What is the difference between parliamentarism and presidentialism?

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Parliamentarianism and presidentialism are two systems of government that exist in most democratic governments today.

The objective is the same: to guarantee the governance and security of the State and citizens.

The main difference between the two systems of government is the way in which the head of the executive branch is chosen. Also whether the functions as Head of State and Government are concentrated in a single person or divided into two.

In presidentialism, the head of the executive branch is the president, who is elected by the people through direct or indirect voting.

In parliamentarism, the head of the executive branch is the prime minister, who is chosen by members of the federal legislature. However, those who elect the parliament are the citizens.

In presidentialism, the Head of State and Government are the same person. On the other hand, in parliamentarism, each office is occupied by different people.

presidentialism parliamentarism
Definition Presidentialism is a system of government in which the President is both the Head of State and Head of Government. This president is responsible for choosing ministers and must submit his bills to parliament.
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Parliamentarism is a system of government in which the Legislative Branch (parliament) defines the representative of the Executive Branch. All projects, laws and other government decisions are put to the vote of parliament.
Executive power Exercised by the President of the Republic. Prime Minister (in some countries it is called Chancellor, President of the Council of Ministers, President of the Government).
Representative's choice By direct vote of the people. In the United States, the president is elected by a collegiate body.

The prime minister is chosen by parliament, through a majority of internal votes. He can also be chosen by the Head of State from a list provided by parliament.

For its part, the parliament is chosen by the citizens.

term of office

Depends on the country. In Brazil, the mandate is 4 years, in France it is 5 years.

The possibility of re-election also depends on the laws of each country.


In certain countries there are elections every four or five years.

where did it come from U.S Medieval England
role of parliament Supervise, debate laws that are suggested by the Executive and be a counterbalance to its acts. All government decisions pass through parliament. He is also responsible for choosing the Head of Government.
Head of State It is concentrated in the same person who exercises the head of government. The head of state (king or president) is exercised by another person and this person does not have political responsibilities.
government interruption In case of death or through the Impeachment. This only happens only in cases of crimes of responsibility, cassation for electoral crime or common crime during the mandate. Parliament has the power to replace the Head of Government. In case of suspicion of corruption, a vote of censure may be approved.
Examples Brazil, United States, Argentina, Uruguay Canada, England, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Portugal
Division of powers In presidentialism, the president exercises executive power, while the other two powers (legislative and judicial) have autonomy.

The executive branch needs parliamentary approval to form.

However, there is independence between the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative powers.

In which government regime can it be applied? Republic monarchy and republic


How does presidentialism work?

In this system of government, the chief executive is the president, chosen by the population by direct vote. In the case of the United States, by indirect vote.

In Western democracies, the mandate generally lasts four years and in some countries re-election is foreseen.

The presidential mandate only ends before this period if the President resigns, dies or suffers impeachment by Congress.

This can happen in cases of a crime of responsibility, for a common crime committed during his mandate or if he is impeached for an electoral crime.

The president can set up his government, choosing his ministers and appointing the names to direct several strategic public companies. The Chief Executive also has a great deal of choice in government budget priorities.

In presidentialism, the three powers work independently, however, the president depends on the Legislature to approve norms.

See also the difference between the three powers.

Advantages of presidentialism

As the president is elected by direct or indirect vote, he has great legitimacy. If he manages to build a base of allies in Congress, his government can result in great institutional stability.

Another advantage is the fact that the powers act separately, but interconnected. The legislative power can discuss and approve or not an executive decision. This reduces the executive's chances of implementing policies that are unfavorable to the population.

Furthermore, as the two powers are independent, the presidential system ends up guaranteeing greater stability to the Executive. This is because the Chief cannot be removed as quickly as it can happen in the parliamentary system.

Disadvantages of presidentialism

Despite being independent, the president depends on the legislature to carry out his policies and keep the government stable. The more fragmented the party system, the more difficult it is for the president to gain support in Congress.

Furthermore, friction between the Executive and the Legislature can paralyze the government, as the Executive cannot implement its policies without having allies.

The Head of State/Government cannot be removed from office by congressmen without a lengthy and exhausting process.


How does parliamentarism work?

The Chief Executive is the Prime Minister, chosen by the members of parliament, among the political party that won the majority of seats in parliament.

If the majority is not obtained by a single party, parliamentarians are obliged to form alliances.

In theory, the term of office of the prime minister is not fixed, although periodic elections are foreseen.

If he loses the support of the alliances built for his election, he can be removed from office at any time. This through the vote of the majority of members of parliament, who will define a replacement or call new elections.

Parliamentarism happens both in monarchical and republican regimes. Examples of parliamentary monarchies are countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Norway. For their part, Germany and Portugal are parliamentary republics.

Advantages of parliamentarism

As it is the Legislature that defines the Executive, there is greater harmony between them. This system also encourages alliances to form within parliament so that they are able to nominate a prime minister.

The parliamentary system also turns out to be more flexible, as in the event of a political crisis, the prime minister can be quickly replaced. The parliament itself keeps more watch over it, as it is subjected to control sessions periodically.

The parliamentary system needs less resources to carry out the elections, as it only takes one election to elect the parliamentarians.

This can be a favorable point for developing countries. Thus, they can take advantage of the resources saved in the elections to invest in projects for the country's growth.

Disadvantages of parliamentarism

The fact that the Legislature defines the Executive can also represent a disadvantage. Since the prime minister is elected by parliament, he may lose his post if proposed policies are not favored by legislators.

On the other hand, as the differences between political parties are clearer, it is difficult to achieve consensus for certain policies. These include the legalization of drugs or the death penalty.

How do the powers work in each system?

In presidentialism, the separation of powers is more evident. The Executive and the Legislative are elected separately from each other.

As elections take place for each of the offices, powers can be held by different political parties.

For example: the president is from a left-wing political party, but most of the members of parliament are from the right.

In the parliamentary system, only the parliament is elected, and from there the Chief Executive will emerge. In order to govern, however, a party must obtain a majority of seats in parliament.

What is coalition presidentialism?

This term was created in 1988 by the Brazilian political scientist Sérgio Abranches, and described the characteristic of presidentialism in Brazil.

According to Abranches, "coalition presidentialism" means the act of making alliances and agreements between different political forces in parliament. This in search of governability, within the presidential system.

Thus, when parliamentary power is fragmented into many parties, as in the case of Brazil, the Executive is obliged to make inter-party alliances, so that it is possible to govern.

The problem is that in this search for alliances, the Executive often needs to join political forces with very different ideologies. One example is when the Executive Branch distributes administrative posts in exchange for political support.

Another consequence is that voters of a party may be disappointed with the political alliances that their representative makes. In the name of stability, the Chief Executive can approach groups that are ideologically very different from her own.

According to researcher Timothy Power, this “coalition presidentialism” exists in 78% of parliamentary countries and 66% of presidential countries.

See also the difference between:

  • monarchy and republic
  • Direct, indirect and representative democracy
  • Democrats and Republicans
  • capitalism and socialism
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