Semi-Presidential Government in the Post-Authoritarian Context

“Semi-Presidential Government in the Post-Authoritarian Context”, The Center for Constitutional Transitions Meeting the Challenges of Emerging Constitutional Democracy Working Paper Series (with R. Stacey) (2014).

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The semi-presidential system is a form of government in which a directly elected president shares executive power with a prime minister and government appointed by, and serving with the continuing confidence of, a democratically elected legislature. The system is characterized by two sites of executive power, each with a separate electoral mandate. Semi-presidentialism offers a middle ground between “pure” presidential and “pure” parliamentary systems of government. The dual executive structure of the model is a move away from a purely presidential system of government. At the same time, political conditions in democracies emerging from authoritarianism may not be ripe for parliamentary government, especially if party structures are weak and parties have little experience with true electoral and parliamentary democracy. A dual executive structure, therefore, might be especially attractive to new or transitioning democracies. The influence of a country’s historical experience can further influence its choice of post-authoritarian system. Where semi-presidential government precedes the transition to democracy, there is a likelihood that semi-presidential government will emerge after the transition. Historical bias towards a system with which people are familiar may lead to greater support for that system over any other. The architects of a post-authoritarian semi-presidential system have an opportunity to learn from the experiences of authoritarian government under the previous semi-presidential system, and design a system that guards against these risks. This Working Paper considers the options available for structuring the semi-presidential system under three headings: constitutional architecture; the distribution of executive powers; and security and emergency powers.