Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Government Systems, Party Politics, and Institutional Engineering in the Round

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Government Systems, Party Politics, and Institutional Engineering in the Round

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT Countries often debate the issue of constitutional reform. Typically, such debates focus on whether a country should have a presidential, semi-presidential, or parliamentary system of government. The advantages and disadvantages of each of these systems are now very well-known. However, it is important to move beyond the simple headline debate about the respective pros and cons of each system. This is because the operation of all three systems of government is conditioned by both the party political context in which they operate and the specific powers that are given to actors in the executive and legislative branch of government. This means that when considering constitutional reform, it is important to think about the specific context in which the reform will be introduced and the totality of changes that are being considered.

Debating Institutional Reform

There are three main government systems--presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary. Over the years, many countries have debated switching from one system to another and some have actually decided to make the change. The move from a parliamentary to a semi-presidential system under President Charles de Gaulle in France is well known. Turkey's more recent shift from a parliamentary system to the direct election of the president and a semi-presidential system is also very familiar. Most recently, in December 2015, Armenia voted to change from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary system after the next electoral cycle in 2017-2018. There are well-known arguments both for and against each of the three main government systems. This article places these arguments in context. It begins by defining the three systems in a way that allows them to be identified unambiguously. It then suggests that it is necessary to go beyond simple and well-worn arguments about the pros and cons of individual systems. Instead, it makes the point that the effects of such systems are conditioned by the interaction of party politics and specific institutional rules. This means that decision makers should focus less on the headline debate about the shift from one government system to another and think more about both the party political context in which such a change would be introduced, and the effects of the more detailed institutional reforms that usually accompany the system-level switch.

The Three Main Government Systems

The three common types of government systems can be distinguished on the basis of the combination of two different constitutional rules: i) whether the head of state is directly elected; and ii) whether the government or cabinet is collectively responsible to the legislature. In presidential systems, the head of state--the president--is directly elected, and the cabinet is not collectively responsible to the legislature. In parliamentary systems, the head of state--who can be either a monarch in a parliamentary monarchy, or a president in a parliamentary republic--is not directly elected, but the cabinet is collectively responsible to parliament. In semi-presidential systems, the president is directly elected and the cabinet is collectively responsible. The fourth possible combination--an assembly-independent system where the president is not directly elected and where the government is not collectively responsible--can be found only in Switzerland. For the purposes of this article, it can be left to one side.

This simple taxonomic combination is sufficient to distinguish between the three main types of government systems. Typically, though, two additional constitutional rules are ascribed to them as well. The first concerns the term of the president. Under presidential and semi-presidential systems, presidents serve for a fixed term of office and can be dismissed mid-term only through a process of impeachment. The second rule relates to the term of the legislature. Under presidential systems the legislature serves for a fixed term and cannot be dissolved by the president. …

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