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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

Semi presidential systems and semi constitutional monarchies: A historical assessment of executive power-sharing

Comparative Politics
Political Leadership
Carsten Anckar
Åbo Akademi
Carsten Anckar
Åbo Akademi

There is far from any consensus regarding how semi presidentialism should be defined and some authors even reject the concept altogether. A minimal definition of semi presidentialism stipulates that executive powers are shared by a president and a prime minister, who is responsible to parliament. Most authors also add the requirement that the president is popularly elected, directly or indirectly. In the present contribution we argue that the popular election of the head of state should not be regarded as a necessary criterion of semi presidentialism and that a central element in distinguishing between semi presidential and parliamentary systems is that the president is in possession of important powers in the executive sphere. Furthermore, in a number of democratic systems, with a monarch as head of state, the monarch has more or less the same position as a president in a semipresidential system. These systems bear more resemblance to semipresidential systems than to parliamentary ones and therefore the label semi constitutional monarchy is used to denote them. Since there is no place for a powerful hereditary monarch in a democratic system it is not surprising that the number of semi constitutional monarchies has been quite limited in the world. Generally, they have existed for short periods of time in former monarchies immediately after the countries in question have surpassed the threshold of democracy, for instance in Italy 1919-1921, Yugoslavia 1921-1928, and Sweden 1911-1916. Currently, Liechtenstein and Monaco fall within this category. Based on a newly created database on political regimes the present contribution identifies all systems which meet the requirements of semi presidentialism and semi constitutional monarchy during the time period 1800-2015. The results show that historically, executive power sharing has been widely more common than generally acknowledged.
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