Presidents, Assemblies, and Policy-Making in Asia

Presidents, Assemblies and Policy-Making in Asia

Author(s):  Yuko Kasuya

ISBN:           978-1-137-27726-8

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Year:           2013

Price:           £60

Reviewed by William J. Jones, Lecturer Mahidol University International College, Ph.D Candidate Mahidol University, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies

This volume brings together seven authors who analyze six countries in Asia which fall under the typology of presidential system of government to investigate the nature, dynamics, functioning and varieties of presidentialism. Furthermore, the authors consider the relations between government branches of this particular political system in a region dominated by the Westminster model of parliamentarianism. The framework used to classify regime types is provided by Shugart who classifies regime types as semi-presidential, presidential and parliamentary (p. 12). The nature and type of the regime classification thus allows for a structural view into government functions and the ability to find variables that explain behavior and preferences in policy. There is a strong attempt to quantify data types according to Shugart and Mainwaring’s (1997) structural characteristics found in constitutional powers of: veto ability (partial/item, package), presidential decree, budgetary influence, referendum calling and dissolution of the legislative branch (p. 16-19). Qualitative analysis is used with the introduction of: partisan power, party discipline and coalition/majority governments (p. 24-30).

Yuki Asaba considers South Korea finding that while there is debate of whether Korea is semi or presidential, it can in fact be considered a presidential system due to the disconnect of a presidentially appointed Prime Minister with legislative backing while the president is not legally bound to remove the PM is the legislature so he sees fit. Thus, while the legislature does constitutionally control the appointment of a PM the removal of said person is a presidential prerogative with the legislature providing a political opinion which can or cannot be followed. Asaba considers the Korean president to be the second strongest in the region but finds interesting variables that impact the real power of the presidency. Namely, these are regionalism (p. 47), electoral cycle of the legislative and executive branches (p. 48), electoral limits, party control and party representation in government (p. 48-9). Asaba finds that these factors when put into play impact heavily the power of Korea’s presidency, namely the ability of a president to formulate and deploy policy and control budgetary expenses. The interesting finds of this chapter are that while Koreas’ presidential system is constitutionally strong other factors come into play such as culture and regionalism, constitutional court activism and the embedded checks and balances of the electoral system of having a single term president with multi-term legislators constantly vying for influence and party control which limits or strengthens a president depending on the intervening variables of time, resources, local to national party coherence and political power distribution.

Afghanistan’s presidential system is analyzed by Yuko Kasuya and John Kendall. Afghanistan is interesting as it is a laboratory for both post-conflict peacebuilding as well as forceful democratization. However, as the authors note there is a not a wealth of data available and any conclusions drawn are dependent on the understanding of having only two elections and parliaments to draw upon for consideration. Notwithstanding these limitations the authors report some interesting points. Namely, these are the consistently strong penchant for strong executive power and obviously a very weak party identification compounded by SNTV electoral system. They also find the due to these factors during President Karzai’s first term while he was popular there was a significant degree of bandwagoning concerning policy and personnel appointments which reinforces personal politics and lack of party coherence. In his second term as president they find the same, he increasingly ruled by decree and faced strong legislative opposition but this was doubly reinforced by recourse to patronage in order to secure a second term which subsequently led to his even further unpopular perception. The authors suggest that Karzai attracted broad non-partisan support without identifying the underlying reasons why Karzai had such support in his first presidency. Was due to American support or a massive influx of money to persuade support. It is my disingenuous so ignore ethnicity and tribal influence in terms of rallying support and underpinning rule in such a war torn and diverse country. This is perhaps where the authors could have investigated a bit deeper possibly uncovering a variety of variables outside of simple parliamentary voting and government behavior.

Takeshi Kawanaka studies the presidential system of the Philippines using an institutional framework of mid-level bargaining between the executive and legislative branches of government (p. 94). The author finds that the level of interaction between these two branches can be subsumed under a negotiation framework of institutions to allocate presidential policy needs with congressional allocation of pork barrel funding. The primary factors attributing the power of the Philippines presidency is argued to be weak party organization regarding the ability to rally support via the budgetary mechanisms where conflict is institutionalized via legislative and presidential councils to distribute the national budget (p. 103). Implicit in the authors’ analysis, though intimated is the prevalence of patronage, personal and familial politics based on geographic territory akin to Alfred McCoy’s earlier work.

Mitsutoyo Matsumoto examines Taiwan’s semi-presidential system and finds some interesting points that appear to contradict the theoretical literature. Firstly, Matsumoto classifies the Taiwanese system as a premier-presidential sub-set of semi-presidentialism. This is largely due to the institutional rules and informal practice of the president exercising de facto power of removal of the premier (legislative administrator). Secondly, it is argued that the president can be strong or weak in Taiwan but that this is contiguous upon party leadership in the case of the KMT or lack thereof in Chen’s presidency and or personal prerogative of the president to become actively involved in administrate power or to delegate this to the premier as in the case of president Ma. The author claims that electoral rules have strengthened the KMT and its institutional structure whereas the DPP is the opposite and that presidential power often depends on the president in terms of leadership coherence, policy activism and willingness to engage.

Hiroki Miwa studies the case of Sri Lanka and concludes that the Sri Lankan presidential system only conforms to two of Shugart and Carey’s six factors of presidential power (p. 147) namely that of referendum proposal and parliamentary dissolving. However, while looking deeper the author suggest that the Sri Lankan president has a host of informal avenues that augment presidential power essentially allowing for a strong president outside of the classic typology. These powers stem from prerogative over the executive, dissolving parliament, legislative control via party control and judicial control by the executive. These variables can be seen in the aftermath of the LTTE defeat and constitutional amendment of 2010 allowing for three term presidency’s but also can be seen in the problem solving of cohabitation.

Koichi Kawamura examines the case of Indonesia’s president and parliamentary system and its move towards democratization. It is argued that the Indonesia currently is exemplified by a weak president and strong legislative system of government (p. 183). The reason for the this are dual: the fractured nature of Indonesia’s electorate and the proportional representation electoral system make coalition governments the norm and the inability of the president to exercise control over coalition partners. The author considers legislative deliberation times as well as laws promulgated to identify that presidential policy preferences are not carried through in a timely fashion but rather subject to extremely lengthy deliberation and bargaining in parliament. This demonstrates the highly unresolved issue of political voice and the degree of democratization embarked upon in the wake of Suharto’s downfall. However, it should be noted that the process of democratization is still an ongoing process and likely to change in the future as the fluidity and dynamics of Indonesian presidentialism is one in flux.

This volume attempts to provide insight into the different variables that affect presidential regimes in Asia by considering legislative deliberation times, law passage typology, policy preferences of executives and formal structures of executive power that influence policy. On this measure the volume provides readers insight into some of the factors that influence policy-making in the countries studied. However, these insights would be altogether unbalanced and highly reductionist if not for the qualitative data provided that illuminates and contextualizes the quantitative data. Some of the variables drawn upon in the volume are patronage, personality, resources, organization and histories which arguably extend far beyond the realm of presidential regime typology in the region. This volume is rather accessible and lends itself to students interested in gaining basic understandings of the various countries studied. The theoretical basis of the volumes compilation is sound and arguably provides an explanatory framework for study which can be extended into other regions for comparative analysis across regions as well as within. The strength of this volume indeed lies in the comparative approach taken by considering the vast differences between countries studied which span from Northeast to South Asia and in between which allows readers a glimpse into the complexity of government organization and policy formation in Asia.

Suggested Citation:

Jones, William J. (2014). Review of “Presidents, Assemblies, and Policy-Making in Asia”, by Yuko Kasuya, East Asian Integration Studies Vol. 7, no.16, Internet file: