A semi-presidential system or dual executive system is a system of government in which a president exists alongside a prime minister and a cabinet, with the latter being responsible to the legislature of a state. It differs from a parliamentary republic in that it has a popularly elected head of state, who is more than a mostly ceremonial figurehead, and from the presidential system in that the cabinet, although named by the president, is responsible to the legislature, which may force the cabinet to resign through a motion of no confidence.
While the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) exemplified an early semi-presidential system, the term "semi-presidential" was introduced by a 1959 article by journalist Hubert Beuve-Méry and popularized by a 1978 work by political scientist Maurice Duverger, both of which intended to describe the French Fifth Republic (established in 1958).
There are two separate subtypes of semi-presidentialism: premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism.
Under the premier-presidential system, the prime minister and cabinet are exclusively accountable to parliament. The president may choose the prime minister and cabinet, but only the parliament may approve them and remove them from office with a vote of no confidence. This system is much closer to pure parliamentarism. This subtype is used in Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, East Timor, Lithuania, Madagascar, Mali, Mongolia, Niger, Poland, Romania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sri Lanka and Ukraine (since 2014; previously, between 2006 and 2010).
Under the president-parliamentary system, the prime minister and cabinet are dually accountable to the president and the parliament. The president chooses the prime minister and the cabinet but must have the support of a parliamentary majority for his choice. In order to remove a prime minister or the whole cabinet from power, the president can dismiss them, or the parliament can remove them by a vote of no confidence. This form of semi-presidentialism is much closer to pure presidentialism. It is used in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Namibia, Portugal, Russia, Senegal and Taiwan. It was also used in Ukraine, first between 1996 and 2005, and again from 2010 to 2014, Georgia between 2004 and 2013, and in Germany during the Weimarer Republik (Weimar Republic), as the constitutional regime between 1919 and 1933 is called unofficially.
Division of powers
The powers that are divided between president and prime minister can vary greatly between countries.
In France, for example, in case of cohabitation, when the president and the prime minister come from opposing parties, the president oversees foreign policy and defense policy (these are generally called les prérogatives présidentielles (the presidential prerogatives) and the prime minister domestic policy and economic policy. In this case, the division of responsibilities between the prime minister and the president is not explicitly stated in the constitution, but has evolved as a political convention based on the constitutional principle that the prime minister is appointed (with the subsequent approval of a parliament majority) and dismissed by the president. On the other hand, whenever the president is from the same party as the prime minister who leads the conseil de gouvernement (cabinet), he/she often (if not usually) exercises de facto control over all fields of policy via the prime minister. It is up to the president to decide how much "autonomy" is left to "their" prime minister to act on their own.
Semi-presidential systems may sometimes experience periods in which the president and the prime minister are from differing political parties. This is called "cohabitation", a term which originated in France when the situation first arose in the 1980s. Cohabitation can create an effective system of checks and balances or a period of bitter and tense stonewalling, depending on the attitudes of the two leaders, the ideologies of themselves or their parties, or the demands of their constituencies.
In most cases, cohabitation results from a system in which the two executives are not elected at the same time or for the same term. For example, in 1981, France elected both a Socialist president and legislature, which yielded a Socialist premier. But whereas the president's term of office was for seven years, the National Assembly only served for five. When, in the 1986 legislative election, the French people elected a right-of-centre assembly, Socialist President Mitterrand was forced into cohabitation with right wing premier Jacques Chirac.
However, in 2000, amendments to the French constitution reduced the length of the French president's term from seven to five years. This has significantly lowered the chances of cohabitation occurring, as parliamentary and presidential elections may now be conducted within a shorter span of each other.
Advantages and disadvantages
The incorporation of elements from both presidential and parliamentary republics brings some advantageous elements along with them but, however, it also faces disadvantages related to the confusion from mixed authority patterns.
- Providing cover for the president — it can shield the president from criticism and the unpopular policies can be blamed on the prime minister as the latter runs the day-to-day operations of the government and carrying out the national policy set forth by the president, who is the head of state that is focusing on being the national leader of a state and in arbitrating the efficiency of government authorities, etc.;
- Ability to remove an unpopular prime minister and maintain stability from the president's fixed term — the parliament has power to remove an unpopular prime minister;
- Additional checks and balances — while the president can dismiss the prime minister in many semi-presidential systems, in most of the semi-presidential systems important segments of bureaucracy are taken away from the president.
- Confusion about accountability — parliamentary systems give voters a relatively clear sense of who is responsible for policy successes and failures; presidential systems make this more difficult, particularly when there is divided government. Semi-presidential systems add another layer of complexity for voters;
- Confusion and inefficiency in legislative process — the capacity of votes of confidence makes the prime minister responsible to the parliament.
Republics with a semi-presidential system of government
In semi-presidential systems, there is always both a president and a prime minister. In such systems, the president has genuine executive authority, unlike in a parliamentary republic, but the role of a head of government may be exercised by the prime minister. Italics indicate states with limited recognition. † indicate historic states, that is, those that no longer exist.
The parliament chooses the prime minister and cabinet, and only the parliament may remove them from office with a vote of no confidence. The president usually does not have the power to directly dismiss the prime minister or cabinet.
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Congo, Democratic Republic of the
- East Timor
- Northern Cyprus
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sri Lanka
The president chooses the prime minister without the confidence vote from the parliament. In order to remove a prime minister or the whole cabinet from power, the president can dismiss them or the parliament can remove them by a vote of no confidence, but the president can dissolve the parliament.
- Congo, Republic of the
- South Ossetia
- Republic of China (Taiwan)
- Weimar Republic†