How Do Presidential Systems Differ from Parliamentary Systems? Which System Does South Africa Use?

Topics: Separation of powers, Presidential system, Parliamentary system Pages: 7 (2316 words) Published: February 24, 2013


Student Name: Stacy Liddell

Student Number: LDDSTA001

Tutor: Dadisai Taderera

Tut Group No: 32

Assignment No: Course Essay 1

Date: 15 May 2009

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2.I have used the Harvard convention for citation and referencing. Each contribution to, and quotation in, this essay from the work(s) of other people has been attributed, and has been cited and referenced. 3.This essay is my own work.

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How do presidential systems differ from parliamentary systems? Which system does South Africa use?

This essay will explain the various branches of government and how separation of powers works in parliamentary – and presidential systems as this shows the relationship between the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. The dichotomy that exists between the two systems of government will then be shown. Following from this will be an explanation of which system of government South Africa utilizes and why and how the South African government is elected into power. The separation of powers also helps to show where the sovereignty lies and this is another point which will be discussed as it will help to clarify why South Africa utilizes the current form of government that it does.

The separation of powers is only used in countries where there is democratic rule. It is the constitution of the country which sets out the guidelines as to how the three branches of government are separated. This is done to limit the power of government and make it accountable to the citizens of that country (Newton and van Deth, 2005:41). Therefore a simple definition of separation of powers is: dividing the three branches of government; these being the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

The executive branch: Their function can be compared to that of a CEO of a company. In a parliamentary system the prime minister is a part of the executive and in a presidential system the president is the executive. The executive has three major functions. According to Newton and van Deth these are: 1) ‘Decision-making – initiating government action and formulation public policy’. 2) ‘Implementation – executives apply their policies, meaning they must run the main departments and bureaucracies of the state’. 3) ‘Coordination – synchronization and incorporation of the complex affairs of state’ (2005:45). The above functions outline the functions of an executive in a perfect world. In the real world however it is not so simple. For example: Barrack Obama is the President of the USA but his role extends beyond that of the executive as he is both head of government and state.

The legislative branch: This is the branch of government that makes the laws of the country. In a democratic state the legislature is selected by the public in the form of proportional representation. Therefore they are legitimate as they have been voted in by the public. The legislature is known as parliament or assembly but generally they meet to discuss the public affairs and promulgate necessary laws.

The judicial branch: This simply put is the courts and the extent of their power. Politicians cannot have the final say on constitutional matters as they could then bend it to their whims and abuse it. This is why the lawyers and judges are the arbiters who defend the constitution. Thus is seems obvious that the judiciary be the protector of the constitution of a country as it is for most parts a legal document and these people have the most knowledge and hands on experience when it comes to the law. For this to work it means that judges have to have the ability to be impartial to...

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Crepaz, M. M. L., Koelble, T. A., Wilsford, D. 2000. Democracy and institutions: the life work of Arend Lijphart. Michigan: University of Michigan Press
Goldwin, R. A., Kaufman, A. 1986. Separation of powers--does it still work? New York: American Enterprise Institute
Lijphart, A. 1999. Patterns of democracy: government forms and performance in thirty-six countries. New Haven: Yale University Press
Newton, K. van Deth J. W. 2005. Foundations of comparative politics: democracies of the modern world. London:Cambridge University Press
Norris, P. 1997. Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems. Contrasting Political Institutions special issue of the International Political Science Review Vol 18(3):297-312
Republic of South Africa. 1996. Constitution. Chapters 3, 4 and 5. Government Printers: Pretoria
Rhodes, R. A. W., Binder S. A., Rockman B. A. 2008. The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions. New York: Oxford University Press US.
Shugart M. S., Carey J. M. 1992. Presidents and assemblies: constitutional design and electoral dynamics. London: Cambridge University Press
Shugart M. S. Semi-Presidential Systems: Dual Executive and Mixed Authority Patterns. [Online]. Available: [2009, May 11]
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