Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Semipresidentialism in Ukraine: Institutionalist Centrism in Rampant Clan Politics (1)

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Semipresidentialism in Ukraine: Institutionalist Centrism in Rampant Clan Politics (1)

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay argues that Ukraine chose semipresidentialism because it has much common with the previous communist system of government which divided state functions into political and managerial. Moreover, semipresidentialism fits the clientalistic characteristics of post-Soviet politics since the president can use his prerogative to appoint and dismiss prime ministers to manipulate between various clans. On the other hand, harsh struggles between clans in Ukrainian politics often create a vacuum of initiatives, in which centrists motivated by the logic of institutions and relatively independent from clans' interests play an important role. This is the reason why Ukrainian politics have overcome repeated attempts to shift to a more authoritarian regimes, be it pure presidentialism or parliamentary oligarchy.

Key words: clientalism, constitution, Leonid Kuchma, semipresidentialism, Ukraine

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The collapse of communist regimes provoked scholarly interest in semipresidentialism. Among almost thirty countries emerging from the former socialist camp, only five (the new Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, and Estonia) chose parliamentary systems, while the other countries chose semipresidential systems. (2) Remarkably, none of the former socialist countries has developed a pure presidential system, unless we count the unrecognized state of Pridnestr.

Semipresidentialism is a system in which the president is elected through popular vote, directly or indirectly, but does not form executive organs personally; instead he appoints the prime minister with the confirmation of the parliament. Maurice Duverger proposed the concept of semipresidentialism in 1970, but it took more than ten years for it to be widely accepted as a category of political regimes. There were influential arguments opposing this concept. First, scholars often regarded semipresidentialism as an eclectic form of government between parliamentarism and pure presidentialism, rather than as an independent category of political regimes. Second, semipresidentialism seemed to be an excessively overreaching category covering strong presidential regimes, such as the French Fifth Republic at its beginning and regimes such as the Austrian and recent Finnish, in which presidents only play symbolic roles. This conceptual ambiguity has become even more extreme because of the "expansion" of semipresidentialism to postsocialist countries. Is a concept functional at all if it covers political regimes from Austria to Belarus to Kazakhstan?

Political scientists tried to respond to this problem in two diametrically different ways. A group of political scientists, represented by Robert Elgie, "purified" the concept of semipresidentialism to indicate the procedure to form the government (or appoint the prime minister), irrespective of the strength of the president (Elgie 1999). In contrast, Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey paid attention to the distribution of power between the president, prime minister, and parliament, and classified the political regimes that had been named "semipresidential" into two groups: president-parliamentary (3) and premier-presidential. In the president-parliamentary regimes, the president has decisive power to form the government, whereas in the premier-presidential regimes this power belongs to the parliament (Shugart and Carey 1992).

In my view, the concepts of president-parliamentary and premier-presidential regimes are subcategories of semipresidentialism, rather than ones to replace it. Although there are constitutional differences between presidentialism, parliamentarism, and semipresidentialism, the border between the president-parliamentary and premier-presidential regimes is quite crossable. A regime can alternate between president-parliamentary and premier-presidential through political practices, without any constitutional change. This implies that the overreaching characteristics of the concept of semipresidentialism, covering various political regimes from symbolical to super-presidentialism, can be regarded as its merit. …

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