Tag Archives: Semi-presidential system

Senegal – Back to presidentialism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senegal – Changes in government system and presidential term limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Presidential elections in Moldova

In this post, I examine the first round of presidential elections in Moldova. The election was held on October 30 – for the first time in 20 years as direct election. After the surprising ruling of the Moldovan Constitutional Court in March 2016 the country returned to a semi-presidential system by abolishing the constitutional amendment of 2000. Hence, the direct election of the Moldovan President is nothing completely new. And it is probably also not surprising that the cleavages and the areas of tension remained the same as during the last direct presidential election of Petru Lucinschi in November 1996. In the following, I will first briefly describe the important constitutional amendments and decisions concerning the direct election of the president. This is followed by an overview of the campaign preceding the election, and the results. The two frontrunner during the campaing – Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM)  and Maia Sandu of the Action and Solidarity Party – will also face each other in the runoff election on November 13 (this also means to stay tuned; this post will have a follow-up after the second round of the elections in two weeks).

Until recently Moldova was one of the few parliamentary systems with a not directly elected president in the post-soviet space. A constitutional amendment to the 1994 constitution abolished the direct election of the president and significantly reduced the presidential power (see Fruhstorfer 2016). This 2000 amendment was however not uncontroversial and was rather the culmination of an enduring conflict between President Lucinschi and several prime ministers. The amendment was intended to solve this conflict and to put the president in a clearer position and strengthen the power of the prime minister and the parliamentary majority. Yet this did not have the intended effect and resulted in further constitutional conflicts. In particular the constitutional provision that a president needs a three-fifth majority in parliament to be elected, led to several deadlocks over the years. This specific majority was also the reason why the constitutional court declared the 2000 amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). According to Art. 141 on the amendment of the constitution, amendment laws can be “submitted to Parliament on condition that the Constitutional Court issues the appropriate recommendation supported by at least 4 judges”. But the constitutional amendment procedure did not correctly follow these rules. In particular the text of the amendment initiative changed between first and second reading in parliament. The initial draft included the more reasonable 51 votes (out of 101) majority (Digi 24 2016) to become elected president of Moldova.

Thus, for 20 years the president was not directly elected and political actors struggled with the increased majority provision. But the issues that triggered the 2000 amendment are not solved by a return to the constitutional provisions of the 1994 constitution. I wrote in an earlier Blog post on the constitutional court decision that “the 1994 constitution failed to establish a clear separation of competences, especially favoring presidential dominance.” (Fruhstorfer 2016a) And although 20 years have passed, a lot of the struggles that tormented the country in the 90ies are still on the table and became important issues in the 2016 presidential campaign.

This campaign was – as in a variety of other countries in the region – dominated by two topics: first, the orientation towards the European Union or a return to Russian influence and second, the fight against corruption. Whereas the first issue is one of the dominant features, it is also generally pretty vague. Yet, the two frontrunners after the first round of the election have issued rather clear ideas what their plans on this issue are. Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) who is consistently labeled as pro-Russia promised to call for a referendum to withdraw from the European Union trade agreement. Instead he plans to work closer with the Eurasian Customs Union. Maia Sandu on the other side is an outspoken supporter of increasing ties with the European Union. Her platform Action and Solidarity, now labeled Action and Solidarity Party, promises instead „to build a European Republic of Moldova“ (Program 2016). Concerning the second issue, corruption, also both candidates promise to fight it once and for all. This is mostly with reference to the many political scandals – most severely the 1 billion USD theft and the arrest and involvement of a number of political actors, among them former Prime Minister Vlat Filat. Already in her manifest, Sandu and the Action and Solidarity Party declare: „Minciuna a devenit o normă“ (Lying has become a norm) (Manifest 2016). And they promise to fight corruption with a new sincerity. This is seconded by Dodon, who declares himself outside the corrupt elite. But newspaper reports outside of Moldova paint a different picture about the actual wealth and involvement of Dodon in different enterprises and possible schemes over the last years.

These issues dominated the campaign throughout the summer. In particular the orientation towards the European Union or Russia shows how divided the country is (both in terms of regions that opt for different ties but also youth against elderly). Despite the intensity of the campaign, the turnout of election is rather low. According to Associated Press, only 49% of eligible citizens cast their votes (Rusnac 2016). This number is particularly low among young people and seems to hurt Sandu more than Dodon. Dodon received 48.3 %, hence did not get the absolute majority. Sandu received 38.4 % of votes (Rusnac 2016).  Based on these results it will largely depend on the voter turnout on November 13, 2016 who will become the next president and in which direction the Republic of Moldova is going to head.

Digi 24 (2016). Surpriză totală în R. Moldova: Președintele va fi ales direct de popor, decide Curtea Constituțională, March 4. http://www.digi24.ro/Stiri/Digi24/Extern/Europa/Surpriza+totala+in+R+Moldova+Presedintele+va+fi+ales+direct+de+p. (accessed March 7, 2016)
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016a. Back to the future: The abolition of the parliamentary system in Moldova, In. http://presidential-power.com/?p=4588
Fruhstorfer, Anna and Michael, Hein. 2016. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems? Comparing Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, in (ibid). Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe.
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016. “Constitutional Politics in Moldova.” In Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein. Springer VS.
Quinlan, Paul D. 2002. “Moldova under Lucinschi.” Demokratizatsiya 10(1): 83–103.
Rusnac, Cornelia. 2016. “Moldovan Presidential Election Goes to Runoff“, ABC News, In. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/moldovan-presidential-election-runoff-43185557 [accessed October 31, 2016]

Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Moldova_2006?lang=en. (accessed July 13, 2015)
Constitutional Amendment. 2000. Law No. 1115-XIV of July 5, 2000. Monitorul Oficial al R. Moldova, No. 88–90 July 28, 2000. Chișinău, July 28.
Constitutional Court of Moldova. 2016. Curtea Constituţională a restabilit dreptul cetăţenilor de a-şi alege Preşedintele. March 4. http://www.constcourt.md/libview.php?l=ro&idc=7&id=759&t=/Prezentare-generala/Serviciul-de-presa/Noutati/Curtea-Constitutionala-a-restabilit-dreptul-cetatenilor-de-a-si-alege-Presedintele. (Accessed March 6, 2016)
Manifest.2016. In, https://unpaspentru.md/manifest/#. [accessed October 30, 2016]
Program. 2016. The program of the political party „Action and Solidarity Party“, In. https://unpaspentru.md/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PROGRAM_PAS_EN.pdf. [accessed October 30, 2016]

Cape Verde – President Fonseca’s ‘historic victory’

President Jorge Carlos Fonseca called it ‘an historic victory’. The incumbent president succeeded in winning no fewer than 74% of the vote in the presidential election that took place on 2 October 2016. His rivals, independent candidates Albertino Graça en Joaquim Monteiro, gathered just 22.6% and 3.4%, respectively.

The recent presidential election concluded a successful election year for the President’s centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD). Earlier this year, the party had defeated the socialist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) in both the legislative elections and the municipal elections. The MpD and PAICV dominate political life in Cape Verde and have alternated in power since the first multi-party elections were held in 1991.

To many, Fonseca’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections came as no surprise. Fonseca (66) is a lawyer, university professor, and perhaps most importantly, an experienced politician. He co-founded the ruling MpD party and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1991-1993). In 1994 he gave up his party membership and founded the Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD), an MpD splinter party. In 2001, he stood as an independent candidate in the presidential election, but finished third, winning only 3.6% of the vote. Ten years later, in 2011, and this time with the support of the MpD party, Fonseca beat PAICV candidate and former foreign minister Manuel Inocêncio Sousa in a runoff with 54.45% of the vote. Compared to Fonseca, university rector Graça and former freedom fighter Monteiro have less political experience and, perhaps more importantly, lacked party support. To be sure, in Cape Verde no candidate has ever won the elections without the open support of either the MpD or the PAICV.

The President partly owed his election victory to a successful first term. In particular, his decision in March 2015 to veto the Statute for Political Office Holders was well received by the people of Cape Verde. The law granted, amongst other things, a 65% wage increase to all elected officials. While the law was unanimously approved by the National Assembly it provoked outrage amongst the Cape Verdeans who considered it as a form of ‘legal robbery’. President Fonseca considered the concerns legitimate and decided to veto and return the law to the National Assembly. In a recent interview, the President said the decision was taken in an environment of great social tension. ‘It was not an easy decision to question a position that had been adopted and supported by virtually all the main political actors. There were long hours of meditation. The fact that the National Assembly did not re-examine the law revealed, indirectly, agreement with the measure adopted,’ he concluded.

It is important to note that the results of Cape Verde’s presidential elections have generally mirrored those of its legislative elections. So, from 1991 to 2001, the MpD held a majority in the National Assembly while its candidate António Mascarenhas Monteiro occupied the presidential palace. From 2001 to 2011, the PAICV controlled the National Assembly while its former leader, Pedro Pires, held the presidency. Cape Verde experienced cohabitation once in 2011. This unique situation emerged when the PAICV won the legislative elections in February and MpD candidate Fonseca the August presidential elections.[1] The emergence of another unified government is thus far from being an exceptional situation in Cape Verde.

Fonseca’s victory was, however, ‘historic’ in that another sense: the presidential election was marked by record low turnout (36%), the lowest since 1991. Several factors may account for the high abstention rate. First, most PAICV supporters abstained from voting given that no PAICV candidate had joined the presidential race.[2] The low turnout may also have been caused by voter fatigue. To be sure, it was the third time Cape Verdean had been asked to cast their votes in a period of less than half a year. Finally, it has been argued that the high abstention rate is a symptom of the people’s dissatisfaction with and distrust of the country’s ruling elite. Turnout in the parliamentary elections this year fell to just 66% from 76% in 2011. Political commentators have accused both the MpD and the PAICV of putting party loyalties above national interests.

Although the country is considered to be one of the most stable democracies in Africa, the 2014 survey by Afrobarometer concludes that more than 50% of citizens are distrustful of key institutions and the political system in general. Likewise, Cape Verde’s performance in the 2016 Ibrahim Index of African Governance worsened.


[1] Yet, it has been argued that Fonseca won the elections because the PAICV vote was split between two party-affiliated candidates.

[2] The PAICV decided not to nominate a candidate following its landslide defeats in the legislative and municipal elections of this year.

Burkina Faso’s New Government – Change and Continuity

On January 13, newly elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré named his cabinet, led by Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba. What are the key characteristics of this 29-member government? To what extent does it represent a break with the past? A closer look at the composition of the new cabinet reveals both significant political change and important institutional continuity.

This is the first instance of a real coalition government since multipartism was first introduced in Burkina Faso in 1970. There have been other governments into which the ruling party invited cabinet members from other parties, as did former President Blaise Compaoré in an effort to broaden his governing base and co-opt opposition. However, this is the first time that the president’s party does not by itself control a majority in the National Assembly. Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) only won 55 of the 127 legislative seats, and thus had to form a coalition with a number of other, smaller parties, to secure a governing majority under Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system [see earlier post on the results of the November 29, 2015 presidential and legislative elections here, and final results validated by the constitutional council here].

Seven smaller parties with a total of 14 seats – UNIR/PS (5 seats), NTD (3 seats), PAREN (2 seats), MDA (1 seat), ODT (1 seat), PDS/METBA (1 seat), RDS (1 seat) – have formed a parliamentary group, Burkindlim (which means integrity in mooré), that has become part of the presidential majority. The second largest party in parliament, the UPC with 33 seats, chose to remain in opposition. The opposition also includes the CDP, Compaoré’s party, which saw its representation slashed from 70 seats in the 2010 National Assembly to only 18 in the newly elected legislature.

The newly appointed cabinet thus includes four members from the three largest coalition partners – Nestor Bassière (Environment) and Somanogo Koutou (Water and Animal Resources) from UNIR/PS, Souleymane Sama (Transports) from the NTD, and Tahirou Barry (Culture) from PAREN.

The MPP has kept the strategic ministries of Defense (of which President Kaboré has taken charge himself as did Blaise Compaoré before him) and Interior. MPP-members also manage the ministries of Labor, Higher Education, Health, Agriculture, Water & Sanitation, Infrastructure, Commerce & Industry, Youth, Women’s Affairs, and Urbanism. A majority of the MPP cabinet members have previously served in elected or appointed positions under Compaoré, as CDP deputies or mayors, ministers or in other high-ranking posts in the administration. Kaboré himself had been both prime minister and chairman of the national assembly. This was before the creation of the MPP in early 2014 as a scission of CDP stalwarts disillusioned with Compaoré’s intent to remove presidential term limits.

Several technocrats with a background in international development have also joined the government. This includes Minister of Economy & Finance Rosine Coulibaly (a high-raking UN official) and Prime Minister Kaba Thieba himself.  Though maintaining a close friendship with Kaboré, Kaba Thieba has spent most of his career outside of Burkina Faso, serving for more than 20 years with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). There is not a single member from the military. Women take seven cabinet seats, most of which are centered on the economy and budget, including the Ministry for the Development of the Digital Economy.

Two well-known private media journalists, who were not afraid to provide often critical coverage of the Compaoré government, are in charge of the ministries of Foreign Affairs (former RFI-correspondent Alpha Barry) and Communication (Rémis Fulgance Dandjinou). An indication of the higher value placed on communication by Kaboré, compared to his predecessor.

Though there are many new faces in this government, about two thirds of its members have prior experience in elected or appointed positions or as career civil servants within the Compaoré administration.  This is not a government of civil society activists. “Balai Citoyen” (civic broom), one of the civil society organizations that played an important role in the demonstrations that brought down Compaoré, is only indirectly represented through the minister of Justice & Human Rights, René Bagoro. Bagoro is a friend of Guy Hervé Kam, the spokesperson for Balai Citoyen; they have both in the past headed the Union of Magistrates of Burkina Faso (SBM).

The MPP owes much of its success at the polls to its ability to win over former CDP-supporters, leveraging organizational structures, experience and contacts developed while its leading triumvirate – Kaboré, Salif Diallo (the new chair of the national assembly) and Simon Compaoré (minister of the Interior) – were in commanding positions within the CDP, before they separated ways with Compaoré.

This element of continuity may bode well for Burkina Faso’s prospects of consolidating recent, significant democratic gains. Unlike most of the Arab spring countries, Burkina Faso was not a hollowed-out state, when the October 2014 uprising swept away Compaoré. The election commission and constitutional council remained legitimate and facilitated the transition. Opposition political parties were organized and ready to participate in competitive elections. Citizens took to the streets and loyalist forces blocked a coup attempt by pro-Compaoré elements within the presidential guard trying to derail the transition in September 2015, days before the scheduled presidential poll.

Kaboré’s government thus has much to build on – and high expectations to fulfill. The new government will have to secure improvements in human development, notably in terms of access to quality education where Burkina Faso lacks woefully behind, ranking 49th out of 54 countries on the continent, according to the Mo Ibrahim Index. Kaboré and his team will also have to strengthen internal security in the face of extremist threats following the January 15 terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, while at the same time reforming the military. The government will be closely monitored by an active civil society and a parliamentary opposition of a significant size. It will have to demonstrate its capacity for change.

#Burkinavote – Analysis of presidential and legislative election results

Burkina Faso has a president-elect, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and a newly elected legislature. Kaboré won in Burkina Faso’s first democratic presidential poll in 37 years held on November 29, 2015, with 53.5 percent of the votes in the first round. Fourteen presidential candidates vied for the support of 5.5 million Burkinabe voters. In legislative elections held on the same day, 3,529 candidates representing 81 parties and 18 political groupings ran for the 127 legislative seats.

Results of the presidential election were made public in the early morning hours of December 1. The runner-up, Zéphirin Diabré who secured 29.7 percent of the vote, conceded defeat via twitter even before the election commission had time to announce the results. Voter turn-out was 60 percent. The official results were validated by an independent parallel vote tabulation exercise conducted by a civil society election monitoring coalition, CODEL.

These peaceful, well organized polls were a major feat for a country emerging from a 13-month transition following the ousting of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising last year, and after an attempted coup by Compaoré supporters just six weeks ago. “For once I am relieved to have witnessed a boring election on the African continent,” said Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at NDI – a sentiment echoed by many observers of elections on the continent.

So who is Roch Marc Christian Kaboré? He is certainly a seasoned politician, having served in a number of positions under Compaoré, whose government he first joined as minister of transports in 1989. Kaboré was prime minister from 1994 to 1996, chairman of the national assembly from 2002 to 2012, and president of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), from 2003 to 2012.

By some accounts, he was Compaoré’s anointed successor, until relations soured as Compaoré’s brother François gradually took control of the CDP. The situation came to a head in January 2014, when Kaboré and two other CDP heavyweights – former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo – left the party to form the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). The impetus for the break-up were the maneuverings by Compaoré and his supporters aimed at removing constitutional term limits and allowing Compaoré to run again in this year’s election, after 27 years in power. See earlier post on the coalescing of forces opposing another term for Compaoré here.

His solid CDP-roots notwithstanding, Kaboré has promised “a complete break with the old system.” He certainly faces great expectations and was quick to reiterate campaign promises of reviving the economy and improving access to public services, in an interview hours after being designated the winner.

Kabore’s knock-out in the first round did not translate into a legislative majority for his party, the MPP, however. Preliminary legislative results published by the election commission on December 2 give the MPP only a relative majority in the newly elected 127-seat national assembly:

Party Seats
MPP 55
UPC 33
CDP 18
Smaller parties Remaining 13 seats

In Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system with its dual executive, this means Kaboré will have to collaborate with other parties in the legislature to select a prime minister, notably the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) of Zéphirin Diabré. This need for coalition building promises a welcome change from the past. Among the priorities of the new government will be the delicate task of facilitating an inclusive constitutional reform process, a piece of unfinished business left over by the the transition government.

East Asia – Presidential Powers and Semi-Presidential Systems

Calls for constitutional revisions have surfaced across four of the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East and Southeast Asia, namely, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The appeals for constitutional changes have arisen for different reasons: in the Philippines, some have raised the possibility in order to extend the tenure of a generally successful and popular president. In Indonesia, it is aimed at improving governability in the face of a fragmented, uncooperative legislature. In South Korea, the option relates to reducing the powers of the executive for greater accountability, a stance advocated by presidential candidates – including current President Park – in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, in Taiwan, constitutional change offers the prospect of constraining the powers of the president. Despite differences in the objectives of change, one reform frequently suggested to replace existing institutional set-up across the countries is the premier-presidential form of semi-presidential system. This raises an interesting question: what is the underlying problem across the countries that the premier-presidential form may resolve?

Despite differences in the objectives, one commonality across the countries is presidentialized parties, where the executive-leader has “considerable independence in the electoral and governing arenas.” [1]According to Samuels and Shugart (2009), presidentialized parties result when the “constitutional structure separates executive and legislative origin and/or survival.” The outcome of the president’s independence manifests differently across the countries: in the Philippines, political parties may rally around strong candidates to ensure continuity; in Indonesia, presidents may be saddled with hostile legislatures; in South Korea and Taiwan, presidents may have few incentives to shift focus away from their personal agendas to the parties.[2]

Clearly, the outcomes depend in part on party organization and party-system development  in the countries. What is less clear is that the premier-presidential form of semi-presidential system will resolve the underlying problem of party weakness. It may behoove these new democracies of the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan, to consider the outlay of time and effort towards constitutional change.


[1] Elgie, Robert. 2011.

[2] For another perspective, see Cheibub and Limongi (2014). Cheibub, Jose Antonio and Fernando Limongi. 2014. “The structure of legislative-executive relations: Asia in comparative perspective.” In Comparative Constitutional Law in Asia, ed. Rosalind Dixon and Tim Ginsburg. Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing


Malkhaz Nakashidze – The Changing Face of Semi-presidentialism in Georgia

This is a guest post by Malkhaz Nakashidze of the Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia


From October 2012 to November 2013 there was a period of cohabitation in Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili from the United National Movement (UNM) was opposed to PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream Coalition. In November 2013 this period of cohabitation ended when Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate of the Georgian Dream Coalition and a close ally of Bidzina Ivanishvili, won the presidential election. It was expected that the president and the new PM, Irakli Garibashvili, also from the Georgian Dream Coalition, would cooperate smoothly. However, this has not been the case.

In May 2013 former PM Ivanishvili strongly criticized President Margvelashvili for using the presidential palace that was built during the presidency of Mikhail Saakashvili, arguing that it was a symbol of violence, evil and indecency. He stated that before being elected as president, Margvelashvili himself was strongly opposed to using the palace. After the election, though, Margvelashvili held several meetings there, including the appointment of various ambassadors. President Margvelashvili was also criticized for appointing Vano Matchavariani, who was the brother of the new leader of UNM, Mikheil Matchavariani, as a foreign policy adviser, though he later resigned from the post. Margvelashvili was also criticized when he considered vetoing a criminal procedure bill in late December 2013. The bill had been opposed by the UNM and civil society organisations. In fact, President Margvelashvili’s first veto was issued in October 2014 on a bill relating to the power of the security services. This generated considerable criticism from the government. What is more, unlike the situation during cohabitation, by this time the government did not have the required super majority of votes in parliament to overturn the president’s veto. In short, the president is no longer perceived to be supportive of the ruling coalition.

The conduct of foreign policy has been a particular source of tension over the last year. The Constitution states that the President of Georgia represents Georgia in terms of foreign relations, but it also states that the Prime Minister and ministers shall represent Georgia “within the terms of their competence”. Given the difficulties with President Margvelashvili, the government has challenged the powers of the president in foreign affairs. For example, President Margvelashvili said that it would be appropriate if he, as head of the state, were to put his name to the Association Agreement with the EU on 27 June 2014 instead of the Prime Minister. The presidential administration claimed that signing the agreement fell under the authority of the president, who has the constitutional right to sign international treaties upon agreement with the government. However, the government claimed that the prime minister was entitled to sign the agreement and refused to allow the president to do so. In this context, the president announced that he delegated his right to sign the treaty to the prime minister. However, he did so by way of a presidential order that required the prime minister’s countersignature. The prime minister’s office claimed that the government and not the president had the right to decide who should sign the agreement. In the end, the prime minister signed the treaty.

Another difficult issue has concerned the National Security Council. According to the constitution, the National Security Council is responsible for organizing the military development and defence of the country and is headed by the president. The composition, powers, and rules of operation of the National Security Council are determined by an organic law. The government has tried to restrict the power of the National Security Council and move some of its responsibilities to the new, non-constitutional State Security and Crisis Management Council headed by the prime minister. On 1 August 2014 President Margvelashvili scheduled a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the NATO summit to be held in Wales in September 2014. The meeting was held, but PM Garibashvili did not attend. That said, the prime minister did attend the second meeting of the National Security Council, which was chaired by President Margvelashvili, on 28 October 2014 because it was convened to discuss the highly sensitive issue of Abkhazia and the PM could not be seen to be absent.

There has also been conflict between the president, the prime minister and the parliamentary majority regarding the appointment of Supreme Court judges. According to the Constitution the president is entitled to nominate candidates to parliament. However, on 1 August 2014 parliament voted down two of the president’s nominations. They were only approved at a second attempt in October 2014.

Against this background, major changes have also taken place within the Coalition. In the first week of November 2014 the Free Democrats, one of the parties of Georgian Dream Coalition, left the government. The departure was triggered by the arrest on October 28 of one former and four serving officials from the procurement and general staff’s communications units in the Ministry of Defense. Irakli Alasania, the then Minister of Defense and leader of Free Democrats, announced he was confident that the officials were innocent and that he would wait for the results of the investigation. However, on November 4 a separate investigation against three army medical officials and three employees of a state-owned food provider company was also instigated. At the time, Minister Alasania was visiting France and Germany and the chief of general staff of the armed forces, General Vakhtang Kapanadze, was also visiting Washington. In response, Minister Alasania spoke out against the ruling coalition, stating that the investigations were an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice. He resigned a few hours later. The next day the Free Democrats announced that they were leaving the coalition. They had two other posts in the coalition government: the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Minister of Justice. However, while the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration did step down, the Minister of Justice decided to remain in the government. By contrast, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maia Panjikidze, did resign even though she was not a member of the Free Democrats. This was not a surprise, though, because she is Alasania’s sister-in-law.

The Free Democrats were the second largest group in the Georgian Dream parliamentary party with 10 members. With their departure, the Georgian Dream Coalition had 73 members in the 150-seat parliament. Another member of the Georgian Dream Coalition, the Republican Party, with nine members in parliament, officially supported the Free Democrats, but announced that they were not going to leave the coalition. Faced with the threat of not having a majority, the Coalition leaders met with the non-partisan members of parliament. On November 10, six non-partisan deputies, and former members of UNM, joined the Georgian Dream Coalition. At the same time, the “Non-partisan” parliamentary fraction announced that they would also join the Coalition majority. Given three members of Free Democrats did not leave parliamentary majority, Georgian Dream Coalition ended up with the support of 87 deputies.

In this context, the role of President has become very significant. It was during this time that the president used his veto. President Margvelashvili also made a statement in Vienna, where he was attending the second UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, where he said that the crisis was a threat to the efficient functioning of the institutions in the country, a threat to the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration, and a threat to the Georgian army. Immediately after returning in Georgia, President Margvelashvili asked the cabinet to convene a session where the Euro-Atlantic issue could be discussed. He also asked parliament to convene a special session where he would make an address. This was agreed.

One of President Margvelashvili’s most significant statements was when he said that “We have stressed a number of times that the country should be ruled by strong institutions and not from the backstage”. This was a clear reference to former PM Ivanishvili. There has been a lot of discussion as to whether Ivanishvili was wielding any influence behind the scenes. PM Garibashvili initially denied this idea, but later he confirmed on television that he had consulted Ivanishvili, saying that it was normal he should seek the advice of a former PM. Ivanishvili’s influence was further confirmed when the former PM gave a long interview with the Georgian Public Broadcaster on November 8 during which he discussed the country’s political issues. He said that the prosecutor’s office could not turn a blind eye if there was a suspicion of wrong doing in the Ministry of Defense and mentioned that he had many questions about the case. He also criticized President Margvelashvili for vetoing the security services bill. He also criticized the President for his visit to Vienna and concluded that his actions and interests were consistent with those of the National Movement. If further proof were needed of Ivanishvili’s role in the coalition he attended the meeting of the political board of the Georgian Dream Coalition that was held one day after resignation of Minister Alasania.

In general, the relationship between the president and the government and indeed between the government and the majority remains difficult and perhaps increasingly so. The president, who was elected under the banner of the Georgian Dream coalition, is no longer seen to be supportive of the coalition. Moreover, the coalition itself is no longer as cohesive. In the background, former prime minister Ivanishvili still has considerable influence over the government and the prime minister. Overall, the practice of semi-presidentialism in Georgia has changed considerably over the last year.

Malkhaz Nakashidze is the Founder & Managing Director of The International Institute for Academic Development and Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at Shota Rustaveli State University, Georgia

List of presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary countries

From the archives

This post was originally published on The Semi-presidential One.

Here is a list of presidential, semi-presidential, parliamentary, and other regimes.

The two basic definitional criteria are the method of selection of the head of state and whether or not the cabinet is responsible to the legislature.

The countries are classed taxonomically on the basis of their current constitution. The definitions are not designed to capture political practice. They are designed to capture constitutional rules in a way that distinguishes reliably between different constitutional forms.

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina
Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi
Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus
Djibouti, Dominican Rep.
Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea
Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana
Kazakhstan, Kenya, Rep. of Korea
Malawi, Maldives, Mexico
Nicaragua, Nigeria
Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines
Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sudan
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan
Uganda, USA, Uruguay, Uzbekistan

Algeria (1989), Armenia (1995), Austria (1945), Azerbaijan (1995)
Belarus (1996), Bulgaria (1991), Burkina Faso (1991)
Cameroon (1991), Cape Verde (1990), Chad (1996), Congo (Republic of (2015), Croatia (1991), Czech Republic (2012)
Dem. Rep. Congo (2006)
Egypt (2013)
Finland (1919), France (1962)
Gabon (1991), Georgia (2004)
Haiti (1987)
Iceland (1944), Ireland (1937)
Kyrgyzstan (1993)
Lithuania (1992)
Macedonia (1991), Madagascar (2010), Mali (2012), Mauritania (2009), Moldova (2016), Mongolia (1992), Montenegro (2006), Mozambique (1990)
Namibia (1990), Niger (2010)
Peru (1993), Poland (1990), Portugal (1976)
Romania (1990), Russia (1993), Rwanda (2003)
São Tomé e Príncipe (1990), Senegal (1991), Serbia (2006), Slovakia (1999), Slovenia (1992), Sri Lanka (1976), Syria (2012)
Taiwan (1997), Tanzania (1995), Timor-Leste (2002), Togo (1992), Tunisia (2014), Turkey (2007)
Ukraine (1996)

Parliamentary (M = Monarchy, R = Republic)
Albania (R), Andorra (M), Antigua & Barbuda (M), Australia (M)
Bahamas (M), Bahrain (M), Bangladesh (R), Barbados (M), Belgium (M), Belize (M), Bhutan (M)
Cambodia (M), Canada (M)
Denmark (M), Dominica (R)
Estonia (R), Ethiopia (R)
Fiji (R)
Germany (R), Greece (R), Grenada (M)
Hungary (R)
India (R), Iraq (R), Israel (R), Italy (R)
Jamaica (M), Japan (M), Jordan (M)
Kuwait (M)
Lao PDR (R), Latvia (R), Lebanon (R), Lesotho (M), Liechtenstein (M), Luxembourg (M)
Malaysia (M), Malta (R), Mauritius (R), Monaco (M), Morocco (M)
Nepal (R), Netherlands (M), New Zealand (M), Norway (M)
Pakistan (R), Papua New Guinea (M)
St Kitts & Nevis (M), St Lucia (M), St Vincent & the Grenadines (M), Samoa (R), San Marino (R), Solomon Islands (M), Somalia (R), Spain (M), Swaziland (M), Sweden (M)
Thailand (M), Trinidad & Tobago (R), Tuvalu (M)
UK (M)
Vanuatu (M)

Presidentialism (i.e. popular presidential election) with no PM but cabinet accountability

Presidentialism (i.e. popular presidential election) but president accountability to legislature but not cabinet

Parliamentarism (i.e election of the president by the legislature) with no PM and no head of state/govt accountability and no cabinet accountability
Eritrea, Micronesia, Suriname, Switzerland

Parliamentarism (i.e election of the president by the legislature) with no PM but head of state/govt accountability and cabinet accountability
Botswana, Cuba, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, South Africa

Parliamentarism (i.e election of the president by the legislature) with head of state, PM and cabinet accountability

Brunei, Monaco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tonga, UAE

Bosnia & Herz., China, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, San Marino

Libya, South Sudan

I welcome corrections and comments.

Presidents and Prime Ministers in Semi-presidential Ukraine

Ukraine held presidential elections exactly one month ago on 25 May 2014. Avoiding the need for a runoff, Petro Poroshenko won the presidency outright with 54.7% of the vote. The next day, the President-elect announced that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk would retain his position, stating that he did not see any grounds for dismissing Yatsenyuk from his post and that he hoped for effective cooperation with the head of government.

Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Photo: UNIAN)

Arseniy Yatsenyuk was elected Prime Minister on 27 February in the middle of the political crisis in Ukraine, winning the support of 371 of the 450 members of parliament. Despite his young age (40), he already boasts an impressive track-record. He served as economy and foreign minister as well as parliamentary speaker during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko (2005-2010). He was also offered the position of Prime Minister by the former president Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, but he declined it. Throughout the anti-government protests that began in November 2013, Yatsenyuk was a constant fixture on Maidan, the central square in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where the largest demonstrations took place.

There is no requirement in the Ukrainian constitution that the Prime Minister be dismissed upon the inauguration of a new president. However, all former presidents of Ukraine, in one way or another, have replaced the Prime Ministers when they took office. Given Ukraine’s recent history, the relationship between the president and prime minister is a crucial one and it may either break or make the presidency.

For instance, former allies and leaders of the Orange revolution, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, spent the majority of their mandates in a political gridlock. In 2008, President Yushenko even accused his then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of treason and ended up testifying against his former ally during her trial for abuse of power in 2011. Many have argued that Tymoshenko’s presidential ambition was one of the main reasons for the animosity between the two (she later ran in both the 2010 and 2014 presidential elections). Their long-term conflict is frequently blamed for derailing Yushchenko’s presidency and bringing the country to the brink of economic collapse.

Currently, Ukraine operates under the premier-presidential constitution, similar to the one that was in place during most of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko’s tenures. Ukraine has always been uneasy about its executive-legislative relations and spent the last decade playing a tug-of-war with the powers of the president and the parliament. The Ukrainian constitution has been changed three times since its adoption in 1996 (in 2004, 2010, and 2014), going back and forth on how powerful the president will be vis-à-vis the parliament.

The current president is only two and a half weeks into his term. Thus, it is hard to evaluate his relationship with the prime minister. So far, however, both seem to agree on a number of important issues. Both are strong advocates of Ukraine’s membership in the European Union. Both men are also strong supporters of decentralization of Ukraine and delegating more powers to the regions. In fact, in a televised address just last week the President proposed constitutional amendments to this effect as a part of his peace plan. Yatsenyuk did not himself run for presidency in the last election, although his party backed Yulia Tymoshenko. For his part, Poroshenko seems to have no intention of altering the balance of power between the president and the prime minister. During the plenary session of Parliament last week, he stated that he was committed to the premier-presidential system and that the current constitution gave him enough powers to fulfill his pre-electoral promises to the Ukrainian people.

President Poroshenko has no party of his own. He is backed by Kyiv Major Vitali Klitschko, whose party holds less than 10% of seats in parliament. Constitutionally, his role is limited to representing the country in international affairs, administering foreign policy and overseeing national security and defense.[1] The President is in a difficult position. His relationship with the Prime Minister, whose party, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), is currently the largest block in parliament with 85 seats, may prove crucial in order to push through the anti-corruption, economic and decentralization reforms that Ukraine desperately needs.

[1] See Constitution of Ukraine, 21 February 2014, art. 106.