Eddie J. GIRDNERCHAPTER TWELVE
PRESIDENTIAL AND PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEMS*
The 3 Branches of Government*
The Separation of PowersRefers to the granting of powers to each of the three branches or organs of any government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial organs by a [written or unwritten] constitution.
It divides the functions of government so that power is not concentrated in the same hands and each branch of government has the power to independently check and balance the powers of the others.
It is a device that can be used to avoid tyranny whether by an oppressive dictator, or by the masses.
In practice it does not necessarily guarantee freedoms and democracy, and powers are not always clearly separated.*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (1)The 2 basic systems of government in liberal democracies, presidential and parliamentary systems, can be distinguished, perhaps most importantly, according to the relationship that exists between the different branches of government.
In presidential systems there is separation of power between executive & legislative branches which are elected separately. If one party controls the presidency & another the legislature it can cause immobilism or gridlock problems.
In parliamentary systems there is fusion of power between executive and legislative branches. The chief executive or prime minister (& typically ministers) is a member of the legislature, normally leading the party with most seats. S/he normally get the laws s/he wants passed with greater ease as s/he has backing of a majority of legislators.*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (2)Further differences between presidential and parliamentary systems include the feature that in presidential systems the head of government is normally also head of state symbolizing the unity of the country and representing the state abroad. This makes the presidency an especially powerful position.
In parliamentary systems, however, the head of state is a position held by a person different to the head of government. The head of state may be elected (directly by the people or else by legislatures) or may be a monarch.*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (3)The term of office for the chief executive (president) in a presidential system is fixed. Except under very exceptional circumstances s/he remains in office until the his/her term has ended (often 4 years, sometimes more). Then there must be a new election to choose a new head of government / state.
In parliamentary systems the prime ministers term of office is typically much less stable. Legally s/he might serve for a fixed term (often 5 years) before having to face a new election, but if s/he loses the confidence of a majority in parliament (often the case with coalition governments) new elections must be held.
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (4)In presidential systems the president is not a member of the legislature and nor are his/her cabinet ministers. In fact, they may have limited political experience or attachment to political parties. (Someone from the legislature might be appointed as a minister, but must then resign from the legislature).
In parliamentary systems, the key cabinet ministers are typically leading figures from parliament who belong to the prime ministers political party. They continue to be both members of the legislature and of the executive.*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (5)In presidential systems theres little regular mechanism for the executive to be questioned by the legislature. In parliamentary systems, however, the opposition normally has the right to regularly question the executive, (i.e. the prime minister and ministers) in parliament, known as the question period or question time.
Coalition governments are formed by 2 or more political parties, ministers typically included from all coalition partners. Conflicts are more likley in such governments, leading to breakdown of the coalition & new elections. The chief executive in a presidentail system is usually the candidate of one party &/or has gained a majority of votes & can not (normally) be removed by the legislature, so governments in presidential systems tend to be more stable.*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (6)In Presidential systems both the legislature and the president are normally elected by the people. In parliamentary sytems, however, the people do not typically elect the chief executive (prime minister) or ministers. Instead, they elect the members of the legislature who (depending on which party wins how many seats) then choose/approve the new prime minister and ministers. In the first system, then, the method of choosing the chief executive is much more direct.*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (7)* See http://www.dsusd.k12.ca.us/users/kevin.husen/AmericanGov/Book/iText/products/0-13-251359-5/ch1/ch1_s2_4.html*
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (8)In the presidential system party discipline is usually weaker, so even if the president is the leader of the biggest political party, it doesnt mean s/he can guarantee that the majority in the legislature will support him/her to pass the laws s/he wants. Passing legislation can be especially difficult because of the separation of powers.
In parliamentary systems, however, checks and balances dont exist on the power of government, which is itself typically the dominating part of parliament (like a special committee in parliament).*
*Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (9)
PresidentialParliamentaryRelationship between Executive and LegislativeSeparation of powerFusion of PowerHead of State /GovernmentSame PersonDifferent PersonsTerm of OfficeFixed (Predictable)Less PredicatableCabinetFrom outside LegislatureLegislatorsExecutives Question PeriodIrregular (primarily responsible to the people)Regular (primarily responsible to parliament)Government CoalitionsLess LikelyMore LikelyElection of Chief-ExecutiveNormally DirectNormally IndirectLegislationMore Gridlock, More Independence from PartyEasier to pass Legislation, Party control more Disciplined
Representation in Federal Systems (1)Federations are those states in which powers and sovereignty are constitutionally divided between the central government (which has authority and power throughout the whole federation) and the different political units (which may themselves be referred to as provinces, states etc) that make up the federation. States where all sovereignty is held by the central authorities are referred to as unitary states.*
Representation in Federal Systems (2)** World map of federal states from http://mapsof.net/uploads/static-maps/map_of_federal_states.png* Map of 36 states of the Nigerian federation from www.nigeriamasterweb.com/5mbebe/NigeriaStatesMap.gif
Representation in Federal Systems (2)Federations typically have 2 houses or chambers, or two parts to the legislative branch. We call these legislatures bicameral legislatures (as opposed to unicameral legislatures which have only 1 house /chamber). In federations one house (the lower house) normally represents the people & their interests, while the second house (upper house) represents the states & their interests. Often representation for each part of the federation in the lower house is based on their proportion of the overall population, whereas representation in the upper house is based on equality of the different parts irrespective of population levels.
Bicameral Legislatures (1)*
Lower HouseUpper House(Combined Name)FederationNigeriaHouse of RepresentativesSenateNational AssemblyUSAHouse of RepresentativesSenateCongressGermanyBundestagBundesrat--UKHouse of CommonsHouse of LordsHouses of Parliament
Bicameral Legislatures (2)*Not all states that have bicameral legislatures are federations however. In the UK for example, there is a bicameral system of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Such cases, however, are frequently a result of historical developments, particularly of the fact that in the past different houses / chambers in legisltures represented different classes in society.
In the medieval French assembly known as the Estates General, for example, there were actually three estates (or chambers) representing the clergy, nobility and commoners respectively.
Functions of Legislatures (1)The main and most obvious function of legislatures is to make laws. Though procedures vary in different states depending on their constitutions, it can be a long process to pass a new law or ammend an old one.
Draft laws (proposed but not yet passed) are called bills. Bills supported by the government usually have a better chance of becomming law, but most never actually do. They must often first be discussed and agreed to in special parliamentary committees, often more than once, and the process can be even more difficult to complete when there is a bicameral legislature, where each house must give approval.*
Functions of Legislatures (2)Another function of Legislatures is constituency work. The legislators constituency is the area/district from which s/he is elected. Often its seen as a task of legislators to stay in contact with the people from their district, give them speeches about developments and talk to them about (and where possible help them with) their problems. The legislator sort of acts like a channel between central government and the districts.
Related is the function of representation, that is legislators as representives of the interests of the people who have elected them. Of course not all are represented equally if at all