What are the relative merits and drawbacks of parliamentary and presidential systems? Why have most East European countries adopted parliamentary systems?

Essay by gringotsgoblinUniversity, Master'sB-, March 2004

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There has been much argument amongst political academics concerning the virtues and failures of both parliamentary and presidential systems. While all systems of governance vary from country to country, parliamentary systems can broadly be defined as where the executive, in the form of a prime minister and his cabinet are drawn from the elected legislature (parliament). In presidential systems however the executive (president) is elected separately from the legislature and members of the executive cabinet are appointed from outside any of the elected legislatures. Presidents are also forced to serve a fixed term in office, unlike a legislative cabinet, which has an ambiguous duration.

While these are the two basic models of governance, this essay will also examine hybrid models, often referred to as 'semi-presidential systems', or 'presidential-parliamentary systems' . These forms of governance use both an elected president and a prime minister and cabinet drawn from the elected legislature.

There are many forms of semi-presidential system, with varying political weight given to the president and prime minister. It will be important to examine these alternative systems of governance as they are found as frequently amongst the post-communist East European countries as parliamentary systems . As such any attempt to analyse East European countries without addressing hybrid systems would lead to misleading conclusions.

Juan Linz, an outspoken critic of presidential systems argues that as the executive is elected separately of the legislature, conflict and potential deadlock is an inherent flaw in presidential systems. He argues that as both the executive and legislature are democratically elected, they both believe they have a mandate for passing legislation. While this will not pose a problem if the executive and the legislature have the same ambition, if they disagree there is no democratic principle upon which the deadlock can be solved. Linz...