ECPR General Conference, Prague
Panel P429: The Relationship between Heads of State and Prime Ministers
Executive power in Central and Eastern Europe in comparative perspective
Draft. Please do not cite or distribute without permission of the author.
This paper focuses on intra-executive relations in Central and Eastern Europe with particular focus on
the political systems with indirectly elected presidents. The purpose of the paper is to explore which
executive competencies are crucial in challenging legal framework, in what type of political system
those could be found (whether in parliamentary or semi-presidential as it is generally expected) and if
they are rather diminishing over time by building the constitutional tradition.
Parliamentary and semi-presidential systems in CEE
After fall of the communist regime in Central and Eastern Europe new political and economic
institutions have been formed to secure conditions for successful transition and regime consolidation.
The framework for securing democratic and free rules of the game were new constitutions (Sartori
2001). Introducing new constitutions started also the discussion about the character of the executive
branch and its relation to the other political institutions. There was a fear of concentration of the
power within one branch of the government (Tӑnӑsescu: 2008). Particular attention was dedicated to
the presidential office. It was also due to the fact that in many communist countries the office of the
president was held by a collective organ.
Thus, besides the question of the right balance of power within the state there was a question of the
right power balance within the executive. Many countries decided to introduce direct elections for
presidential office2. Thus, the authors of the constitutions did attribute dual source of legitimacy to the
executive. They did not create pure parliamentary systems, but so-called semi-presidential or mixed
political systems (Elgie 2006, 2011, Roper 2002). And these were in focus of many political scientists.
1 PhD student, Comenius University in Bratislava, Faculty of Arts; Mail: [email protected]
2 Bulgaria and Croatia held their first presidential election by popular vote in 1992 (in 1990 Zhelyu Zhelev in Bulgaria and
Franjo Tuđman in Croatia were elected by the parliament), Lithuania in 1993, Poland in 1990, Romania in 1990 and Slovenia
Mixed political systems were interesting especially because of directly elected president who shares
executive power with the government. Studies dealing with the concept of semi-presidentialism
usually depart from the definition of Maurice Duverger. As Duverger himself stated (1980) this “new”
type of political system should have three basic characteristics: the president is elected, has
considerable powers and shares his or her executive responsibilities with prime minister who is
responsible to the parliament.
Going deeply into this terminology and its critiques (Shugart and Carey 1992) is beyond the scope of
this paper. However, the biggest problem that is mentioned and further developed with this
terminology is the president and his or her powers. The key Duverger´s characteristic of the semi-
presidential system which are “considerable constitutional powers” of the president is often marked
as problematic (Elgie 1999, Pasquino 1997) because of the methodological difficulties. Firstly, there is
no agreement on which competences are “considerable” or more important (Kubát 2003). Secondly,
powers of presidents and prime ministers differ among the countries. So the concept of “relatively
strong president” could differ (Siaroff 2003: 292) and so many scales of measuring presidential powers
have been developed so far3.
Even if the concept semi-presidentialism is widely used by western political scientists (Roper 2002),
this definition is not really welcomed for the comparative analysis in Central and Eastern Europe
(Brunclík and Novák 2008). Political scientists speak rather of “different understanding of semi-
presidentialism” in Central Europe and in Anglo-Saxon literature. (Brunclík and Kubát 2014: 124). The
main argument of not preferring this term is to understand the real powers of the presidents and to
see how these powers are used (Hloušek 2013). Being aware of this fact in this paper is preferred to
use terminology political system with directly elected or indirectly elected president instead of using
semi-presidentialism and parliamentary regime.
Even if there is no full agreement about the wording, political systems with directly elected presidents
dwelled the attention because of two independent sources of legitimacy within executive. It has been
argued that these could cause conflict or vice-versa, they could also promote cooperation. According
to Pasquino (1997) the political competition among prime minister and president is not inevitable
feature of semi-presidential system and it is present only occasionally and in case if they belong to
different political parties. However, this assumption does not apply universally. Linz (1990) on the
3 Shugart and Carey (1992), Siaroff (2003)
other hand brought the attention to the fact that the conflicts and unclear political responsibility
between prime minister and president could lead to contradictory political decisions.
There was also an assumption that the countries where executive power is shared between two
institutions could undermine new political democracies. Linz (1990) warned that such institutional
design is at risk and these countries are not stable. There were doubts whether such form is aptly for
new democracies as it creates the potential for intra-executive conflict (Chernykh a Cheibub 2008).
After approximately 25 years we can say that these concerns were confirmed only partially, as many
states of Central and Eastern Europe are now consolidated democracies4.
Even if the relations within executive are dwelling attention of many studies (Elgie and McMenamin
2006, Protsyk 2005, Joakim and Sedelius 2010, Sedelius and Mashtaler 2013) they are devoting their
attention to semi-presidential countries exactly because of the division of the executive power
between directly elected president and prime minister. However, direct election can be or may be not
the defining criterion of the relations within executive.
The aim of this paper will be to extend discussion about intra-executive conflicts also to pure
parliamentary regimes. Following the previous literature it tries to see if these conflicts happen rather
in political systems with directly elected presidents as it is expected and which executive competencies
are subject of such conflicts.
Research design and definition of conflict
Political conflicts within executive can appear from various reasons such as ambiguous constitution or
simply the fact that president and prime minister have different or contradictory opinions (Cheibub
and Chernykh 2008). Intra-executive conflicts could be defined as “political competition between the
president and prime minister over the control of political resources available to the executive branch of
government“(Protsyk 2005: 143).
Protsyk (2005, 2006) characterizes the main conditions under which president or prime minister enter
into the conflict struggling for executive competencies. Their origin is considered for the period of early
democratic transition when there were attempts to challenge the norms or to take control over the
4 With the notable exceptions of Belarus, Russia and to certain extent Ukraine which are excluded from this paper.
Intra-executive conflicts thus are defined as strategic decisions over the control of the executive and
political competition over the control of sources available to the executive branch of the government
(Protsyk 2005: 143). Key factors are vague constitutions, political or ideological affiliation and the
majority in the parliament. Also De Raadt (2009) and Malová (2001) stress the factor of vaguely defined
constitutions. The conflict within executive is defined as “… the absence of clear limits or to make same
prerogatives to more actors” (De Raadt 2009: 2 – 3). However, the problem of vague constitutions
where intra-executive conflicts may emerge could be also the problem in pure parliamentary regimes.
Conflicts emerge from disputes over competencies as many constitutional provisions are, intentionally
or not, rather vague (Cheibub and Chernykh 2008: 203).
Despite the argument that intra-executive conflicts result from the ambiguity and overlap of the
constitutional responsibilities (Protsyk 2005: 136) the existing literature of intra-executive relations
focus mainly on systems