What are Presidentialism and Parliamentarism?

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What are presidentialism and parliamentarism? What are their virtues and vices? Which system is more suitable to new democracies, and why? Do we have a universal answer for all countries?

Presidentialism and parliamentarism are two major forms of democratic government systems. Nearly all political systems in the world are modeled on them. (Mahler, 2000) The former is best respresented by the United States while the latter one is represented by the United Kingdom. The discussion in this essay is based on pure presidentialism and pure parliamentarism, excluding those political forms which contain only some features of these two systems. The focus of this essay is on the virtues and vices of both systems and the suitability of which system to new democracies.

In presidentialism, the president has both the political power and symbolic authority for the country as the head of state. (Mahler, 2000) By Sartori’s (1994) definition, presidentialism should have the head of state popularly elected for a fixed time span, he is also the head of government. The parliamentary can neither appoint nor remove the president, vice versa. The executive branch and legislative branch are chosen by two independent elections and they can neither overthrow nor affect each other. Both the terms of the president and the legislature are fixed so that they have power security.

On the other hand, in parliamentarism, the government is appointed, supported and dismissed by parliamentary vote. (Sartori, 1994) The head of state, has the symbolic authority and the chief executive of government (usually called the prime minister), has the real political power. The former one is usually chosen out of hereditary tradition, elected by a governmental body or self-selected. (Mahler, 2000) The executive and legislative branches are merged in the sense that people can only elect the legislators in parliamentarism. The head of government is then elected by the legislators. Thus the leader of the largest party in the parliament will become the head of government of the country. Cabinet members are also from the parliament. It represents the concept of legislative supremacy that legislature hires and fires the executive with superior right. (Mahler, 2000) The government is responsible to the parliament. But when there is no party maintaining the majority, a coalition government will be formed. If the government is fallen again, dissolution and re-election of legislature may be introduced. (Mahler, 2000)

Each system has merits and demerits. Parliamentary system provides political flexibility. The government will be replaced if the legislature no longer supports it. Therefore when the government cannot fulfill people’s need, they can replace it simply by changing the composition of legislature in election. The limited time allowed to elapse between legislative elections is the greatest guarantee against overweening power and the hope of the minority in parliamentarism. (Linz, 1996) It can simply resolve the political crises by changing the government or the leader to satisfy people’s will. (Horowitz, 1996) Parliamentarism provides more stability in such means of political flexibility. It can also give representation to more number of parties, even the minority ones. Such feature is further enhanced when we are using the proportional representation electoral system. With strong party discipline, which means legislators in the same party should have and vote for the same stance, the prime minister can stay in service as long as his party is in majority in the legislature. (Mahler, 2000) Thus more likely the promises made by the prime minister can be realized due to the support to him from his party members in the legislature. Due to this practice, policies can be passed and delivered quickly, no matter it is a good or bad one.

However, the mostly criticized problem of parliamentary system is the formation of coalition government when there is no majority...
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