On Presidentialism

While writing and thinking about the democratic legitimacy of the Referendum, I discovered the work of Juan J Linz. On, my article, Dictatorship and plebiscites I had been pointed at Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe a review by Fukiyama of Linz & Stepan’s revised work on Autocracy, which was also referenced by Qvortrup, Here is a mirror, on this site. The Fukiyama piece is very short and more of a plug than a review. I found the Linz paper, and here are further notes on Presidentialism and Parliaments.

I also found a reference to Mainwaring & Shugart’s “Juan Linz, Presidentialism, and Democracy, A Critical Appraisal 1997, and again here’s a mirror. Linz’s original 1985 article is here, or https://is.gd/BicfCX and here’s my mirror, Linz Presidentialism 1985., I also made a new version with Calibri font. It seems that Juan Linz also wrote a prequel to this paper called “The Perils of Presidentialism”.

Mainwaring and Schubert summarise Linz’s position as follows,

  1. In Presidential Systems, the President and the Assembly have competing mandates, with usually no, or incredibly inflexible means of resolving this; parliaments are designed to obviate that! If only by having a general election.
  2. Fixed terms Presidencies are a barrier to a change in the popular will of the masses, this is a feature of the nature of coalitions required to win, and the rules of succession which rarely consult the electorate. Parliaments can recall a Premier.
  3. Presidencies are a winner takes all system, on often a very narrow mandate; most Parliaments represent the coalitions & dichotomies of interest in society in a better way. Except in the UK where FPTP stops this happening.
  4. The power of the Presidents office often does not reflect the strength or more importantly the weakness of the mandate and may be, and often is an on-ramp to authoritarianism
  5. It’s more open to outsiders and thus militates against parties which themselves are critical to civic democracy.

Mainwaring and Shugart also produce a number of tables illustrating their critiques of Linz, including one which attempts to correlate poverty with democratic stability. It also would be interesting to see the failures of these classes of rule, India vs (say) Argentina, or more recently Turkey.

These arguments also apply to Britain’s Executive Mayors.

We could also remember, Andrea Ledsom’s quote, the EU has five Presidents and most people can name none of them; perhaps it’s a better way of doing things and several of them are misnamed in my opinion. Often the word Chairman would once have been used, but President is gender neutral and the President of the Council has a role similar to Chief Secretary.

The featured image is a picture of a UN meeting on Climate Change taken from their news site.

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