Difference Between Parliamentary and Presidential System of Government

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Differences Between Cabinet / Parliamentary and Presidential Systems of Government

Differences Between Cabinet / Parliamentary and Presidential Systems of Government

A presidential government is one in which there is an executive president,  with all executive powers and who combines the office of the of state and head of government while a parliamentary system of government, a clear distinction is made between the head of the state and the head of government. Here, the head of the state. King or Queen in Britain or President in India possesses nominal or titular authority whereas the real authority rests with the government of which the Prime Minister is the head.

Comparison Chart

Presidential System of Government Parliamentary System of Government
There is separation of governmental functions among various areas of government. The executive cannot take part in legislative deliberations. The executive can take part in legislative matters. Members of the executive arm are also member of the legislature, thus no separation of power.
The President is both head of State and head of Government. The President is ceremonial head of sate while the Prime Minister heads the government.
Decision-making is faster because the President can afford to take particular course of action without much constraints or support of the opposition parties. Decision-making is slow because the prime-minister, before taking any action, must first seek for the confidence of the majority of the parliamentarians, and even allow the policy to be debated before it can be adopted.
The President as the Head of Government is elected directly by the electorates. The executive is drawn from the parliament.
The president does not have any power to dissolve the parliament. Both the chief executive officers (President, Governor and Chairman) and the legislators have constitutionally prescribed tenure in office. The (ceremonial) president on the advice of prime minister or the entire cabinet can dissolve the parliament anytime without considering how much the legislators have spent in their tenure.
Removal of president involves a cumbersome process, making it a difficult task. The legislature can only remove the president through an impeachment, which is tedious and time consuming. It is easy to remove the prime minister with a vote of no confidence by the parliament.
The cabinet is directly accountable to the president and it is only from him they receive institutions. The cabinet including the
prime minister was the
creation of the parliament,
and thus, they are directly
accountable to the parliament.

Presidential vs Parliamentary System of Government

The differences between the cabinet / parliamentary and presidential systems of government include the following:

  • In a cabinet system of government, ceremonial and executive functions are separated and assigned to the Head of State and Head of Government respectively. There is no such division of powers in a presidential system where nominal and real executive powers are concentrated in the hands of the president.
  • The executive can dissolve the legislature and the legislature, in turn, can dismiss the government in a cabinet system of government. The president cannot dissolve the legislature nor can the legislature remove the president except through the difficult process of impeachment in a presidential system.
  • The chief executive in a presidential system of government is elected by the people either directly or indirectly while the chief executive in a parliamentary system is appointed by an unelected monarch or president.
  • There is fusion of powers in a parliamentary system. On the other hand, the presidential system is known for separation of powers.
  • The principle of collective responsibility which applies in a cabinet system does not exist in a presidential system.
  • The legislature may be unicameral or bicameral in a parliamentary system but it is usually bicameral in a presidential system of government.
  • There is an officially recognized opposition in a parliamentary system but there is no official opposition in a presidential system.
  • In the presidential system, the establishment of the Supreme Court is essential for the interpretation of the constitution. The court can even declare any act of the legislature or executive as unconstitutional. In a parliamentary system, the Supreme Court is not a necessity as courts can only interpret laws but cannot declare them null and void.
  • In the cabinet system of government, there is the notion of parliamentary supremacy. Contrarily, the legislature is not supreme in a presidential system.
  • The Prime Minister who is the chief executive in a cabinet system has no fixed term of office and can continue to remain in power in has much his work satisfied the parliament but the president in the presidential system has a fixed tenure of office.
  • In a cabinet system, the ministers belong to both the executive and legislature at the same time whereas the ministers in a presidential system are exclusively members of the executive only.
  • The Prime Minister appoints his ministers from parliament in a cabinet system while the president is at liberty to appoint his ministers from the legislature or anywhere else in a presidential system but sanction parliament approval.
  • In a cabinet system, the Prime Minister has a long apprenticeship in law-making and in the art of governance but, the same cannot be said of the president in a presidential system of government where a greenhorn or an untested person may even emerge as president.
  • Whereas the duties of the prime minister, especially in Britain, are not formally spelt out, the duties of the president in a presidential system are laid down by the constitution.
  • In a parliamentary system of government, the leader of the party is very important, as he is a prime minister-in-waiting. On the other hand, the chairman of the party in a presidential system is not at the top of the pecking order. The president is actually the defacto leader of the party.
  • The cabinet system of government is simple and cheap to operate whereas the cost of administration in the presidential system is usually very high.
  • While the parliamentary system tends to encourage the multiplicity of parties the presidential system tends to compel a fusion of parties.
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Conclusion (Cabinet Government and Presidential System)

In contemporary time, government is organized along either parliamentary or presidential form and the basic difference between the systems of government is the relation between the executive and the legislature.

The task of distinguishing the systems is not a difficult one.

While in parliamentary system there is fusion of power particularly in the relations between the legislature and the executive organs of government, but in presidential system, there is separation of power between the branches of government.

However, it is no news that several scholars have conducted extensive studies on the subject (parliamentary system of government). It is therefore pertinent to view some of the definitions that have emerged resulting from such intellectual efforts to stimulate our better understanding of the subject.

Presidential System of Government | Definition

A presidential system of government is one in which there is an executive president, i.e. someone vested with all executive powers and who combines the office of the of state and head of government. The president, whose constituency is the entire country, combines government powers with ceremonial powers, and he is also Commander in Chief of the Armed Force.

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In presidential system of government, the chief executive officer of the nation is both the head of state and head of government. He therefore, combines both the dejure and defacto powers. The system also enables the chief executive to enjoy full control of his or her cabinet.

By and large, presidential system upholds the principle of separation of power. There are several features of presidentialism notable among them is the principle of separation of power.

Nigeria practised the presidential system of government between 1979 and 1933. However, the United States of America offers a good example of the presidentialism system of government.

Parliamentary System of Government | Meaning & Definition

In a parliamentary system of government, a clear distinction is made between the head of the state and the head of government. Here, the head of the state. King or Queen in Britain or President in India possesses nominal or titular authority whereas the real authority rests with the government of which the Prime Minister is the head.

The King/Queen or President has a de jure authority, no doubt, and legally he possesses all the powers and privileges within the constitution and laws may confer upon him. However, in practice he exercises none.

Thus, Parliamentary system usually have a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state with the head of government being the prime minister or premier and the head of state often being an elected president or hereditary monarch.

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The way the parliamentary system is being operated differ from country to country, For instance in Britain, the constitutional conventions have stripped off all powers and privileges from the monarch, except those considered to be ceremonial.

That is the reason why people believe that monarch (as the head of state) does not err, because King/Queen does not participate in govemment deliberations and decisions but only performs ceremonial functions.

The government is formed by the political party which controls majority of the seats in parliament or parties in coalition that control the majority of the parliamentarians. The chief executive president or monarch will mandate the leader of the majority party or parties in alliance to form the government.

The majority party then appoints a prime minister and other members of the cabinet from among party members and occasionally, some of the ministers may be appointed outside the party if there are no constitutional provisions that discourage that action. The cabinet is charged with the responsibility of the day-to-day administration of state both in the executive and legislative capacities.

The prime minister as the head of government and chairman of cabinet performs at least four functions, which include:

  1. He is the head of the Ministry, that is, the government of his country.
  2. He is also leader of the legislature of the country the one whose intervention in debates has the greatest weight, who states and interprets government policy, who is responsible for obtaining the approval of the legislature for the policy of his government.
  3. He is the person through whom the head of state, King / Queen or President, normally communicates with the cabinet, with the legislature and ultimately, with the country.
  4. He is head of the legislative wing of the patty and responsible for maintaining harmony with its organizational wing.

Considering the above mentioned functions performed by the prime minister, one will notice two things. One is that there is fusion of power rather than (clear-cut) separation of power between the legislature and executive. This is because the cabinet members in parliamentary system also perform legislative functions as members of the legislature.

The second point is that the head of state (president or monarch) is only accorded with de-jure power to perform only ceremonial or nominal functions while the prime minister enjoys deform power whose functions cover not only day-to-day running of government within executive capacity but also some legislative roles as the leader of the majority party in the parliament.


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