Parliamentary and presidential systems are the two major systems of governments that have been adopted by many countries across the world. While the majority of established democracies in the world have opted for a parliamentary system, the presidential system has been found to be more democratic. In the presidential system, the executive has the stability to execute their constitutional mandate unlike in a parliament system where the legislature can use their powers to upset the executive (Newton & Deth, 2010). This research paper will give a detailed definition of both systems of governments; give a comparative analysis of both systems of government and present a well explained view on why the presidential system should be preferred in place of a parliamentary system.
In many countries that exercise the parliamentary system, the cabinet or a single member of the cabinet can be removed by the legislature by use of the vote of confidence. In addition, parliament can be dissolved by the executive who will then call for extra-ordinary elections. This executive can be most effective when supported by a stable majority. The stable majority is not found anywhere better than those countries that have strong two party systems.
Most countries that have chosen parliamentary system did so because they feared that the presidential system might become dictatorial limiting the exercise of democracy. However, failure to operate the cabinet system effectively has in many instances led to some degree of dictatorship that overshadows democracy. In the majority of parliamentary systems, for instance Britain, the head of state is primarily a ceremonial position which retains duties that are not politically divisive that includes the appointment of civil service. Those countries that have instituted the cabinet system have been hampered in their operation by the multiparty systems that have created cabinets that are not only unstable, but also indecisive.
The head of state in many parliamentary systems may have a reserve power which is usable in a situation where there is a crisis. In most instances however, such powers are only exercised upon the approval or advice from the head of government, either by conventional or constitutional rule. A developed party system is the only way in order for a parliamentary system to perform successfully. The party system will then support the government in carrying out the party policy.
Cabinets in parliamentary systems are usually drawn from members of the elected legislature which enables the inclusion of all political elements represented in the legislature including minorities in the executive. Many well established parliamentary democracies have a cabinet comprising of several different parties (Marsh, 2006). Parliamentary systems have the capacity to change on the floor of the house without necessarily resourcing to a general election. Because of this fact, proponents of a parliamentary system have pointed to its flexibility and capacity to adapt to changing circumstances as a strong benefit.
On the other hand, a presidential system is a system of government wherein the offices of the head of government and the head of government are combined into a single person who is the president. The entire powers that come with the executive are vested in the president and all actions that come with the government are the responsibility of him or her. This system provides for a single chief executive who is elected democratically into office for a definite term. The president holds a public mandate as a result of his election and he/she is hence largely independent of the legislature branch for the conduct of his administration. The formal powers of the president are defined by a documentary constitution. The prestige and powers and authority of the president are doubled by the fact that he is both a political leader and the chief of state (Cheibub, 2007). The president has the democratic powers to carry out his constitutional mandate.
In a presidential system, the president is assisted by the cabinet, an informal group that does not have legal sanctions over the president. The personnel within the cabinet are determined by the president, who exercises such powers as he/she may wish to vest in. The president may dissolve the cabinet when he wishes. Unlike in the parliamentary system, the president is not responsible to the parliament, but rather to the constitution. The assembly can hold the president responsible to the constitution through an impeachment process. Though the president may not depend on the assembly for his political survival, he is dependent on the goodwill of members of the assembly for him to be able to further his policies.
The executive stability in the presidential government is based on the fixed office term of the president. This stability contrasts with the executive instability that may arise in the parliamentary system as a result of frequent use of the legislature’s powers that may upset the cabinet by a vote of no confidence resulting from cabinet’s majority support in the legislature. The implication is that the president cannot be coerced by the legislature for their own interests, as it might be the case with the parliamentary system.
The office of the president can be held responsible directly for a decision because a chief executive is directly chosen by a majority vote unlike in the parliamentary system. It, therefore, makes it easier for people to reward or punish a president through general election where they will vote him or her out unlike the case with the parliamentary system. While exercising his constitutional mandate, the president is not limited to the members in the cabinet formation of his cabinet. Hence, the president is enabled to choose members of outstanding competencies and intellectual integrity to help him administer the country. As a result, the country gets the benefit of persons of integrity who may not be interested in an election.
Though directly responsible to the assembly, a parliamentary government is not indirectly responsible to the electorate. By making the executive dependent, parliamentary systems are said to foster greater accountability on the part of the government towards the representatives of the people. Proponents argue that this implies greater public control over the process of policy making and greater transparency in the way decisions are made. However, it may not be the case because the responsibility of decision making is taken by a collective cabinet making it inherently less accountable. With the presidential system, the cabinet ministers have full time to devote to public service rather than wasting their time politicking. According to Patrick O’Neil, while it may not be seen as a democratic system, the presidential system will clean the political life which is democracy in essence of the people.
Cheibub, J. (2007). Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. Cambridge University Press.
Lijphart, A. (1992). Parliamentary versus presidential government. Oxford University Press.
Marsh, I. (2006). Democratisation, governance and regionalism in East and Southeast Asia: A Comparative Study. Routledge.
Newton, K., Deth, W. (2010). Foundations of comparative politics. Cambridge University Press.
Patrick, O’Neil. Essentials of comparative politics. New York. W.W Norton and company.