“Why threaten to drop out of a presidential election you are likely to win?”

Bret Barrowman, writing at The Monkey Cage, asks a good question about Georgian Dream presidential candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili.

It is an even better question when the presidency is about to become an essentially ceremonial position. Georgia is completing a long, multi-step, process of conversion from (effectively) a pure presidential system, to a president-parliamentary system, to premier-presidentialism, to a variant of the latter that might be almost parliamentary.

Georgia’s presidential election–the first round, that is–will be 27 October.

6 thoughts on ““Why threaten to drop out of a presidential election you are likely to win?”

  1. Is Georgia the first country to ever gone a conversion from a Presidential System toward a parliamentary system? It is possible for a Presidential system country to move toward parliamentarianism.

    • Right, please let us not conflate hereditary monarchs with elected presidents, or processes of “constitutionalization” of monarchies in the 19th century with constitutional reform in democracies in the 20th and 21st.

      Chapter 10 of Samuels and Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers (Cambridge, 2010), has a graph showing all changes of executive format in democracies in our sample (i.e. all countries meeting a minimum democracy requirement for at least five consecutive years in the 1945-2005 period).

      There are no cases of movement from any type of elected presidency to parliamentarism that were actually implemented, unless one counts the brief period of elected “prime minister” in Israel, which was dropped after 2001. Brazil passed an amendment that would have changed pure presidentialism to pure parliamentarism in the 1960s, but the coup of 1964 cut it short.

      To be clear, Georgia will not be such a case, because it will retain an elected presidency, and as we explain in the book, often even formally weak presidencies are politically important, thus altering the partisan dynamics from what a pure parliamentary system would entail.

      Nonetheless, Georgia is unusual (maybe unique) in having moved from a very powerful elected presidency to a (formally at least) quite weak one.

  2. The case of Britain’s conversion from a presidential system to a parliamentary system is pretty well known.

  3. Georgia seems like the kind of place where a directly-elected president, even one elected as a figurehead, could be seen by the people and/or military as having more legitimacy than an unpopular parliamentary government, and who might execute a self-coup against parliament.

    Has an directly-elected president with no or very limited executive authority ever obtained executive power through a self-coup?

    The closest things I can think of are the May 1958 crisis in France (though de Gaulle was not head of state at the time and had the support of parliament). Fujimori’s 1992 coup in Peru against Congress is also similar, but that was a president-parliamentary semi-presidential regime.

    Does anyone know if this has ever happened in a true parliamentary system?

  4. Weimar Germany comes close, although (remarkably) the Weimar constitution actually authorised the president to govern by decree and insulate the cabinet from parliamentary control. The Hindenburg example was certainly eagerly and almost febrilely quoted by monarchist advocates in the 1999 referendum campaign here.

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