The situation in the Central African Republic has stabilised in the last couple of weeks. Indeed, the situation there now creates the conditions for what might be considered a test of one of the supposed advantages of semi-presidentialism.
Prior to the New Year, rebel forces were able to advance steadily towards the capital, Bangui. The democratic opposition to President Bozizé gave the armed rebels their support. Even though there was little appetite for the overthrow of President Bozizé on the part of his fellow heads of state in Africa, the weakness of his position was clear. Therefore, very quickly President Bozizé agreed to negotiations with the rebels/opposition. They agreed partly because of the attitude of the international community.
The key points of the political agremeent are as follows:
- The president remains in office until 2016
- There will be a Government of National Union comprising supporters of the President, as well as the various elements of the opposition
- The Government will be in power for at least 12 months and the President cannot dismiss it from office
- The Prime Minister will be appointed from the opposition
Consistent with the agreement, the incumbent government duly resigned. The opposition has agreed on its candidate for PM. The president now has to appoint the PM formally to office. There are no signs that he will not do so.
The agreement has some of the signs of the sort of arrangement that was reached in Kenya and that still applies in Zimbabwe. However, there are major differences. This is not a constitutional document, whereas the agreements were constitutionalised in the other two cases. In addition, the other agreements were very detailed. This document is very short. (For the record, the Kenyan agreement did establish a semi-presidential regime, at least until the new presidential constitution was adopted. By contrast, the Zimbabwe agreement did not establish semi-presidentialism because the government is not responsible to the legislature).
Over and above the specifics of this particular case, the CAR agreement is interesting because it creates the conditions for a test of one of the supposed advantages of semi-presidentialism. There is a body of mainly theoretical work, which says that semi-presidentialism can be advantageous because it allows the president from one political force to share power with a prime minister from another force. Both forces feel that they have a stake in the system. Therefore, the danger of instability is reduced. To be clear, this arrangement is not a system of cohabitation because the president’s party or supporters are represented in the cabinet. (That said, in everyday journalistic talk, it is not uncommon to hear this arrangement being called cohabitation. One example relating to the CAR agreement is here.)
An open question, though, is what the situations like the ones in CAR and Kenya are really providing a test of. The CAR is not a democracy and neither was Kenya at the time of the agreement there. Do those who argue in favour of semi-presidentialism assume that this advantage applies only to democracies and that it can help to stop them from reverting to autocracy? Or, by contrast, do they assume that it is only or people also useful for non-democracies as a way of helping them to create the conditions for moving to democracy. These are two very different scenarios. Usually, the pros and cons of presidentialism, parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism are based on the former assumption. In other words, they are located in the literature on democratic consolidation and how to ensure that democracy does not collapse once it has emerged, rather than the literature on democratization and how to bring about democracy in the first place.
Obviously, the situation in CAR cannot a test of any argument about democratic consolidation, because the country is currently well below any threshold of democracy. However, like the Kenyan case, it could be considered a test of whether semi-presidentialism can create the conditions for the emergence of democracy by establishing a system of power-sharing.
As an aside, Kirschke’s 2007 article in Comparative Political Studies is about the only study that comes close to providing a proper test of this supposed advantage of semi-presidentialism and, to my mind, the paper is very flawed. The definition of semi-presidentialism is not rigorous. The application of the term ‘cohabitation’ is not rigorous either. It also includes democracies and non-democracies in the study, yet, as I have just outlined, the literature tells us again and again that we need to treat these scenarios differently.
Anyway, the situation in CAR provides a potential test of one of the supposed advantages of semi-presidentialism and its capacity to generate the conditions for democratisation. Let’s see what happens and hope that CAR’s history of instability can be overcome.