Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed major changes in political alignment; changes that have resulted in the complete extinction of certain political systems and evolution of new ones (O’Neil, 2012, p. 3). The type of democracy in a country is dictated by its constitution. Continuous constitution amendments and promulgation of new constitutions of the states and governments are responsible for the changes in modern government systems. There are different forms of government systems practiced in various parts of the world today. Each bestows various powers and responsibilities to the state leader. For example, the British prime minister is accountable to the House of Commons and is required to appear before it and answer questions on a weekly basis. On the contrary, it is not mandatory for the United States president to be subjected to Congressional questioning, unless on a voluntary basis. While Britain practices the parliamentary government system, the US is run by a presidential government system. This explains the difference in powers and responsibility between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. Is either of the two systems is better than the other? This paper compares and contrasts the parliamentary and presidential government system. It also demonstrates why the parliamentary government is more democratic than the presidential system.
Although there are slight differences in the country governments that practice the same system, there are basic features that are common in all the countries that practice a similar system. According to O’Neil, presidential system refers to a democratic government in which, the country is led by a president who is both the head of government and the head of the states (2012, p.142). In parliamentary systems, on the other hand, the country’s leader of government may not be the head of the states. Most of the parliamentary governments recognize the prime minister as the country’s leader of government together with a monarch who is the head of state. The duties of the head of states are, as stated by O’Neil mainly ceremonial such as representing the country in foreign undertakings (2012, p.140). Parliamentary governments may comprise of a constitutional monarch such as Sweden and United Kingdom governments or the parliamentary republic as practiced in Germany, India, among others. There are other systems that do not entirely fall under either parliamentary or the presidential systems in which the head of states is also the head of governments such as the South Africa and Botswana governments (O’Neil, 2012, p.143)
One of the most striking differences between parliamentary and the presidential system is the mode of election in the respective countries. In the presidential system, the president is openly elected by the people. There is a clear distinction between the executive and the legislative elections, which can be held simultaneously or at different times. The president later appoints the cabinets who, in most countries, should not be elected legislators. Conversely, citizens have no privilege of electing their preferred executive leader in a parliamentary system as legislators are the only elected leaders. Following the assembly election, the party or coalition that garners more members forms the executive branch while the other party or parties remain as the legislature. The executive cabinets are also appointed from the legislators by the head of governments.
The constitutional powers of the presidents in presidential system and the head of governments in parliamentary systems are also different. In most cases, there is a separation of powers between the executive, the legislator and the judiciary (the third arm of the government) in the presidential systems, with the presidency being appearing stronger to others (O’Neil, 2012, p.141). The clear separation of powers can, as pointed out by the critiques of the presidential system, lead to divisions in the government, making it more difficult to make decisions and enact policies (O’Neil, 2012, p.144). In the United States, for example, the legislative debates and passes bills that can be vetoed by the president. Similarly, the legislature can overrule the president vetoes by attaining a two-thirds vote majority. Some of the president’s appointees and commands such as military deployment are also subject to the congressional approval, although the president is not accountable to the legislators but to the electorates. On the contrary, the head of governments in parliamentarian systems are directly accountable to the legislator. The parliaments reserve a right to question their heads of state on the floor of the assembly. There is also no fundamental separation of powers for the executive originates from the legislator (O’Neil, 2012, p.142).
The other aspect differentiating the presidential from the parliamentary government is the dissolution procedure. In the presidential system, the president tenures is a fixed term unless with an occurrence of an unforeseeable event (O’Neil, 2012, p.142). Despite the provision that the legislature may impeach the president, it has remained extremely difficult to remove a president from office. Presidential system, thus, provides a relatively stable government with major elections being held after a pre-determined period. By contrast, the head of government in parliament ally system will eventually lose their seat whenever they fail to secure a majority support in the legislator. The head of states is, thus, subservient to the legislator so as to evade the vote of no confidence. Parliamentary system is, as stated by O’ Neil criticized as being unstable and short term (2012, p.144). It is quick but poor in decision making since the legislators stand is influenced by their respective political stand.
Despite the ranging differences, both the presidential and parliamentary systems are similar in some features. To begin with, both systems have heads of states though with different roles and powers. Both systems also apply the method of representative democracy as opposed to dictatorial governance since the citizens participates in dissimilar elections. It is also common to find both the lower and the upper house legislations, usually known as the bi-cameral representation, in either the parliamentary or presidential system.
Although either of the systems have some advantages and disadvantages, this paper holds that the parliamentary systems is more democratic that the presidential system. Proponents of the presidential systems argue that it is democratic since it lets the citizens elect their president. However, the elected president may not be transparent, killing the original meaning of democracy. Again, the presidential systems, centralizes power to a single person- president. In the parliamentary system, supremacy is equally distributed across all the parliamentarians, who are the representatives of the people. This ensures that everybody is equally represented, especially in the countries where there are diverse racial and ethnic cultures. Even if citizens do not vote for their head of government, the appointed leader is answerable to the electorates’ choice, the legislator. The fact that the head of government in parliamentary system can be easily overthrown also minimizes the chances of having a dictatorial leader. Nonetheless, it is important to note that both systems have had success in respective countries. For example, both Britain and the US are politically and economically stable countries today, despite their contrasting government systems.
Clearly, neither the presidential nor the parliamentary system of government is better than the other. Either of the two systems have positive features over the other. For example, presidential systems allow the electorates to vote for their leader but deny them the opportunity to keep their leaders accountable. The two systems are may be different in modes of election, power scope and removal from office, but they have the most important feature in common, that is, the honor of democracy. Since neither system is superior, countries with either system should ensure that the leaders abide by the constitution while discharging their constitutional mandates.
O’Neil, P. (2012). Essentials of Comparative Politics.