Parliamentary Versus Presidential Governments

Two of the most popular types of democracy are the presidential and parliamentary government systems.

A nation's type of government refers to how that state's executive, legislative, and judicial organs are organized. All nations need some sort of government to avoid anarchy. Democratic governments are those that permit the nation's citizens to manage their government either directly or through elected representatives. This is opposed to authoritarian governments that limit or prohibit the direct participation of its citizens. Two of the most popular types of democratic governments are the presidential and parliamentary systems.

The office of President characterizes the presidential system. The President is both the chief executive and the head of state. The President is unique in that he or she is elected independently of the legislature. The powers invested in the President are usually balanced against those vested in the legislature. In the American presidential system, the legislature must debate and pass various bills. The President has the power to veto the bill, preventing its adoption. However, the legislature may override the President's veto if they can muster enough votes. The American President's broadest powers rest in foreign affairs. The President has the right to deploy the military in most situations, but does not have the right to officially declare war. More recently the American President requested the right to approve treaties without the consent of the legislature. The American Congress denied this bill and was able to override the President's veto.

In parliamentary governments the head of state and the chief executive are two separate offices. Many times the head of state functions in a primarily ceremonial role, while the chief executive is the head of the nation's legislature. The most striking difference between presidential and parliamentary systems is in the election of the chief executive. In parliament systems, the chief executive is not chosen by the people but by the legislature. Typically the majority party in the parliament chooses the chief executive, known as the Prime Minister. However, in some parliaments there are so many parties represented that none hold a majority. Parliament members must decide among themselves whom to elect as Prime Minister. The fusion of the legislative and executive branches in the parliamentary system tends to lead to more discipline among political party members. Party members in parliaments almost always vote strictly along party lines. Presidential systems, on the contrary, are less disciplined and legislators are free to vote their conscious with fewer repercussions from their party. Debate styles also differ between the two systems. Presidential system legislators make use of a filibuster, or the right to prolong speeches to delay legislative action. Parliamentary systems will call for cloture, or an end to debate so voting can begin.



Most European nations follow the parliamentary system of government. Britain is the most well known parliamentary system. Because Great Britain was once a pure monarchy, the function of the head of state was given to the royal family, while the role of chief executive was established with Parliament. Some parliaments, however, do not have a history of monarchy. Israel is a parliamentary system with a president. The president, however, does not hold the same power as a president in a presidential system, but functions as the head of state. In both presidential and parliamentary systems, the chief executive can be removed from office by the legislature. Parliamentary systems use a "ňúvote of no confidence' where a majority of parliament members vote to remove the Prime Minister from office. A new election is then called. In presidential systems, a similar process is used where legislators vote to impeach the President from office.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, democracy has begun to flourish around the world. As emerging nations struggle to identify themselves, they are also debating which form of democracy is best for them. Depending on the nation and its citizens, they may choose the more classic parliamentary system or the less rigid presidential system. They could also blend to two popular systems together to create the hybrid government that works best for them.

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