By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Summarize the structure of semi-presidential regimes.
- Explain how semi-presidential regimes differ from presidential and parliamentary regimes.
- Outline the apparent connection between the various democratic regimes and freedom.
A third type of system is semi-presidentialism. While a semi-presidential country can be democratic (for example, Austria, Iceland, and Poland), many semi-presidential countries are not democratic (for example, Rwanda and Syria). This section briefly defines semi-presidentialism and some of its basic characteristics and then examines the connection between governmental systems and political freedom.
Defining Semi-Presidential Regimes
Semi-presidential regimes can be viewed as a hybrid, sitting between parliamentary and presidential regimes. Even though they are ill defined, it is possible to can make some general observations. Basically, in semi-presidential regimes power is divided between the prime minister and the president, with both executives having political power. Typically, each executive’s respective powers are clearly defined, but that is not always the case. As in presidential regimes, in semi-presidential regimes the people directly elect the president. Unlike in parliamentary regimes, however, the president usually appoints the prime minister. Once appointed, the prime minister must gain a majority in the parliament. If there is already a majority present, the president must simply select the leader of the majority party, regardless of whether the individual is of the same party as the president. That means the president could be of one party and the prime minister of a different party. This has happened in France. They referred to it as “cohabitation.”
Semi-Presidential Regimes and the Connection to Freedom
Semi-presidential regimes appear to be less free than parliamentary or presidential regimes. Correspondingly, they appear to give greater opportunity for authoritarian rule to emerge. Russia and Vladimir Putin is the best contemporary example of authoritarian rule in a semi-presidential regime. Nevertheless, there is considerable variation among semi-presidential countries. Freedom House gives France, which also has a semi-presidential regime, a high global freedom score of 90. It is interesting to see the association between regime type and countries’ Freedom House scores.52 The global freedom score goes from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating greater freedom. See Figure 10.9.
Freedom House also categorizes countries as not free, partly free, or free. Eighty percent of parliamentary countries are categorized as free, while only 39 percent of presidential regimes and 38 percent of semi-presidential regimes are categorized as free. See Figure 10.10.
Another way of thinking about the data is to examine only those countries rated as “not free.” Nineteen countries are defined as not free. Of those 19 countries categorized “not free,” only one is parliamentary (Thailand), three are presidential (Burundi, Nicaragua, and Venezuela), and the remaining 15 are semi-presidential.
Finally, an intriguing picture emerges as one moves from parliamentary regimes to semi-presidential ones. As shown in the scatter plot below, scores for parliamentary countries are much more concentrated (i.e., less dispersed) as well as located toward the top of freedom scale, while semi-presidential regimes are dispersed all along the scale. Indeed, the lowest score for a parliamentary regime is 30 (Thailand). For semi-presidential regimes, 10 countries fall below the score of 30, with one of those countries earning a score of 1 (Syria). The three presidential countries that fall below 30 are noted above (Burundi, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). See Figure 10.11.