This paper compares presidential and parliamentary forms of democratic government, discusses in detail the similarities and differences of the two systems as well as their strengths and weaknesses, and concludes with an observation of why some states are more likely to choose a presidential system as opposed to a parliamentary system.
Presidential and Parliamentary Systems:
Parliamentary and presidential forms of government are the two principal types of democracy in the modern world. The respective advantages and disadvantages of the two systems have been long debated, at first mainly by British and American political participants and observers, but with increasing frequency in other parts of the world, especially in Latin America and the emerging states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The distinctions between the two systems are more important now than ever due to the recent world-wide wave of democratization which has intensified both the debate and its significance. The struggling new nations of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are desperate to establish democratic forms of government and are seeking the style of democracy that will prove most effective for their own unique political, social, and economic needs. 1
Of particular interest to the citizens and prospective leaders of these budding democracies is the matter of reaching a decision regarding which of the two most widely-practiced democratic systems of governmentthe presidential form or the parliamentary formplaces more power directly in the hands of its people. In other words, which system more closely approaches a true democratic ideal ? Other concerns play a role, but these are the two primary issues under debate across eastern Europe, in the nations making up the Commonwealth of Independent States, and in the emerging democracies of much of the Third World. Proponents of the parliamentary form of government as the most democratic assert that a parliamentary system is a more efficient way to run a country, and cite numerous reasons for their position. First of all, a parliamentary system gives its citizens a greater voice in the affairs of their legislature. Citizens know to a much greater degree what to expect from the people they elect to public office and also know to a much greater degree of certainty whom to blame if things go wrong or elected officials don't deliver what they have promised to deliver. In contrast, the presidential system, which features separate executive and legislative branches in which each member of the legislature is permitted to vote according to his or her own interests, has an inherent weakness in that it is difficult for citizens to establish accountability for government actions. A good example of this comes from the American experience, when one considers the number of times various presidents and congresses of the United States have blamed one another for obstructing legislation. Members of the executive branch, often from the president himself on down to the lowest assistant press secretary, can and often do blame the legislative branch for any impasse, while several hundred members of Congress and their staffs and political supporters in turn blame the executive branch; leaving the average voter at a loss as to who is really responsible. The term gridlock has been introduced into America's political lexicon to describe this all too frequent and disillusioning legislative phenomenon that often cripples the American legislative process. Citing reasons such as this, advocates of a parliamentary system maintain that a parliamentary form of democracy benefits the people to a much greater degree and is much more effective than a presidential system, because it offers them a more efficient government with more direct responsibility. For example, in a parliamentary election process, political parties and...
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