Fiji: Parliamentary democracy and traditional chiefs
Germany: Federal parliamentary democracy
Greece: Parliamentary democracy
Grenada: Parliamentary democracy
Guyana: Parliamentary democracy
Hungary: Parliamentary democracy
Iceland: Parliamentary democracy
India: Parliamentary democracy (insurgencies)
Ireland: Parliamentary democracy
Israel: Parliamentary democracy
Italy: Parliamentary democracy
Jamaica: Parliamentary democracy
Parliamentary Systems (56)
Japan: Parliamentary democracy
Kiribati: Parliamentary democracy
Luxembourg: Parliamentary democracy
Macedonia: Parliamentary democracy
Malta: Parliamentary democracy
Marshall Islands: Parliamentary democracy
Mauritius: Parliamentary democracy
Micronesia: Federal parliamentary democracy
Nauru: Parliamentary democracy
Nepal: Parliamentary democracy (insurgency)
Netherlands: Parliamentary democracy
New Zealand: Parliamentary democracy
Norway: Parliamentary democracy
Papua New Guinea: Parliamentary democracy
St. Kitts and Nevis: Parliamentary democracy
St. Lucia: Parliamentary democracy
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Parliamentary democracy
Samoa: Parliamentary democracy and traditional chiefs
San Marino: Parliamentary democracy
Slovakia: Parliamentary democracy
Slovenia Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Solomon Islands: Parliamentary democracy
Spain: Parliamentary democracy
Sweden: Parliamentary democracy
Switzerland: Federal parliamentary democracy
Thailand: Parliamentary democracy
Trinidad and Tobago: Parliamentary democracy
Tuvalu: Parliamentary democracy
United Kingdom: Parliamentary democracy
Vanuatu: Parliamentary democracy
Parliamentary and Presidential Systems
Parliamentary vs. Presidential
Coalition SELECTS AND OUSTS
The president is directly elected by the people
The role of President holds key powers that do not need the approval of the legislature
The cabinet and senior administrators are appointed by the President
Presidents are not members of the legislature
Presidents will maintain direct contact with the populace via formal media events
The power of the President is held in check by the separation of power that allows the judiciary to determine if actions are constitutional
The First Presidential System: The U.S.
The American system of separated power was in part the result of revolution against the concentrated power of the British Crown.
The framers of American Constitution were also intrigued by the causes of the collapse of the ancient republic of Rome and worried about the possible rise and dominance of factions within the body politics.
The impact of Locke and Montesquieu
They drew heavily on Locke’s notion of a clear separation of the executive and legislative powers of the state and on Montesquieu’s ideas about mixed government
Distrust of government has been embedded in American political culture
If men were angles, no government would be necessary. If angles were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependent on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions…Ambition must be made to counteract ambition (James Madison in Federalist Paper No. 51)
Sartori identifies a system as presidential “if, and only if, the head of state (president) 1) results from popular election, 2) during his or her pre-established tenure cannot be discharged by a parliamentary vote, and 3) heads or otherwise directs the government that he or she direct”.
The American presidential system embodies the notion of mixed government that combines elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in a constitution.
The executive branch, centered on the President, represents the monarchic element and provides an example of a single unified executive fulfilling formal, ceremonial, and discretionary executive functions, including ultimate command of the American military.
The Supreme Court, a panel of nine justices, represents the aristocratic element of government, although one can see the cabinet and the Senate as somewhat aristocratic in temper also.
The democratic element is represented by Congress, in particular the House of Representatives, which is elected on the basis of representation by population.
Separation of Power
The most fundamental principle of the US Constitution is a radical separation of powers.
This is accomplished by the creation of distinct branches of government and the restriction that no individual may serve or hold office in more than one of these branches at the same time.
The American Constitution requires a member of Congress (the US legislature) to resign his/her seat if appointed to the cabinet.
Check and Balance
The flip side of the separation of power in the American Constitution is a set of checks and balances designed to keep any one branch of government from gaining power at the expense of the others.
While each branch of government has primary responsibility for carrying out the function for which it is named, the other two branches also have a role with respect to that function.
Legislature makes law, but the President has the ability to veto legislation and the Supreme Court, by exercising judicial review, can declare laws to be unconstitutional.
With a 2/3 vote in both houses, Congress can overturn a presidential veto.
The President makes high-level appointments, from ambassadors and cabinet secretaries to Supreme Court justices, but the Senate of the legislature has the ability to hold hearings on these appointments and in some cases (e.g. Supreme Court appointments) to deny them.
All those measures are to make sure that no branch of government can fully perform its function without at least the acquiescence of the other two.
The First Parliamentary System: The UK
The British Parliament at Westminster has been called the mother of all parliaments.
The original arrangements were put in place by the Whig Revolution of 1688
Prior to 1688, the monarch made decisions and expected the legislature (particularly the House of Commons) to give formal approval (ratification) to these executive acts.
Since 1688, the reverse has been true: the legislature acts and the monarch gives the formal approval (assent) that legitimizes these actions.
Another essential element of the parliamentary system is the cabinet.
While absolute monarchs were ultimately responsible for all activities of the state, they normally delegated much of the actual labor to trusted advisers.
Over time, assistance to the monarch was recognized in a set of offices, each with its own title and particular set of functions.
Originally, the monarch appointed his/her ministers from the ranks of the aristocracy, choosing favorites and dismissing them once they fell out of favor.
This is the origin of the cabinet: a body of officials individually responsible for administering a portion of the state bureaucracy and collectively forming the “government” of the day.
Features of the Parliamentary System
The electorate votes for MP’s
The sovereignty of parliament
Parliament selects the executive
Fusion of power
The Cabinet has ‘collective responsibility’
The prime Minister is ‘first among equals’
The Sovereignty of Parliament
In Britain, this was established as early as 1688 (‘the glorious revolution’) and, although unwritten, is part of the evolutionary nature of the British system.
In Germany, the sovereignty of parliament is inscribed in the so-called ‘Basic Law’ that forms the basis of the constitution
Parliament Selects the Executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet)
In Britain by tradition, this is always the head of the majority party.
In Germany, there have been more instances of ‘coalition’ government than majoritarian government.
Where no party has a majority, the President of the country generally ‘invites’ the leader of the largest party to try to form a coalition.
If unsuccessful, the President may turn to the leader of another party.
Fusion of Power
Those who are actually carrying out the executive function are also to be legislators drawn from the lower chamber of the legislature.
This dual membership of cabinet members in both the executive and the legislature is called a fusion of power, and is common to almost all parliamentary systems.
There is no separation of power
In Britain, the highest court of the land is the Law Lords, who actually sit as members of the House of Lords (the second chamber of parliament)
In Germany, the President (mostly ceremonial, but with the power to invite a party leader to try and form a government) is chosen by the parliament
The cabinet is required to have the continued support of the most powerful chamber of the legislature—the House of Commons.
This requirement is the principle of responsible government, and it is the most important feature that distinguishes parliamentary government from all others.
This is a principle intended to keep the executive accountable to the legislature.
Any cabinet that fails to maintain the confidence of the legislature is expected to resign and be replaced by another that is able to command such a majority.
The logic is: If the cabinet cannot gain the support of a majority, it cannot get its policies or its expenditures passed, and if it cannot make policy or spend money, it cannot govern.
In Britain, a simple ‘motion of no-confidence’ is need to make the PM resign.
Although not constitutionally obligated, government would be unworkable if he/she did not.
In Germany, there is a ‘positive vote of no-confidence’ inscribed in the constitution.
A PM only has to resign if the vote of no confidence also designates a successor.
As head of government, the Prime Minister is the most powerful individual in a parliamentary democracy.
It is now the norm in most parliamentary systems that the Prime Minister (as chair of cabinet and thus head of government) controls most of the discretionary executive authority of the state and, given the fusion of powers that links the cabinet and PM to the House of Commons, usually dominates (if not controls) the legislature’s business.
The PM can call for ‘snap’ elections
Usually, the PM will only exercise this option if it appears that (a) his/her party will win the election, or (b) government appears to be becoming unworkable.
Examples: Margaret Thatcher, 1983 and 1987
In some countries, this is not an option (e.g. Sweden)
Because the convention of responsible government requires the cabinet to maintain the support of a majority, this provides a great incentive for political leaders to organize their supporters and provide some greater measure of predictability and discipline to their legislative behavior.
Consequently, in British parliamentary experience strong parties (now the norm in parliamentary regimes) replaced loose factions.
What makes parties strong is their ability to discipline members through rewards for loyal behavior (committee members and chairs, cabinet positions, other prestigious and/or highly paid political appointments) and sanctions for failure to support the party leadership (loss of such positions, failure to attain such appointments, or dismissal from the party’s parliamentary caucus).
Strong parties provide structure and predictability to activity within Parliament
Strong parties also make executive dominance possible
As organizations that provide means for leaders to discipline members, parliamentary parties are hierarchical and largely run from the top down (democracy within the party?)
To some degree, although party disciple is a product of the conditions created by responsible government, it also tends to undermine responsible government as a means by which the legislature keeps the executive accountable.
This is so because party discipline means that party leaders in the cabinet have firm control over the votes of their members in the parliament.
The development of strong, disciplined parties has strengthened the executive dominance
The cabinet actually exercises discretionary power within parliamentary systems, and the cabinet is the government of the day.
Ultimately, the executive answer not to the legislature, but to the electorate.
Comparing the Two Systems
Popularly elected or selected by the legislature
Separation of powers or fusion of powers
Responsible government or not
Ability or disability to dissolve the legislature
United or divided executive
Sole or collective executive
Popularly Elected or Selected by the Legislature
Presidents are popularly elected, either directly or via an electoral college, while prime ministers are selected by the legislature.
The German chancellor, the Irish taoiseach, and the Japanese prime minister are formally elected by the parliament.
In Italy and Belgium, cabinets emerge from negotiations among the parties in parliament and especially among the party leaders, but they also require a formal parliamentary vote of investiture.
In the UK, the king or queen normally appoints the leader of the majority party to the prime ministership, and in most of the multiparty systems, too, the cabinets that emerge from inter-party bargaining are appointed by the head of state without formal election or investiture; these cabinets are assumed to have the legislature’s confidence unless and until it expresses its lack confidence.
Separation of Powers or Fusion of Powers
In the parliamentary system, the same persons are or may be members of both parliament and cabinet
But in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway, they are incompatible.
In the presidential system, the same persons cannot simultaneously serve in both
But this rule does not apply to the Finnish cabinet.
Responsible Government or Not
In a parliamentary system, the chief executive and his/her cabinet are responsible to the legislature in the sense that they are dependent on the legislature’s confidence and that they can be dismissed from office by a legislative vote of no confidence or censure.
In a presidential system, there is no concept of “responsible government”
The president is elected for a constitutionally prescribed period and in normal circumstances cannot be forced to resign by a legislative vote of no confidence (although it may be possible to remove a president for criminal wrongdoing by the process of impeachment).
In the US. The terms of office: the President, 4 years; Congressional representatives, 2 years; and senators, 6 years, staggered 1/3 each 2 years.
Power is so dispersed in the presidential system that one might even say that there is no identifiable government here.
Combine these staggered terms with the absence of a unity between legislature and executive and the weakness of party discipline, it is difficult to assign responsibility for what does or does not happen in the US government.
The Right to Dissolve the Legislature or Not
A logical corollary of the legislature’s power to dismiss the cabinet in a parliamentary system is the prime minister’s right to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
In Norway, the executive does not have this right
In a presidential system, the inability of the legislature to dismiss the president is matched by the president’s inability to dissolve the legislature.
In Finland, parliament can be dissolved by the executive
United or Divided Executive
Most parliamentary governments have divided executives: a symbolic and ceremonial head of state (a monarch or president) who has little power, and a prime minister who is the head of the government and who, together with the cabinet, exercises most executive power.
In presidential systems, the president is simultaneously the head of state and the head of the government.
Finland may be regarded as a partial exception because its prime minister shares governmental power with the president on a coequal, or nearly equal, basis.
Sole or Collective Executive
The president is the sole executive
The prime minister and the cabinet form a collective executive body
Evaluating the Two Systems
Presidential System is Thought to…
Provide a check on parliament
Elect a leader that is responsible to the entire nation
Provide a leader that can discipline particularistic tendencies of legislators
Fuses symbolic attributes of the “head of state” with the pragmatic powers of the “head of government”
Presidential vs. Parliamentary System Lijphart 1992
More limited government
Less inclusive- winner take-all -type of government
Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skach 1993
Parliamentary democracies had a rate of survival more than three times higher than that of presidential democracies
Pure presidential democracies were also more than twice as likely as pure parliamentary democracies to experience a military coup
Presidentialism works to impede consolidation
Democracies do not survive fractionalized party system and presidentialism – Adam Przeworski
Gerald M. Easter 1997
Preliminary evidence of regime change across post-communist Eastern Europe suggests that in those cases where prospects for democracy seem more promising, such as the Czech Republic or Hungary, a parliamentary system has been chosen
In cases where prospects appear less encouraging, such as Romania and Central Asia, presidential systems are in place
Strength of Each System
Because the president in a presidential system is elected for a fixed term of office, a high degree of executive stability is guaranteed.
Juan Linz: parliamentary systems are “more conducive to stable democracy” than are presidential systems.
Weaknesses with Each System
Presidential system: Divided government and deadlock
Sartori (1994:89): “Ironically, then, the belief that presidential systems are strong systems draws on the worst possible structural arrangements—a divided power defenseless against divided government—and fails to realize that the American system works, or has worked, in spite of its constitution—hardly thanks to its constitution.”
Parliamentary system: Cabinet instability
Fragility and Instability of Presidential System
Americans tend to regard American-style democracy as the “best” system in the world.
America’s success with a presidential system has encouraged American foreign policy makers to attempt to foster similarly structured regimes in new democracies being established abroad.
Apart from the U.S. and the few stable Latin American examples of U.S. style separation of power systems, the world’s democratic nations have followed the parliamentary route.
Only three of presidential systems—Costa Rica (1949), Venezuela (1958), and Colombia (1974)—have been uninterruptedly democratic for more than 20 years
Riggs (1994:72): “The frequent collapse of presidential regimes in about 30 Third World countries that have attempted to establish constitutions based on the ‘separation of powers’ suggested that this political formula is seriously flawed. By comparison, only some 13 of over 40 Third World regimes (31%) established on parliamentary principles had experienced breakdowns by coup d’etat or revolution up to 1985.”
Is Presidential System More Conducive to Democracy than Parliamentary System?
Stepan and Skatch argue
While the essence of parliamentarism is mutual dependence, the essence of presidentialism is mutual independence.
Parliamentarism encourages reconciliation, while presidentialism encourages antagonism
This antagonism between the branches of government…
Contributes to the danger of deadlock
Makes it likely that politicians look to military to break the deadlock (in contrast, if deadlock occurs under parliamentarism, there are consitutional means for resolving the crisis:
a) vote of no confidence;
b) PM dissolves Parliament and calls new elections.
Regime Type of the 93 Countries that Became Independent between 1945 and 1979
Continuous Democracies from
Universe of 53 Non-OECD Countries that
Experience Democracy between 1973 and 1989
Coups are Twice as Common in Presidential Systems
Parliamentary Regimes are More likely to be
“Democratic Overachievers” (1980-1988)
Presidential System and Party System
US and Costa Rica and Venezuela stand out as having strong democratic institutions.
So we know there are cases of stable democracy that use the presidential system, the question is, what separates these from the unsuccessful presidential systems?
They have a small number of legislative parties (ENPS)
Hazard Rates for Parliamentary and
Presidential Democracies by Effective Number of Parties
Evidence from Stepan and Skatch
Why Have Presidential Systems often Been In Trouble?
The U.S. prototype is a weak system to begin with.
Undesirable element of winner-take-all politics
A president almost inevitably belongs to one ethnic group, and hence presidential systems are particularly inimical to ethnic power sharing.
The fixed term of a separately elected president makes for rigidity between elections.
Parliamentary systems are able to resolve crises at any time simply by changing leaders or governments. So conflict is routinized and need not ripen into crisis.
Greater likelihood of executive/legislative deadlock
Often combined with “wrong” party systems.
Presidential systems is not compatible with multiparty systems
Why is Multipartism Difficult for
Proposal to Change American Presidential System
In 1980, Lloyd N. Cutler, counsel to President Jimmy Carter, proposed:
The President, Vice President, Senators and Congressmen would all be elected for simultaneous six-year terms.
In order to break an impasse, “on one occasion each term, the President could dissolve Congress and call for new congressional elections for the remainder of the term.
If he did so, Congress, by majority vote of both Houses within 30 days of the President’s action, could call for simultaneous new elections for President and Vice President for the remainder of the term.
Fragility and Instability of the Parliamentary System
Horowitz, a scholar of Asia and Africa, emphasizes that most parliamentary systems, particularly those attempted in almost all African countries and some of the new nations of postwar Asian, have also failed.
He could also have pointed to the interwar collapse of democratic parliamentary systems in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Austria, Germany, and most of Eastern Europe.
Sir Arthur Lewis pointed out in 1965: The inherited Westminster system of parliamentary democracy was responsible for much of the authoritarianism then emerging in English-speaking Africa.
What Lewis emphasized was the winner-take-all features of the Westminster model, in which anyone with a parliamentary majority was able to seize the state.
Lijphart: the electoral system is an equally vital element in democratic constitutional design
Four Basic Types of Democracy
The less there are winner-take-all elements the better the system
Presidential system combined with PR legislative elections is the least attractive option.
Plurality-presidential system is slightly better than PR-presidential system in that it is relatively more stable.
Plurality-parliamentary system is in an intermediate position.
The parliamentary-PR system is the most desirable form, and almost invariably posts the best records.
Definition of the Semi-Presidential System
The head of state is elected by popular vote— either directly or indirectly— for a fixed term of office.
The head of state shares the executive power with a prime minister, creating a dual power structure with three features:
The head of state is independent from the legislature, but is not entitled to govern alone or legislate directly.
Conversely the Prime Minister and cabinet are responsible to the legislature (must be sustained by a working majority).
The balance of (legislative) power oscillates between the head of state (President) and the Prime Minister depending on whether or not there is a unified majority (president) or a divided majority (prime minister).
France and West Africa (Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Mali, Senegal), Eastern European (Poland, Bulgaria)
Features of Semi-Presidential System
Semi-presidential system is more closely related to presidential systems than parliamentary systems.
The primary similarity is that both have a directly elected President
The fundamental difference is that executive power is divided “in half” under semi-presidential system between the publicly elected President and the Prime Minister selected by the legislature.
This sharing of executive power is one of the key characteristics of the semi-presidential system.
The Semi-Presidential system has potentially two forms
A powerful president when there is a unified majority (legislative majority is of the same party or supportive of the President). The Prime Minister becomes secondary to the President in all legislative and diplomatic arenas.
A weakened president when the two majorities are of divergent or opposing parties. The prime minister takes on a primary role in most legislative arenas (generally excepting foreign policy)
Advantages of the Semi-Presidential System
Sartori claims that by being able to oscillate between these two forms, the semi presidential system is able to avoid the possible shortfalls of the pure presidential systems.
Weaknesses of the Semi-Presidential System
The semi-presidential system (like the presidential and parliamentary) requires well-developed (“fit”) political parties.
Assumes that internal party divisions will not prevent the president and prime minister from working effectively together.
Does not resolve problems of polarized pluralism or a fractured political party system (and inability to reach decisions or form stable coalitions within the legislature).