More on the Romanian runoff

At A Fistful of Euros, Alex Harrowell notes that, after finishing second in the first round of the presidential election, Mircea Geoana obtained “promises of support from several other parties, notably the Liberals and the Hungarian minority.”

He adds:

as part of the agreement with these groups, he’s promised to appoint the independent mayor of Sibiu – Hermannstadt in German – as prime minister. That’ll be one Klaus Johannis. Yes; he’s a Transylvanian German, the first time that a member of this minority will head the government. […]

I can’t help but be amazed at the idea of a Romanian government that includes the Hungarians and is headed by a German…

Interesting indeed. In reading this I realized that I do not know the answer to this question, despite all the research I have done on semi-presidential systems: How often does a presidential candidate promise in advance to select a specific premier if elected? I would think not very often.

4 thoughts on “More on the Romanian runoff

  1. How often does a presidential candidate promise in advance to select a specific premier if elected? I think this is a tough question to answer. My understanding is that there was no written agreement about Johannis. Also, I am not sure whether there was a public promise as opposed to a ‘strong expectation’ that he would be PM. A similar example would be France 1988 when there was a widespread expectation that Mitterrand, if re-elected, would appoint Michel Rocard. There was neither a written agreement, nor a (public) promise, but his appointment was not a surprise. So, if the question means ‘How often does the new president appoint as PM the person that most informed observers expect?’, then the answer might be ‘Quite often’. However, if the question means ‘How often does a president run with an officially nominated VP-like PM?’, then the answer would probably be ‘Very rarely’.

  2. Would it be fair to say that, anecdotally, presidents in premier-presidential systems tend to “dump” “their” premiers more readily than presidents in pure presidential systems dump their Vice-Presidents?

    Of course, Veeps usually enjoy tenure for a term whereas premiers usually depend on the confidence of the Head of State, the Lower House, or both.

    I’m thinking of the USA, of course, where FDR first discarded Garner as too right-wing and then Wallace as too left-wing, and where Nixon apparently considered replacing Agnew with John Connally in 1972 (but baulked).

    I can’t see a US President today dumping an unwilling Veep – it would look like the Administration was collapsing – although one can imagine a relatively “old” Veep (Cheney or Biden, say) “retiring” “voluntarily” after one term so the incumbent party can get fresh blood while in the White House. (One could even imagine the Presidential nominee, before the convention, making the offer of the VP slot conditional on a one-term promise… although enforcing such promises later tends be require the use of dynamite: vide Hawke/ Keating and Blair/ Brown).

  3. Actually, the selection of the future premier during the campaign proved to be the best strategy the social-democrat candidate (Geoana) could come up with in order to effectively challenge the incumbent president. In fact, another presidential competitor, the Liberal one (Crin Antonescu), would have used the Johannis card had he won the first tour.

    This became all the more obvious between the two rounds, when Johannis and Geoana were presented everywhere as a mutually supporting couple and the best guarantee of a solid legislative majority (social-democrats, liberals and Hungarians, all in opposition at this moment) backing the new executive.

    This presidential-campaign-cum- premier-selection has some structural causes (first presidential elections held independently from the legislative ones and a case of a highly conflictual cohabitation between a president and his premier against a parliamentary hyper-majority) and some more contingent ones. The latter are the most interesting, I think, because we witnessed a year during which Romania had the largest legislative support of its executive – the liberal democrats- PDL (the incumbent’s party, Traian Basescu) and the social democrats, and also, towards the final months, a strategic defection of the social democrats in order to assure its candidate, Geoana, the best chances to challenge Basescu. This defection form the executive and the subsequent vote of no confidence left Romania with a crippled executive. The president Basescu refused to nominate Johannis (according to the article 102, he is the only one to nominate the PM, after “consulting” the legislative parties propositions) and he can’t dissolve the parliament in the last 6 months of his term) while the hyper-majority in the legislative refuses any other proposition coming from Basescu. Also very interesting, president Basescu also accused the absence of a formal, official accord of the opposition parties backing Johannis, which would have been strategically unfeasible for the Liberals.

    Add to this the IMF pressures for political stability and the nomination of Johannis becomes obviously a winning ticket of a presidential candidate who promises a solid and transparent legislative majority.

    Structural causes and contingent factors (economic crisis and the coming together of a legislative majority against one man-the incumbent president) determined a high presidentialization of political parties during this last year, linking in a necessary manner the challenging of the incumbent with the nomination of the future premier and of the legislative coalition to back him. Anyway, the presidential elections very much resembled the parliamentary ones last year, considering both the candidates’ debates and the party machines mobilization.

  4. Robert, good points. I suppose the standard should be the same as researchers use regarding parties’ coalition commitments–at least public statements naming the PM candidate.

    Tom, the forthcoming Samuels-Shugart book will have data on PM turnover. There is a LOT of turnover in premier-presidential systems (except during cohabitation) and even more in president-parliamentary.

    Andreea, thanks for this added detail. This is a very interesting case!

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