This is another in a series of occasional posts on countries that have actively debated introducing a semi-presidential constitution, but that eventually decided not to do so.
In the rush to democratisation in Central and Easter Europe in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Hungary very nearly adopted semi-presidentialism. I am no expert on Hungary (so comments are welcome), but there seems to have been a two-stage process.
Hungary was one of the early democratisers in 1989. As I understand it, one of the reforms introduced by the old regime was the direct election of the president. This election was scheduled to take place on 3 December 1989. However, the democratic opposition to the regime was concerned that it would not be able to compete effectively and that Imre Pozsgay would be elected. Pozsgay had played a major role in reforming the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, but the opposition considered that his victory would have legitimised the old regime in its new form. In November 1989 the opposition was able to force a referendum at which voters were asked to decide whether the presidential election should take place in December or be delayed until after parliamentary elections scheduled for 1990. The vote was very close and the delay was approved by 2,145,023 votes to 2,138,619.
Parliamentary elections took place March 1990. Unlike most other countries, Hungary did not immediately adopt a new constitution. Instead, the old constitution was reformed. As part of this incremental process another referendum was held on July 1990 about whether or not to introduce the direct election of the president. This would have made Hungary semi-presidential. There was an overwhelming majority for the proposal (85.9%), but turnout was only 14% and so the result was invalid. Therefore, Hungary continued to elect its president indirectly and remained parliamentary.
So, Moldova and Hungary, if memory serves me correctly, are the only two countries to have rejected the direct election of the president in a referendum. On both occasions, this was due to low turnout.
Last weekend, Ireland held the first meeting of its Constitutional Convention. One of the topics for debate was whether the president’s term should be reduced to 5 years. However, an issue that generated much more discussion and passion was whether or not citizens should have a role in nominating presidential candidates. In the end, the members of the Convention voted overwhelming (94%-6%) to open up the nomination procedure to citizens. In that context, I thought that I would provide just a little more information about how nomination processes operate comparatively.
Currently, the Irish Constitution provides three ways of nominating presidential candidates: nomination by at least 20 members of the two houses of the legislature (there are 226 at the moment); by 4 elected councils (there are 34, I think); plus incumbent presidents may re-nominate themselves. This has meant that until recently political parties have dominated the nomination process. Since 1937, there have been 7 contested elections and a total of only 24 candidates. That said, in 1997 there were 5 candidates and in 2011 there were 7 candidates. So, there is perhaps some evidence that parties have less of a hold now than previously.
What happens elsewhere? In a recent article in Irish Political Studies, I provided some information about how 29 semi-presidential countries choose their presidential candidates. The take-home point is that probably only Mongolia and Turkey have more restrictive procedures than Ireland and most other countries have some sort of citizen nomination process.
However, two points need to be made.
Firstly, the rules for citizen nomination procedures vary greatly. Some countries simply require a number of signatures from registered electors. Even so, the number is very different from one country to the next. So, Taiwan and Montenegro stipulate 1.5% of the total electorate. By contrast, Poland requires 100,000 signatures. Given there were nearly 31 million registered voters in Poland in 2010, this is a much smaller fraction. In some countries, there is also a geographical requirement i.e. a certain number of signatures from a particular number of provinces or counties.
What all of this means is that even when the nomination system is opened up to citizens, the openness of the system will still vary as a function of the particular rules that are chosen. The up-side of this point is that it does not necessarily mean hundreds or dozens of candidates will inevitably stand. The down-side is that the system is not necessarily much more open. Apart from the cost of a campaign, which will exclude most people, the rules may still serve to restrict the number of candidates.
Secondly, even if the rules are changed in a way that increases the number of candidates, there is a big difference between the number of candidates and the ‘effective’ number of candidates. To put it another way, there may be a larger number of candidates, but how many of them are ’serious’?
What are the figures? Leaving aside Mali and Peru, the highest figure was 24 candidates at the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine, then 21 in Bulgaria in 1992. Other countries recorded 16, 17, and 18 candidates in some cases. However, the average effective number of candidates was much smaller. For example, whereas Ukraine has had an average of nearly 14 candidates across all its presidential elections, it has had an average of fewer than 4 effective candidates. In fact, France has had the highest average effective number of candidates at just under 5. For most countries the average effective number of candidates is between about 2.5 and 3.5 and the figures are remarkably even across all countries, regardless of how restrictive the procedures are for citizen nominations.
In other words, even if opening up the nomination process to citizens may increase the number of candidates, it does not necessarily make the election more competitive. There may be more candidates from small parties and more candidates from non-partisan backgrounds, but the party candidates are still almost certain to win. This is a function of party identification, previous notoriety, campaign funding resources, and so on.
Overall, the cross-national evidence suggests that opening up the nomination process to citizens is unlikely to change the type of candidate who is actually elected to the presidency. Parties will still dominate. However, opening up the nomination process to citizens may simply be something that people want as a matter of principle.
The formation of the new government in Lithuania has been very difficult. The difficulty has arisen not so much from the negotiations between the parties in the coalition, but from the attitude of the president towards the government. The president’s actions have raised a more general issue.
The legislative election in Lithuania was held at the end of October. A three-party agreement on a new government was reached very quickly and a fourth party was soon added. However, from very early on the composition of the prospective government was contested. President Dalia Grybauskaitė refused to accept the nomination of certain ministers from the Labour Party. More specifically, at first she seemed to imply that she would refuse the nomination of any minister from the party. However, the president has now approved the government and, as 15min.lt reports, it does include Labour Party ministers. However, the government is incomplete. President Grybauskaitė has indeed refused the nomination of two Labour Party ministers and their replacements have yet to be found. In addition, the report states that the initial nominee for the Minister of Culture was rejected and another name was found.
This got me thinking. During periods of cohabitation, how often have presidents refused the nomination of government ministers?
Well, first, it should be stressed that Lithuania is not experiencing a period of cohabitation. President Grybauskaitė is an independent. All the same, she has clearly aligned herself with the Conservatives. So, what we have in Lithuania is a ‘difficult case’ of cohabitation. In previous posts, I have recorded certain other examples.
If we leave the specific Lithuania issue aside and concentrate on the general problem, then three examples of presidents refusing to nominate particular ministers during cohabitation have been identified.
In France in 1986, President Mitterrand rejected the appointment of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers. At that time, he intimated that because he had constitutional competences in these areas and also because the president does have to approve the appointment of ministers nominated by the PM, then he was entitled to oppose the proposed nominations. The new PM, Jacques Chirac, did not make a fuss and they agreed on two new appointments. So, the rejections were known, but it was not a stand-off or a crisis, partly because neither the president nor the PM saw it in their interests to create one.
My colleague, Iain McMenamin, reminded me of a similar case in Poland. He recounts the case in his chapter in the book edited by myself and Sophia Moestrup, Semi-presidentialism in Central and Eastern Europe. In the early 1990s, President Walesa insisted that he appoint three ministers in his “special special areas of responsibility”. In a slightly later Cabinet, Walesa refused to accept an SLD nomination for Finance Minister. As McMenamin then writes (p. 130): “Eventually, after a prolonged standoff, Walesa got the SLD to produce a new nomination for finance minister, while he accepted coalition-nominated deputy ministers in the presidential ministries.”
Another colleague and great friend to this blog, Cristina Bucur, also told me of a similar situation in Romania. In December 2007 President Băsescu refused to appoint Norica Nicolai as Minister of Justice. There are some details here.
I can’t think of any other examples, but I would guess that there are some. If anyone has any further examples, then do please comment.
The bottom line is that President Grybauskaitė is following the example of certain other presidents. That said, presidential refusals of ministerial nominations under cohabitation do seem to be pretty rare. If so, then it is perhaps more evidence that cohabitation is not necessarily as problematic as it is sometimes portrayed.
Yesterday, Octavio Amorim Neto kindly drew my attention to an article in the Jornal de Angola. I posted a link to it on the Facebook site. It is an opinion piece about semi-presidentialism in Africa. It argues that semi-presidentialism is problematic, particularly because of the prevalence of cohabitation. The author, Faustino Henrique, argues in favour of a presidential system and also appears to prefer parliamentarism to semi-presidentialism. If you don’t have Portuguese, then Google Translate does a pretty good job of conveying the argument.
I am responding to the article not because I think that semi-presidentialism is the best of all systems of government and that it needs to be defended from its critics. Indeed, as regular readers of this blog will know, I like promoting the study of semi-presidentialism, but I have severe reservations about recommending semi-presidentialism as a system of government. Instead, I think I was driven to respond partly because doing so helps to promote the study of semi-presidentialism and partly because I was frustrated by the way in which the author defends the argument.
The author’s basic argument is that semi-presidentialism has been the cause of political crisis in Africa. Particularly, the author argues that cohabitation between the executive and the parliamentary majority is the cause of political problems.
What struck me most about the article was the absence of empirical evidence. There was only one example, the case of São Tomé and Príncipe where a representative of the opposition MLSTP-PSD party is quoted as saying that “the country is heading for political instability”. Apart from that one quote, we are simply told that cohabitation has created “many problems”.
São Tomé e Príncipe is indeed one of the most cohabitation-prone countries in the world. Indeed, the most recent period of cohabitation ended in 2011. However, despite the fact that it has had so many periods of cohabitation, it has remained democratic. What about cohabitation in Africa more generally? Well, it was certainly associated with the collapse of democracy in Niger in 1996. However, the only other African country to have experienced cohabitation is Cape Verde, where it began in September 2011. To the best of my knowledge, cohabitation in Cape Verde has worked without incident since this time. So, while cohabitation in Niger was a very difficult experience and is a sign that cohabitation can definitely cause problems, I am not sure that many countries have faced the problems of cohabitation that the author alludes to in the article.
Interestingly, when pointing to the causes of instability, the author identifies not only periods of cohabitation but also periods where an independent president has been at odds with the government or the parliamentary majority. Here is where São Tomé e Príncipe comes back in. The current president, Manuel Pinto da Costa, ran as an independent in 2011, though he was formerly a member of the MLSTP-PSD. The government is headed by Patrice Trovoada from the ADI. It is a minority government. The MLSTP-PSD is the main opposition party in parliament. Currently, the government is having problems passing legislation in parliament. It is also possible that the president is making the government’s life more difficult, even if he is no longer formally a member of the MLSTP-PSD. So, the presence of an independent president may be problematic.
However, the impact of ‘independent’ president is one that needs more research. The term ‘independent’ can cover a lot of situations. It can refer to people who claim to be independent but are really supported by a party/group or block of parties/groups. It can also refer to people who are populist and who do not have a party backing but do have a strong social base. It can refer to people such as technocrats. I don’t know of any studies that have tried to systematically assess the impact, positive or negative, of independent presidents on democracy in Africa. I can certainly think of the problematic situation in Guinea-Bissau following the election of the late João Bernardo Vieira. He had been a member of the PAIGC, but had left the party at the time of his re-election in 2005. Generally, though, I don’t think we know enough about independent presidents to draw any systematic conclusions.
So, this is what I think. Cohabitation is unique to semi-presidentialism. There is evidence that it can be problematic. However, in Africa it has not occurred very often and it has only been associated with the collapse of democracy in one case. Independent presidents are not unique to semi-presidentialism. They can occur under presidentialism too. So, if independent presidents are problematic, and they may be, then presidentialism is not necessarily a solution. Finally, minority governments are not unique to semi-presidentialism. They can occur under presidentialism and parliamentarism. If they are problematic, and as before they may be, then again presidentialism is not necessarily a solution and neither is parliamentarism in that regard.
Overall, I have no particular desire to promote semi-presidentialism as a form of government. I think there are arguments in favour of and against parliamentarism, presidentialism, and semi-presidentialism. However, if we are arguing the merits and demerits of specific regimes, then I think we need to think carefully about how the argument is made. What is the empirical evidence? (And I haven’t even mentioned the need to include all sorts of control variables in order to determine the independent impact of semi-presidentialism and its various forms). What is the alternative? Are the problems of semi-presidentialism likely to occur under other forms of government too?
(This post replaces an earlier version. Thanks to Gerhard Siebert for corrections. Obviously, this post represents only my own opinion).
Yesterday’s post about the foreign visits of the Lithuanian president made me think about another article I had read. This was an article about the Finnish president and the fact that he was attending the NATO summit in Chicago. Given the Finnish president is now a symbolic figure, though, admittedly, with more legitimacy in foreign affairs than any other area, it was interesting that he was attending such an important summit.
Anyway, I checked the Wikipedia site for the summit and it gives a list of heads of state and government who attended. Obviously, the presidents of presidential countries attended and the prime ministers of parliamentary countries attended, but who attended for semi-presidential countries?
Part of the answer is easy. For semi-presidential countries with a strong presidency, the president attended (Azerbaijan, Armenia, France, Georgia, Romania, Ukraine). For semi-presidential countries with a figurehead presidency the prime minister usually attended (Croatia, Iceland, Ireland, Slovenia). Part of the answer, though, is more complicated. For a couple of semi-presidential countries with a very weak president the president still attended (Finland and Slovakia). For some semi-presidential countries where the president is more than a figurehead but where the Prime Minister is generally the more powerful figure, the president attended (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey). Finally, for one country in this latter category the prime minister attended (Portugal).
So, there is no obvious pattern. Presumably, the answer should be constitutional. For example, in Finland, even though the president is now very weak, Art. 93 still states that the “foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government.” So, whereas the PM is clearly responsible for EU policy, there is a reason why the president should go to a NATO summit. Equally, in Romania, even though there is a period of cohabitation at the moment, the president has clear powers in terms of foreign and defence policy. So, it is natural that he should go. There is some information on constitutional powers in foreign policy topic in Tapio Raunio’s article in Journal of European Public Policy, 19:4, pp. 567-584, 2012.
However, the case of Croatia is interesting. Even though the president of Croatia is a figurehead, Art. 94 of the constitution of Croatia states that the “President of the Republic is responsible for the defense of independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia”; Art. 99 states among other things that the “President of the Republic and the Government of the Republic of Croatia shall cooperate in the formulation and execution of foreign policy”; Art. 100 states that the “President of the Republic is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia”; and Art. 101 also gives more details of the president’s powers in time of war. If you were the President of Croatia, this would probably be enough for you to insist on attending. And yet, the PM attended and, I suspect, without any presidential protest.
Moreover, previously there have been disputes in countries such as Poland and Slovakia as to whether the president should attend equivalent summits.
So, while the constitution holds some of the answer, my guess is that power politics matters as well. If anyone has any more systematic answers, or any country experiences to reveal, then please feel free to comment.
Constitutionally, the answer to the ‘how many’ question is five: Bulgaria, Peru, Senegal, Taiwan and Tanzania. In practice, though, the answer is four. In 2009 Senegal passed a constitutional amendment creating the position of vice president. However, President Abdoulaye Wade, who was behind the reform, never appointed anyone. So, the answer to the how many question is fairly straightforward.
The answer to the ‘what do they do?’ question is more difficult. Peru and Tanzania have a prime minister and collective cabinet responsibility, but, in practice, they operate as presidential systems, even if Tanzania has a one-party dominant system as opposed to Peru’s typical Latin American fragmented party system. So, the role of the vice-president in these countries resembles those in equivalent presidential systems.
In Taiwan, as far as I can tell, the role of the vice-president is merely to replace the president if the president dies, resigns, or is incapacitated. My understanding is that President Ma’s first vice-president, Vincent Siew, also met with representatives of mainland China at certain meetings, which was politically sensitive. However, the post seems to be mainly honorific. Any more information would be welcome.
In Bulgaria, the vice-president assists the president (Art. 92 -2). In addition, Art. 104 states that the president “shall be free to devolve to the Vice President the prerogatives established by Art. 98 items 7, 9, 10 and 11.”. They are the power to “7. appoint and remove from office other state officials, established by law”, “9. grant, restore, relieve from and withdraw Bulgarian citizenship;”, “10. grant asylum;”, “11. exercise the right to pardon”. Does the vice president exercise any of these powers? The answer is yes.
In Bulgaria, the vice-president’s use of the right to pardon has become politically controversial. For example, the Sofia News Agency, Novinite, reports that in the ten years from 2002-2012 Vice President Angel Marin signed 49 pardon decrees even when the Pardons Committee had recommended that the pardon should not be used. In total during this period the President and Vice-President together issued 529 pardons, including more than 200 people convicted for murder. Interestingly, since taking office in January 2012 the current Vice President, Margarita Popova, has issued only one pardon. When she did so, she identified very clear grounds for issuing the pardon, trying to differentiate her use of the pardon from her predecessor’s.
So, Vice Presidents are very rare under semi-presidentialism. They are even rarer still in semi-presidential countries where the president is not a strong figure. Bulgaria is the only country where there is a weak president as well as a vice president. However, even in this latter case, the role of the Vice President can be controversial.
I have been doing some more digging into when Maurice Duverger first started to use the term ‘semi-presidential’?
In a previous post, I noted that in 1951 on p. 431 of the first edition of his book Les partis politiques (Political Parties) he refers to Weimar Germany being a semi-presidential regime. To my knowledge, this is the first time that he uses this term in print. He sticks with it throughout the various editions of this book.
However, between 1951 and 1970, when he systematically identifies a set of semi-presidential countries, he continues to use the term, but there is no consistency to its use.
For example, in the first edition of his book La Ve République (The Fifth Republic), he uses the term on p. 201 to refer to a type of regime that the left would like to introduce without specifying what type of regime. In the second edition of 1960 (p. 191) he maintains this use of the term. However, by the third edition in 1963, when France has actually become semi-presidential following the 1962 reform, he does not use the term.
In 1960 in his article ‘Introduction à une sociologie des régimes politiques’ in G. Gurvitch (ed.), Traité de Sociologie, vol. 2, he uses the term on p. 9 when discussing regimes generally, though he does not define the term. Also, in 1961 he uses it on p. 122 of his book La VIe République et le régime présidentiel (The Sixth Republic and the Presidential Regime) when talking about possible reforms to the French system.
The fact that he is using the term loosely and that he is still searching for a systematic classification of regimes can also be seen in the 3rd and 4th editions of his book La Ve République. On p. 16 of the 3rd ed. (1963), he classifies the reformed (semi-presidential) Fifth Republic a ‘Weimarian’ regime. On p. 17 of the 4th ed. (1968) he drops all reference to Weimar, but calls the reformed French system ‘a mixed regime, midway between a parliamentary and a presidential regime’. Similarly on p. 19, he calls it ‘a mixed, half-parliamentary, half-presidential regime’.
It is clear, then, that even though his use of the term ‘semi-presidential was very fluid prior to 1968, by that time Duverger is very close to the systematic definition that will follow just two years later.
More specifically, when did Maurice Duverger first use the term ‘semi-presidential’?
I have been doing some digging in Parisian libraries and the answer, so far, seems to be 1951. He refers to Weimar Germany being a semi-presidential regime on p. 431 of the first edition of his book Les partis politiques (Political Parties).
It is also possible to get a sense of how his thinking evolved. For example, in 1949-1950 he gave a series of lectures on political parties at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris (Sciences Po). The text of the lectures is available and they clearly led to his book as they cover much of the same material. However, in the equivalent place to where the Weimar Germany reference is made in Les partis politiques, there is no reference in his lectures. So, presumably, he decided to call Weimar a semi-presidential republic (in print at least) around 1950-1951.
Also, in his 1948 Lectures on Constitutional Law in Bordeaux on p. 115 he does not call Weimar semi-presidential, but he does say that the parliamentary regime there came close to being a presidential regime. So, he clearly has Weimar in his mind as a mixed system as early as then.
Duverger maintains his reference to Weimar as semi-presidential throughout the various editions of his Les partis politiques book. I am now trying to find out when he extended the term to describe the system in other countries, including France, so as to see whether he did so before he introduced the concept of semi-presidentialism and systematically identified a set of semi-presidential countries for the first time in 1970.
I have been doing some work in the LSE where I came across a really interesting early reference to semi-presidentialism.
The reference is in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Volume 7 (Editor-in-chief, Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman; Associate editor, Alvin Saunders Johnson), Macmillan Co., 1932, pp. 75-81. The entry is on ‘Succession States’ (meaning successors to the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires) and it is written by Robert Braun.
Talking about the 1929 constitutional reform in Austria, the relevant part of the text reads “from a purely parliamentary republic Austria has been changed into a semipresidential republic”.
This is a really interesting reference, to me anyway, for three reasons.
Firstly, it is a very early reference that I had not come across before. So far, I have found two 19th century references, a cluster of references in 1919-1923 relating to David Lloyd George, and a reference relating to the US president in 1930. So, this 1932 reference is a very early one.
Secondly, it is the very first reference I have found that uses the term ‘semi-presidential’ to refer to a constitutional arrangement. Prior to this time and for most references until the early 1950s, the term is used to refer to the situation where a prime minister is more powerful than normal or where a president is less powerful than usual. However, the reference here refers explicitly to Austria’s 1929 constitutional amendment, which introduced the direct election of the president into the previously parliamentary system. The earliest constitutional reference of this sort that I had found previously dated to 1938. So, again, this is an early reference.
Thirdly, it uses the term in relation to Austria. I class Austria as semi-presidential from the constitutional reform in 1929 to 1933 when the constitution was suspended. However, most Austrian observers do not, even the ones who class Austria as semi-presidential after 1945 under a very similar constitutional arrangement. The reasons, I think, why most people do not class Austria as semi-presidential from 1929-1933 is because the constitution was suspended before there was the opportunity for a presidential election and because the incumbent president was a fairly minor figure, certainly the prime minister was the key political actor. So, to see the term ‘semi-presidential’ used contemporaneously in relation to the Austrian First Republic is very unexpected.
Presumably, old references will re-emerge as more books become digitised. However, this reference will remain, I think, a particularly interesting one.
The new Google Ngram viewer is great fun. It allows you to type in words and see how the frequency of their usage has changed over time. This is achieved via a search of Google Books. So, the results are picked up from millions of works.
Naturally, the first word I typed in was ‘semi-presidential’. There are various options, including a search in all English books, as well as those published solely in the UK or the US. There is also the option of searching for words published in French, Spanish and a number of other languages.
Anyway, here are some results. You should be able to make out the search criteria from the picture.
The y axis scale is so small that it suggests the term has hardly been in general use! However, unsurprisingly, references start to increase after 1990. Interestingly, while references in English tail off after 2000, in US English there is an increase at the very end of the period. So, it seems as if references to the term ‘semi-presidential’ are now becoming more current in the US.
The graph for ‘semi-presidentialism’ is similar, but the references begin much later. For the sake of a visual comparison, I have kept the same date range.
When ‘semiprésidentiel’ is the search term and the language is French a slightly different distribution is found. Basically, references start a little earlier than in English. Again, this isn’t surprising, but it is nice to see the result visually.
Finally, I also searched for ‘semipresidencial’ in Spanish. This shows that there is an interest in the concept in Spanish.
Anyway, to those of you for whom it is a holiday, then happy holidays! To everyone else, have a good weekend.