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Book Notes Parliamentary Vs Presidential Government (Ed. Lijphart) Notes

Politics Notes > Presidential vs Parliamentary Systems Notes

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Parliamentary versus Presidential Government Notes Introduction

- Definitions
- Distinction 1
- In parliamentary governments, the head of the government is dependent upon the confidence of the legislature
- In presidential forms, the head of government is elected for fixed, constitutionally prescribed term and in normal circumstances cannot be forced to resign by the legislature (except by impeachment)
- Distinction 2
- Presidential heads of government are popularly elected directly or via an electoral college
- Prime Ministers are selected by a variety of methods (party election, inter-party bargaining, presidential appointment)
- Although Bagehot uses the term election due to the non-separation of the legislature and the executive
- Distinction 3
- Parliamentary systems have collective or collegial executives
- Can vary between pre-eminence and equality with other ministers (see Elgie notes) but still collegial
- Presidential systems have single person, non-collegial executives
- How well do three definitional criteria above serve to classify as either presidential or parliamentary?
Typology of types of democracy with empirical examples Executive selected by legislature

Executive selected by voters

Collegial executive Dependent on legislative confidence Most Western Europe Australia Canada India Israel Japan

No empirical examples (b)

One-person executive Not dependent on legislative confidence

Dependent upon legislative confidence

Not dependent upon legislative confidence


No empirical examples (a)


No empirical examples (c)

Most Latin America France (5th Repb) USA South Korea Philippines

Cyprus (1960-3) Uruguay (1952-67)

- Empty cells are those against which the logic of legislative confidence dictates
- A) would be a parliamentary system whereby the Prime Minister's relationship to his/her cabinet resembles that of a president to his/her cabinet
- B) and C) could not claim to be legitimately democratic because a vote of nonconfidence by the legislature would run against the popular will
- Only acceptable whereby the executive had the right to dissolve the legislature
- Problematic however for classifying semi-presidential governments
- Some can be defined as one or other by asking who really holds the power: President or Prime Minister?
- For others, it depends on circumstances i.e. France and whether or not it is in a period of cohabitation or not
- Simple question advocated by Maurice Duverger before Mitterrand lost majority in National Assembly and was forced to appoint Chirac to the presidency
- This circumstantial model is accepted as the consensus point of semipresidentialism
- Also theoretically possible (Portugal and Finland) to have situation whereby Prime Minister is head of the government and the President's prerogative only extends so far as a limited special role in foreign affairs and matters of national sovereignty
- Advantages and disadvantages
- Advantages of presidentialism
- Executive stability
- Based on a fixed term of office, which cannot be upset by the frequent use of legislative power to overhaul cabinets through votes of no confidence or the loss of majority support in the legislature
- Potential cabinet instability is an inherent and inevitable feature of parliamentary systems
- How serious is the problem?
- Only a problem when it assumes extreme frequency
- French Fourth Republic, Weimar Germany for example
- In fact, gives the flexibility to change quickly when necessary as a counterpoint to the potentially damaging rigidity of presidential terms of office
- Could be remedied by constructive vote of no-confidence: where a prime minister can only be removed if a new one is elected at the same time to overcome the problem of negative majorities (coalitions too far apart to function as a government)
- However, this may cause executive-legislative deadlock
- Greater democracy
- Popular election of the chief executive is regarded as more democratic than the indirect election (formal or informal)
- Argument that heads of government should be directed elected by the people has significant validity
- Linz (noted Parliamentary fan) acknowledges the democratic value of popular election of the chief executive
- In practice, parliamentary systems offer the functional equivalent of popular election of the Prime Minister

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