semi-­presidentialism

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Switches from and within semi-­presidentialism:

A comparative perspective

Robert Elgie

Dublin City University, Ireland


Switches from and within semi-­‐presidentialism

My starting point is that Taiwan has a semi-­‐presidential system

and is considering switching away from it

The motivation for a switch is the problem of gridlock between

the executive and the legislature and problems within the

executive between the president and the PM

My aim is to outline what we know about switches both away

from and within semi-­‐presidentialism and what this can tell us

about how to solve these problems in Taiwan


What is semi-­‐presidentialism?

Semi-­‐presidentialism is where there is a directly elected

president and a prime minister and cabinet that can be voted

out of office by the legislature

The number of semi-­‐presidential countries

1919 2

1975 5

1988 8

1993 41

2015 52


Two forms of semi-­‐presidentialism

Typically, we make a distinction within semi-­‐presidentialism

between countries where the PM and cabinet can be dismissed

both by the legislature and by the president, and those where

the PM and cabinet can be dismissed only by the legislature

Semi-­‐presidentialism

President-­‐parliamentary

cabinet dismissed both by the

president and by the

legislature

Taiwan

Premier-­‐presidential

cabinet dismissed only by the

legislature

France


Two forms of semi-­‐presidentialism

Presidentialism Semi-­‐presidentialism Parliamentarism

President-­parliamentary

Premier-­presidential

US Taiwan France Germany


Semi-­‐presidential democracies

Presidentialism Semi-­‐presidentialism Parliamentarism

President-­parliamentary

Premier-­presidential

Taiwan

(Austria)

(Iceland)

Namibia ?

Peru

Senegal

Sri Lanka ?

Tanzania ?

Many e.g.

Bulgaria

Cabo Verde

Lithuania

Mongolia

Romania

Generally we are pretty confident that, all else equal, a

president-­‐parliamentary form of semi-­‐presidentialism is a more

risky democratic choice than a premier-­‐presidential form


Switches from and within semi-­‐presidentialism

Even though many countries have chosen semi-­‐presidentialism,

very few democracies have switched away from semi-­presidentialism

More democracies have switched from one form of semi-­presidentialism

to another


Switches from and within semi-­‐presidentialism

1.) Switches away from semi-­‐presidentialism

Presidentialism Semi-­‐presidentialism Parliamentarism

President-­parliamentary

Taiwan

Premier-­presidential

Moldova 2001

There have been no switches to presidentialism

Armenia 2015 is likely to switch to parliamentarism

Turkey’s 2015 election may lead to a switch to from premier-­presidentialism

to presidentialism


Switches from and within semi-­‐presidentialism

1.) Switches away from semi-­‐presidentialism

2.) Switches within semi-­‐presidentialism

Presidentialism Semi-­‐presidentialism Parliamentarism

President-­parliamentary

Taiwan

Armenia 2005

Croatia 2000

Georgia 2013

Portugal 1982

STP 2003

Ukraine 2006/2014

Premier-­presidential

Moldova 2001

Madagascar 1995

Ukraine 2010


What was the impact of the switch?

1.) The switch from or within semi-­‐presidentialism has not

harmed democracy in some cases, even if the level of

democracy has remained very weak

Armenia, Moldova

Where it is has been problematic, it has usually been a switch

to a stronger presidency

Madagascar, Ukraine 2010

2.) The switch may have helped democracy in a few cases,

though other factors were clearly important too

Croatia, Georgia, Portugal


How does Taiwan compare?

Like other president-­‐parliamentary countries:

1.) Taiwan has a strong and active presidency with a weak PM;

2.) Taiwan avoided cohabitation (2000-­‐2008), but only because

the president preferred to govern against the legislature, rather

than appoint a PM approved by the legislature

This is reminiscent of the classic president-­‐parliamentary

scenario and is the reason why it is a risky choice for

democracy

In these respects, Taiwan looks like a standard president-­parliamentary

country with a risky form of semi-­presidentialism


What should Taiwan do?

If Taiwan has a risky president-­‐parliamentary form of semi-­presidentialism,

then the standard solution is:

1.) to take away the president’s power to dismiss the PM and

cabinet, switching Taiwan to a premier-­‐presidential form of

semi-­‐presidentialism


What should Taiwan do?

If Taiwan has a risky president-­‐parliamentary form of semi-­presidentialism,

then the solution is:

1.) to take away the president’s power to dismiss the PM and

cabinet, switching Taiwan to a premier-­‐presidential form of

semi-­‐presidentialism

There may be a worry that this switch would lead to French-­style

cohabitation and conflict within the executive between

the president and the PM

This is where the president is alone in the executive, opposing

the PM and the government

We know that cohabitation is confined almost exclusively to

premier-­‐presidential systems


What should Taiwan do?

Cohabitation under the two forms of semi-­‐presidentialism

Semi-­‐presidentialism

President-­‐parliamentary

Georgia 2012-­‐2013

STP x 4

Sri Lanka x 2

Austria x 2

Iceland x 1 since 1990

Premier-­‐presidential

Bulgaria x 4

Cabo Verde x 1

Croatia x 2

Czech Rep. x 1

Finland x 2 since 1990

France x 3

Lithuania x 2

Mongolia x 5

Poland x 8

Portugal x 4

Romania x 3

Others inc. Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia


What should Taiwan do?

If Taiwan has a risky president-­‐parliamentary form of semi-­presidentialism,

then the solution is:

1.) to take away the president’s power to dismiss the PM and

cabinet, switching Taiwan to a premier-­‐presidential form of

semi-­‐presidentialism

There may be a worry that this switch would lead to French-­style

cohabitation

If this is a worry, then the solution is:

2.) to reduce the president’s powers further still


The trend within semi-­‐presidentialism

There is a trend towards weak but directly elected presidents

Presidentialism Semi-­‐presidentialism Parliamentarism

• We have seen switches President-­‐ within semi-­‐presidentialism Premier-­‐ from a

parliamentary

Taiwan

Armenia 2005

Croatia 2000

Georgia 2013

Portugal 1982

STP 2003

Ukraine 2006/2014

Austria

Iceland

presidential

Finland

France

Poland

Czech Rep.

Slovakia


The logic of the switch

President

PM

Parliament

People

President-­‐parliamentary


The logic of the change

President PM President PM

Parliament

Parliament

People

President-­‐parliamentary

People

Premier-­‐presidential

with weak president


The logic of the change

President PM President PM

Parliament

Parliament

People

President-­‐parliamentary

People

Parliamentary


What would happen in Taiwan?

We need to bear in mind a number of issues:

1.) How generalizable are these findings?

The number of switches is small

The number of countries reducing presidential powers is small

The general finding that a president-­‐parliamentary form is risky

seems robust, but we have to be careful applying results based

on average effects to particular cases


What would happen in Taiwan?

We need to bear in mind a number of issues:

1.) How generalizable are these findings?

2.) Is there anything specific to Taiwan that might confound

these findings?

• The structure of the Taiwanese constitution is very unusual

• There are historic national issues that are not present in

other countries – the China issue

• A strong directly elected president is part of the culture

• Democracy is Taiwan has survived despite its president-­parliamentary

form of semi-­‐presidentialism


What would happen in Taiwan?

We need to bear in mind a number of issues:

1.) How generalizable are these findings?

2.) Is there anything specific to Taiwan that might confound

these findings?

3.) Any switch needs to be considered in the context of a much

bigger institutional picture

Wholesale constitutional review?

Should the legislature approve the appointment of the PM?

Should a no-­‐confidence motion against the PM be linked to the

dissolution of the legislature


What would happen in Taiwan?

We need to bear in mind a number of issues:

1.) How generalizable are these findings?

2.) Is there anything specific to Taiwan that might confound

these findings?

3.) Any switch needs to be considered in the context of a much

bigger institutional picture

4.) Be careful what you wish for

PM approval by the legislature will front load the conflict

between the executive and the legislature and could result in

the absence of a government


Maybe start with procedural rather than legislative or

constitutional reform, e.g. changes to parliamentary standing

orders, rules of cabinet procedures

Conclusion

Taiwan is unusual in that it has a president-­‐parliamentary form

of semi-­‐presidentialism and a robust democracy

There is reason to believe that countries tend to benefit from a

switch to a system with a weaker president

Any switch from Taiwan’s form of semi-­‐presidentialism should

be considered alongside other institutional reforms and should

be introduced only if it fits Taiwan’s particular circumstances

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