Parliamentary government has many merits in terms of how the government is run and in terms of the concentration of power. However, presidential government in its ideal situation is still more democratic mainly because the people have the ultimate power to elect who will head the state and the government. Also, the legislative branch of the government can overthrow the executive through the process called impeachment which is absent in a parliamentary system. Ultimately, the presidential system gives responsibility to all the citizens to participate in every process pertaining to government as a public thrust.
This paper will try to scrutinize both the parliamentary and presidential systems to be able to evaluation which one is more democratic.
Power according to Shively (2008, p. 4) is the ability of a person or an institution to enforced any desired rule or policy to another people. On the other hand, O’Neil (2010, p.3) defined power “ability of ability to influence or impose one’s will on others.” In the aspect of power, the parliamentary government may be luring as it seems to have a more balanced as the head of the state is different from the head of the parliament. Most parliamentary systems of government have a monarch as the head of the state and have ceremonial functions. A prime minister is the head of the government who is recommended by the head of the state and voted for by the members of the legislative body or the parliament. The said head of the government is also a member of the parliament. When it comes to the functions of the executive and legislative, parliamentary system has a fusion and concentration.
On the other hand, presidential system of government has a president who heads the state and the government. The president has a defined executive duties and powers. The said head of the state and the government is elected for by the people through a democratic election. Presidential system has a bicameral house of representatives with members who are also voted for by the people. The executive and legislative branches of government have separate and defined roles unlike the parliamentary system where there is fusion and concentration of power as the head of the government who is the prime minister seats in the legislative. Moreover, in most parliamentary governments, the said head of the government is recommended by the head state. The fact that it is only the parliament that has the right to vote for the head of the government, it does not meet reflects a democratic process.
Both the parliamentary and the presidential systems merits a good standing in terms of being a freer system compared to others as the power that the leaders wield is not founded on force. The leaders in both systems do not impose their power like in the governments that are in a military junta. The parliamentary and presidential leaders have dominance over the people. As characterized by Weber, dominance gains people’s voluntary obedience. People obey because they believe in the legitimacy of the leaders’ actions. As added by Weber, power based on force does not qualify as dominance because force does not lead to voluntary submission of people over the dominant people or groups. Following this principle, both parliamentary and presidential are considered democratic.
There is also a difference between the two systems in terms of who qualifies to run for prime minister. In a parliamentary system, the one who is recognized leader of the political party winning majority of the seats in the House of Commons will become the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, in the presidential system, membership leadership in a political party is not the requirements for a candidate to run as President. The winning president of the government and the state does not mean that his or her political party wins the majority seats in the House of Representatives. There is an issue regarding the concentration of power with the parliamentary system. It is because the prime minister has the ability to advise the monarch to dissolve the Parliament and declare a national election. The power that the monarch and the prime minister wield is questionable. In a presidential system, the president who is the head of both state and the government seats in office for a definite period defined in the Constitution or any basic law of the land.
In the same way, the way that members and leaders of the political parties are distributed in the cabinet and the House of Commons with the parliamentary system is not balance. It is because the political party of the Prime Minister reigns in the cabinet and in the House of Commons. In the case of the presidential system, it is more democratic because political parties whether or not they are big does not have merit in the winning of the president.
With the above mentioned characteristics of parliamentary and presidential systems, the former has the possibility of being a fascist as because of the concentration of power especially for the prime minister. Max Weber defined the state as a “monopoly of violence over a given territory.” Weber further added that state has the power to use force to maintain order and quell resistance within. In this definition of a state, a government system that allows the monopoly of power can turn into fascist. The presidential system on the other hand has the lower possibility of being a fascist because not all the functions of the state are wielded by the president.
The good thing however with the parliamentary system is the nature of Cabinet. The Cabinet is a collective body that has huge influence in the decision making process of the prime minister. It is in this face that presidential system fails to be democratic in essence because the decisions made by the president are his or her sole responsibility. The heads of the executive departments are just subordinates of the president.
There are loopholes of the presidential system like the centralized governance but this is resolved through federalism which gives autonomy to every member states of a nation like the United States.
One of the best things with a presidential system is the power of the general assembly over the state and the government. In the parliamentary system, the parliament and the general assembly are equal and no body dominates the other. The presidential system gives the ultimate power to the general assembly that includes the ousting of the president.
In terms of accountability, the state and government are accountable to their people. In this manner, they both follow the basic principle of democracy. But looking it more closely will give a conclusion that still; presidential has more merits because elections are done fairly and more democratic. In the class notes, one of the major characteristics of democracy is accountability of the officials over the constituents through a fair election. The ones who are voted for by the people are accountable to the people. This principle is hardly applied to parliamentary system as prime ministers are most of the time chosen in the Cabinet or recommended by the monarch. The issue of fair election is nowhere to be seen in a parliamentary system.
In any system of government, it is necessary to adapt the basic principles of democracy, accountability of the state to its constituents, and the balance of power. These are only some of the principles that a state should have to let the people thrive. In the characteristics discussed above of the two systems namely the presidential and the parliamentary, it is visible that presidential system still merits the more democratic. It is because of one basic rule which is giving liberty to each person until the poorest constituent to choose their legislators and president. Because it gives the people the right to choose their leaders especially the president, the power gives equally big responsibility for the elected leaders.
The presidential system also gives high regard to the general assembly that the said assembly can overthrow a president once the accountability fails. This is not to say that presidential is the best system but in practice, it is still the system that has high regard to liberty and opportunity of all peoples. Presidential systems that are run without corruption and other exploitative policies of the government are still the most effective and the most democratic. This is not however discounting the contributions of parliamentary systems in other countries of the world that are adhering to it. This is only to echo the experiences of other countries that are patterned with the presidential systems. History as noted in the class tells us that almost all governments across the globe using presidential in governance did not fail.
Shively (2008). “What is power?” Hord. pp. 4.
O’Neil , P. (2010). “Authority and Power.” Hord. pp. 3.