“Why A Semi-Presidential Government System Is The Best System For The Liberian Unitary State’’


The Republic of Liberia is Africa’s oldest Republic. Founded by freed slaves from the United States, Liberia’s governmental system and its constitution is modeled on that of the United States, with one notable exception: Unlike the American federal system, Liberia is a Unitary state.

Report by Samuel R. Watkins, Contributing Writer

What does this mean? In the United States and other federal nations, like the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for example, power is divided between a state government and the national government. In federal nations, the powers of the federal government, as prescribed in the constitution of that nation, are mostly regulatory. Federal governments are invariably responsible for national defense, regulation of international trade, handling relations with foreign governments, minting or coining money, etc.

Federal governments are said to govern according to powers specifically vested in them by a nation’s constitution (called express powers). Federal governments also govern by making laws that are necessary and appropriate for executing any of their constitutional duties. When national legislatures do this, they are using their implied powers. Implied powers must be related to one of the express powers.

All other powers not specifically vested in the federal government or implied are generally given to the states, provided that such powers are not specifically prohibited to the states. States can make laws that provide for the general well-being of their citizens, as long as such laws are not in conflict with federal laws. States cannot make laws in areas specifically under the legal regulation of the federal government.

In large and culturally diverse countries like the United States and Nigeria, it makes sense to have national powers separated between state governments and federal governments. In smaller republics, such a division is not usually considered crucial or sensible, thus, we have the unitary system where most national power is vested in a single central government or through them, to smaller regional governments. These central governments (and this model is also practiced in federal nations) tend to be either a presidential system of government, a semi-presidential system, or a parliamentary system of government. In this article, let us focus on the first two.

In a presidential system of government, the president is usually both the head of state and the head of the government. He is elected and is not responsible to the legislature, which cannot dismiss him except through the uncommon case of impeachment and dismissal. He leads the executive and the cabinet, which he appoints, work at his pleasure. In a semi-presidential system, the president is usually only the head of state. The government is led by a Prime Minister who is responsible to the legislature. In such a system, although the president may or may not be a mere figurehead, the day to day running of the government is left in the hands of the Prime Minister and the cabinet, both of which are answerable to the legislature, which may force either to resign through a vote of no confidence.

To exhaust in detail the characteristics of the various sub-types of presidential and semi-presidential government systems would be a long and arduous task. In this article we will focus on the semi-presidential system as it is used in France (with some minor alterations) and explain how the current system used in Liberia is both inferior and ineffective of a truly democratic nation.


In many semi-presidential republics, the Prime Minister is usually selected by the party or coalition that controls the most seats in the legislature (although in others, like France, he is appointed by the President). Because of this, every national election in such republics are a referendum on the quality of job done by the entire government. And because members of the legislature are directly participant in the functions of the executive branch, they can regulate, with greater frequency and more efficiency, the running of the nation. If the citizens of such a nation feel that the nation isn’t being run effectively, they can pressure their legislature, which can in turn pressure the executive to work in the nation’s interests.

Unlike the Presidential System of government (the current model used in Liberia), in semi-presidential systems, there are greater checks and balances, and greater accountability to the people. Unlike in presidential republics where the head of government can only be removed from power if he loses an election, if his term expires, or through the uncommon occurrence of impeachment, and thus can usually do whatever he wants, in a semi-presidential republic, the head of the government is always being watched by the legislature which he is responsible and can remove him through a vote of no confidence. This way, most semi-presidential republics are less corrupt and work more in the interests of the people than the personal interests of those in government.

Unity and Inclusion

In a multiparty republic like Liberia, one major advantage of adopting the semi-presidential system would be unity. Politics tend to divide the population into opposing parties. In a semi-presidential Liberian government, political parties would need to band together and form coalitions, based on mutual understanding, to set up a government in the event no one party wins a majority. Not only will this bring the nation together following an election year, it would also give smaller political parties the opportunity to help govern the nation.

It creates strong political parties that are centered around ideas and not individuals

It is often argued that the last true political party of Liberia was the True Whig Party. This is because modern political parties in Liberia tend to center around individuals and not ideas. In a semi-presidential system, no one person can truly dominate a political party. And because coalitions are usually formed by parties that share similar ideologies, political parties would be centered around ideas on how the nation should be governed, and not just magnetic personalities. This way, parties can survive the death or retirement of important figures and still thrive, and voters can vote based on where political parties stand on a particular issue rather than just on how popular those parties are.

It stops one Person From becoming too powerful and creates mutual dependence between the Executive and the Legislature:

In a semi-presidential system, the President relies on the Prime Minister to enforce his government’s agenda and oversee the running of the government, and in Republics where the President also appoints the Prime Minister and the cabinet, the Prime Minister is obligated to the President. Both of them need to cooperate in order to achieve an efficient government. This way, none of them can ever achieve the outrageous level of power that plagues most presidential governments.

The dependent relationship between the President and the Prime Minister is also seen between the Prime Minister and the legislature. The Prime Minister is closely associated with the work of the legislature. His policies are scrutinized by them, and he and his cabinet are accountable to them. They in turn, rely on him to execute the laws and acts they enact.

As a unitary government with most national powers in the hands of a few, relatively unaccountable people, we see how depressingly corrupt and ineffective our government is. Because it wouldn’t make much sense to adopt the federal model and divide national powers between a regional government and a federal government in a nation as small as Liberia, the most sensible thing to do in this case would be to adopt the semi-presidential system. If Liberia were to adopt the semi-presidential system, greater accountability, more checks and balances, among other things, would mean a more efficient and bureaucratic government with less corruption. More, as opposed to less, would get done. While the position of the president would remain, it would be mostly ceremonial, and the roles of head of state and head of the government would be divided between two persons instead of one person as we have in Liberia. This would go a long way toward safeguarding our democracy and securing national peace.