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.
Equatorial Guinea won independence from Spain in 1968. There were constitutions in 1968, 1973 and 1982. The current constitution dates back to 1991. The 1968 and 1973 constitutions were presidential. However, the post of prime minister was introduced in 1982 and has been present ever since. Usually, the introduction of a prime minister into a system with a directly elected president is a sure sign of semi-presidentialism, but not so in the case of Equatorial Guinea, though only just.
The 1982 constitution provided a raft of powers to the directly elected president, who was designated as both the head of state and head of government (Art. 88). The president was “assisted” (Art. 109) by a prime minister, who was responsible to the president (Arts. 108 and 112). Ministers were subject to interpellation by the Chamber of People’s Representatives, but there was no collective responsibility. So, despite there being a prime minister, the 1982 constitution was not semi-presidential.
In 1991 there were hopes of democratisation and a new constitution was passed. In 1995 there were constitutional amendments that did affect the president’s powers, but there were no real changes in relation to the semi-presidential nature of the document. The current constitution is available online.
The president continues to enjoy quite considerable powers (to coin a phrase), but since 1991 the prime minister has been officially designated as the head of government (Art. 53). However, the Council of Ministers is required to carry out the general policy of the Nation, as “determined by the president” (Art. 45) and to “assist” the president on political and administrative matters. All members of the government are personally responsible to the president (Art. 38), but there is no mention of responsibility to the Chamber of People’s Representatives.
The absence of any governmental responsibility to the legislature means that one of the conditions for semi-presidentialism is not met. However, there is a clause that places Equatorial Guinea on the cusp of semi-presidentialism. Article 52 states that the prime minister “shall be chosen from within the political party that has obtained a majority of seats in the Chamber of People’s Representatives.” In theory, this means that cohabitation is constitutionally possible – though currently there is, to all intents and purposes, a one-party system and no effective opposition. Given my definition of semi-presidentialism stresses responsibility to the legislature rather than the possibility of cohabitation as a defining criterion, then I do not class Equatorial Guinea as semi-presidential. But, thanks to the wonders of constitutionalism and its almost infinite variety, the 1991 constitution of Equatorial Guinea places the country on the cusp of semi-presidentialism.