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March 23, 2008

The semi-presidential solution?

This is not directly related to law and development, but I've been struck in recent months at how semi-presidentialism has been deployed to defuse three different potential hot-spots.  First, Russia's constitutional order no doubt endured because Putin could step down to the previously weak post of Prime Minister and ensure his lackey Medvedev won the presidential election earlier this month.  Most observers think that the informal power of Putin will allow him to exercise real control, notwithstanding the constitutional strength of the presidency, but Medvedev is a young man and may grow into his own skin in the office.  If so, the possibility of semi-presidentialism will have allowed Putin to exit gracefully.  Of course, it is also possible that Putin will remain Prime Minister for life, as the office is not subject to the term limits of the presidency.

A second hotspot was Pakistan.  Musharraf's assumption of the presidency was incredibly controversial, but with the designation of a prime minister from Bhutto's PPP, it is clear that effective power will not reside with the president.  Musharraf was allowed to save face by taking the presidency.

Third, Kenya's violence was defused with a political deal to reform the constitution and create a powerful prime ministership for Odinga, the loser in a disputed contest with incument Kibaki.  In this case, the negotiations over the details have been deferred,so it is not yet clear whether the semi-presidential "solution" will take.  But at least the negotiations are taking place in the drafting room rather than the streets.

All this is consistent with one of the critiques of "pure" presidentialism, and a corresponding advantage of semi-presidentialism.  Pure presidentialism is seen as encouraging winner take all politics.  Dual executives allow the splitting of the political baby, even if the result can be gridlock.


March 23, 2008 | Permalink


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