Presidential Partisanship in Government Formation: Do Presidents Favor Their Parties When They Appoint the Prime Minister?

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18RIVwZD7GtHPZ/input 716334PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917716334Political Research QuarterlyBucur and Cheibub
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(4) 803 –817
Presidential Partisanship in Government © 2017 University of Utah
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Formation: Do Presidents Favor Their
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917716334
Parties When They Appoint the Prime
Cristina Bucur1 and José Antonio Cheibub2
Although often conceived as nonpartisan actors, presidents wield considerable political and institutional powers in
parliamentary and semipresidential democracies. Do they interfere in the government-formation process in such a way as
to change the outcome that parliamentary parties would have otherwise reached? We address this issue by examining the
conditions under which the parties of presidents and prime ministers are the same in parliamentary and semipresidential
democracies. We use data for twenty-one countries over the postwar period and find that when presidents are directly
elected and are constitutionally empowered to nominate the prime minister, the two leaders tend to come from the
same party. This, however, is only true when the bargaining environment within parliament is complex, that is, when
there are multiple viable governing coalitions. In this sense, the distribution of forces within parliament is still the main
factor determining the identity of the prime minister, even in the presence of strong presidents.
government formation, PM appointment, presidential powers, presidential elections, parliamentary democracies,
to form a government; in other cases, they are politically
strong due to the popular basis of their mandates. In fact,
Parliamentarism is a political system in which the gov-
in only a handful of democracies do heads of state play no
ernment needs to be supported, or at least tolerated, by a
role in government formation. These are the remaining
parliamentary majority to stay in office. For this reason,
European monarchies, where exclusion from politics is
the interests of the executive and legislative branches of
the price kings and queens have paid for their continued
government are considered to be aligned in parliamentary
existence as such.1 In all other parliamentary democra-
and semipresidential systems. In these regimes, govern-
cies, governments are formed in the shadow of an actor
ments are said to emerge in parliament, and government
that may have institutional and political resources to
formation is supposed to be a process largely determined
wield considerable influence over the outcome. How
in parliament. Given the rules for government formation
influential is this actor? Does it significantly and system-
(Strøm, Budge, and Laver 1994), the factors that should
atically affect the outcome of the formation process?
determine which government is formed relate to attri-
More specifically, to what extent can presidents change
butes of political parties: the extent of their legislative
base, their ideological position, and their expectations
about future electoral performance.
Yet, how do heads of state fit into this view of parlia-
University of Oslo, Norway
2Texas A&M University, College Station, USA
mentary and semipresidential democracies? As actors
external to parliaments, they should play no role in the
Corresponding Authors:
government-formation process. But heads of state in par-
Cristina Bucur, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo,
Postboks 1097, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway.
liamentary democracies, even if conceived as being non-
partisan and above politics, are often endowed with
considerable institutional and political powers. For exam-
José Antonio Cheibub, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M
University, 2010 Allen Building, 4348 TAMU, College Station, TX
ple, in some cases, they set in motion the government-
77843-4348, USA.
formation process by designating who will first attempt

Political Research Quarterly 70(4)
the government-formation outcome that parliamentary
2009, 668). Consequently, one of the key questions about
parties would have otherwise reached?
semipresidentialism is the extent to which “the strategic
In this article, we study whether and under what cir-
participation of the president in cabinet formation . . .
cumstances presidents in parliamentary and semipresi-
results in the appointment of cabinets that differ from
dential systems are able to act as partisan actors in the
those that would have been chosen if the ‘ideal’ presiden-
selection of the prime minister (PM). We take into account
tial or parliamentary constitutional framework were in
the different partisan configurations under which govern-
place” (Protsyk 2005, 722).
ments are formed and consider several factors that may
When it comes to government formation in semipresi-
affect the president’s ability to influence which party
dential regimes, the core issue is not simply that presi-
holds the premiership. We use data for twenty-one parlia-
dents can somehow influence who is part of the
mentary and semipresidential democracies over the post-
government. After all, heads of state in pure parliamen-
war period and, in line with previous work, find a
tary systems and even constitutional monarchs have
correlation between parliament-selected presidents who
occasionally influenced government composition (Elgie
are granted no constitutional role in the government-for-
2015, 321–22). Instead, the issue is whether that influ-
mation process and the coincidence of the president’s and
ence is exercised to produce significantly different out-
the prime minister’s party. Departing from this work,
comes as compared with the ones produced in other
however, we argue that this is likely to be a spurious cor-
parliamentary systems. In constitutional monarchies, the
relation. Moreover, we find that when presidents are
head of state is, for all practical purposes, excluded from
directly elected and have the constitutional power to
politics, and government formation proceeds unencum-
nominate the prime minister, the two leaders tend to come
bered by any nonparliamentary actor. In systems with a
from the same party. Importantly, however, this is only
president elected by parliament, the head of state is
true when the bargaining environment within parliament
expected to use whatever influence she has over govern-
is complex, that is, when there are multiple coalitions that
ment composition to facilitate parliamentary party gov-
could viably head a government.
ernment (Schleiter and Morgan-Jones 2009, 670). In
Our findings speak to a large literature on government
other words, because both the president and the govern-
formation in parliamentary democracies, suggesting that,
ment emerge from parliamentary majorities, the pre-
by and large, the distribution of forces within parliament
sumption is that there would be a convergence of
is still the main factor determining the identity of the
preferences among the different parts of the executive. In
prime minister. It also speaks to the literature on semi-
contrast, popular mandates are expected to provide presi-
presidentialism and its concern with the potential for
dents with incentives to “break” the chain of parliamen-
undue interference by a popularly elected president in the
tary delegation from assembly parties to the government
government-formation process. We show that such ‘inter-
by seeking nonpartisan support (Amorim Neto and Strøm
ference’ is only observable when the configuration of
2006). Consequently, nonpartisan appointments to cabi-
forces within parliament is compatible with multiple
net are thought to be one of the manifestations of presi-
dential influence over government formation (Amorim
Neto and Strøm 2006; Protsyk 2005; Schleiter and
The President’s Role in Government
Morgan-Jones 2009, 2010; Tavits 2008).
Formation: What Do We Know?
Presidential influence over the composition of parlia-
mentary governments can also be manifest in the coinci-
With the expansion in the number of semipresidential
dence between the parties of the head of state and the head
democracies since 1990, the presidents’ influence on
of government. Although it is recognized that presidents
political outcomes has become the focus of a large litera-
can constrain coalition bargaining (Strøm, Budge, and
ture. One of the key concerns in this literature has been
Laver 1994), it is not a priori clear whether the way they
assessing how an actor who serves a fixed term in office
came into office matters for their ability to do so. On the
and has an independent source of legitimacy—popular
one hand, indirectly elected presidents depend on their
elections—would affect parliamentary decision-making.
legislative party to obtain their mandate, whereas directly
With respect to government formation, semipresidential
elected presidents owe theirs to the electorate. For this
constitutions blur the lines of government responsibility
reason, the former would have greater incentives than the
and accountability, as both presidents and assemblies
latter to influence the choice of PM party to the benefit of
may be involved in the appointment...

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