Electing Presidents in Presidential and Semi-Presidential Democracies

International IDEA Constitution-Building Primer 21
This publication is only available in electronic format
24 September 2019
978-91-7671-266-5 (Print)
978-91-7671-267-2 (PDF)
Adem Abebe and Elliot Bulmer
Available Languages:

This primer discusses the constitutional rules for choosing presidents in countries where the president exercises significant governance powers. This includes both: (a) countries where presidents perform the functions of both head of state and chief executive; and (b) countries where presidents, although required to share power with a prime minister who is responsible to the legislature, nevertheless have an active role in governance and more than merely formal or ceremonial powers. In a democracy, presidents with such powers must be chosen by a process that confers upon them a democratic mandate and legitimacy —the norm being direct popular elections.

International IDEA’s Constitution-Building Primers are designed to assist in-country constitution-building or constitutional-reform processes by helping citizens, political parties, civil society organizations, public officials and members of constituent assemblies make informed constitutional choices. They also provide guidance for staff of intergovernmental organizations and other external actors working to provide well informed, context-relevant support to local decision-makers.

Each Primer is written as an introduction for non-specialist readers, and as a convenient aide-memoire for those with prior knowledge of, or experience with, constitution-building. Arranged thematically around the practical choices faced by constitution-builders, the Primers aim to explain complex constitutional issues in a quick and easy way.


1. Introduction

2. What is the issue?

3. Who is eligible to be president?

4. How is the president elected?

5. Timing of presidential elections

6. Alternatives to direct popular election

7. Special provisions for divided societies

8. Decision-making questions

9. Examples


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