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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.
While the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) was the one of the earliest examples of a semi-presidential system, the term was first used in a 1978 work by political scientist Maurice Duverger to describe the then relatively-new French Fifth Republic, which he dubbed a régime semi-présidentiel.
There are two separate subtypes of semi-presidentialism: premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism. Under premier-presidentialism, the prime minister and cabinet are exclusively accountable to the assembly majority, where the assembly chooses the prime minister and cabinet and remove them from office with a vote of no confidence. This subtype is used in France, Mali, Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Mongolia, Macedonia, Lithuania, Niger, Bulgaria, Madagascar, and Ukraine after 2005.
Under president-parliamentarism, the prime minister and cabinet are dually accountable to the president and the assembly majority, where the president chooses the prime minister and the cabinet but must have the confirmation of the assembly. To remove a prime minister or the cabinet the president can dismiss either or the assembly can remove them via a vote of no confidence. This form of semi-presidentialism is much closer to pure presidentialism. This subtype is used in Namibia, Mozambique, Armenia, Peru, Taiwan, Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine between 1996-2005. It was used in Germany during the Weimar Republic.
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-centre 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.
- See article 5, title II, of the French Constitution of 1958. Jean Massot, QUELLE PLACE LA CONSTITUTION DE 1958 ACCORDE-T-ELLE AU PRESIDENT DE LA REPUBLIQUE ?, Constitutional Council of France website
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- Blog of Robert Elgie