Parliamentary vs Presidential Systems of Government

Can a democracy endure? The challenge of its endurance is consolidation, which requires years of commitment. Not all democracies are the same, but its survival depends on its institutional system. Arrangements of representation, schemes for the separation of powers and oversight, and the like all vary under different forms of democracies. Most existing democracies today are either presidential or parliamentary in form; many governments are semi or hybrid in either presidentialism or parliamentarism, but the two systems in their purest sense will be discussed and compared.

In the end, the best promises a democratic government such that a democratic state can grow and persist even in the face of poverty, ethnic and religious division, and traditions of authoritarian rule lie in parliamentarism. This is not to say presidentialism does not work; the United States and French governments have this structure. But the evidence that parliamentary democracies survive longer under the above conditions is undeniable. A presidential system of democracy is a form of government where the executive branch exists and presides separate from the legislature.

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The President is chosen in a popular election separate from the legislature for a fixed term. Therefore, two democratically legitimate institutions exist. The president also has a dual-hatted role, as he is the chief executive and the symbolic head of state. The executive has full control of creating his cabinet/administration (although member appointment typically requires confirmation by the legislative body). The president may not have the ability to legislate directly; he is not a voting member (because he is not a member of the legislature like the Prime Minister), and may not be allowed to introduce bills.

In some presidential systems like the United States, the chief executive has the power to veto acts of the legislature; conversely, the legislature can override a presidential veto, usually requiring some sort of majority or supermajority among the body. A parliamentary system is defined as a political system in which parliament (the legislative body) is the only democratically legitimate institution. It selects the government- a prime minister, or chancellor, etc, and cabinet members (ministers) according to party strength.

Its authority is dependent upon parliamentary confidence. The chief executive is elected by the legislative body; thus its power must be supported by a majority (or coalition) in the legislature and can fall if it receives a vote of no confidence. The executive is directly responsible to the legislature. Consequently, the assembly has the power to choose and remove the executive. Presidentialism has its advantages. Since the President is directly elected by the people, he has, like the legislature, a strong claim to legitimacy.

His being directly elected by the people also makes him more responsible to the people, not the legislature; this allows him to push for more unpopular programs in government and does not have to feel pressured to act along party lines. It is no coincidence that the majority, if not all, Latin American governments are presidential; the system is concurrent with the personalistic culture of Latin American politics and links most closely with their history of authoritarian, personal rule. This is also a disadvantage in itself; too much power in the hands of one man sets the stage for personalistic rule.

A caudillo style rule that would challenge political programs and weaken parties based on ideology coupled with the enticement to seize more and more power is magnified. # The very adoption of a presidential system is the first step towards authoritarianism; Simon Bolivar famously said “We elect a monarch whom we call ‘President’. ” It has become tradition in Latin America for presidents to generally ignore/amend the constitution, especially when it comes to term limits; Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and countless others share this “custom. ” Even U. S.

Presidents have been criticized as “imperial” for bypassing Congress in issuing decrees and executive orders, and sometimes simply ignoring Congress altogether. In short, young presidential democracies with a history of authoritarianism and/or military rule are more prone to break down. # Since power is given to the prime minister/executive by the majority in the legislature, the leader of a parliamentary government is not as prone to legislative congestion, as the executive in a presidential system may be. Parliamentary democracies are more suited for countries with numerous political parties or factions.

Another important point is that the prime minister can be replaced without there being a regime crisis, as has happened with countries adopting presidential systems. # It is also less prone to authoritarian collapse. No third world presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without experiencing some sort of constitutional breakdown or overthrow. Between 1973 and 1987 presidential democracies enjoyed legislative majorities less than half of the time; parliamentary democracies enjoyed legislative majorities roughly 83% of the time. And when parliamentary governments did not have a majority in the assembly, they sought to form coalition governments to compromise and pass legislation. This is especially true in young parliamentary democracies. “All members of the coalition have an incentive to cooperate if they do not want the government of the day to fall. ”# In the Third World, countries that became independent after World War II and adopted the presidential system of government were not continuously democratic between 1980 and 1989. Parliamentary democracies typically last longer than presidential ones. A presidential system is difficult to see through in young democracies if there is not a majority-producing electoral institution. In facing legislative gridlock, presidentialism is quite brittle. Although both systems are susceptible to poor economic performance, presidential democracies are less likely to survive. Parliamentarism survives under a much broader range of circumstances than presidentialism. # Works Cited Linz, Juan J. “The Perils of Presidentialism. Journal of Democracy, Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 1990, pp. 51-69. Power, Timothy and Mark Gasiorowski. 1997. “Institutional Design and Democratic Consolidation in the Third World. ” Comparative Political Studies. 30: 123-55. Stepan, Alfred and Cindy Skach. 1993. “Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation: Parliamentarianism versus Presidentialism. ” World Politics. 46(1): 1- 22. Wrage, Stephen. 1998. “The Perils of Presidentialism Reconsidered. ” Mershon International Studies Review. 42: 380-382, 380.