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Parliamentary and Presidential systems
Systems of gov't can be classified as either parliamentary or presidential. The terms refer to the type of
relationship between the executive and the legislature.
In parliamentary systems, the executive and the legislature are interconnected. There is no strict
separation of powers. The gov't (executive) is normally chosen from the representatives of the majority
party (or coalition group, if no single party has a majority) elected to legislature (the Parliament or
assembly). The government is accountable for its actions to the legislature and it is dependent upon the
continued support of the legislature to remain in office.
In presidential systems the legislature and executive are distinct (a clear separation of powers). The
head of the executive, the President, is chosen by the electorate rather than by the legislature.
Presidents do not sit in, and cannot normally be removed by, the legislature. The President acts as head
of government and as ceremonial head of state.
Most European countries have parliamentary systems whereas the USA has the best known example of
a presidential system. Presidential systems can also be found in Latin American states and in some Asian
and African countries. Describing a system of gov't as 'presidential', however, does not necessarily that
the country has a president rather than a monarch as its head of state. Ireland and Germany, for
example, both have presidents as heads of state but they both operate parliamentary systems of gov't.
Differences between parliamentary and presidential systems
The UK The USA
The executive and the legislature are tightly The relationship between the legislature and the
linked. The executive - the gov't ministers - sit in executive in the USA presents a sharp contrast to
one of the two Houses of Parliament (the the relationship in the UK. The writers of the
Commons or the Lords). Ministers take part in United States constitution in 1787 believed that
debate and vote together with the other liberty would best be preserved by placing the
members of Parliament. various powers of gov't in separate hands.
The executive is not independent of Parliament - Executive power is invested in a President,
the HoCs can overthrow the gov't by a vote of no elected for a 4 year term not by the legislature
confidence. On the other hand, the gov't, through but, in practice, by the United States electorate.
the PM, can dissolve the legislature nd hold a The President can only be dismissed by the
general election. legislature for criminal misconduct. The only part
In practice, however, the most important factor is Presidents can play in the legislative process lies
the party system. Normally, the UK government in their right to veto Acts of Congress (and even
is formed from the party holding a majority of the this veto can be overridden by a two-thirds
seats in the HoCs. The gov't expects backbench majority in each House of Congress). Congress
MPs to support it by voting according to party holds power to legislate and it can refuse to pass
instructions. This means, in effect, that the gov't bills the President wants or refuse to grant the
brings into law legislation which it has itself money which the President judges necessary to
proposed. In this sense, the gov't controls the run the public services. Constitutionally, if
HoC. In the UK, therefore, the executive and the Congress is uncooperative, there is little the
legislature are not two independent branches of President can do about it. The President cannot
gov't, and legislation and execution are not two dissolve Congress and Congress cannot
disconnected processes. overthrow the President. The formal separation
between executive and legislature is almost
complete and far greater than in the UK.