Category Archives: Difficult cases of semi-presidentialism

‘Difficult’ cases – Uzbekistan

Is Uzbekistan semi-presidential? The answer seems obvious. No. However, a closer look suggests that the situation has changed over time and that Uzbekistan may be (or have been) semi-presidential.

The first constitution was adopted in 1992. It is widely available online in English. There are two key clauses:

Art. 78 (16) [The exclusive powers of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall include:] ratification of the decrees of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the appointment and removal of the Prime Minister, the First Deputy Prime Ministers, the Deputy Prime Ministers and the members of the Cabinet of Ministers;
and:
Art. 98, which in this version mentions nothing about collective cabinet responsibility or even individual prime ministerial responsibility.

In 2003 the constitution was amended. The 2003 version is also available online in English. Here, the wording of the relevant clauses changes:

Art. 78 (15) [Joint authority of the Legislative chamber and the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall include:] consideration and approval of a candidature of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan upon the nomination of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan;
Art. 98 The Cabinet of Ministers, in its activity shall be responsible to the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

So, while the legislature has the power (in theory!) to reject the appointment of the prime minister, it cannot reject the appointment of the cabinet as a whole. However, Art. 98 indicates that there is collective cabinet responsibility. Therefore, it seems as if Uzbekistan should be considered semi-presidential on the basis of the definition used in this blog. That said, there are no provisions in the constitution as to how the legislature will hold the government accountable. Therefore, I am reluctant to include it in my list of semi-presidential countries.

Interestingly, there now seems to be a further amendment. RFE/RL reports that the role of the president is being reduced, the procedures for appointing the prime minister are changing and that explicit reference to a vote of no-confidence is going to be included. Now, at this time, there is some confusion. In a separate report on the amendments, the wording of the no-confidence motion is actually provided. It is supposed to be worded as follows:

“The vote of non-confidence in the PM shall be deemed adopted if it receives a vote of at least two-thirds of the lower chamber and the upper house of the Uzbek parliament, respectively. In this case the president decides on the release of the PM from office. The entire composition of the Cabinet of Ministers resigns together with the PM”.

On the basis of this blog, this would not make Uzbekistan semi-presidential because the president still has the final say over the dismissal of the government.

Given the final text does not yet seem to be available, I will reserve judgement. However, clearly Uzbekistan is almost semi-presidential at least constitutionally.

‘Difficult’ cases – Cameroon

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

This post examines the case of Cameroon in the 1960s. In 1961 Cameroon adopted a semi-presidential-like constitution. The text is impossible to track down on the internet, but it is available in the Revue juridique et politique d’Outre-Mer at that time.

At that time, the Constitution declared Cameroon to be a Federal Republic, combining the former French and British-administered territories. The French element was politically dominant. However, the federal nature of the system meant that the constitution was organised somewhat differently from its French counterpart, which was the model for most of the countries in the region at the time.

Anyway, this constitution established a directly elected federal president (Art. 9). At the federal level, the president was also the head of government and the cabinet was not responsible to the legislature. So, constitutionally, the Federal Republic of Cameroon was presidential.

However, the constitution also made provision for prime ministers to be appointed in each of the two federated states. The federal president appointed the prime minister in each case (Art. 39) and the PM was subject to an investiture vote that required a simple majority. The state cabinet was also subject to confidence and no-confidence votes (Art. 44) and had to resign if, for example, it was defeated on a no-confidence motion by an absolute majority of the legislature.

So, here is a country that was not semi-presidential, but which had a clear semi-presidential element to it. Indeed, it was the only Africa case to have anything like this type of presidential/prime ministerial arrangement until 1970.

The 1961 Cameroon constitution was repealed in 1972 when the country officially became the United Republic of Cameroon and any reference to the federated states was abolished.

‘Difficult’ cases – Belarus

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

It is very tempting to consider Belarus as a case of semi-presidentialism from 1994-96. However, on the basis of the definition used in this blog, it was not. Paradoxically, the constitution becomes semi-presidential at the time when the powers of the president were increased and the country slid into autocracy in 1996.

The first post-Soviet constitution was passed in 1994. The text is available here.

In this constitution, there is no ambiguity over the direct election of the president (Art. 97). However, there is no mention of collective responsibility. Art 100 – 4 states that the president shall “4) appoint and dismiss, with the consent of the Supreme Council, the Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers of foreign affairs, finance, defense, internal affairs, and chairman of the Committee for State Security; appoint and dismiss other members of the Cabinet of Ministers as well as accept the resignation of the persons referred to in this paragraph”. Art. 107 – 2 states “Members of the Cabinet of Ministers shall be appointed and dismissed by the President.  The Prime Minister, his deputies, ministers of foreign affairs, finance, defense, and internal affairs, and the chairman of the Committee for State Security shall be appointed and dismissed by the President with the consent of the Supreme Council.” The competences of the legislature are listed under Art. 83 and there is no mention of no-confidence motions.

In short, the 1994-96 constitution is presidential. As in the US, various senior government figures have to be approved by the legislature individually. However, once they are approved, they can only be dismissed by the president. There is no provision for collective responsibility.

The change comes in 1996. Technically, the 1996 amendments do not constitute a new constitution, but a revision of the 1994 document. The constitution has since been revised in 2004. The up-to-date version is available here.

Again, the direct election of the president is clear (Art. 81). This time, though, the collective responsibility of the government is also clear. Art. 106 states: “The Government in its activity shall be accountable to the President of the Republic of Belarus and responsible to the Parliament of the Republic of Belarus.” Arts. 97 – 5-7 state that the House of Representatives shall: “5) consider the report of the Prime minister on the policy of the Government and approve or reject it; a second rejection by the House of the policy of the Government shall be deemed as an expression of non-confidence to the Government; 6) consider on the initiative of the Prime minister a call for a vote of confidence; 7) on the initiative of no less than one-third of the full composition of the House of Representatives express a non-confidence vote to the Government”. Finally, Art. 106 – 5 states: “The Government shall tender its resignation to the President if the House of Representatives has passed a vote of no confidence to the Government. The Prime minister may request from the House of Representatives a vote of confidence with regard to the governmental Programme or any other issue submitted to the House. If a non- confidence vote is passed by the House of Representatives, the President shall be entitled to accept the resignation of the Government, or dissolve the House of Representatives within ten days, and call on holding new elections. If the resignation of the Government is rejected the latter shall continue to discharge its duties.”

So, even though the list of presidential powers was greatly expanded in 1996 and even though, since this time, Belarus has not operated as a democracy, constitutionally it has had a semi-presidential form of government. This was not the case from 1994-96.

‘Difficult’ cases – The Philippines 1981-1986

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

Last week, I identified the difficult case of the 1933 Peruvian constitution. The regime in the Philippines from 1981-1986 represents an equally difficult case.

In January 1981 President Marcos ended martial law and a month later the legislature passed a series of amendments to the 1973 constitution. These were then ratified in a referendum in April.

After the changes, the relevant articles of the constitution read as follows:

Art. VII, SEC. 3. The President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years.

Art. VIII, SEC. 13. (1) The Batasang Pambansa [legislature] may withdraw its confidence from the Prime Minister by a majority vote of all its Members … Within ten days from receipt of the written advice of the approval of the motion of no confidence, the President may submit a nominee for a Prime Minister to be elected by the Batasang Pambansa.

Art. IX, SEC. 1. The Prime Minister shall be the head of the Cabinet. He shall, upon the nomination of the President from among the Members of the Batasang Pambansa, be elected by a majority of all the Members thereof.

Art. IX, SEC. 2. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet shall be responsible to the Batasang Pambansa for the program of government approved by the President.

So, here we have almost exactly the same situation as in Peru in 1933. There is an explicit mention of collective cabinet responsibility. This is Art. IX, SEC. 2, which presumably refers to an investiture vote. However, there are absolutely no other details in the constitution about how this mechanism might work. By contrast, there is explicit mention of procedures for individual prime ministerial responsibility.

For some, these provisions may be enough to classify the Philippines as semi-presidential from 1981-1986, when a new presidential constitution was adopted. However, like Peru 1933, I tend to exclude this period in the Philippines from the list of historic cases of semi-presidentialism because of the emphasis on individual responsibility.

The 1986 constitution is available in English here.

This post replaces a previous one on the Philippines.

‘Difficult’ cases – The Maldives 1972-1975

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

One constitution that I found very difficult to track down was that of the Maldives from 1972-1975.

The Maldives adopted a new constitution in 1967. I have not been able to obtain a copy of the original 1967 document, but I understood that it included the direct election of the president. Even so, worldstatesmen.org did not identify a prime minister at that time. So, the constitution could not be semi-presidential.

However, there was a constitutional amendment in 1972 and then another in 1975. Between these dates, worldstatesmen.org does identify a prime minister. Given PMs are usually, though not always, associated with governments that are responsible to the legislature, the Maldives during this period struck me as a possible historic case of semi-presidentialism. (See previous posts).

I had been able to obtain a hard copy of the constitution after the 1975 amendment and confirmed that there was no PM. However, the 1972 version escaped me. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that the National Library of Australia had a copy and that it could be sent as a PDF. Oh happy day!

Anyway, it turns out that the Maldives was on the cusp of semi-presidentialism from 1972-1975. According to the constitution during this period:

Art. 52 establishes the position of prime minister.
Art. 57 states that if the legislature passes a motion of no-confidence in the PM or a minister, then they have to resign.
This article is a little ambiguous about collective responsibility. It seems to imply individual responsibility, though I suppose a bill, or bills, could be introduced that would express no-confidence in all ministers and the PM.

However, the element that, for me, definitely disqualifies the Maldives is Arts. 24 and 25. This states that the president is elected in a public referendum (not an election). Basically, the legislature chooses a candidate and then the candidate’s name is put to a referendum. For me, this does not count as direct election.

Therefore, on the basis of Arts. 24 and 25 and in addition to the ambiguity in Art. 57, I do not class the Maldives during this period as an historic case of semi-presidentialism, but there is a sense in which it is on the cusp.

‘Difficult’ cases – Super-majorities

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

One of my colleagues was at APSA a few weeks ago and got talking to someone. ‘Who’s your professor?’, he was asked. My colleague gave him my name. ‘Oh’, the reply came, ‘he’s the one who thinks every country is semi-presidential’.

I’m not sure that this is how I want to go down in political science history (however small such a footnote might be). Anyway, it got me thinking. In what ways might I have been over-estimating the number of semi-presidential countries? Obviously, the wording of certain constitutions will always be open to interpretation (e.g. Art. 26 of Singapore’s constitution – does the fact that the president has discretion over the PM’s dismissal when the PM has lost the confidence of the legislature mean that the PM is not really responsible to the legislature in a standard way? In retrospect, it probably does mean that. The president is the one who decides, not the legislature). However, such ambiguities would only affect a handful of cases and I have already been careful to exclude various ‘on-the-cusp’ cases e.g. Guyana. However, is there anything that makes me systematically over-estimate the number of semi-presidential countries?

The one aspect that might make me do so is the inclusion of countries where the PM and cabinet are responsible to the legislature, but only as a function of a super-majority vote. For example, Art. 78 of the 1992 Constitution of Mali states: “The National Assembly can hold the government responsible by way of a motion of censure … Only the votes in favour of the motion are counted and the motion is adopted only if it wins the support of two-thirds of the total number of deputies in the Assembly”.

So, the government is collectively responsible to the legislature. Hence, Mali meets the definition of semi-presidentialism used in this blog. But, in practice, it is likely to be mighty difficult to bring the government down. So, the government is probably safe in office. If so, shouldn’t Mali be considered a presidential system?

I know that, for one, Matthew Shugart believes cases of super-majority responsibility should not be classed as semi-presidential (though I have seen Mali included in his list of semi-presidential countries).

Anyway, to the best of my knowledge, these are the cases of super-majority dismissal that are currently in operation:

Algeria: Art. 136
Egypt: Art. 127. (This is the situation following the constitutional amendments in 2007. Prior to this time, it was even more difficult to dismiss the government and, in effect, the government was not responsible to the legislature. Even now, though, a super-majority results in the government’s dismissal only after the second no-confidence vote. The first seems to act as a sort of warning and the president has the right to ignore it).
Mali: Art. 78
Rwanda: Art. 130 (but not under the previous constitution)
Togo: Art. 97

Note that in Kazakhstan, the 2007 amendment reduced the responsibility requirement to a simple majority from a two-thirds majority. The same is true in Tunisia since the 2002 amendment.

Also note that in Madagascar after the 1995 constitutional amendments Art. 94 stated that if the government requested a vote of confidence, then a simple majority was required, whereas Art. 97 stated that if the government is the subject of a vote of no-confidence, then a two-thirds majority was required. Obviously, though, Madagascar is no longer semi-presidential after the coup earlier this year.

So, the super-majority requirement would not get rid of many countries from my list. In any case, as I said earlier, the government is still collectively responsible under such a requirement. This is simply not the case under presidentialism. Moreover, in Mali, for example, the party system is very fragmented and the majority is usually a coalition of parties often with ethnic loyalties. It is not inconceivable that, for example, an anti-ADEMA coalition could form that might have the requisite super-majority support. By the same token, even in countries with no super-majority requirement, there can be dominant parties where the effect is to leave the government totally secure in office (e.g. Mozambique and Namibia).

On balance, therefore, I still think we need to define semi-presidentialism on the basis of constitutional rules and not on the basis of what, in practice, might be the case. Therefore, Mali etc should still be classed as semi-presidential. So, it looks like I have failed in my bid to reduce the number of semi-presidential countries (with the exception of Singapore, which was worth another look at).

‘Difficult’ cases – Bosnia and Herzegovina

This is series of posts that identifies countries that almost comply with the definition of semi-presidentialism that is used in this blog, but which fail to do so on the basis of a certain, sometimes unusual provision, or where the date when semi-presidentialism started can be contested.

For some Bosnia and Herzegovina might classify as semi-presidential. However, while I will happily admit that it is on the cusp of semi-presidentialism, I tend to exclude it from my list of semi-presidential countries.

In a fairly recent article, Toal et al provide a nice diagram of the complicated set of institutions contained in the 1995 constitution. (Gearóid Ó Tuathail (Gerard Toal), John O’Loughlin, and Dino Djipa, ‘Bosnia-Herzegovina Ten Years after Dayton: Constitutional Change and Public Opinion’, in Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2006, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 61-75. Available online here).

The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is available here.

Article V states that the presidency consists of three members one Bosniac and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of the Republika Srpska. (See here for a previous post on semi-presidentialism in the Republika Srpska). The presidency rotates every eight months.

Article V 4 states that “The Presidency shall nominate the Chair of the Council of Ministers, who shall take office upon the approval of the House of Representatives” and clause c states “The Council of Ministers shall resign if at any time there is a vote of no-confidence by the Parliamentary Assembly.”

So, there is a directly elected president, a prime minister, and collective governmental responsibility to the legislature. This seems to make Bosnia and Herzegovina semi-presidential. For me, though, the complicating factor is the three-person revolving presidency. My assumption is that a presidency is a one-person institution and that the president must serve for a fixed term. The Bosnian presidency does not meet these requirements. So, I tend to exclude Bosnia from the list of semi-presidential countries, even if it is on the cusp.

Was Pakistan semi-presidential from 1972-76?

In his recent book, Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy, José Antonio Cheibub classes Pakistan as a mixed democracy from 1972-76. His definition of a mixed democracy is where the government is responsible to the assembly, where there is an independently elected president and where the government is also responsible to the president, meaning either that the president can dismiss the cabinet directly or that the president can dissolve the legislature and so dismiss the government indirectly.

So, Cheibub’s definition of a mixed system is slightly different from the definition of semi-presidentialism used here. In the end, though, his classification of countries is very similar to my own. There are some differences. He classes Ireland as parliamentary because the president has no power to dismiss the government either directly or indirectly, but there are no other parliamentary examples that I would class differently. The situation with presidentialism is not quite the same. He includes a number of cases as presidential that I would think of as semi-presidential: Burundi (1993-95), Cuba (1946-51), Guinea-Bissau, Namibia, Peru and Sri Lanka. In most cases, I think this is because Cheibub does not consider that the government in these countries is/was constitutionally responsible to the legislature. (See a previous post on Sri Lanka). However, the category that intrigues me the most is the mixed category. Here, all his examples are those that I would class as semi-presidential with two exceptions: Brazil (1961-62) and Pakistan (1972-76). I have posted about Brazil at that time before. But what about Pakistan?

Pakistan adopted a new constitution in 1973 and it was clearly parliamentary. The president was elected by an electoral college comprising parliamentarians and members of the provincial assemblies. So, I am not sure why post-1973 Pakistan can be classed as mixed. In any case, though, Cheibub’s start date is 1972. Prior to that time there had been only one presidential election, which was in 1965 and it, too, was organised on the basis of what I would consider to be an electoral college. It comprised 80,000 electors from the (then) two parts of Pakistan. My assumption is that Cheibub considers this to be sufficient to constitute an independently elected president. Even so, as far as I understand it, the constitution was formally suspended in 1969 when martial law was decreed. Overall, I am not sure either why 1972 is the start date indicated or why the period extends beyond 1973 when the constitution was parliamentary.

None of these comments should not be taken as a criticism of Cheibub’s book. It is a really interesting book. Please go out and buy it. He makes a convincing case that there is no evidence to suggest that presidentialism is worse then parliamentarism or mixed democracies in terms of the propensity for democracy to collapse. He bases his definitions of regime types on constitutional clauses, which is something I really support. It is just that, given his list of mixed democracies is usually so consistent with my list of semi-presidential countries, I am intrigued by the reasoning behind the decision to class Pakistan as mixed from 1972-76.

Was Benin semi-presidential from 1996-98?

Benin is governed by the constitution of 2 December 1990. This constitution is resolutely presidential. However, from 9 April 1996 to 14 May 1998 there was a prime minister, Adrien Houngbédji. The constitution was not changed to make provision for a prime minister. It was simply the result of a presidential decree. As far as I can tell, Prime Minister Houngbédji was responsible to the legislature during this time.

The story, I think, was that Mathieu Kérékou was elected as president at the March 1996 election. He defeated the incumbent, President Nicéphore Soglo. Kérékou was slightly behind Soglo at the first ballot, but at the second, where only two candidates can stand, he won a plurality. Moreover, he did so with the help of Adrien Houngbédji, from the PRD party, who came third at the first round of the election. In return, President Kérékou was obliged to reward Houngbédji and the post of prime minister was created. In 1998 Prime Minister Houngbédji stepped down and the post of prime minister was not renewed.

Was Benin semi-presidential from 1996-98 (and, again, I am assuming that the PM was responsible to the legislature during this time)? The answer is ‘no’, because the constitution was still clearly presidential and, in any case, there was no collective responsibility. However, it is interesting that Benin had what might be called a dual-authority system for a period. For some people, a behavioural definition of this sort is still what is understood as semi-presidentialism. All the same, I am willing to bet that those same people do not include Benin in their studies of dual-authority systems.

So, I do not include Benin in my list of historic semi-presidential countries, but the 1996-1998 period is an interesting case nonetheless.

(This is an updated version of a previous post).

Why is Sri Lanka sometimes not classed as semi-presidential?

When I was a student of comparative politics, I learnt that Sri Lanka was semi-presidential. Therefore, when I started studying semi-presidentialism systematically Sri Lanka was always one of the first on my list of semi-presidential countries. However, some people do not include Sri Lanka in their equivalent lists. For example, Siaroff (European Journal of Political Research, 2003) classes Sri Lanka alongside South Korea and Guyana in a category which he calls “Countries with a popularly elected head of state and a separate head of government (prime minister), with the latter not accountable to the legislature” (p. 297). Also, Hellwig and Samuels (British Journal of Political Science, 2007) class Sri Lanka as presidential, even though their definition of semi-presidentialism is very close to the one adopted in this blog: “both branches of government are directly elected, but the head of government (the prime minister) is accountable to the legislature” (p. 72). As a result, they class both Ireland and Russia as semi-presidential. (And how authors classify these two countries is always a good litmus test of whether their definition of semi-presidentialism is consistent with the one used here). So, why do some authors not classify Sri Lanka as semi-presidential?

Sri Lanka is governed by its 1978 constitution. This constitution was deliberately modeled on the French constitution. Indeed, there is an interesting book that looks at the French origins of the 1978 constitution – A. Jeyaratnam Wilson. 1980. The Gaullist System in Asia: The Constitution of Sri Lanka, 1978. London: Macmillian.

The constitution is very long and wordy. Also, the president enjoys considerable powers. (Both elements, by the way, showing that the French model was only an influence and that the wording of the French constitution was not copied in the same way that some African countries have copied it). All the same, to me, the country is clearly semi-presidential.

Art 30 (2) establishes the direct election of the president.
Art. 43 (1) establishes a Cabinet of Ministers that is collectively responsible and answerable to parliament. (Art. 44 (3) also mentions responsibility to the parliament).
Art 43 (3) refers to the position of prime minister, as do a number of other articles.
Art. 49 (2) states that if parliament passes a vote of no-confidence in the government, then the Cabinet of Ministers shall “stand dissolved” and the president shall appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers.

Together, these clauses make it clear that the prime minister, as part of the cabinet, is responsible to the legislature. So, Siaroff’s classification seems problematic. (In a previous post, I showed that this is true of Guyana as well).

One reason why Sri Lanka may be classed as presidential is Art. 43 (2), which states that the president is the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. This clause also notes that if the Cabinet is dissolved, then the president remains in power. In other words, even though the president is a member of the cabinet and the cabinet is responsible to the legislature, the president is not responsible to the legislature. (Hellwig and Samuels, like Siaroff, class Namibia as presidential. Namibia is another country where the president is head of government. However, Art. 41 of the 1990 constitution makes all members of the government individually and collectively responsible to the legislature. See a previous post. If this is the rationale, then at least Hellwig and Samuels are consistent).

The only other reason I can think of why Sri Lanka is not classed as semi-presidential concerns a proposal for constitutional reform in 2000. At that time, President Bandaranaike presented to parliament a bill with the text of a new constitution. The constitution would have established a presidential regime. The text is available here. However, the bill lapsed. A subsequent referendum was never held and Sri Lanka continues to be governed by the 1978 document, which, to my mind, is semi-presidential. That said, when Googling, it is quite easy to mix up the 1978 official constitution and the 2000 proposed constitution. This may account for some of the confusion.