Select Page

This work, entitled Presidential and Semi-Presidential Systems in Comparison, seeks to draw a comparison between the popular presidential and semi-presidential state systems. The author illustrates some major differences and weaknesses of these regimes, seeks to ascertain why these systems have been created and, with this, undertakes a comparison between them. It must be noted that this essay includes a large amount of information, which is why the author has relied upon a limited number of sources (the essay is not as large as for a diploma).

The author has drawn inspiration from a bibliography which is very specialised and informative. The authors referred to are among the most frequently cited regarding the topic of presidential or semi-presidential systems. However, the author did not discover a single book focussing solely on a comparison between presidential and semi-presidential systems including basic information concerning why and how they were created as such. For this reason, the essay may be of particular use for the future work of other students, professors or scholars.

Firstly, we will draw upon the books of John M. Carey and Matthew Søberg Shugart which excellently written books for aiding in understanding of presidential and semi-presidential systems. Secondly, through the authors Gianluca Passarelli and Vitalino Canas we will focus on why the relevant states were created, for what purpose and how. Finally, I could not have written this essay without my former professor Michal Kubát and his work with Ladislav Cabada, Michal Kubát, eds., Introduction to Political Science, 2nd edition in which the authors did not leave us short with numerous quotes from writers on this comparison.

In the opening chapters, we are acquainted with the introduction of presidential and semi-presidential systems and basic information concerning them, such as when they were created, which actors they involved, and what kind of structure each system has. Furthermore, we are going to explore in which states these systems can be found, and which one appears to be more favourable for society as a whole. Finally, we will come to understand what must be fulfilled by the president or other leader or the state, as well as understanding which types of government are used in each system, and what powers can be found in a semi-presidential system. Finally, the author will illustrate and explain to us, that what appears on paper may not reflect real life actualities, especially where presidential or semi-presidential systems are concerned. At the end of this work we find ourselves able to compare these two apparently similar, but actually very different, systems.

2. 0. Political regime

Firstly, we have to understand what is meant by ¨regime¨. A political regime can be understood as a normative subsystem of a political system, including all  kinds of values such as systematic principles and structural, formal and informal rules of political games, which are in use among politicians. Politicians focus on political norms, which include norms of political behaviour such as prohibition, order and permission. Political norms are: the execution of political responsibility, the division of power, the structure of the highest organs of state power and organisation of political rivalry and the means to gaining political power. There are three different types of state regime: parliamentary, presidential and semi- presidential regimes.

2. 1. Presidential system

In the history of the 20th century, there were basically two types of regimes: namely, the parliamentary and presidential regimes. This changed under the influences of sociology and increasing political enfranchisement of the people. Presidential systems: ,,… allow voters maximum discretion over the composition of the executive and legislative branches of government …”.

Presidential government is divided differently across the state powers. Each organ is based on the principle of competition as checks and balances. Under this regime, the President is the chief of the executive, but at the same time he cannot be involved in any legislative decisions. He has authority to make policy proposals as the Head of State and leader of the government within a limited time period.

The President has higher substantial powers than the ministries. Executive power is separated from the legislative and judicial powers. This means that administrative members in the legislative areas are powerful, but they do not command any executive tools. In the presidential system, we have distinct elections (including the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates), elected separately for a fixed term.

The President appoints members of government and administrative members whose support and assist him. He does not attend parliament which is not accountable to him. He can also veto any laws he wishes to. The President is elected from directly from the people to the state, or indirectly from administrative members. The Head of State take his seat after general elections and takes his place alongside parliament as the representative of the people. Under the presidential system, voters have maximum discretion regarding the legislative and executive organs of the government. The President cannot dissolve the parliament or manage parliamentary meetings. On the other hand, he does have got the authority to introduce legislation and call for action on proposals.

The Supreme Court, and also the Supreme Court of Appeal, adjudicates matters concerning the constitution. The highest judges are appointed by the President with the approval of parliament. Presidential regimes can lead to a crisis during some conflicts or during negotiation with legislative opponents. Furthermore, this regime does not tend towards government stability. For example, in the USA, the presidential system is different from its European counterparts. This owing to the fact that the USA adopted a system in which its institutional peak closely resembles the monarchical system. All of this arose because of hatred of colonial power, rather than of monarchical institutions.

Checks and balances set to divide mutual powers between the legislative, executive and judicial functions. In practice, this means that the President needs approval from parliament for his decisions. On the other hand, parliament depends on the President to propose laws. There are different political parties within states (for example in South America), in which the President can be distinct from the majority of parliament (as is current regarding President Obama in U.S., and his Republican opponents). The President has to find support from within his own party, in cases where the President is at loggerheads with opposing opinions. The presidential regime tends most towards a breakdown of democracy.

On the other hand, there is more sharing of GPD provide under a parliamentary, as opposed to a presidential, system. A new presidential system, the Third Wave, in states which are newly democratic or regimes associated with democracies, saw countries adopt direct election owing to institutional instability in parliamentary systems in recent decades. The presidential systems are characteristic of Latin America states such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and  most importantly, the United States of America. Latin America has a strong presidential tradition, having the oldest states to employ this form of government.

2. 2. The Semi-Presidential System

The semi-presidential system was born without deliberation, and has taken hold in many significant countries. The semi-presidential concept is a new one, that can be regarded as a mixture of parliamentary and presidential principles. The typical attribute of a semi-residential system is that the elected President is accountable to parliament. The leading player is the President, who is elected in general and indirect elections.

The semi-presidential system became well-known as a corrupted or simpler system with the same framework as of pre-existing systems or completely different systems from others. Latterly it has come to be known in its own right as a distinct, semi-presidential system.  The regime encompasses positive and negative powers. Positive powers include legislative acts (the dissolution of Parliament, the appointment of civil convening of general elections, …) and negative powers, such as rejecting the will of another body, the refusal to ratify international conventions or the refusal of parliamentary ratification, and many others.

Semi-presidential regimes works on the principles that the elected President must cooperate with the Prime Minister, who is accountable to the Parliament. The President is the Head of State and leader of the executive, but he has to divide his power with the Prime Minister and the government in terms of executive power. The most important principle concerns the relationship is between the Head of State, the Government and parliament: ,, … no body can enjoy less legitimacy than another …”.

In 1980 seven new Semi-Presidential regimes were created in Africa or Lithuania or Bulgaria. Many of the  newly created states, especially in Africa, are mixed or compromised models that maintain stable leadership and institute democratic principles. Some states have adopted presidential regimes because of a lack of monarchical systems, while others accepted semi-presidential systems because of a lack of democratic principles. After all, each regime has arisen in the wake of long periods of dictatorship and absence of democratic principles, or the other way around.

Institutions and political policy changes depends upon who is the chief of the semi-presidential regime. Cohabitation of the President and the Prime Minister affects the governmental function. Characteristics of semi-presidential systems include that the president appoints the Prime Minister and ministers, but the government leads responsibility over the parliament. The President does not bear responsibility for the parliament and he cannot dissolve it. The semi-presidential regime is a “two headed executive” differing from the “one headed executive”, which is characteristic of a presidential regime. However, if the President has obtained a majority in the parliament then he may acts like the President in a presidential regime.

In practice, the President may be seen as the deciding person, whereas the Prime Minister is the creator. The President is the most important in the semi-presidential regime, because he makes decisions concerning laws. The Council of Ministers use executive power in a semi-presidential system. Today, the state is more politically harmonious than historically, in which it was all about individuals. The semi-presidential concept is one which, on paper, is inchoate. One only has to look at Austria as an example, where, according to law, the President is very powerful, but in actuality has only limited power. On the other hand, we have France, where laws limit presidential power, but the President is the dominant political actor.

Last but not least, it is important to contrast situations in which the president and the prime minister belong to one and same party, or belong to two different ones. We have to bear in mind that both the President and the Prime Minister come from direct or general elections. In the first case, called ,,cohabitation”, the President emerges as the major power, and the division of labour in executive power favours the President, because the President and the Prime Minister are from same party and have the same outlook. In the second, they are from different parties and if the President has a minority of support in the parliament, then the Prime Minister becomes more powerful than the President (after all, he focuses on foreign affairs issues and social security).

3. 0. Conclusion

We have discovered that rivalry among political parties has to pertain in order for a state to function. We have to have parliament based on different opinions from administrative members drawn from the electorate. If the President is the leader of the strongest political party in the system, he becomes very powerful. Additionally, we know that the mechanism of functions of the semi-presidential system is not strictly according to constitutional law, as it is based on political circumstances and is younger than the Presidential regime, being a new concept that is formed of a mix of principles of parliamentarism and presidential systems. Semi-presidential systems differ significantly from each other in that they depend on actual political circumstances, while a presidential system works according to which political side is stronger (for example in the United States, where the current President, Barack Obama is a Democrat while all of the administrative members of the congress are from the Republican party: that is why he has not full power in deciding as he would have if all of Congress was comprised of administrative members of the Democratic party).

In both regimes, the president is elected directly (in Semi-presidential regime also indirectly). In a presidential regime, the deciding actor is typically the President, while in the semi-presidential regime, it is usually the Prime Minister (if the assembly is aligned with the President, then the deciding actor is the President). There are positive powers such as legislative acts and negative powers such as rejecting the will of another body in that political system.

In both regimes, checks and balances are used as an important tool for the balancing of power between organs of the state. We have found that newer or older regimes based on the presidential or semi-presidential systems have been arisen from the experiences of society. Where there were no democratic principles, the semi-presidential system has taken hold, and where was a lack of monarchy, the Presidential system has been created on the basis of a hierarchy of institutions. People always emerge from their societal experiences as a whole, and then want to adopt something they have never experienced. Finally, they are seeking to put it together and create a whole picture. As we see in new Africa states, they are mixed models that maintain stability in leadership and implement democratic ideas as new principles.

4. 0. Bibliography

  1. Gianluca Passarelli, “The Government in two Semi-Presidential systems: France and Portugal in a comparative perspective” (21st World Congress of Political Science, IPSA – AISP, Santiago, Chile, July 12-16, 2009), 25.
  2. John M. Carey and Matthew Søberg Shugart, Executive Decree Authority (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 91-117.
  3. Ladislav Cabada, Michal Kubát, Introduction to Political Science, 2nd edition (Prague: Eurolex Bohemia, 2004), 494.
  4. Matthew Søberg Shugart, Semi-Presidential Systems / Dual Executive and Mixed Authority Patterns (Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies University of California, San Diego, 2005), 21.
  5. Šárka Brabcová, “Positive and Negative Aspects of the Selected Forms of Government – Parliamentary Republic vs. Presidential Republic – Comparative Analysis” (Magister diss., Charles University in Prague, 2010), 81.
  6. Vitalino Canas, ”The semi-presidential system”, Heidelberg Journal of International Law 64 (2004): 121.

5. 0. Apendix

Appendix A: Featured Image: Penn State: Brazil Argentina and world flags ,,“ (downloaded 21. 06. 2016