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Presidential System of Government | Definition | Features | Merits and Demerits
Meaning of Presidential System of Government
The presidential system of government is a type of government in which most executive powers are vested in the President who is the chief executive (Head of State and Head of Government). The system was originally derived from the British monarchs of the 18th century who were very powerful.
The United States of America is the oldest example of this system of government. Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, France and several Latin American countries also operate the presidential system of government.
Features of Presidential System of Government
- Under a presidential system of government, the chief executive officers (president at the national level, governor at the state level and chairman at the local level) perform only executive functions such as implementation of government policies: they are excluded from taking part in legislative deliberations. They and other members of the executive are not members of the legislature.
- The president under presidential system of government is both the head of state and head of government. He oversees regular implementation or execution of government. The President is also capped with ceremonial functions such as receiving foreign leaders and ambassadors, representing the country in international, among others.
- The president does not possess the power to dissolve the National Assembly or federal legislature. But in some presidential political systems, the president has the power to suspend both the executive and legislative organs of government at state level when state of emergency is declared resulting from the breakdown of law and order in such state.
- President enjoys powers to direct and supervise the activities of various government agencies like the bureaucracy, civil service, parastatals, police the military. He also enjoys the privilege of appointing court judges (may based on the recommendation of the judicial commission) but after appointment. He lacks the power to influence or control or suspend or dismiss the judges. It is the judicial commission that has the right to recommend the suspension or dismissal of any court judges. The president can only ratify not without consideration from legislature.
- The president has a fixed term or tenure in office. This tenure of the president depends largely on the provision of the constitution relating to tenure duration and how many times one can vie for the same elective office. In some countries like the United States, Nigeria and Ghana you can vie for executive positions i.e. President, Governor and local Council Chairman for only two times. On the other hand, countries like Zimbabwe have the tenure of the president to be 5 years.
- President can also have an input in law making process by sending bill to the legislature. This bill is deliberated upon by the legislators, and final decision is made there in to support or refuse the passage of the bill as well other bills presented at the legislative chambers through votes. The votes of the majority of the legislators are usually required before a bill can be passed. The constitution as well as the rules of the parliament (legislative business) guides the conduct of legislative deliberation and the required number of the legislators needed for any bill to attract eventual passage.
- President enjoys the power to assent or sign the bill before it can become law. Apart from power to sign any bill into law, the president also has the power to veto any bill he considers not suitable but the legislature can also override his veto through super-majority votes of the legislators.
- The legislature lacks the power to sack the entire executive cabinet. If there is an allegation of wrong doing against the executive president, the National Assembly will, after a judicial panel has indicted the president, deliberate on the report and recommendations of the panel. The legislators therefore, decide on whether the president (the chief executive) should be sanctioned or not. This will also be based on the required number of votes among the legislators as provided in the constitution.
- Absence of the principle of “collective responsibility”. The Executive officers are being assessed on individual basis. Erring member of the executive is dealt with based on his individual action(s) rather than the entire executive council (collectivism). Again, it is the president that has power to dissolve the federal executive cabinet. He has power to appoint anybody as minister with the ratification of the legislature and it is only him that has the power to sack any (or all the) minister.
- Power to pardon or reduce sentences of convicted people or criminate is usually exercised by the president.
Merits and Demerits of Presidentialism System of Government
Advantages of Presidential Government
- The principle of separation of power creates effectiveness in governance in such a way that official reckless of any arm of government can be checked by the other(s).
- Checks and balances that dominate governmental affairs as it relates to relationship among various arms of government in presidentialism enable the system to create a platform to check any excesses from any arm of government particularly the executive.
- The executive and legislature have separate fixed term in office.
- They also emerge through separate elections. So, the president does not have the power to dissolve the parliament unlike the case of parliamentary system of government where the president on the advice of the prime-minister and or his cabinet can dissolve the parliament at anytime in the life of the parliament.
- The chief executive officers such as President, Governors and Chairman seek for direct mandate of the people often through direct elections rather than through the legislature (parliament).
- Quick decision making especially in the time of crisis.
- Definite election calendar.
- A fixed tenure of office.
- The ministers are exclusively loyal to the chief executive – President rather than the parliament.
- Strong presidency. The president is both the head of state and head of government.
- There is relative openness in the working of the government.
- The executive and legislative office holders are voted for separately. Therefore, it is possible a party controlling the legislature (having the majority seats in the parliament) and another controlling the executive. This can in no small measure. prevent misrule and dictatorship.
Disadvantages of Presidential Government
- Delay in the execution of programme: Separation of powers can cause delay in the execution of some government programmes. For example, the legislature can delay the approval of the budget or names of those nominated for ministerial, ambassadorial posts etc.
- Impeachment process may be difficult: The difficulty in the process of impeachment could make a president to stay and abuse his office and yet complete his term.
- Problems may arise between the executive and the legislature: This can result when the ruling party is not maintaining the majority in the legislature.
- Vetoing of bills: The president can misuse or even abuse the powers given to him to veto bills.
- No security of tenure for ministers: Ministers can be removed from office any time by the president. There is no security of tenure for them.
- Lobbying: This is a common feature in the system, especially in the parliament and can lead to corrupt practices.
- Costly to operate: There are too many duplications of functions both in the executive and the legislature. For example, there are many ministers and law makers in both the houses and this makes the system costly to operate.
Limitations (Demerits) of Presidential System of Government
- Rigid division between the legislative and executive branches of government is a myth.
- Absence of proper coordination between the legislature and executive can attract delay in decision making.
- Too much power that is concentrated in a single political authority or chief executive officer such as president can lead to autocratic rule, especially when the legislature is phlegmatic and ineffective.
- The strict rule guiding the process of removing (or sanctioning) the chief executive officer may prevent quick removal of an autocratic leader by the parliament.
- There may be possible delay in passing the bills or legislatures sponsored by the executive by the parliamentarians. This happens most times because the executive operates absolutely outside the parliament.
- The principle of checks and balances can sometimes undermine administrative efficiency of the government.
- Lack of political flexibility.
- There is tendency for occurrence of legislature-executive conflict. This is because there is no covenant between the two resulting from lack of cohesion between them.
- Party bond is often found missing in presidentialism system of government relationship.
- Checks on the powers of the Executive President
- Judicial review: The power of the supreme court to declare unconstitutional or-illegal some of the actions or activities of the president is a check on his powers.
- Impeachment: The president can be impeached or removed from office by the parliament if he is found to violate the provisions of the constitution.
- Approval of appointments: The parliament has the power to approve or reject names submitted to it by the president for appointment as ministers, ambassadors etc.
- Passage of bills: If the ruling party is not constituting a majority in the parliament, the passage of president’s bill will be difficult.
- Supremacy of the constitution: The constitution defines the powers of the president and his tenure. This is a check on his powers.