Presidential and Parliamentary Systems (Comparative essay)

free essayA state can enact the democratic principle of government through two models: presidential democracy and parliamentary democracy. Great Britain is an example of classic parliamentary system. The United States, on the contrary, is a presidential democracy. There are also countries, such as France and Russia, which combine the two systems in various proportions. While parliamentary governments prevail among democracies, presidential governments are a more frequent phenomenon. The main differences between the two models of democracy are the way branches of power are elected and the way they interact to form a policy.

Parliamentary systems exist throughout Europe. Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Scandinavian countries, Spain, Italy, Germany, and many other countries, have parliamentary systems. All countries of the British Commonwealth have embraced the political heritage of the British Empire. The United States was the first presidential system. The newly emerged nation wanted to pursue a democratic way of development but it resented the parliamentary system, as a reminder of the British rule. The presidential rule is frequent in South American and African countries (Edmondson, 2012).

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Election of the Chief Executive

Democratic system stipulates for separation of legislature and executive branch. However, different models of democracy have formed a unique way of interaction of these branches. In the first turn, it concerns the head of government. Under presidentialism, the president is the head of the executive branch, and legislative brunch works separately. Usually, the president is both the head of the state and the head of the government. Under parliamentarism, prime ministers have executive functions, while they belong to the legislature. Normally, the head of the state and the head of the government are two different persons.

In all democracies, the legislative branch, such as parliament, assembly, congress, or any other local variety, is publicly elected. However, the systems differ in the manner of electing the executive power. Under presidentialism, the president is elected by voting; people know particular candidacies and choose to vote for them. In parliamentary systems, people do not choose the leader of the state. The legislature selects a prime minister from their part (Carey, 2012).

The mode of government defines the periodicity of government change. In the presidential systems, elections follow the schedule; the legislature and the head of the executive power serve a definite term and leave the office after the election of new officials or deputies. In most cases, the president and the assembly do not depend on confidence. In addition, the president has the right to dissolve the assembly. In the parliamentary system, the legislature can appoint the election date that differs from the scheduled one. The head of the executive branch depends on the parliament’s confidence; the assemble can elect another president.

The hybrid model combines the two principles. On the one hand, there is a popularly elected president, who has considerable power. On the other hand, there is a cabinet and a prime minister, whose service depends on the confidence of the parliament (Carey, 2005).

Interaction of the Legislative and Executive Branches

The regime of the government also defines the interaction within the legislature. Parliamentarism means that the party, having the majority, can implement the policy and pass laws that they consider desirable with little resistance of the rest. Consequently, the executive and the legislative branches mostly work in accord. To balance the power of the ruling party, some systems keep it accountable to the opposition. Forming a coalition is an effective way to force through some policy. Several minor parties can be a considerable legislative force if they manage to make a coalition. Decision-making is usually partisan and not individual (Carey, 2005).

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Presidential regime does not stipulate for consensus between the legislative and the executive branches. If parliamentary majority opposes the president, the branches impede each other’s work. That is why, the decision-making process is usually slower. The process of creating coalitions is not as active as it is in the parliamentary system, and the decisions are normally taken by individuals on their own behalf and not on the behalf of the political party.

Separation of power Elections Mode of decision-making Interaction of the branches
Presidentialism Clear and complete: legislative and executive branches cooperate but do not intersect Scheduled and personal Decentralized; legislature has little incentive to form coalition. The president takes decisions on individual bills The branches can work against each other
Parliamentarism The head of the executive branch is the head of the legislative branch at the same time Can be appointed by the parliament out of the schedule; the parliament appoints the prime minister Centralized; proposals and decisions are partisan The work of the branches if aligned

British, German and South African Executive-Legislative Relationship

Great Britain

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a parliamentary monarchy. Monarchial principle can co-exist with parliamentary regimes. Spain and the Netherlands are parliamentary monarchies, too. The British Parliament that is the oldest in the world has two chambers: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. A place in the first is hereditary, while citizens elect the deputies to the lower chamber. After the election, the British parliament appoints the prime minister, who is usually the leader of the winning party. In his turn, the prime minister forms the government (the Cabinet of Ministers) from the elected members of the assembly. Generally, the interaction of the branches of power is smooth. The second largest party in the House of Commons forms the opposition. There is the so called “Question Time” when opposition has the right to question the government about the results of their policy (Edmondson, 2012).


Germany is a parliamentary republic, but its political system essentially differs from that in the UK. German parliament consists of two chambers, Bundestag, the lower one, and Bundesrat, the upper one. The citizens elect deputies to Bundestag every 4 years. Bundesrat consists of the members of government cabinets. Bundestag elects the Kanzler who is the head of the government. There is also a president, who is voted for by Bundestag and state legislature and is the head of the state. The decision-making process requires consensus of the parties and chambers. However, opposing parties in the lower and upper chambers can complicate the legislative process. Additionally, such deadlocks increase the probability of backstage deals.

South Africa

South Africa is a parliamentary democracy. The president of the country is both the head of the state and the government. The president is elected by the parliament and not by voting. Government has executive power and, at the same time, participates in legislation. There are several legislative bodies, namely the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly, the Council of Provinces, and the government. Elections to the parliament takes place every 5 years at national, provincial, and local levels.


Both regimes of the democratic government have proved their vitality. However, both presidential and parliamentary systems have their drawbacks and advantages. Presidential systems have a higher probability of sliding to autocracy. Besides, contradictions between the government and the assembly can impede the work of government largely. Parliamentary regimes can pass decisions faster but they tend to disregard minority opinions. Meanwhile, the democratic system develops and elaborates a better balance between the executive and legislative branches.

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