Margit Tavits – Presidents with PMs

A fuller list of new semi-presidential-related publications will be posted in the near future. In the meantime, though, it is worth signalling a new book that is just out. It is by Margit Tavits, Presidents with Prime Ministers. Do Direct Elections Matter?, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

This is a provocative work. She uses quantitative and qualitative analysis to show that, contrary to common-sense expectations, direct election does not account for variation in presidential power across (mainly) Europe. Instead, presidential power varies more as a function of the party political opportunity structure.

In one sense, this book could be read and was perhaps intended as a critique of semi-presidentialism. However, I think of it more as a critique of naive views of semi-presidentialism. If this blog has an aim, then it is to dispel the idea that semi-presidential countries all operate in the same way – probably like France or Poland. Instead, semi-presidentialism provides a framework within which presidential power varies considerably.

Viewed this way, Tavits’ argument is quite consistent with the logic of this blog. Directly electing a president does not ensure a powerful president, or even a president with quite considerable powers – remember I live in Ireland, so I aware of this situation every day. Whether a president is powerful, quite powerful, not at all powerful etc. is not (or should not be) implied by the term ‘semi-presidential’. Semi-presidentialism is a constitutional framework within which presidential power varies as a function precisely of the factors Tavits identifies.

If I find reviews of the book in academic journals, then I will post the references to them.

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