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Difference Between Parliamentary and Presidential Form of Government

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  • Last Updated : 09 Feb, 2022

Most of the countries in the world today have representative forms of government. In a representative democracy, individuals are voted to power by the citizens of the country who act as representatives of the people thereby taking all the policy decisions on behalf of the citizens of the country. A representative democracy can be further divided into presidential and parliamentary democracies based on the nature of governance and the nature of the executive.  

A Presidential executive is headed by the President who is the single unified authority responsible for making all the policy decisions. Here the head of the government and the head of the state is one person. The president is elected directly by the people or by an electoral college. A Parliamentary executive on the other hand is also known as the Cabinet form of government or the ‘Responsible government’, in such case, the citizens elect representatives to the Parliament. It is the Parliament that makes the laws governing the country. The Prime Minister is the real head of a Parliamentary executive while the President is the nominal head.

Each of these two forms of the executive is distinct from each other in terms of their relationship between the two organs, the heads of the state, their accountability to the legislature. The two forms of democracies are different from each other in their structure and functioning and every country has made a choice between these two based on their needs and requirements.

The differences between the two forms of the executive are as follows:

1. Relation between the three organs of the government

  • In a parliamentary form of governance, there exists a harmonious relationship between the legislature and the executive while the judiciary works independently without the interference of the legislature and the executive.
  • In a presidential form of government on the other hand there exists a strict separation of powers between the three organs of the government. Each of them operates independently without the interference of the other organ.

2. Nature of executive

  • In a Parliamentary form of government, there is a real head and a nominal head. For instance, in India, the Prime Minister is the real head who is the head of the government in power and the President is the nominal head of the state.
  • In a Presidential form of government, there is a single unified executive; there exists no difference between a nominal head and a real head. In the United States of America, the President is the single unified head who is responsible for the governance of the country.

3. Separation of Powers

  • In a Parliamentary form of government, there is no separation of powers as the power in a parliamentary government lies with the Cabinet which serves as a link between the legislature and the executive.
  • As against this, in a Presidential form of government, there is a strict separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. They do not interfere in each others sphere of activities.

4. Tenures

  • In a Parliamentary form of government the tenure of the legislature and the executive are not fixed. As the Prime Minister’s tenure depends upon the majority support in the House, whenever a government fails to prove its majority the Prime Minister is in no other position but to resign and the entire Council of Ministers have to step down from power along with him.
  • While in a Presidential form of government the tenures of both the Legislature and the Executive are fixed. Neither of them can be removed before the end of their tenure.

5. Role of the Cabinet

  • The Cabinet is a major organ in a Parliamentary form of government. It is responsible for formulating policies and taking important decisions regarding the administration of the country. The Cabinet also acts as a link between the executive and the legislature.
  • In a Presidential form of government on the other hand the Cabinet is merely an advisory body who aid and assist the President in the formulation of important decisions whenever required.

6. Division of Powers  

  • In a parliamentary form of government, the powers are divided between the nominal head and the real head of the state.
  • In a presidential form of government on the other hand the powers are concentrated in the hands of the single executive or the President of the country.

7. Appointment of Ministers

  • In a Parliamentary form of government, only members of the Parliament can be appointed as ministers.
  • While in a Presidential form of government members outside the Parliament can also be appointed as ministers and secretaries.

8. Accountability

  • In a Parliamentary government, the ministers are individually and collectively responsible to the legislature. The executive here is accountable to the legislature and the legislature can check the arbitrariness of the executive.
  • In a Presidential form of government on the other hand the ministers are responsible only to the President who can remove them whenever he wishes to do so. The executive here is not accountable to the legislature.

9. Dissolution of the lower House

  • In a Parliamentary government, the President can dissolve the lower house on the advice of the Prime Minister before the completion of its tenure.
  • A President on the other hand cannot dissolve the lower house of the legislature before the completion of its tenure.

10. Autocratic

  • A parliamentary form of government is less autocratic owing to the division of powers.
  • While a Presidential form of governance is characterized as more autocratic as all the powers are concentrated in the hands of the President.

The Parliamentary and Presidential forms of executives have their unique characteristics; they are different from each other in their functioning, organization, and structures. The governing structure of a country depends on whether they have a presidential or parliamentary executive. Some countries have adopted the good features of each of these approaches thereby enhancing their governance. Every country has made a choice based on its requirements, India for instance, has adopted the parliamentary system of governance which is ideal and best suited for the efficient administration of the country. Both these forms of executives have been implemented keeping in mind the wellbeing of the citizens of the country, the ultimate aim of both these forms of executives is enhancing democracy and looking  after the interests of the citizens. 

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