The Center for Constitutional Transitions

Semi-Presidential Government in the Post-Authoritarian Context

By Richard Stacey and Sujit Choudhry

The semi-presidential system is a form of government in which a directly elected president shares executive power with a prime minister and government appointed by, and serving with the continuing confidence of, a democratically elected legislature. The system is characterized by two sites of executive power, each with a separate electoral mandate. Semi-presidentialism offers a middle ground between “pure” presidential and “pure” parliamentary systems of government. The dual executive structure of the model is a move away from a purely presidential system of government. At the same time, political conditions in democracies emerging from authoritarianism may not be ripe for parliamentary government, especially if party structures are weak and parties have little experience with true electoral and parliamentary democracy. A dual executive structure, therefore, might be especially attractive to new or transitioning democracies. This Working Paper considers the options available for structuring the semi-presidential system under three headings: constitutional architecture; the distribution of executive powers; and security and emergency powers.

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About the Working Paper Series

This Working Paper is part of the series “Meeting the Challenges of Emerging Constitutional Democracy”, focusing on specific challenges that confront constitution-makers in new democracies. The Working Papers are intended primarily as a resource for practitioners working in the field in countries undergoing constitutional transition and in new democracies where efforts are being made to consolidate the transition to democracy. The four substantive papers in the series consider constitutional mechanisms to protect of minority rights in culturally diverse societies, whether meaningful electoral democracy can be achieved without a political party system, the advantages and dangers of semi-presidential government in the post-authoritarian context, and the creation of constituent or sub-national territorial units in federal systems. The last of these papers is supplemented by two data-rich annexes and a shorter “practitioners manual”.

About the Center

Constitutional Transitions generates and mobilizes knowledge in support of constitution building. Constitutional Transitions generates knowledge by identifying issues of critical importance to the success of constitutional transitions, where a lack of adequate, up-to-date research impedes the effectiveness of technical assistance for constitution building, and assembles and leads international networks of experts to complete thematic research projects that offer evidence-based policy options to practitioners. Constitutional Transitions mobilizes knowledge through an innovative clinical program that provides “back office” research support to constitutional advisors in the field, and deploys faculty experts and field researchers for support on the ground. We meet existing field missions’ needs for comprehensive research, dramatically enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency in their role as policy advisors and actors.