‘Difficult’ cases – Madagascar 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.

In 1992 Madagascar adopted a constitution that was clearly semi-presidential. The president is directly elected. The government is responsible to the National Assembly (Arts. 61-3 and 94). In 1992 Madagascar had a premier-presidential form of semi-presidentialism. However, the constitution was amended in 1998 resulting in a president-parliamentary form of semi-presidentialism (viz. Art. 53 and the addition of the phrase “… pour toute cause déterminante”).

In 1975 Madagascar adopted a constitution that was on the cusp of semi-presidentialism. The constitution had elements of a party/socialist constitution. So, for example, Art. 46 stated that the executive consisted of the president, government and the Supreme Council of the Revolution. However, in contrast to constitutions in, say, Congo-Kinshasa during this period, the party/socialist element of the constitution was not overwhelming, even if political life was organised on the basis of a one-party regime at the time.

In the 1975 constitution, Art. 47 stated that the president was directly elected. Arts. 60 and 61 made reference to both the government and the prime minister, who was responsible to the president, as head of government.

The reason why Madagascar is on the cusp of semi-presidentialism is because of the provisions for government responsibility to the legislature. Art. 78 stated that if the prime minister wished to make adjustments to his political programme and the National Assembly disagreed with the proposed changes, then the prime minister could call for a vote of confidence. If a two-thirds majority of the total number of National Assembly members voted against the confidence motion, then the government had to resign.

This would seem to suggest that the government is responsible to the legislature. However, there are two complications. Firstly, the two-thirds majority requirement is very high. Secondly, the legislature cannot initiate a motion of no-confidence under these conditions. The decision lies with the prime minister.

There is a further complication too. Art. 80 did allow the legislature to initiate a motion of no-confidence under certain other conditions, but, if passed, it was up to the president to decide whether or not to dismiss the government.

In the context of this blog, I tend to count Madagascar 1975 as semi-presidential, but only on the basis of Art. 78. For me, if the president still has the power to accept or reject a no-confidence motion, then the government is not fully responsible to the legislature. However, Art. 78 does provide a mechanism for making the government responsible.

I think the issue of whether or not the two-thirds majority is too high a barrier is irrelevant to the classification of countries as semi-presidential or otherwise. It is not part of the definition as adopted in this blog. More than that, whether or not a two-thirds majority is likely to be mustered is a function of contingent political circumstances rather than constitutional law. Obviously, in one-party mid-1970s Madagascar, then the likelihood of two-thirds of the National Assembly voting down the government was more than unlikely. However, in other countries under different conditions, then it is certainly feasible that a two-thirds anti-government majority might emerge. Therefore, there is no theoretical reason for stipulating some majority threshold above which a government becomes ‘not really’ accountable whatever the constitution says. As long as there is a provision for government accountability in the constitution, then, for me, a necessary condition for semi-presidentialism is met whatever the threshold stipulated.

To my mind, the reason why Madagascar 1975 is on the cusp of semi-presidentialism is because of the absence of any parliamentary initiative for a no-confidence motion that, if passed, requires the government to resign. If the only form of responsibility is a government confidence motion, rather than a legislative no-confidence motion, then even the most unpopular government could remain in power simply by not making any issue a matter of confidence and, therefore, not giving the opposition the opportunity to vote it out of office.

That said, I do tend to classify Madagascar 1975 as semi-presidential because, in one sense, the government is responsible to the legislature and, therefore, this necessary condition for semi-presidentialism is met.

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