor in the Social Sciences, and the chair of the Government Department, at Dartmouth College.  He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the author of 5 books and of over 50 academic articles on democratic institutions.  Research, datasets, and further information about his work are available on his website at

List of president-parliamentary and premier-presidential regimes

This post was originally published at The Semi-presidential One

The terms president-parliamentarism and premier-presidentialism were first coined by Matthew Shugart and John Carey in Presidents and Assemblies. Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

The distinction between them can be expressed as follows:

President-parliamentarism is a form of semi-presidentialism where the prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible to both the legislature and the president.

Premier-presidentialism is a form of semi-presidentialism where the prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible solely to the legislature.

If there are any classification errors, please let me know:

Current president-parliamentary countries:

Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso (1991-), Cameroon, Gabon, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar (2010-), Mauritania (2009-), Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal (2001-), Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Togo

Current premier-presidential countries:

Algeria, Armenia (2006-), Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Chad, Croatia (2001-), Czech Republic, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia (2013-), Haiti, Ireland, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mali (2012-), Moldova (2016-), Mongolia, Montenegro, Niger, Poland, Portugal (1983-), Romania, São Tomé e Príncipe (2003-), Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Timor-Leste, Tunisia (2013-), Turkey, Ukraine (2014-)

There are countries that are no longer semi-presidential or which are currently semi-presidential but which have changed their form of semi-presidentialism over time. These cases are captured in the following lists.

Historic cases of president-parliamentarism:

Angola, Armenia (1995-2005), Burkina Faso (1978-1983), Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Croatia (1991-2000), Cuba, Egypt (2007-2011), Georgia (2004-2013), Germany (Weimar Republic), Guinea-Bissau, (1993-2012), Madagascar (1996-2009), Mauritania (2006-2008), Portugal (1976-1982), São Tomé e Príncipe (1990-2002), Senegal (1970-1983), South Vietnam, Tunisia, Ukraine (1996-2006, 2011-2014), Yemen (1994-2011)

Historic cases of premier-presidentialism:

Burkina Faso (1970-1974), Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt (2012-2013), Kenya, Madagascar (1992-1995), Mali (1992-2012), Mauritania (1991-2005), Moldova, Senegal (1991-2000), Ukraine (2007-2010)

Comparing inaugural addresses of Central & East European presidents: Putting the country first?

Presidents’ inaugural addresses are usually eagerly awaited by journalists and citizens alike as the new office-holders regularly use them to ‘set the tone’ for their term in office. In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), inaugural addresses are usually held in parliament (also due to the fact that half of the president are elected there by the deputies and not by popular vote) and while presidents’ words receive their fair share of media attention, they can hardly measure up to the inaugural speeches of the U.S.-American president.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev during his inaugural speech on 19 January 2012 © Office of the President of Bulgaria

comparison of presidents’ inaugural addresses from Washington to Obama on the website of the New York Times shows that since president Harry Truman ‘America’, ‘country’ or ‘nation’ have consistently ranked among the most-used words in presidents’ inaugural speeches. Political circumstances also left their mark, yet these only came second to the overall trend of presidents putting their country first in their speeches. This article gave the motivation to conduct a similar comparison among the presidents of the CEE EU member states. Given the pattern in inaugural addresses of US presidents, one should expect that presidents in CEE will also predominantly stress their respective country/nation in their speeches. Yet, speeches should at least party reflect current political problems or the incumbents’ ambitions for their term in office, too.

For this blog post, I have created word clouds reflecting the number of times certain words have been mentioned. While there are more sophisticated techniques in Political Science to analyse the frequency of words and their meaning, the visualisation is a very good method to give an overview (in the very literal sense of the word) of what  presidents stress in their first speeches to the nation. As historic inaugural addresses are often not available in English translation, I have limited my comparison to the currently serving presidents.

General patterns

Surprisingly (or not), in almost all of the inaugural addresses of CEE presidents (except the one by Václav Klaus, but I will come back to him later) the respective ‘country name’ / ‘country adjective’ / ‘nation’ / ‘people’ belong to the most frequently used words. It is particularly prominent in the speech of Bronislaw Komorowski held in the wake of the Smolensk air crash in which his predecessor, Lech Kaczynski, tragically died. More than the other presidents, Komorowski stresses Poland/Polish/Poles in all varieties of the word, while ‘Smolensk’ is mentioned only rarely (you can find it in the upper right corner).

‘Europe’/’European’ is also mentioned in several addresses but features particularly prominent in the inaugural speech of president Ivan Gasparovic who was inaugurated only shortly after Slovakia’s accession to the EU (in fact, ‘Slovakia’ is mentioned less often than ‘European’). Traian Basescu (inaugurated in December 2004) also mentions ‘European’ and ‘integration’ with above-average frequency. Another variation of this pattern is Borut Pahor’s repetition of the word ‘crisis’ which also – but not exclusively – relates to the European currency crisis.

Furthermore, several presidents – especially those elected by popular vote – bring in more ‘policy’ content. Bulgarian president Plevneliev often mentions ‘security’, ‘economy’/ ‘economic’ and ‘energy’ and his Lithuanian counterpart, Dalia Grybauskaite, mentions ‘courts’, ‘policy’ and ‘interests’ while also addressing a very wide range of other issues.

There are three inaugural addresses which in my opinion and for one or other reason stand apart from the others speeches. I present my comments on these below.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia) – Estonia and only Estonia

Inaugural address of Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia, 09/10/2006)

Inaugural address of Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia, 09/10/2006)

The inaugural speech of Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves stands apart because in no other speech one word – ‘Estonia’ – is mentioned with such a high relative frequency that it figuratively dwarfs the other content. The high frequency of ‘people’ and ‘state’ paired several references to ‘independence’/’independent’ makes this speech relatively apolitical. Given Ilves’ foreign policy background and the fact that he understands his role as being mostly as being above petty politics (plus, the office only provides him with very limited agency), it is not surprising  that what we see here is rather a statesman’s speech than the outline of a political programme. Nevertheless, the sheer dominance of ‘Estonia’ makes this one of the most interesting word clouds.

Janos Áder (Hungary) – Uncompromisingly supporting compromise

Inaugural speech of Janos Áder (10/05/2012)

Inaugural speech of Janos Áder (10/05/2012)

Hungarian president Janos Áder’s speech on the other hand is also clearly influenced by the political circumstances at the time of his election. The dominance of the word ‘compromise’ demonstrates Áder’s attempt to make a new start as president and build a bridge to the opposition (in fact, his speech was very well received by commentators and politicians from all parties alike). While his Polish colleague Bronislaw Komorowski appeals to national feelings to call for ‘cooperation’, Áder’s choice of words presents him as a pragmatist with a more practical approach to reconciling political divides (the frequency of ‘respect’ also supports this image). Of course, ‘Hungary’/’Hungarian’, ‘country’ and ‘nation’ are also mentioned very frequently and the speech thus still conforms to the general pattern.

Václav Klaus (Czech Republic) – I want the political

Inaugural speech of Václav Klaus (Czech Republic, 07/03/2003)

Inaugural speech of Václav Klaus (Czech Republic, 07/03/2003)

As always, there is one exception to every rule and when it comes to presidents in CEE this is usually Czech president Václav Klaus. Even though ‘country’ is still mentioned relatively frequently ‘Czech’ or ‘Republic’ are not. Interestingly, the words ‘want’ and ‘political’ are mentioned most often (and this even though wordle filters many often used verbs such as want to make the word clouds easier to interpret). Of course, this result leaves room for much speculation – especially as it fits Klaus’ image as a power-hungry politician surprisingly well.

Conclusion (albeit a short one)

Havel inauguration speech_word cloud

As mentioned above, word clouds are not the most sophisticated (or indeed particularly valid) means of analysing inaugural addresses and the above analysis is too superficial to reach definite conclusions. Nevertheless, it is interesting that a trend among US presidents is also visible in the EU member states of Central Eastern Europe. The (manifold) exceptionalism of Václav Klaus does not fit the general pattern (his predecessor Václav Hável also mentioned ‘country’ and ‘nations’ more frequently than Klaus) but raises the question in how far his successor will conform to the trend and put his country first or use his inaugural address to set his own priorities.

This post first appeared on on 22 Janurary 2013.
A list of links to CEE inaugural speeches can be found here.

José Cheibub – The Constitutional Foundations of Democratic Consolidation

From the archives

This is the consolidated version of two guest posts by José Cheibub, Boeschenstein Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


In this post, I discuss the role of political institutions in democratic consolidation. Regarding the forms of democratic government, I like to think that there are essentially two: those with a separation of powers and those that require assembly confidence. The first are typical presidential democracies, systems with constitutions that prescribe a fixed term in office for both a popularly and independently elected president and a congress. The second are the parliamentary and semi-presidential democracies, in which the government must be at least tolerated by a parliamentary majority in order to exist.

I will therefore focus on the effect of political institutions, whether parliamentary or presidential, on democratic consolidation. I start by briefly reviewing the earlier debate on the relationship between democratic form of government and consolidation. I then discuss what I see as two challenges we face today to advance the study of democratic consolidation: its proper definition and conceptualization, an to understand how the phenomena of democratic breakdown and consolidation changed since we first started to think about them. I conclude with a few remarks on the kind of advice political scientists can give regarding the best constitutional form for the consolidation of democracy.

The impact of separation of powers or assembly confidence on democratic consolidation is no longer at the center of the democratization research agenda. Probably everyone is familiar with the argument, first developed by Juan Linz, according to which presidential institutions are likely to lead to crises that may ultimately cause the breakdown of democracies.[i] Although Linz offered more than one reason for the observed negative correlation between presidentialism and democracy, most important, in my view, was his argument about incentives for coalition formation. This argument was also the most fully developed in subsequent studies. His reasoning was as follows: presidential institutions fail to generate incentives for cooperation among individual politicians, among parties and between the legislative and executive powers. Because presidentialism provides no incentives for inter-branch cooperation, presidential democracies are characterized by frequent minority governments as well as conflict and deadlocks between the government and the legislature. Because presidential regimes lack a constitutional principle that can be invoked to resolve conflicts between the executive and the legislature, such as the vote of no confidence in parliamentary democracies, minority presidents and deadlock provide incentives for actors to search for extra-constitutional means of resolving differences. As a consequence, presidential democracies become more prone to instability and eventual death.

Thus, according to Linz, presidential institutions are simply not conducive to governments capable of handling the explosive issues that are central to the new democracies in the developing world. These issues make governing difficult under any circumstances. Governing becomes almost impossible when the institutional setup is likely to generate governments with weak legislative support as well as parties and politicians whose dominant strategy is to act independently from one another. Given the lack of constitutional solutions to the crises that are almost inevitable in these countries, political actors have no choice but to appeal to those with the means to resolve their differences, even if at the price of democracy itself.

Here is not the place for rehashing the debate around these ideas. Let me simply say that Juan Linz’s view of the negative impact of presidentialism on democratization was critically examined along two main lines. The first focused on the fact that parliamentary democracies were not altogether immune to the institutional crises that were supposed to characterize presidential ones. The second sought to show that the sequence of events that would lead to the breakdown of presidential democracies did not materialize with the frequency implied by the argument. Consequently, if the relationship between presidentialism and democratic breakdown is causal, the mechanism might not be the one postulated by Linz.

Of course, the discussion around the “perils of presidentialism” did not represent the last word in the debate about the impact of forms of government on democratic consolidation. This question still generates considerable interest, as it should. The correlation between presidential institutions and democratic breakdown is still a reality and hence the intuitive arguments that have been made connecting the two still resonate. But to move forward it may be helpful to address some unresolved issues while recognizing how the political reality has changed since Linz’s theory was formulated. Even though not a long time has passed since that moment, it is fair to say that the features of many of the cases we are confronted with today are quite different from the ones confronted by Linz.

The original argument about the detrimental effects of presidentialism for democratic consolidation must be understood in the context of the virtual disappearance of democracy from Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1960 and 1975, almost every Latin American country experienced a democratic breakdown. Most of these democracies collapsed in the hands of the military, who inaugurated what O’Donnell called a new type of dictatorship – the bureaucratic-authoritarian regime. As a matter of fact, during the Cold War, the vast majority of democracies collapsed as the result of a military coup, in a pattern that, at least superficially, corroborated Linz’s view of a conflict between a fixed-term executive who did not have the support of a majority in congress.

Democratic breakdown happens nowadays in a very different way. Institutionalized militaries cannot be counted on to intervene into politics and take the reins of government from the hands of civilian politicians. If democracies fail to consolidate today, authoritarian regimes that replace them are more likely to be led by civilians, often the elected incumbent who, by a process of overt and covert manipulation, progressively removes the conditions necessary for competitive elections to occur in the future. To use the terminology employed by Adam Przeworski and his co-authors,[ii] transitions to authoritarianism after the Cold War are more likely to be “from above” and occur at the hands of the incumbent. They are likely to violate two of the three conditions which the above mentioned authors identified as necessary for a democracy to exist: “ex ante uncertainty,” namely, the requirement that electoral outcomes are not pre-determined, and “repeatability,” that is, the requirement that democratic incumbents hold competitive elections such as the ones that brought them into office.[iii]

Thus, if it is true that there is a correlation between presidentialism and the recent failures of democratic consolidation (something that has not been established yet, as far as I know), and if it is true that these episodes of failure rarely if at all involve a military coup, we need to formulate new explanatory hypotheses. What is it about presidentialism that may lead to the entrenchment of incumbents in power? Conversely, which characteristics of parliamentary institutions might prevent such entrenchment?

One thing is sure, namely, that the Linzian approach to these questions will not take us far. The reason is that this approach is focused on the problem of legislative support for the executive, that is, on how parliamentarism virtually assures that such support is present, and (multiparty) presidentialism virtually assures that it will be lacking. However, some of the contemporary cases suggest the opposite: democracy may be “saved” by the fact that the government does not have strong support in the legislature and it may be threatened in situations when the executive enjoys sufficient backing of the legislature to shut off the opposition.

Take a few recent examples. In Slovakia, Vladimír Mečiar was hampered in his authoritarian ambitions by repeated defections from his coalition, which eventually resulted in a vote of no-confidence in 1994 and the failure to form governments in 1998. This happened in spite of Mečiar’s control of a plurality of legislative seats. In Hungary, on the other hand, the overwhelming legislative support for Prime Minister Victor Orbán allowed him and his party to introduce changes that are widely seen as non-democratic. Similarly, as Sebastian Saiegh shows using an example of the fall of Bolivian president Sánchez Lozada in 2003,[iv] the danger for democratic consolidation posed by an unconstitutional transfer of power should be attributed to situations which are in their nature opposite to deadlocks. As Saiegh suggests, in some circumstances the government may actually govern too much. Consequently, what threatens democracy is not so much that there is a deadlock between a constitutionally irremovable president and legislature but the fact that the two are aligned and can change the status quo in a direction that may suit their interests but not those of democracy. Deadlocks and minority governments may be precisely what save democracy from being suffocated by aspiring autocrats. If this conclusion reminds the reader of Madison and his view about separation of powers, it is not a mere coincidence.

Thus, the correlation between presidential institutions and (failure of) democratic consolidation in the contemporary world, if it exists at all, should not be considered intuitive and explainable in terms of hypotheses generated from a framework that sees the lack of legislative support for presidents as the crux of the problem. That framework was generated with a specific set of historical examples in mind, and it became popular in the context of the debt crisis in Latin America and the concerns about the ability of governments in the region to implement structural policies that were at the time considered necessary. While implementation of these policies required the preference alignment of the executive and the legislature, all countries operated under a constitution that provided no such guarantee. By contrast with presidentialism, assembly confidence was seeing as the institutional mechanism that assured support of legislative majority to the executive and parliamentarism as the form of government that would prevent the failure of the new democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe. We know where this story went: few democracies, parliamentary or presidential, failed in the way that was then expected. Perhaps this is the fact that requires explanation.

What kind of constitution is best suited to help consolidate democracy? Unfortunately, in my view, some scholars believe that there is a clear answer to this question and are not shy to advocate their views. For instance, in an opinion piece published in July 2013, Bruce Ackerman, a professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, stated that the failure of the military rulers who had just taken power in Egypt to replace presidentialism with “a European-style parliamentary system,” “virtually guarantees a repetition of the tragic events of the past year.”[v] Furthermore, as he argues counterfactually, the adoption of a parliamentary constitution after Mubarak’s departure “could well have avoided the current upheaval and bloodshed in the first place.” The reason, according to him, is that “the presidency is a winner-take-all office,” which may be suitable for a country such as the United States, “where well-organized parties contend for the prize,” but “is a recipe for tyranny in places like Egypt, where Islamists have powerful organizational advantages in delivering the vote.” Although Ackerman stands out in the forcefulness and clarity with which he defends a constitutional overhaul in countries that adopt presidentialism, he certainly does not hold this opinion alone. Yet, we may ask: is this view warranted?

This kind of advice is based on generic and one-sided arguments, which are supported by scant historical and statistical evidence: isolated regime crises (Chile in 1973 is favorite, with Egypt beginning to trail behind) and references to the correlation between presidentialism and regime breakdown, as if correlation was evidence of causation. (But we know better than this!). Moreover, parliamentarism and presidentialism are very broad constitutional frameworks: as recent research has demonstrated, they can be configured in an infinite number of ways; they interact with other, small and large, institutional features of the political system; and, of course, they interact with non-institutional factors, unique to the country where they are being adopted. This last point is particularly relevant for Egypt. It is possible that Ackeman is right and a parliamentary constitution may do the trick in Egypt and allow for the peaceful processing of conflicts between Islamists and secularists. On the other hand, we have good reasons to believe that, given the nature of its military, the main problem in Egypt at this point is far from being institutional; perhaps given the presence of such an actor, any kind of constitutional arrangement would have failed. Thus, to reduce parliamentarism and presidentialism to one essential feature, to look at specific situations from the lens provided by this essential feature, and offer constitutional advice on the basis of this exercise requires courage, the courage of fools who believe that they have successfully found the solution to the problem that has eluded everyone else.

I thus end with a note which suggests more humbleness than confidence in our ability to provide positive advice of the sort given by Ackerman. The vast majority of studies have failed to establish convincingly that there exists a causal relationship between the form of government and democracy. Consequently, unless in some specific case there is a broad consensus across the political spectrum about the need for change, it is not certain that the benefit of adopting a new type of constitution will outweigh the costs of implementing it.

[i] Juan J. Linz, “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?” in Juan J. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela, eds., The Failure of Presidential Democracy: The Case of Latin America, edited by (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

[ii] Adam Przeworski, Michael E. Alvarez, José Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi, Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[iii] The one that is not violated is “ex post certainty,” namely the assurance that whoever wins the election will take office. Note that the “alternation” rule introduced by Przeworski et al. to operationalize the three conditions of democracy speaks directly to the problems related to the measurement of incumbent-caused subversions of democracy.

[iv], Sebastian Saiegh, Ruling by Statute: How Uncertainty and Vote Buying Shape Lawmaking (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

[v] Bruce Ackerman, “To Save Egypt, Drop the Presidency,” New York Times, July 10, 2013.

A longer version of this post first appeared in the APSA Comparative Democratization newsletter, vol. 12, no. 2, May 2014

New publications (full list from January 2014)

From the archive

This post consolidates the list of new publications on presidents that we have identified throughout the year


Thomas F. Remington, Presidential Decrees in Russia:
 A Comparative Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rui Graça Feijó (ed.), O Semi-Presidencialismo Timorense, Lisbon: Almedina, includes a chapter by our own Lydia Beuman

Vít Hloušek, et al., Presidents above Parties? Presidents in Central and Eastern Europe, their Formal Competencies and Informal Power, International Institute of Political Science, ISBN: 978-80-210-6687-8, 2013.

Jacques Gerstlé and Raul Magni Berton (eds.), 2012, La campagne présidentielle: L’observation des médias, des électeurs et des candidats, Paris: L’Harmattan/Pepper, 2014.

Philip Abbott, Bad Presidents: Failure in the White House, London, Palgrave, 2013.

Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi, The 2012 French Presidential Elections: The Inevitable Alternation, London, Palgrave, 2014.

Stephen Jones, Georgia: A political history since independence, London IB Tauris, 2013.

Detlef Nolte and Almut Schilling-Vacaflor (eds.), New Constitutionalism in Latin America: Promises and Practices, London: Ashgate.


Guy Emerson, ‘Strong Presidentialism and the Limits of Foreign Policy Success: Explaining Cooperation Between Brazil and Venezuela’, International Studies Perspectives, Article first published online: 9 May 2014, DOI: 10.1111/insp.12071

Valeria Palanza and Gisela Sin, ‘Veto Bargaining and the Legislative Process in Multiparty Presidential Systems’, Comparative Political Studies, 2014, 47(5), 766-792.

Vlastimil Havlík, Milan Hrubes and Marek Pecina, ‘For Rule of Law, Political Plurality, and a Just Society: Use of the Legislative Veto by President Václav Havel’, East European Politics and Societies 2014 28(2): 440-460.

Mikolaj Czesnik, ‘In the Shadow of Smolensk Catastrophe−−The 2010 Presidential Election in Poland’, East European Politics and Societies published online 14 May 2014 DOI: 10.1177/0888325414532492.

Naomi Girardeau and Ian Taylor, ‘Unconstitutional Changes of Government in Africa: the Case of Madagascar’, Journal of African Union Studies (JoAUS) Vol 1, Issues 2 & 3, 2012, pp. 77-98.

Sun-Woo Lee, ‘The Discordant Combination of Civil-Law Prosecution System and Presidentialism: A Theoretical Framework’, Journal of Politics and Law, vol. 7, no. 2, available at:

Natalie Mossa and Alasdair O’Hare ‘Staging democracy: Kenya’s televised presidential debates’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 78-92.

Charles Kwarteng, ‘Swords into Ploughshares: The Judicial Challenge of Ghana’s 2012 Presidential Election Results’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Volume 103, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 83-93.

Zenonas Norkus, ‘Parliamentarism Versus Semi-Presidentialism in The Baltic States: The Causes and Consequences Of Differences in The Constitutional Frameworks’, Baltic Journal of Political Science. December 2013, No 2, pp. 7-28.

Special issue of Revue internationale de politique compare, Pouvoirs présidentiels, gouvernance et milieux d’affaires dans les États post-soviétiques et africains, Vol. 20, 2013/3.

Timothy J. Colton and Henry E. Hale, ‘Putin’s Uneasy Return and Hybrid Regime Stability: The 2012 Russian Election Studies Survey’, Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 61, no. 2, March–April 2014, pp. 3–22.

Natalia Moen-Larsen, ‘Dear Mr President’. The blogosphere as arena for communication between people and power’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47 (2014) 27–37.

Ismail Aydıngun and Aysegul Aydıngun, ‘Nation-State Building in Kyrgyzstan and Transition to the Parliamentary System’, Parliamentary Affairs (2014) 67, 391–414.

Elizabeth A. Stein and Marisa Kellam ‘Programming Presidential Agendas: Partisan and Media Environments That Lead Presidents to Fight Crime and Corruption’, Political Communication, Volume 31, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 25-52.

Jan Kudrna, ‘The Question Of Conducting Direct Elections Of The President In The Czech Republic (A Live Issue for Already 20 Years)’, Jurisprudencija, Jurisprudence, 2011, 18(4), pp. 1295–1321.

Yujen Chou, ‘Constitutional Implication of the 2012 Elections in Taiwan’, International Journal of China Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 71-87.

Dirk Kotzé, ‘The Government of National Unity as a Transitional Power- Sharing Institution in Madagascar’, Southern African Peace and Security Studies 2 (1), 9-22.

Muhammad Rizwan, Muhammad Arshad, Muhammad Waqar, ‘Revitalization of Parliamentary Democracy in Pakistan under 18th Amendment’, IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 19, Issue 2, Ver. II (Feb. 2014), pp. 149-156.

Steffen Ganghof, ‘Is the ‘Constitution of Equality’ Parliamentary, Presidential or Hybrid?’, Political Studies, early view, doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.12124.

Josep Colomer ‘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 (2013), pp. 79-97. Available at:

Manuel Guțan, ‘Romanian Semi-Presidentialism In Historical Context’, Romanian Journal Of Comparative Law, Volume 3 (issue 2) 2012, pp. 275-303.

John Power, ‘Comparative governance and republicanism’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 49:1, 133-139, DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2013.875119.

Oleg Zaznaev, ‘Understanding Semi-Presidentialism in Political Science: A Review of the Latest Debate’, World Applied Sciences Journal 30 (2): 195-198, 2014, available at:

Zenonas Norkus, ‘Parliamentarism Versus Semi-Presidentialism In The Baltic States: The Causes And Consequences Of Differences In The Constitutional Frameworks’, Baltic Journal Of Political Science, December 2013, No 2, pp. 7-28. Available at:

Vlastimil Havlík, Milan Hrubes and Marek Pecina. 2014. ‘For Rule of Law, Political Plurality, and a Just Society: Use of the Legislative Veto by President Václav Havel’. East European Politics and Societies. [online first] DOI: 10.1177/0888325414523040

Peter Horváth, ‘The Role of the President in the Context of the Political Changes in Slovakia’, Slovak Journal of Political Sciences, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 74-86. Available at:

Natalie Mossa and Alasdair O’Hare ‘Staging democracy: Kenya’s televised presidential debates’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 78-92.

Stephen Chan, ‘Presidentialism and Vice Presidentialism in a Commonwealth Country: A Cameo in Zambia’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Volume 102, Issue 5, 2013, pp. 431-444.

Jamil Ddamulira Mujuzi, ‘Presidential Immunity from Criminal Prosecution in the Ugandan Constitution: Drafting History and Emerging Jurisprudence’, African Journal of International and Comparative Law. Volume 22, Page 140-154 DOI 10.3366/ajicl.2014.0084

Charles Kwarteng, ‘Swords into Ploughshares: The Judicial Challenge of Ghana’s 2012 Presidential Election Results’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Volume 103, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 83-93.

Special issue on the origins of presidentialism in Latin America and comparisons of presidentialism and parliamentarism in Latin American Review of Comparative Politics / Revista Latinoamericana de Politica Comparada; July 2013, Vol. 7.

Shaun N. Williams-Wyche, ‘An empirical test of presidentialism’s effect on party competition’, Electoral Studies, Volume 33, March 2014, Pages 166–174.

Jae Hyeok Shin, ‘Cabinet Duration in Presidential Democracies’, Political Science Quarterly, Volume 128, Issue 2, pages 317–339, Summer 2013.

Chiou, F.-Y. and Rothenberg, L. S., The Elusive Search for Presidential Power. American Journal of Political Science. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12057, 2013.

Oleksii Sydorchuk, ‘The Impact of Semi-Presidentialism on Democratic Consolidation in Poland and Ukraine’, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, Volume 22, Number 1 / Winter 2014
, pp. 117-144.

Cristina Manolache, ‘Post-Communist Romania: A Peculiar Case of Divided Government’, Studia Politica. Romanian Political Science Review, Issue no.3 /2013, pp. 427-439.

Laura Tedesco and Rut Diamint, ‘Latin American Democracy. What to Do with the Leaders?’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, Volume 33, Issue 1, pages 31–45, January 2014.

Mario D. Serrafero, ‘Argentina: Tres Reformas Institucionales Del Kirchnerismo’, Revista Aragonesa de Administración Pública, núm. 41-42, Zaragoza, 2013, pp. 449-468.

Leiv Marsteintredet, ‘Explaining variation of executive instability in presidential regimes: Presidential interruptions in Latin America’, International Political Science Review, Published online before print January 7, 2013, doi: 10.1177/0192512112459548.

Leiv Marsteintredet, Mariana Llanos, and Detlef Nolte, ‘Paraguay and The Politics of impeachment’, Journal of Democracy Volume 24, Number 4 October 2013, pp. 110-123.

Vildan Iyigüngör, ‘Political System Discussions in Turkish Media’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 10, October 2013, pp. 204-208.

Yogita Sharma, ‘Imperatives for Transition from Parliamentary Democracy to Presidential Democracy in India’, Journal of Politics & Governance, Vol. 2, No. 1/2 June 2013, pp. 289-294.

Chapters in books

Henry Hale, ‘The Informal Politics of Formal Constitutions: Rethinking the Effects of ‘Presidentialism’ and ‘Parliamentarism in the Cases of Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Ukraine’, in Tom Ginsburg and Alberto Simpser (eds.), Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 218-244.

Jennifer Gandhi, ‘The Role of Presidential Power in Authoritarian Elections’, in Tom Ginsburg and Alberto Simpser (eds.), Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 199-217.

José Antonio Cheibub and Fernando Limongi, ‘The structure of legislative-executive relations: Asia in comparative perspective’, in Rosalind Dixon and Tom Ginsburg (eds.), Comparative Constitutional Law in Asia, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 123-162.

Luca Mezzetti, ‘The Irish Form of Government: A Merely Apparent Semi- Presidentialism’, in Giuseppe Franco Ferrari and John O’Dowd, 75 Years of the Constitution of Ireland: An Irish-Italian Dialog, Dublin Clarus Press.

Kari Palonen, ‘Parliamentarism as a European Type of Polity: Constructing the Presidentialism versus Parliamentarism Debate in Walter Bagehot’s English Constitution’, in Claudia Wiesner, Mieke Schmidt-Gleim (eds.), The Meanings of Europe: Changes and Exchanges of a Contested Concept, Routledge, 2014.

Election reports and reviews of the year

Electoral Studies, vol. 34, June 2014, presidential and/or legislative election reports on: Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Chile, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Nicaragua, Romania, South Korea, and Tunisia.

Clifton W. Sherrill, ‘Why Hassan Rouhani Won Iran’s 2013 Presidential Election’, Middle East Policy, Volume 21, Issue 2, pages 64–75, Summer 2014.

In Asian Survey (vol.  54, no. 1, 2014), there are annual reviews on politics in 2013 for the following countries with presidents: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste

In Electoral Studies (vol.  34, no. 1, 2014) there are election reports on presidential and/or parliamentary elections in the following countries with presidents: Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Chile, Ecuador, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Nicaragua, Romania, South Korea, and Venezuela!

Special issue of Est-Europa with annual reviews on politics in 2012 for the following countries with presidents (in French): Albania, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, and Slovenia. Plus, there is a colloquium on the introduction of the direct election of the president in the Czech Republic and a comparison with France. Available at:

Marek Rybář, ‘The Czech Presidential Elections, January 2013: Towards a More Powerful Head of State?’, Electoral Studies [online first] doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2014.02.004.

Matthew Frear, ‘The parliamentary elections in Belarus, September 2012’, Electoral Studies, vol. 33, no.1, pp. 350-353.

Peter Spáč, ‘The 2012 parliamentary elections in Slovakia’, Electoral Studies, vol. 33, no.1, pp. 343-346.

Erik S. Herron, The parliamentary elections in Ukraine, October 2012’, Electoral Studies, vol. 33, no.1, pp. 353-356.

Xabier Meilán, ‘Dominican Republic’s 2012 presidential election’, Electoral Studies, vol. 33, no.1, pp. 347-350.

Electoral Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, 2014 – Slovakia 2012 parliamentary; Dominican republic 2012 presidential; Belarus 2012 parliamentary; Ukraine 2012 parliamentary

Electoral Studies, vol. 32, no. 4, 2013 – Senegal 2012 parliamentary

Online papers

Claire Wright, ‘Executives and emergencies: presidential decrees of exception in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru’, available at:

Štěpán Drahokoupil, ‘Reflections on the current political crisis in the Czech Republic: The introduction of direct presidential elections and the operation of a semi-presidential system’,

Štěpán Drahokoupil, ‘Appointing a government under the shadow of an institutional controversy over the role of the president’, available at:


Giorgi Alasania. “The principles of constitutional government in the European Union” International Law, 2013 (2013). Available at:

Presidential term lengths and possibilities for re-election in European republics

I recently read up on the amendments made to the Czech constitution to allow for popular presidential elections and stumbled across Art. 57 (2) – ‘No person may be elected President more than twice in succession’ (which already applied to indirectly elected presidents) and wondered how it looks in other European republics and how it relates to term length. The results of my study of each country’s constitution are summarised in the bar chart below.

While Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) can only serve a single term of five years, Italy’s Giorgio Napolitano (right) has recently been elected for his second 7-year term and there is no term-limit |photos via wikimedia commons

While Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (left) can only serve a single term of five years, Italy’s Giorgio Napolitano (right) has recently been elected for his second 7-year term and there is no term-limit | photos via wikimedia commons

Term length

Term length is relatively uniform across European republics – in all but six countries a president’s term is five years. Exceptions can only be found in Iceland and Latvia (4 years), Austria and Finland (6 years), and Italy and Ireland (7 years). Interestingly, all presidents serving terms of six or seven years are popularly elected; yet, so is the president of Iceland who is only serving a four-year term.

Presidential term lengths and re-election provisions in the EU member

Term limits

A limitation to two consecutive terms can be found in twelve out of 22 European republics, i.e. a former president who has already served two consecutive terms could theoretically be re-elected for a further two consecutive terms after ‘taking a break’. In Latvia, the constitution states that an individual may not serve as president longer than eight consecutive years (which equates to two terms in office). In Portugal, the constitution specifies that a president who has already served two consecutive terms can only be re-elected as president after a break of at least five years. In other countries with a limit of two consecutive terms no such provision exists.

In seven out of the ten remaining republics, presidents can only be elected for two terms – irrespective of consecutiveness. In Malta, a president can even only be elected for one term (although the constitution is rather imprecise on the subject). In Iceland and Italy, there are no regulations on re-election. While it is the norm in Iceland that presidents serve several terms – since 1944 all presidents have served at least three consecutive terms (the current president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is in his fourth term at the moment), Italian president Giorgio Napolitano is the first Italian president to be re-elected.

This post first appeared on on 22 August 2013.