Presidential System of Government | Merits & Limitations
Presidential system of government is a form of government where there is a separation of functions between the executive organ and legislative organ of government. In this system, all the three arms of government are independent of one another. Every arm of government performs its official functions or statutory responsibilities without any interference by the other organ(s).
Meanwhile the chief executive officer of the state is the president at federal level of government and in the regional levels, we have Governor and Chairman for state and local governments respectively.
Advantages of Presidential System of Government
The presidential system of government has the following advantages:
- The system allows a strong president to achieve all his objectives.
- The operation of the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances allows branches of government to act as checks on on another thereby preventing abuse of power.
- It leads to stability of government. The absence of any official opposition reduces the possibility of cleavages and tension in the political system.
- It gives the president a lot of discretion to appoint into government people who are best able to contribute to the development of the country. The president acts as a catalyst for coalition among interests that would otherwise be at loggerheads; it is a political innovation which has kept a very heterogeneous society like the United States for over 200 years. Thus, the presidential system is most suitable for complex societies that may be ethnically divided.
- It facilitates quick decision-making especially in times of emergency. The president can, for instance declare a state of emergency in a state where law and order is threatened and seek retrospective approval of the legislature later.
- A minister can easily be removed or dismissed for non-performance without any threat to political stability.
- The system facilitates the mobilization of people for development.
- The presidential system is not encumbered by party pressure. In this system, the president is the father of the nation and he is supposed to be above partisan politics.
- The presidential system is, to a large extent, in tune with the traditional African concept of leadership whereby power is concentrated in the hands of the ruler.
Disadvantages of Presidential System of Government
The major disadvantages of presidentialism include the following:
- The system confers a lot of power on the president and this may lead to abuse of power and dictatorship. For example, the first major decision of the newly elected president of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in January 2006 was to sack all the staff of the Ministry of Finance ostensibly to check corruption. Although she later reversed the decision following widespread criticism, the fact remains that presidential power can be abused by incumbents.
- Where in a presidential system there is both a president and a prime minister (as in France), it may create conflicts between the two leaders which may threaten security and political stability. For example, both President – Joseph Kasavubu and the Prime Minister – Patrice Lumumba of the former Congo Kinshasha were constantly at loggerheads and the conflicts between them eventually led to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1960, just a few months after assuming power.
- The presidential system is very expensive to operate. The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, for example, stipulates that the president shall appoint at least one minister from each state of the federation (36). So at any given time, Nigeria must have at least 36 or 37 ministers if the FCT Abuja is counted as a state. Britain has only 20 cabinet ministers. Besides, the president has several presidential advisers and other presidential aides. The same system is replicated at the state level. Moreover, some institutions are specifically created to serve the presidency.
- Because of the huge resources at his disposal, the president may “seek to control the legislature and thereby influence the law-making process. This may create conflicts between the two branches of government. On the other hand, a weak president may allow power to fall into the hand of the legislature.
- It is difficult, if not impossible, to remove a president from office through impeachment. In the political history of the United States of America, only one president had been so removed from office.
- There is always the danger of arbitrary dismissal of ministers who are, in the first place ‘hand -picked’ by the president.
- The loyalty of the ministers is to the president instead of the legislature which is the true representative of the people.
- Lobbying, as a feature of the presidential system of government, may lead to corruption and nepotism.
- Where the legislature and the executive are controlled by different political parties, a stalemate may occur.
- The principle of strict separation of powers often inhibits the smooth running of government as the checks and balances of the system are not always genuinely used except when they are employed to extract concessions from the chief executive and his team.
- The President may not be responsive to public opinion, and the electorate may therefore be saddled with an ineffective president for four or more years.