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Background

Presidential v. Parliamentary Systems of Government

In parliamentary systems of government, the head of government can be removed any time that the prime minister or premier loses the confidence of a majority of members of parliament for any reason.

In strong Presidential systems of government (i.e. systems where the President has more policy making powers than those of a primarily symbolic constitutional monarch), including the United States, in contrast, (basically by definition) the head of government does not serve at the pleasure of the legislature, but may sometimes be removed by the legislature in extraordinary circumstances.

For these purposes, I would consider both "Presidential Republics" and "Semi-Presidential Republics" to be strong Presidential systems, but not "Parliamentary Republics", with or without a ceremonial/non-executive President. There are 41 Presidential Republics in the world in widely recognized countries other than the U.S., more than a third of which are in Latin America, and 23 Semi-Presidential Republics (not counting Iran which is closer to a constitutional monarchy).

Impeachment In The United States Is Only For Cause

In the United States, the process of removing a President is called "impeachment" and Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution provides that it is only permitted for cause, stating:

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

This is somewhat less restrictive than it seems, because the courts have determined that what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors" is a "political question" not subject to judicial review. See Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993) (concerning a judge with the surname Nixon, not the former President of the United States).

But, a legislator is sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution. See U.S. Constitution, Article VI (which provides in the pertinent part: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.")

So, in theory, a legislator applying the impeachment provisions of the U.S. Constitution has a moral duty, at least, to only remove a President from office via impeachment for conduct that amounts to some sort of crime, even if this duty is unenforceable in practice.

The Question

Are there countries with strong Presidential systems in which, unlike the United States, a supermajority can impeach a President (or undertake some equivalent process allowing a national legislature to remove a President from office mid-term) either without cause, or with a definition of good cause that is far more broadly defined than it is in Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution?

I'm looking for any examples of such constitutional or legal provisions, not necessarily a comprehensive list of them.

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    I am not sure that legislators are limited ethically to impeach only for crimes. The misdemeanors part is implicitly contrasted with crimes, suggesting that it's being used in its sense of "unacceptable behavior." It's not being used to refer to the class of crimes referred to as misdemeanors. That's part of why the courts ruled to grant broad latitude.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jun 6, 2019 at 21:32
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    I've never heard anyone seriously object (at least in legal terms) to the quote by President Ford that 'high crimes and misdemeanors' are: whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history. So, I'd challenge your assertion that the US has a high bar for impeachment (aside from the significant political issues with it)
    – divibisan
    Jun 6, 2019 at 21:57
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    The Premise of your question is wrong. Congress, if it so chose and had the political will to do, could impeach the president on a Wednesday. Jun 6, 2019 at 22:12
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    @jamesqf That's what I mean: legally, the bar for impeachment is very low. Politically, it's difficult, but Article II, Section 4 doesn't seem to pose a high bar at all, at least in my understanding.
    – divibisan
    Jun 7, 2019 at 15:15
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    @grovkin I am simply curious about how this is expressed and what constitutional and legal norms are associated with the process elsewhere. The U.S. ruleisn't hte focus of my interest at all.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 8, 2019 at 0:28

3 Answers 3

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I've gone through the Wikipedia list on impeachment in different countries. Most of them have at least the requirement that there is criminal, unconstitutional or treasonous behavior.

One exception is Iceland, which does not have such requirements but does require two majorities, not just in its legislature but also among the voters. Article 11 of the Icelandic constitution deals with impeachment (the Althingi is the Icelandic parliament):

The President of the Republic may not be held accountable for executive acts. The same applies to those who exercise presidential authority.

The President may not be prosecuted on a criminal charge except with the consent of Althingi.

The President may be removed from office before his term expires if approved by a majority in a plebiscite called pursuant to a resolution adopted by three-fourths of the Members of Althingi. This plebiscite shall be held within two months from the date of adoption by Althingi of the resolution. The President shall not perform his duties from the time the resolution is adopted by Althingi until the results of the plebiscite are known.

If the resolution by Althingi is not approved in the plebiscite, Althingi shall be immediately dissolved and new elections called.

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  • Ooh, I like that the response to a failed plebiscite is new elections. There'd clearly be a disconnect between the members of the Althingi and the populace, so it makes a lot of sense.
    – Bobson
    Oct 2, 2019 at 19:33
  • @Bobson yea, though the three-fourths in the legislature seems pretty steep. Also note that Iceland has a small population compared to the US so it's much easier (logistically) to have a referendum or an election.
    – JJJ
    Oct 2, 2019 at 19:53
  • @JJJ The Althingi BTW is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously operating democratic deliberative body in the world dating from about 1000 CE.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 3, 2019 at 22:36
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It is arguable that the term "impeachment" implies that it is for cause.

If the other answer (about Iceland) counts, then Austria should also count. The procedure is very similar.

Article 60 (6) B-VG (Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz / Federal Constitution Act):

(6) Vor Ablauf der Funktionsperiode kann der Bundespräsident durch Volksabstimmung abgesetzt werden. Die Volksabstimmung ist durchzuführen, wenn die Bundesversammlung es verlangt. Die Bundesversammlung ist zu diesem Zweck vom Bundeskanzler einzuberufen, wenn der Nationalrat einen solchen Antrag beschlossen hat. Zum Beschluss des Nationalrates ist die Anwesenheit von mindestens der Hälfte der Mitglieder und eine Mehrheit von zwei Dritteln der abgegebenen Stimmen erforderlich. Durch einen derartigen Beschluss des Nationalrates ist der Bundespräsident an der ferneren Ausübung seines Amtes verhindert. Die Ablehnung der Absetzung durch die Volksabstimmung gilt als neue Wahl und hat die Auflösung des Nationalrates (Art. 29 Abs. 1) zur Folge. Auch in diesem Fall darf die gesamte Funktionsperiode des Bundespräsidenten nicht mehr als zwölf Jahre dauern.

My translation to English: Before the expiration of the term of office, the Federal President can be removed through a referendum. The referendum shall be conducted if the Federal Assembly [translator's note: both houses of parliament sitting together as one body] demands this. The Federal Assembly shall for this purpose be called together by the Federal Chancellor [translator's note: head of government, equivalent to prime minister in other countries] if the National Council [translator's note: lower, more powerful house of parliament] has passed such a motion. For the motion of the National Council, the presence of at least half of the members and a majority of two thirds of the votes cast is necessary. Through such a motion of the National Council, the Federal President is prevented from further executing their office. The rejection of the removal through the referendum counts as a new election and results in the dissolution of the National Council (Art. 29 par. 1). Also in this case, the entire term of office of the Federal President may not last more than twelve years.

This has never happened. Austrian presidents do not tend to be such controversial or divisive personalities.

There is also another impeachment procedure that requires cause and involves the Constitutional Court. That is detailed in article 142 of the B-VG. This, too, has never happened.

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In the US, in practice there is no cause needed. Impeachment is on whatever grounds the House feels like, and there is no authority other than the electorate to hold them to any standard. The Senate may or may not choose to uphold the House's decision but historically the only factor that seems to have much weight is their political party.

For instance, the House can impeach a president for wearing a navy suit in Times Square, even if the president has never been to Times Square, never worn a navy suit, and such activity istn't considered illegal or immoral by anybody (that I know of).

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