Category Archives: Semi-presidentialism

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?

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.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?

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.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?

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.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?

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.

Poland – When did semi-presidentialism begin?

In a previous post on Ukraine, I posed the question of when countries in the former Soviet Union should start to be classed as semi-presidential. This is, for me, an important question because in the near chaos of the collapse of communism/declarations of independence most of these countries reacted by simply grafting a directly elected president on to their Soviet-era parliamentary-like constitutions. These countries then held direct presidential elections and only subsequently set about drafting a new constitution. Sometimes, there was up to a five year gap between the fall of communism and new consolidated constitutions. Given this blog uses a constitutional definition of semi-presidentialism, I need to know when a country was constitutionally semi-presidential in order to determine its start date. However, this is no easy task. The initial changes were often made by way of piecemeal laws that are often difficult to obtain.

Anyway, this week I was able to resolve at least one country to which this question is relevant. Even though it was, obviously, not part of the former USSR, Poland underwent a similar amendment process when the communist system began to collapse. Having identified various documents and with the kind help of a friendly Polish-speaking colleague, I have been able to piece together Poland’s semi-presidential history. The information in this post will not be news to Poland experts, but at least it helps to get the information out to a wider audience.

Poland’s constitution dated back to 1952. In April 1989 Round-Table Talks were held between the communists and the Solidarity opposition. This led to the delightfully named ‘April Novelization’ of 7 April 1989 that changed the constitution. With regard to semi-presidentialism, the key amendment was the creation of the office of a president of Poland. This institution replaced the communist-style collective institutions. However, at this time the president was elected by parliament. In December 1989 there were further amendments that, in effect, ended the communist system, but these amendments did not affect the presidency etc. Instead, the significant change came in September 1990 when another amendment was passed that created a directly elected presidency. The first direct election was held in December 1990. A new but nonetheless interim constitution was passed in 1992 and the current constitution dates from 1997.

I have the text of the various amendments (in Polish!), but they are not publicly available, as far as I know. I was able to access them via a library subscription from my home institution. If you would like a copy, then please just let me know.

The bottom line is that semi-presidentialism in Poland dates from September 1990.

Mauritius – Semi-presidentialism on the agenda?

There are reports from newspapers in Mauritius that the introduction of semi-presidentialism is being discussed. It is a little unclear whether this is something that is genuinely being debated, or whether it is just an opposition agenda item. However, I have found a number of recent articles that discuss the issue.

On 11 October there was an article in L’Express reporting that former PM and now the leader of the opposition, Paul Bérenger, was proposing the introduction of semi-presidentialism as well as certain other reforms. On 15 October there was a long article, also in L’Express, making it clear that the idea of French-style semi-presidentialism had been raised. Also in L’Express on the same day, there was an editorial that was quite critical of semi-presidentialism, suggesting that it did not suit the situation in Mauritius. In addition, there was an article in the Mauritius Times about constitutional reform generally, indicating that constitutional amendments were very difficult to pass. Finally, in an earlier article in L’Express, there is a report that Paul Bérenger had proposed the introduction of semi-presidentialism as far back as the 1980s.

My guess is that the ‘debate’ is more a matter of the leader of the opposition flying a kite, rather than the start of an impending and serious discussion of constitutional reform. All the same, I will keep an eye on events there.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (11)

This is the final installment in the current series of the ‘Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?’ posts. However, I am absolutely certain that it will not be last.

As promised, I am going to reveal the earliest reference to semi-presidentialism that I have come across so far.

Previously, I identified the earliest post as:

D. Christie Murray, ‘A Scrap of Crimean History’, The Gentleman’s Magazine, New Series, vol. 14, Jan-June 1875, pp. 171-183, with the reference on p. 178.

This reference was made in a quasi-political way, but seemingly more in the context of a story than a journalistic report.

Using various search engines of historic magazines and newspapers, I have since come across one earlier reference. It is:

New York Times; Dec 22, 1857; pg. 1.

There is no author named. However, the reference is clearly political. It refers to a speech by Senator Bigler – presumably William Bigler, Senator from Pennsylvania from 1856-1861 – in the context of a debate on the Kansas Question with Senator Douglas – undoubtedly Stephen A. Douglas.

The relevant text of the very small report reads:

“Senator Bigler’s carefully-written speech on the Kansas Question is generally understood to be semi-presidential. It threw no new light on the subject. In the subsequent debate with Senator Douglas, the latter again badgered him severely, and he was quite vanquished”.

There is no further detail. There is no indication of the sense in which the term ‘semi-presidential’ is being used. Moreover, the next reference to the term in the New York Times is in the 1960s! So, it is unclear whether the term was the invention of the unnamed author of this article or whether it was current at the time but is not being picked up in the search engines.

Anyway, for now, it is the earliest reference that I have come across.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (10)

This was going to be the last of the weekly installments of ‘Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?’ However, it turned out to be a much longer post than I had anticipated. Therefore, the final post in this series will be this time next week.

As promised, this week I am going to look at non-academic references.

In last week’s post, I confirmed that, as far as I can tell, the first academic reference to the term ‘semi-presidential’ dated back to 1923. It was a reference to the governing style of David Lloyd George, who was the British Prime Minister from 1916-1922. Well, it turns out that Lloyd George is closely associated with the first proper non-academic references to the term as well.

On 20 October 1919, the (unnamed) Parliamentary Correspondent of The Times (of London) published a piece about the forthcoming parliamentary session. In his article, he referred to “Mr Lloyd George occupying a semi-presidential position hitherto unknown to the Constitution”. On 13 December 1919 the Editorial in the The Times made a similar reference. Another reference in the same vein was made by the Parliamentary Correspondent on 24 December 1919.

Indeed, there were three further references of this sort in The Times in 1920 and three more in 1921. Two of the references in 1920 refer to political leaders more generally, but include Lloyd George among them.

In addition, on 16 August 1921 in a speech in the House of Commons Earl Winterton twice accused Lloyd George of operating a “semi-presidential system” of government. This comment was reported in The Manchester Guardian on 17 August and The Scotsman on the same day. (The Winterton references can be found in 146 H.C. Deb 5 s, 1320 and 1327).

So, piecing the story together, what seems to have happened is that the Parliamentary Correspondent of The Times coined the phrase ’semi-presidential’ to refer to Lloyd George’s governing style and the phrase was used quite regularly in The Times from October 1919 to March 1921. This phrase was taken up by Earl Winterton in Parliament in August 1921 and reported in other newspapers. The term was also adopted by Herbert Arthur Smith when he was writing his book about parliamentary government in 1923. However, when Lloyd George stepped down in October 1922, the phrase was not applied to his successors. Thus, it fell into abeyance. Indeed, the next reference in The Times is on 13 March 1972 in relation to France. There is a reference in the New York Times of 22 February 1960 to Cameroon’s semi-presidential system. However, it was only in 1976, with the creation of the Portuguese Constitution, that the term re-entered newspaper discourse on a fairly regular basis.

As an addendum, in a previous post I noted that in 1970 there was an academic article about Lloyd George’s governing style that used the term ‘semi-presidential’. (Kenneth O. Morgan, ‘Lloyd George’s Premiership: A Study in ‘Prime Ministerial Government’, The Historical Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 1970, pp. 130-157, ref. on p. 144.) Presumably, Professor Morgan did not coin the term himself, but he came across it when doing archive work on The Times.

What all of this means is that the term ‘semi-presidential’ was regularly being used in a way that would be familiar to scholars today, though not in the specific sense that it is used in this blog, over 90 years ago.

Next week, in the final post of this series, I promise that I will reveal the earliest ever reference that I have come across.

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (9)

Welcome to this week’s installment of ‘Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?’ Last Friday, I identified the first references to the term by Duverger. Today, I am going to focus on references by other academics. Next Friday, I will look at the earliest non-academic references to the term.

To recap previous posts, the term ‘semi-presidential’ was not coined by Duverger. As I mentioned last week, he was using the term from 1951. However, there are references prior to this time. In a previous post, I identified that the first reference dated to 1875, but it was not an academic reference. More on that next week.

In terms of academic work, the first two references that I can find are still:

1.) Herbert Arthur Smith, Federalism in North America: A Comparative Study of Institutions in the United States and Canada, 1923, p. 35, where a reference is made to the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George acting in a semi-presidential way; and

2.) James Morgan, Our Presidents: Brief Biographies of our Chief Magistrates From Washington to Eisenhower 1789-1958, Macmillan, New York, 1930, p. 50. I have only been able to obtain the 2nd ed. of this book, dating to 1958, where the reference is on p. 58. However, it is in the chapter on John Quincy Adams. So, even though the book was updated from the 1930 version, I am pretty confident that the original reference dates back to that time.

In addition, I have found a number of other references prior to Duverger’s first use of the term in 1951. In chronological order, they are:

A. C. Fernandez, ‘Portugal’s New Constitution’, in The Modern Review (Calcutta), vol. 64, no. 1, 1938, p. 72. This is an interesting article because, for the first time, it contrasts presidentialism, parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism. Salazar’s constitution is not exactly semi-presidential, at least in the way that it is used in this blog, but this is the first time, to my knowledge at least, that semi-presidentialism is being used in a comparative institutional context alongside the two standard regime types.

Maurice Maier, Le véto législatif du Chef de l’Etat. Etude de droit constitutionnel comparé, Thesis no. 456 presented to the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva, published by A. Mayor, Geneva, 1947. There are references on pp. 94, 105 and 107. The ref. on p. 94 is to the Peruvian and Ecuadorian systems, indicating that they are not entirely presidential. The ref. on p. 105 is to the 1928 constitution of Lithuania. The ref. on p. 107 is to a number of European countries. The last two references identify a country as semi-presidential when the president has a qualified power of veto.

Georges Vlachos, ‘La nouvelle constitution bavaroise’, Bulletin de la Société de législation comparée, vol. 71, 1948, pp. 284 and 287. As its name suggests, this article identifies the Bavarian constitution as having semi-presidential features (though, having read the article, I am not at all convinced!)

Gordon Wright, The Reshaping of French Democracy, London, Methuen, 1950, pp. 48, 50 and 82. This is another interesting reference because it places de Gaulle’s post-Liberation constitutional ideas in the context of semi-presidentialism, e.g. his Bayeux speech in 1946. So, this reference also seems to be broadly relevant to the way in which we now use the term.

The usual disclaimer applies. I have found these references by using a variety of search engines. So, it is entirely possible that there are other, possibly earlier, references out there that are not being picked up by the search engines that I have used.

Together, these references show that Duverger was one of the first to use the term ‘semi-presidential’, but that, even so, the term had been in academic circulation for nearly three decades before he used it. For me, the gold medal really goes to Professor A. C. Fernandez who was the first to use the term in something approaching its ‘modern sense’.

Next week, non-academic references, including the unveiling of a new record-holder for the earliest use of the term!

Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism? (8)

Welcome to semi-presidentialism from St Hilda’s College, Oxford! It’s not my first time in the College. This time I am here for four weeks working on a project with Petra Schleiter. From my room I have a wonderful view over Christ Church Meadow with Merton College in the distance. The sun is shining and there is no ash cloud, so I can get home at the weekend. Generally, it’s a great place to work.

Anyway, an externality of my visit is that I have access to more sources than usual and this has allowed me to follow up on one of my favourite threads on the blog – ‘Is this the first reference to semi-presidentialism?’ In this post I am going to focus on the first references by Duverger. In next week’s post I will follow up on references by other people.

The story so far is that for a very long time I had assumed that the terms ‘semi-presidential’ and ‘semi-presidentialism’ were first coined by Duverger and that they dated back to the 11th edition of his textbook Institutions politiques et Droit constitutionnel, 1970. However, I discovered that this was not so. Duverger had used the term before this time and so too had others.

Digging deeper, I have now discovered that, as far as I can tell, Duverger first used the term ‘semi-presidential’ in the original 1951 edition of his famous book Les partis politiques. Now, I only have the first edition in its English translation dating from 1954. The reference there is on p. 393. However, I do have the second and third French editions of Les partis politiques, dating to 1954 and 1958 respectively, and exactly the same text appears on p. 431 in each case. So, it’s a safe bet that there is a reference in the 1951 edition. For those of you who have the book, the reference is buried away towards the end in the section ‘Parties and the Structure of Government’, where he makes a comment that Hitler’s Germany (not Weimar interestingly) “practised” a semi-presidential regime.

From the mid-/late-1950s onwards, Duverger starts to use the term more regularly but in relation to the French political system. (I still need to confirm a reference in an article by him in Le Monde, 3 January 1956.) Around this time, the first reference that I have been able to find is in La Cinquième République published in 1959. This is a book in which Duverger describes the institutions of the new regime. On p. 201, he talks about a possible evolution to a semi-presidential regime. It is worth remembering that, according to the definition used by this blog and by Duverger’s own definition, France was not semi-presidential until 1962. In 1959 it was still parliamentary. So, at this point Duverger does seem to be making an implicit distinction between parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism.

To sum up, as far as I can tell, Duverger first used the term ‘semi-presidential’ in print at the beginning of the 1950s. Then, from the mid-/late-1950s onwards Duverger uses the term ‘semi-presidential’ to denote some sort of fairly unusual executive-legislative arrangement, particularly in relation to France’s new political system. However, he does not have a rigorous definition of the concept at this point. Interestingly, in the 10th ed. of his textbook Institutions politiques et Droit constitutionnel he uses the term ‘semi-presidential’ (1968, p. 704), but still in the way that he was using it in the late 1950s. Finally, it is, indeed, three years later in the 11th ed. of that same book that he first introduces a proper definition of the concept, explicitly contrasting semi-presidentialism with presidentialism and parliamentarism.

Next week, references to semi-presidentialism prior to Duverger.