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A semi-parliamentary system (also described as a neo-parliamentary or prime-ministerial system) is a classification of systems of government proposed by Maurice Duverger, in which citizens directly elect at the same time the legislature and the prime minister, possibly with an electoral law ensuring the existence of a parliamentary majority for the prime minister-elect. As in a parliamentary system, the prime minister is responsible to the legislature and can be dismissed by it: this however effectively causes a snap election for both the prime minister and the legislature (a rule commonly expressed by the brocard aut simul stabunt aut simul cadent, Latin for "they will either stand together, or fall together").
Like semi-presidential systems, semi-parliamentary systems are a strongly rationalized form of parliamentary systems. After Israel decided to abolish the direct election of prime ministers in 2001, the sole semi-parliamentary country in the world is Kiribati; however, a semi-parliamentary system is used in Italian regions, provinces, cities and towns to elect regional governors, provincial commisioners, mayors of cities and towns and local councils.
Parliamentary systems originated in constitutional monarchies, in which the government was dually accountable to the parliament and the king: the plurality of opinions of elected assemblies was then balanced by the direction of the monarch. Over time, the power of hereditary monarchs became to be understood as untenable in a democracy, leading many constitutional monarchies to evolve into parliamentary republics, while in the remaining ones the monarch became an increasingly ceremonial figure: regardless of the presence of an elected or unelected head of state, the parliament was thus established as the dominating institution.
In their most basic form, parliamentary systems tend to be quite anarchic, as in the well-known cases of the French third and fourth republics. The attitude of parliaments towards governments is essentially oppositive, as elected assemblies are often incapable of taking energetic decisions whose advantages will only be perceived in the future, but whose disadvantages are immediately experienced by the electors. This calls for a strong rationalization of parliamentary systems, such as the one that developed in the United Kingdom, where the hereditary monarch has effectively been replaced by an "elected monarch", namely the prime minister.
Being largely based on conventions, the Westminster system cannot be easily replicated in other countries. In his 1956 proposal, Maurice Duverger suggested that France could attain government stability by means of a direct election of the Prime Minister, that was to take place at the same time as the legislative election, by means of a separate ballot paper. The Prime Minister and his supporting parliamentary majority would need to be inseparable for the whole duration of the legislature: in case of a vote of no-confidence, forced resignation, or dissolution of the parliament, a snap election would be held for both the National Assembly and the Prime Minister.
Direct election of the prime minister, alone, would not be sufficient to ensure government stability: a second round of election should be employed so that electors can be allowed to express their ideological preferences in the first round, and designate a majority in the second. The electoral law would then provide the Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority.
Under Charles de Gaulle, France adopted a different rationalization of parliamentary government called semi-presidential system. Duverger's proposal thus remained unnamed until the French political scientist termed it "semi-parliamentary" in 1996.
- The legislature and the head of government are simultaneously elected by the people
- A separate head of state with ceremonial functions may exist (as in most parliamentary systems)
- The legislature has the power to dismiss the head of government with a vote of no confidence (as in a parliamentary system)
- The term of the legislature and that of the head of government coincide: if the head of government resigns or is dismissed by the legislature, the legislature is automatically dissolved
- The electoral law may ensure that the parties supporting the directly elected head of government obtain a majority of seats in the legislature
Italian local administrations
In 1993, Italy adopted a new electoral law introducing the direct election of mayors, in conjunction with municipal councils. On a single ballot paper, the elector can express two votes, one for the mayor, and the other one for the council. The mayor is elected with a two-round system: at the first round, the candidate receiving the absolute majority of valid votes is elected; if no candidate receives an absolute majority, a second round between the two top-ranking candidates is held. Councils are elected by semi-proportional representation: the party or coalition linked to the mayor elect receives at least 60% of the seats, while the other parties are allocated seats in a proportional fashion.
This ensures the existence of a working majority for the mayor: the council can remove the mayor with an absolute majority vote, but in this case it also causes its own dissolution and a snap election.
In 1999, a constitutional reform introduced the direct election of regional governors, whose term is linked to that of regional councils much in the same way as it is the case for mayors and municipal councils. Previously, provincial commisioners were also directly elected, but their election was later delegated to the mayors, acting as an electoral college.
Direct election of the Prime Minister of Israel
During the thirteenth Knesset (1992–1996), Israel decided to hold a separate ballot for Prime Minister modeled after American presidential elections. This system was instituted in part because the Israeli electoral system makes it all but impossible for one party to win a majority. However, no majority bonus was assigned to the Prime Minister's supporting party: therefore, he was forced to obtain the support of other parties in the Knesset.
As this effectively added rigidity to the system without improving its stability, direct election of the Prime Minister was abolished after the 2001 election.
This system has been described by some as an anti-model of semi-parliamentary systems. In Israel, the basic laws allowed, under certain conditions, special elections for the prime minister only, with no dissolution of the Knesset: in practice, there were as many as eight special elections in just a few years, which constitutes a considerable departure from the simul simul principle. For this reason, the Israeli version of the semi-parliamentary system was never considered to work functionally.
Many parliamentary democracies managed to increase the power of the head of government without resorting to direct election, usually by combining a selective electoral system with additional constitutional powers to the prime minister. For example, in Germany the presence of a sufficiently simple party system, combined with the constructive vote of no confidence and the possibility for the federal chancellor to demand a dissolution of the Bundestag in case of defeat in a confidence-linked vote, has brought many stable governments. In Spain, the presence of a selective electoral law which produced single-party parliamentary majorities for several decades, caused a de facto direct election of the prime minister (i.e. the leader of the majority party), who also has the constitutional power to dissolve the parliament. In contrast, the United Kingdom might be returning to a more classical parliamentary system after the approval of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, with which the prime minister has lost the power to dissolve the House of Commons.
The Italian electoral law approved in 2015 is based on a two-round system assigning to the winning party a majority bonus of 54% of the seats of the lower house. Together with a proposed constitutional reform which would remove the upper house's power to dismiss governments, this would also introduce a de facto direct election of the prime minister, bringing the form of government closer to a semi-parliamentary system.
- Duverger, Maurice (September 1996). "Les monarchies républicaines" [The crowned republics] (PDF). Pouvoirs, revue française d’études constitutionnelles et politiques (in French). No. 78. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. pp. 107–120. ISBN 2-02-030123-7. ISSN 0152-0768. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
- Clementi, Francesco (June 2005). Proﬁli ricostruttivi della forma di governo primo-ministeriale tra elezione diretta e indiretta [Reconstructive profiles of the prime-ministerial form of government between direct and indirect election] (PDF) (in Italian). Rome: Aracne Editrice. ISBN 88-548-0134-8. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- Frosini, Justin Orlando (2008). Ferrari, Giuseppe Franco, ed. Forms of State and Forms of Government. Giuffrè Editore. pp. 54–55. ISBN 9788814143885. Retrieved 13 November 2016 – via Google Books.
- List of countries by system of government
- Parliamentary system
- Presidential system
- Semi-presidential system