Differences Between Parliamentary and Presidential System

Outline The Differences Between Parliamentary And Presidential Government One of the key features of any political system is the relationship between the assembly and the government, that is, the relationship between legislative and executive authority. In exceptional cases, a form of assembly government may develop in which executive and legislative power is vested in the assembly, there being no separate executive body. Such a system, for example, briefly emerged under the radical democracy of Rousseau during the French Revolution.

In other cases, such as communist regimes, both the legislative and executive bodies have been subordinate to the unchallengeable authority of a ‘ruling’ party. However, assembly – executive relations more commonly conform to one of two institutional arrangements. Parliamentary and Presidential systems of government. Most liberal democracies have adopted some form of parliamentary government. These are often based on the model of the UK parliament (Westminster Parliament. Often portrayed as the ‘mother of parliaments’, the origins of the Westminster model can be traced back to the 13th Century, when knights were incorporated into the king’s court. During the 14th Century, separate chambers, the Lords and the Commons, were built to represent the knights on the one hand, and the barons and churchmen on the other. Parliaments supremacy over the king was not established until the revolution of 1688, and its capacity to call government to account not recognised until the gradual emergence of a democratic franchise during the 19th Century.

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Similar parliamentary systems came into existence in states like Germany, Sweden, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. The central feature of these systems is a fusion of legislative and executive power, that government is parliamentary in that it is drawn from the assembly or parliament. The strength of this system is that it supposedly delivers effective but responsible government. Government is effective because it rests on the confidence of the assembly and so can, in most cases, ensure that its legislative programme is passed.

In short, government can get things done. However, responsible government is maintained because the government can only govern as long as it retains the confidence of the assembly. In theory, the assembly has the upper hand because it has the ultimate power, which is the ability to remove the government. Unfortunately, however, parliamentary systems often fail to live up to these high expectations. Certainly, there are examples such as Sweden in which the assembly (the Riksdag) exerts a strong policy influence without threatening to immobilise the workings of government.

However, parliamentary government is often associated with the problem of executive domination. This is the case in the UK, where a combination of strict party discipline and a disproportional electoral system normally allows government to control Parliament through a cohesive and reliable majority in the House of Commons (HOC. ) The UK has therefore repeatedly been called an ‘elected dictatorship. ’ Parliamentary systems have also been linked with week government and political instability.

This usually occurs when the party system is fractured, and it is often associated with highly proportional electoral systems. For example, in France between 1945-58, 25 governments came and went. Similar problems have afflicted post World War 2 Italian politics. A polarised multiparty system led to the establishment of no less than 52 governments between 1945-96. The principal alternative to a parliamentary system is a presidential system of government.

Presidential systems are based on the strict application of the doctrine of the separation of powers. This ensures that assemblies and executives are formally independent from one another and separately elected. The classic example of this is found in the USA, where the so-called ‘founding fathers’ were particularly anxious to prevent the emergence of an over-strong executive, fearing that presidency might assume the mantle of the British monarchy. The resulting system therefore incorporated a network of checks and balances.

Congress, the US presidency and the Supreme Court are separate institutions, in the sense that no overlap of personnel is permitted, but nevertheless poses the ability to constrain one another’s power. Thus, while Congress has the ability to make law, the president can veto it, but congress can, in turn, override this veto with a two-thirds majority in both houses. In the same way, although the president has the power to make senior executive and judicial appointments, these are subject to confirmation by the upper house, the Senate.

Outside the USA, US-style presidential systems have largely been confined to Latin America. However, a semi-presidential system was established in France in this last half century. In this system, there is a ‘duel executive’ in which a separately elected president works in conjunction with a prime minister and cabinet drawn from and responsible to the National Assembly. How such a system works in practice depends on the delicate balance between, on the one hand, the personal authority and popularity of the president and, on the other, the political complexion of the National Assembly.

The principal goal of presidential systems is that, by separating legislative power from executive power, they create internal tensions that help to protect rights and liberties. As shown in the USA where the danger of executive domination is protected against by the powers vested in the Congress. For instance, Congress has the right to declare war and raise taxes, the Senate must ratify treaties and confirm presidential appointments, and the to houses can combine to charge and impeach the president. Such fragmentation, however, may also have drawbacks.

In particular, presidential systems may be ineffective and cumbersome because they offer an ‘invitation to struggle’ to executive and legislative branches of government. It has been argued, that since the US system allows the president to propose and Congress to dispose, it is nothing more than a mixture for institutional deadlock. This might be more likely when the White House and Capitol Hill are controlled by rival parties, but can also occur, as the Carter administration of 1977-81 demonstrated, when the same party controls both branches.


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