Presidential vs Parliamentary System
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This Article is written by Shruti Singh from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. This article deals with a comparative study of Presidential and Parliamentary systems.

Introduction

In the 21st century, many countries in the world have an organized government. The work of government nowadays is not limited to a police state i.e. preservation of law and order and defense of the country from an external force. The government has become a welfare state, which looks after the welfare of its citizens along with the overall development of the country. The significant point, however, is that in order to carry out these activities and functions whatever may be their range, it becomes important for a country to establish certain basic organs or agents or instrumentalities which act on its behalf and thorough which the state can function and operate.

The functions that need to be performed by these agents require some authority, sanction or law. This leads to the need for constitutional law or constitution which lays down the function, power, and structure of various organs through which the states act. The constitutional structures in many countries take different forms. In recent times many countries in the world have adopted a written constitution. Some countries have a constitution with monarchs as its head, some are democratic countries having an elected government and some are led by autocratic heads. Democracy generally takes two forms i.e. Parliamentary and Presidential system.

The method of electing the head of the governments is the main variable. India follows a parliamentary system based on the British model. Why did the constitution-makers in India choose the Parliamentary System over the Presidential System? This can be weighed in terms of the features, merits, and demerits of both the system separately. This article from here revolves around comparing and analyzing the various features.

Presidential System

In the Presidential System, the head of the government is the chief executive who is directly elected by the people and the executive is not responsible to the legislature. Both the organs are separate, unlike in the parliamentary system where the executive is responsible to the legislature. All the organs of the government i.e., legislature, executive and judiciary function separately from each other and are constitutionally independent. The head of the government is the President, who is responsible for enforcing the laws. This system is founded by America and is a perfect example of this system. This system rejects legislative supremacy and is designed for countries that are a full republic and not a constitutional monarchy. Elections are held more frequently in the Presidential form of government, every two years for the legislature and four years for the President.

Features

The notable features of the Presidential system are:

Executive can veto acts of the legislature

The executive here is a President who can veto acts or laws passed by the Congress (legislature). Basically, veto means the power of the President to approve, refuse or joint resolution to prevent the enactment of any law. Clause 2 of Section 7 in Article 1 of the US constitution clearly states that every bill that is passed by the House of Representatives and Senate shall be presented before the President of the United States before becoming a law. He can approve it by signing it or send it back to the Senate with his objections for reconsideration. If after the reconsideration done by both the houses the bill is passed by two-thirds of the house, then it becomes a law.

The President has been granted this power in order to prevent abuse of power by the Senate. It also depicts why the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution is so eminent. The framers through this separation have tried to create a system of checks and balances between them.

This veto power does not grant him (President) to alter or change the content of the legislation, but only the ability to approve or reject the bill.

President has a fixed tenure

In a Presidential system, the President has a fixed tenure. Elections are held regularly and cannot be disturbed by passing of no-confidence motion or other parliamentary procedures. There are few exceptions to this which provides that the President can be removed if he violates the law in some countries. In the U.S., Presidents are elected for a four-year term and by the 22nd Amendment Act of the U.S. Constitution limits the tenure of the President to two terms. However, where a President through the order of succession, that is by taking the office after death, resignation or ousting of the previous President, they are allowed to serve for an additional two years.

President holds quasi-judicial powers

A quasi-judicial power is a power that is partly judicial in character by the possession of the right to hold hearings and conduct investigations into disputed claims and alleged infractions of rules and regulations and to come to a decision in the general manner of courts quasi-judicial bodies. The President has the power to pardon and commute judicial sentences awarded to the offenders.

President is elected directly by the people through the electoral college

The elections in the US are held on the method of the first-past-the-post system. Article 2 of the U.S Constitution establishes the method of election of the President. In other US elections, candidates are elected directly by popular vote. But the President and the Vice-President are not elected directly by the people of the country. They are chosen by the electors through the process of the electoral college. All members of the federal legislature are elected directly by the people of each state. 

Although India has primarily adopted the British Model while selecting the parliamentary form of government still there are some basic differences between the parliamentary system of India and Britain. These are:

United Kingdom of Britain

India

Britain has a monarchical system.

India is a republican country.

The head of state in Britain is King who enjoys the hereditary position and is not elected.

The head of state is the President who is elected on the basis of proportional representation.

In the UK, the parliament is the supreme authority as they follow the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.

Indian Parliament is not very supreme as some restricted powers and is limited due to the presence of a written constitution, the federal system, judicial review, and fundamental rights.

In Britain, the Prime Minister should be a member of the House of Commons(Lower House) of the parliament.

In India, the Prime Minister can be a member of any house Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha in the Parliament.

In Britain, usually, the members of parliament only become Ministers.

But in India, a person who is not a member of any house can also become Minister but only for a maximum period of 6 months.

In Britain, the Minister also has legal responsibility also.

In India, the ministers are only accountable for their legislative and executive functions.

In Britain, ministers are required to countersign the official acts of the Head of the state.

Ministers in India do not need to sign such a document.

There is a concept of ‘Shadow Cabinet’ in the UK. The shadow Cabinet is basically a cabinet formed by the opposition who keeps a check on the activities and policies of the ruling government and can replace it once the ruling party falls.

There is no such concept as Shadow Cabinet in India.

Merits

The merits of the presidential system are as under:

Separation of powers

One of the key features to differentiate between Parliamentary and Presidential include the extent to which the powers of government are separately functionally between branches of the government. These also include the extent to which the executive has control over the legislative branch and vice-versa. In a Presidential system, administrative and political powers are divided between the three branches of the government i.e. legislature, executive and judiciary.

The officials in these branches serve different terms of office and different constituencies. The President is chosen by a separate election from that of the legislature. The President then chooses his cabinet members, who are not members of the legislature. The senior officials of the executive branch are elected separately, which clearly shows the separation of powers between these branches. Efficiency in work is increased because every branch is separate and independent of each other.

Expert government

The members appointed in the Cabinet by the President are not necessarily the part of the legislature and this helps the President to choose the experts for different departments and ministries. This also helps in making sure that the people who are actually interested in or have knowledge in their respective fields form the part of the government. This increases the efficiency in work. This also results in smooth functioning in the administration as they are chosen as per the wish of the President. It ensures coordination and cooperation while drafting policies for the country.  

Stability

The presidential system is much more stable when compared to the Parliamentary system. Since the tenure of the president is fixed and is not subject to the condition of the majority support in the legislature, he has no fear of losing the government. There is no instance and danger of a sudden fall of the government. There is less pressure from social groups or political parties in decision making. It helps in the formation of rapid decisions and emerging changes. This stability also brings with it rigidity in the system.

Less influence of party system

There is less influence of political parties in the decision-making process. They do not threaten the leader to dissolve the government as the tenure is fixed.

Demerits

The demerits of the presidential system are as under:

Less responsible executive

Since the executive is not responsible to the legislature, the executive tends to be less responsible. The legislature also has no hold of the executive and the President who may turn authoritarian. This makes winning an election in this system very important, as he cannot be easily removed and he is not dependent on his political party for his tenure.

Deadlocks between executive and legislature

The separation of power between the executive and legislature may at times lead to a deadlock between these branches on any matter. Especially when the Legislature is not dominated by the President’s political party, many tussles may be seen and it results in inefficiency and wastage of time. This political deadlock delays the enactment of policies and the electorate which expected rapid changes from the policies may shift to other parties in the next elections. Critics also argue that in such cases of deadlock the presidential system is not able to provide much accountability to its citizens as seen in a parliamentary system. This is so because it is easier for the Legislature and the president to shift the blame on each other.

Rigid government

The fixed tenure of the president brings stability which leads to rigidity. It makes the system more rigid. It becomes difficult to remove the President even if people are not happy with the work carried out by him or his party. The citizens have to bear him till new elections are held even though he carries out inefficient policies or becomes unpopular. Hence, the presidential form of government lacks flexibility in its operation.

President’s sweeping powers

The Presidential system endows him with the sweeping powers of patronage. The President has the power to choose the members of his cabinet. He may choose people who are closer to him which may spoil the system.

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Parliamentary system

The parliamentary system was developed by England and India adopted this system from the UK with some changes. In parliamentary system or parliamentary democracy where the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature and is accountable to the legislature. The head of the state is separate from the head of the government. Parliamentary form of government is dominant in Europe with 32 of its sovereign states. In the UK parliamentary system is also known as the Westminster system. It is also dominant in the Caribbean and Oceania. Countries having parliamentary democracies can be of two kinds- constitutional monarchies and parliamentary republics. In Constitutional monarchy, the head of the state is the monarch while the head of the government is generally the parliament with or without a constitution. This system is prevalent in the UK, Sweden, Japan, and Denmark. The other kind is parliamentary republics in which usually the head of the state is a ceremonial president and the legislature form the head of the government (Like India, Ireland, Germany, and Italy).

In some parliamentary republics, the head of the government is the head of the state, but is elected by and accountable to the parliament such as South Africa, Botswana, and Suriname. In countries having a Bicameral system, the head of the government usually is a member of the lower house. 

India chose a Parliamentary System for the governance of the country after independence. It is so because the constitution-makers in the country were greatly influenced by the parliamentary system prevalent in the United Kingdom. Also, seeing the diverse and varied groups and their culture, religion and behavior somewhere forced our founding fathers to accommodate this system keeping in mind the political setup. The principle of strict separation of power, being one of the key features of the Presidential System leads to a lot of problems between the legislature and the executive. This hampers the effectiveness and efficiency in work, which our country was not in a position to afford. The condition of India at the time of Independence was such that it needed a system that was already tested and successful, this also led the makers to choose this system. In this kind of system, generally, the parliament is supreme and the executive is responsible to the legislature. It is also known as ‘Cabinet form of government’ or ‘Responsible Government’.

Features

Key features of the Parliamentary System are as follows:

The close relation between executive and legislature

In a Parliamentary form of government, the Prime Minister along with the Council of Ministers forms the executive. They are elected as the members of the Parliament which means that the executive emerges from the legislature. Only a member of Parliament can be appointed as part of the executive. There is no strict separation of powers between the executive and legislature as it is present in the presidential form of government. Therefore, in a parliamentary system, the executive and the legislature is so closely related that sometimes it becomes difficult to separate their functions. 

The executive is responsible to the legislature

One of the key features that differentiate the presidential and parliamentary system is that in latter the executive is responsible to the legislature. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are collectively answerable in Lok Sabha and individually to the President. The executive loses its power when it loses confidence in the Lok Sabha. Legislature makes the laws and then relies on the executive for its implementation which practices delegated legislation.

Secrecy of the procedure

One of the prerequisites for this form of government is the secrecy of the cabinet meetings and the discussions held therein. In fact, even in the oath taken by the Ministers, they promise to keep faith and secrecy as given in Article 75 of the constitution. As per Article 74(2) of the Constitution, the advice given by the Council of Ministers can be inquired in any court of India which ensures secrecy.

Dual executive

India has a dual executive means it has two executives – the real and the titular. The titular or nominal executive is the head of the state i.e. the president or the monarch and the real head is the Prime Minister who is the real head of the government. Legally all the powers and privileges are conferred on the President as per different law and constitution but in practice, all these powers are enjoyed by the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. The President in India works on the aid and advice given by the Council of Ministers. The president can return the suggestion for reconsideration, but if the same suggestion is sent to him with or without changes, he is bound to accept it. This makes the President somewhere bound by the advice given by the Ministers and work according to them.

The leadership of Prime Minister

The leader in the Parliamentary form of government is the Prime Minister. He is the leader of the majority party in Lok Sabha. He is also the head of the government and is selected through elections held through universal adult franchise.

No fixed tenure

In a Parliamentary System, the term or the duration of the ruling government is not fixed. They are dependent on confidence in the lower house. If anyone of the Council of Ministers resigns or the majority party is not able to prove its confidence in the house then the government falls. After that new election will be conducted and the party having a majority of the members in Lok sabha forms the government. In normal circumstances the tenure of the government is for 5 years and after that election are held again.

Bicameral Legislature

‘Bi’ means two and ‘camera’ means chamber. So Bicameral Legislature is the system of having two legislative or judicial chambers. Generally one of the houses is more powerful than the other. Many parliamentary democracies have the practice to follow bicameralism.

In India, at the center level, it has two houses (Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha) to deliberate and discusses policies, laws, and issues of national importance. At the state level, the institution equal to or performs somewhat the same function is Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assemblies) and Rajya Sabha is Vidhan Parishad (State Legislative Council). Though not all states in India have their respective legislative council as many argue that just like the Rajya Sabha, the State Council does not perform many functions and poses stress on state finances. In India, as of December 2019, only 6 states (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana) have legislative councils.

Merits

The advantages or merits of a Parliamentary System are as follows:

Better coordination between executive and legislature

In a Parliamentary system, the executive is part of the legislature and usually, the majority party has a stronghold in the parliament which makes it easier for the law and policies to be passed and implemented. We can see a lot more coordination in the parliamentary system as compared to the presidential system as the organs of the government is strictly separated from each other. The possibility of disputes and conflict is reduced as the party enjoys a majority in the lower house.

Responsible government

The Parliamentary form of government is also known as ‘Responsible government’. In the legislature, all other members raise questions which are matters of public interest and national importance. Through this process, there can be checks on the activities of the government. The opposition needs to be strong enough to point out the mistakes and inefficiency of the ruling government. This makes the majority party accountable and hence responsible for their duties and actions in general.

Represents diversity

Many countries in the world have people living from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, races, and gender. The Parliamentary system is suited best to accommodate all these diverse groups as every group is represented in the legislature. In this way, the interests and demands of various groups can be discussed at a big platform and a solution can be found out more effectively. With a country like India which was in a very fragile state after independence, it was important to adopt a system that was tried and tested and was familiar to the people. In our country, we see people from various groups coming together in parliament and discussing matters to promote and preserve the interests of all of them.

Flexibility

The Prime Minister can be removed from power very easily as compared to the Presidential system in which generally the President serves the entire term and can be replaced only through impeachment and incapacity which is a time-consuming process. If the demands that were promised by the ruling party before the elections are not fulfilled the parliament may pass a no-confidence motion and the government can be replaced.

Prevents Authoritarianism 

In the Presidential System, we see a concentration of power primarily with the President. He has the authority to choose members of the cabinet. On the other hand in the Parliamentary system power is divided among the council of ministers and the ruling party does not become all-powerful the government may resign if a vote of no confidence is passed against them. There are many institutions that keep vigilance on the activities of the government.

Demerits

The demerits of the Parliamentary System are as follows:

No separation of powers

As there is no true separation of powers in this system, the legislature cannot always blame the executive for the non-implementation of policies. Especially when the government has a majority in the legislature. Additionally because of factors relating to anti-defection laws legislators cannot exercise their will power and vote as per their understanding and opinions. They have to consider and follow the party whip.

Unqualified legislature

Many times situations where people who just want to fill executive positions enter the legislature also. They are not even qualified or ratherly properly acquainted with their jobs. Most of them are not even familiar with the laws of their country.

Instability

Parliamentary system is not stable as the government may fall anytime as compared to the Presidential system. There is no fixed tenure of the government. The moment no confidence motion is passed in the house the government will be replaced with a new government. It can happen by a mere political disagreement between the party members. Thus the Prime Minister has to depend on the support from the party members or any other party in the parliament. Coalition governments are mainly transitory and unstable. Therefore the majority party concentrates more on having support in the house rather than on the welfare of the society.

It can hamper the implementation of laws and policies as the policy started by the previous government may not be much supported and carried on by the new government in power.

Failure to taking a prompt decision

This system’s instability somewhere forces the government to take prompt decisions in times of need. The government is scared to take bold and long term decisions. This may affect the welfare of the nation and its people.

Party Politics

In the parliamentary system party, politics is very evident where politicians are motivated by self-interest more than national interest. The Multi-party system is more popular in the Parliamentary system than the Presidential system as they use the method of proportional representation. Many parties compete with each other in elections and each party has a chance of winning the election.

Conclusion

Every system whether it is Presidential or Parliamentary has its own pros and cons. It is upon the government of a particular country to decide the system which will be most suited for their country. Every country is different in its structure, population and culture, it is important to identify the needs of the country. If we see a larger picture then there are mainly these two forms. Many nations in the world have chosen one of them with some changes. We also see new trends and conventions. Many countries have changed their political system from democratic to monarchy but it is remarkable that India even after 72 years of independence has stayed a democratic country having a republican head and a strong constitution. It is considered as one of the largest democracies in the world.

There were some discussions that were made regarding whether India needs a presidential system. But these debates were very academic. But then the concentration of power in a single hand will lead to abuse of power which is very dangerous to our democracy. Also, our constitutional setup does not allow us to do so because of the basic structure doctrine. So, for now, the country will stick to the Parliamentary system which suits our diversity.


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