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The semi-presidential system (referred to as semi-presidentialism) is a system of government in which a popularly elected fixed term president exists alongside a prime minister and Cabinet who are 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 purely 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.
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 is responsible for foreign policy and the prime minister for domestic policy. In this case, the division of powers between the prime minister and the president is not explicitly stated in the constitution, but has evolved as a political convention. In Finland, by contrast, this particular aspect of the separation of powers was explicitly stated in the constitution until 2000: "foreign policy is led by the president in cooperation with the cabinet".
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 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-center Assembly, Socialist President Mitterrand was forced into cohabitation with a rightist premier.
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.
Republics with a semi-presidential system of government
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde (Cabo Verde)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa)
- East Timor (Timor-Leste)
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sri Lanka
- Taiwan (Republic of China)
- Bahro, Bayerlein, and Veser, 1998.
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- Steven D. Roper. Are All Semipresidential Regimes the Same?
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- Governing Systems and Executive-Legislative Relations. (Presidential, Parliamentary and Hybrid Systems), United Nations Development Program (n.d.).
- Blog of Robert Elgie