Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Making Presidential and Semi-Presidential Constitutions Work

Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Making Presidential and Semi-Presidential Constitutions Work

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

For many years, comparative scholarship about forms of government in general, and presidentialism in particular, has been dominated by Juan Linz's analysis of the perils of presidentialism. As we know, Juan Linz made a forceful argument that presidential institutions are not conducive to the survival of democracy.1 As a consequence, much of what has been written about forms of government from a comparative perspective has been shaped by an overwhelming preoccupation with the survival of democratic systems, particularly the new ones of Latin America (all of which were resuscitated as presidential in the 1980s and 1990s),2 Eastern Europe (where many countries chose to combine a government responsible to a legislative majority with a president who was popularly elected for a fixed term in office),3 and Africa (where presidential constitutions prevail).4 This view was boosted by empirical analyses that noted the fact that, on average, parliamentary democracies had much longer lives than presidential ones.5

Given the preoccupation with democratic survival and what was considered to be undeniable evidence that parliamentary institutions extended it, reflection on how to reform presidential systems has been characterized by one of two approaches: either the system should be abandoned and replaced with what was proved to work well, that is, parliamentarism;6 or, given that presidentialism would remain the form of government, specific features of the political system should be reformed in such a way as to circumvent the system's basic flaws, namely its propensity for conflict, legislative paralysis, and eventual breakdown.7 Those who adopted the first approach saw it as their main task to compile the problems with presidential systems and the numerous ways in which they malfunctioned in order to build a case that the solution to the problems posed by presidential institutions was the abandonment of presidentialism itself.8 Those who adopted the second approach considered the ways in which specific reforms would help minimize the dangers of presidentialism.9

Thus, for example, a constitution that granted the president strong constitutional powers would be undesirable since such powers would allow the president to usurp legislative powers and, in this way, would increase the potential for conflict with the legislature, which is inherent to presidentialism. Concurrent presidential and legislative elections, two-round presidential elections, or a combination of both would be positive features of presidential constitutions because they would reduce the number of political parties competing and obtaining representation, make legislative majorities more likely, and, allegedly, provide a more consistent base of legislative support for the president. Legislative elections organized on the basis of proportional representation, on the contrary, should not be adopted in presidential systems since they would lead to multipartism, legislative fragmentation, paralysis, and possibly regime breakdown. Finally, constitutional limits to presidential reelection would be necessary to improve presidentialism since they would prevent an all-too-powerful actor from using his institutional position to perpetuate himself in power.

This, however, no longer describes the scholarly landscape concerning comparative studies of democratic forms of government. First, perhaps due to the very scarcity of democratic breakdowns in the most recent period, there are many factors beyond democratic survival that have become the object of scholarly interest. These include work on the impact of democratic forms of government on, among other outcomes, economic policy,10 budget deficits,11 economic performance,12 cleavage management,13 ethnic conflict,14 international peace, international cooperation,16 the "quality" of democratic governance, accountability,18 and the type of public policies generated by the political system.19 A similar plethora of studies focuses on semipresidential constitutions and the different ways in which constitutional powers are more or less concentrated in the hands of the president. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.