Parliamentary vs. Presidential Systems

Apparently our system with the head of the executive branch directly elected is called the “presidential” system.

No clear conclusions, of course. But some fairly clear tradeoffs. How it works in particular countries includes a lot of local tradition and cultural influences.


Pro Con
Parliamentary Short cycle. Come somewhat by surprise. Politicians can’t afford to have the populace pissed off.
Presidential Long cycle. Schedule known years in advance.


Pro Con
Parliamentary Whole government can be brought down if needed. Whole government can fall at an inconvenient time.
Presidential Government can accomplish things that are unpopular. No way to throw the rascals out short of impeachment or sufficient threat of it to force a resignation (Nixon).


Pro Con
Parliamentary Party owns the seats, not candidates, so there’s party discipline. Party can’t stand for different things in different regions.
Presidential Compromise happens within the party. Parties can’t become idealogical purists and ever win. Parties can’t really mean anything.

Ability to Act

Separation of Powers

Pro Con
Parliamentary One party controls the government. They can get something done. One party controls the government. Damage can be essentially unlimited.
Presidential Control of the legislative and executive branches can be split. Damage can be limited. Control of the legislative and executive branches can be split. This can prevent anything from getting done.
Pro Con
Parliamentary Less, since executive is headed by someone of party controlling the legislature. A very non-politicized civil service can help some.
Presidential More, since head of executive is chosen by the voters independently of the legislature.

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