Parliamentary and Presidential Systems
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A nation’s choice of government defines how the nation’s executive, legislative and judicial branches are to be arranged. All nation –state require some sort of government to avoid lawlessness. Democratic governments are those that allow citizens of nations equal say in how their government are manages either directly or through elected representatives. Two of the most popular types of democratic governments are presidential and parliamentary systems. These two forms of government are completely different from authoritative types of government that stop or limit the direct participation of citizens. Yet which form of government organization is the best, what are their distinct features, what are their pros and cons, and is one form of government better than the other? Which make it the number one choice for many emerging nations? Many political scholars believe that one form of government has better features that emerging nations will favor.
The following sections of this essay are divided into four separate parts. The first part outlines the characteristics of the parliamentary systems of government. How power is shared between two executives prime minister, president or monarch in the United Kingdom’s case. The second part explains how power is shared between the legislature, judicial and executive powers in a presidential systems of government. The third part gives light to the many advantages and disadvantages of having a parliamentary style of government, such as unqualified individuals holding ministerial position, and the inherent problems of being a head of government. The fourth part discusses the many strengths of a presidential system of government such as political stability and the many weaknesses of having a presidential style of government, such as the president not having to answer to the legislature
Parliamentary and presidential systems have many attributes that make them truly a unique form of governance. A parliament style of government is a rigid political party system that is in tight control of the executive and legislative branches of government. The origins of parliamentary style of government dates back to the 17 and 18th century Britain whereby the first parliamentary style of government was first started in the house of Westminster. The Westminster style of parliamentary governance had two separate parts the House of Common and the House of Lords. Those that represent the House of Common were elected by the public, while those that represent the House of Lords were either appointed or elected by various methods. These methods differed from the ones used to elect those in the House of Commons. In this type of government, the prime minister, who usually performs the important function of head of government, is usually nominated from the party majority. He/she is not elected by the general public during the election season. Also another attribute of the parliamentary system of government, is that a prime minister can be voted from office in a vote known as a vote of no confidence, by fellow political colleagues.
However, a prime minister has the ability to dissolve parliament when he or she senses that there is a low level of political leverage by the prime minister‘s party, this can only happen with the support of the head of state. This particular form of power that is given to the prime minister can be especially beneficial in the selection of an election date, which can lead to higher numbers of political officials from the prime minister’s party. Therefore allowing the head of government to hold onto its power and influence over the parliament. Another interesting feature of a parliamentary style of government is the role of a duel executive. The head of the government is always considered to be the prime minister, while the head of state is always considered to be the president, which at times can be a monarch.
For example in Canada, the prime minister is the supreme leader of the Canadian government; however the head of state is the sitting British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, who delegates her role to the governor general. The difference between these two executives is that the prime minister has the ability to decide on and execute political decisions and orders. While the president plays or in Canada case the governor general the role of a symbolic figure. A final important characteristic of the parliamentary style of government is that the prime minister has the right to alternate its ministers. This can give the prime minister a better political standing and a more concrete political standing. By doing so the head of government can appoint members of cabinet that decide jointly on a broad range of issues such as foreign policy, finance, and other subject matter concerning the entire government.
A presidential system of government has several distinct features that make it different from a parliamentary system of government. One important feature is that a presidential system of government is a single-person office elected for a fixed period of time by a distinct national constituency. This all important executive shares almost all powers of the federal government with a distinct and independent congress. In presidential system of government the president is both the head of government and state. One attribute of this system of government is the fact that legislative powers are given to Congress. Congress is a governing body, which comprises of the Senate and the House of Representative. While executive power is given to the president and judicial power is given to the Supreme Court.
Therefore, power in a sense is clearly broken up between these three forms of government. This separation of power is defined as “checks and balances” which allows for equal leverage among these three branches and independency. A third distinct feature is the election process that occurs in the presidential systems of government. In this system of governance the president is elected directly by the general population, in an election procedure which is held within a fixed period of time. In this type of election, the general public has the responsibility of voting for an individual that share similar political beliefs and thoughts to their own. While the president has the responsibility of appointing qualified individuals for the position of secretary or minister of various departments or ministries.
Another feature of a presidential system of government is that a president cannot be removed from office through a vote of no confidence, unlike a prime minister. This means that the president does not have to answer to the legislature of Congress. However a President can be removed from office if there are criminal charges levied on him or her, through a process known as impeachment. This is a legal process whereby a political official is accused of unlawful activity. Held on trial by his or her political peers and removed from office and at times can be criminally punished for misdeeds. This is different from the parliamentary system of government where a prime minister can lose his or her position through a vote of no confidence
There are many advantages and disadvantages of having a presidential system of government or parliamentary system of government, which make them truly unique forms of government. The advantage of having a parliamentary system of government is that this type of governance is highly flexible and more coordinated in comparison to a presidential system of government. (Weaver pg.20 This system of government is more agile in choosing a future leader than a presidential system which follows a rigid procedure. Also an advantage of this type of governance is that it gives government the ability to evenly distribute political power between the prime minister, and the majority political leader .
A second advantage of having a parliamentary system of government is that legislation is quickly passed. By having a parliamentary system of government, laws are quickly passed and put into action because prime minister is beholden to parliament. This is different in a presidential system where the president has the authority to veto laws. Also in parliamentary system of government the prime minister is almost always from them majority party. While in a presidential system the president can at times be from a different political party which makes it difficult to pass laws and can result in a impasse. In retrospect, a lot of individuals believe that having a parliamentary system of government is better due to the fact that legislation can be passing more quickly. ( Weaver pg.20)
A final advantage of having a parliamentary system of government is that it is easier to remove the head of government from office. Due to the fact that the prime minister is answerable to the laws governing the parliament, otherwise known as the legislature .This is different from the presidential systems of government whereby the president can only be removed from office through impeachment. Therefore if the prime minister loses the political backing of the parliament, parliament can therefore force out the executive without any problems. For example, former prime minister of the U.K. Margaret Thatcher was removed from office in 1990 through this procedure.
There are several disadvantages of having a parliamentary system of government, which make having a presidential system of government more favorable. One weakness of a parliamentary system of government is that, a prime minister has a little less power and authority. This is due to the fact that the prime minister is not elected by the public and lacks the public support of the nation. This is evident in the dismissal of Gordon Brown, prime minister after Tony Blair and the ushering of David Cameron a very popular political figure.
Another perceived con of running this type is government administration is political instability. Political instability can occur in this form of government if the prime minister is voted from office in a vote of no confidence. If this should occur and the prime minster is from the governing party that is not in majority then political instability can occur.(Weaver pg. 23 1985 ) Also there is lack of division of authority unlike the presidential systems which has clear cut branches of authority from legislative to judicial to executive. An additional weakness of this type of government is that there are no checks and balances in this type of governance, which can lead to a situation whereby an executive can have more power than the legislative power. This can lead to the prime minister following the directives of the majority party and ignoring the wants and needs of the minority party .Which can lead to the stifling of bipartisan cooperation (Weaver pg.23 1985).
A final weakness of parliamentary system of government is that the sharing of power in a parliamentary system can discourage participation by highly qualified individuals. This is due to the fact that there are very few high posts that are open .Also these few high posts that are open are not secure, and can be a major source of discouragement for those seeking political office. However, in the presidential system of government those that have been in power the longest, can attain a higher political office than others. Yet in a parliamentary system, the prime minister can give a minister his or her position, and take away that position also. This can give those that have the required credentials a pause and maybe refuse a cabinet level or ministerial position.
There are many pros and cons, advantageous and disadvantageous of having a presidential systems of government, which some say make it better than a parliamentary system of government, while others say it has more flaws. However a strength that many agree on is the stability of a presidential system of government. The stability of having a president that allows the continuation of public policy and avoids precarious political situations is highly advantageous. An example of this is that the president can hold or maintain his or her executive powers for given fixed term, while a prime minister can be removed from office through a vote of no confidence. This type of removal from office in the parliamentary system of government can cause a shaky system of government and bring disparity of political and economic stratagem.
A second strength of this type of presidential system of government is an unambiguous election process. This proves the fact that by having a democratic idea whereby every individual can express his or her idea on social and political policy, the right individual can be put into office who is an embodiment of these policies. Also due to this form of election the head of government m is able to exert a strong control over political decisions, and can at times provide policy that the public supports.
A third strength of a presidential system of government is that the executive in office can speak for the people of the country as a whole. As a head of state a president can count on the support of the people. This can be very beneficial when trying to push for unpopular but necessary programs of government such as basic health care coverage for every citizen. Also a president can count on the support of the people when also advocating on better economic policies that can increase the general welfare and national income of a country. This can play a crucial role especially if the legislative body blocks or tries to slow down these proposals.
Even though there are many strengths of having a presidential system of governments there are many disadvantages. One perceived disadvantage is that a presidential system operates under the basis of winner – take –all –rule. This is different from a parliamentary system of government where a coalition party is formed, and losers have some say in the forming of the government. Some believe that having this form of government is at times undemocratic because not every voice is held,
In a presidential system of government, a president and his or her cabinet members are not answerable to Congress. Although, Congress can launch investigation into executive decision or actions, executive officials can invoke certain “executive privilege “to avoid questioning on their actions. Due to this split in authority between executive and legislative, each branch of government can shift problems back and forth making it difficult for the general public to hold the government accountable. However in a parliamentary system of government, the government is held accountable to the House of Commons for its action. Therefore since the prime minister and cabinet members actively participate in the House of Common. This gives the general public a better ability to assess the performance of the government.
Also, another weakness of having a presidential system of government is lack of flexible in comparison to parliamentary system. The fixed terms of office in a presidential system can make it difficult to resolve political issues between the executive and legislative branches. However in a parliamentary system of government, if a government is unable to retain the confidence of the party that is in majority in the House of Commons, then they can be removed from office. This also holds true if the prime minister loses the support of their caucasus they can be pressured to step down.
Ever since the demise of the United Soviet Socialist Republic, also known as the U.S.S.R. democracy has begun to spread like wildfire across the globe. As more nations are newly formed, and forge identity of their own. They began to ask the question which form of democracy is the best to govern their new nation. Depending on the unfolding discussion occurring in these nation and the examples of democratic governments they are able to observe, such as the United States, and Canada that both champion different forms of government. They can either chose the more classical parliamentary system or less stiff presidential system. In this research conducted the main objective was to give light on the differences and common attributes of both forms of government.
The main difference between these two democratic institutions are the election of the chief executive into office .While the most common attribute is the knowledge that the chief executive can be removed from office by the legislature in both systems. In conclusion, from the research conducted most states are more likely to select to a presidential form of government. The main driving factors being the stability, direct support and authority that the general public can have. Which are all factors that newly formed governments look for when choosing a democratic institution where every citizen’s voice can be heard.
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