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What Is the Difference between a Parliamentary and Presidential System of Government?

By M. Dee Dubroff
Updated May 23, 2024
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The main difference between a parliamentary and presidential system of government is that in a presidential system, the president is separate from the legislative body, but in a parliamentary system, the chief executive, such as a prime minister, is part of the legislative body, or parliament. A presidential system separates the executive and legislative functions of the government and provides what are commonly called checks and balances to limit the power of both the chief executive and the legislature. In a parliamentary system, the legislature holds the power, and the chief executive must answer to the legislature. Another main difference is that in a presidential system, the chief executive and members of the legislature are elected separately by the people, but in a parliamentary system, the legislature is elected by the people and then must appoint or recommend for appointment one of its members to be the chief executive.

Many forms of government are used by countries around the world, and very few governments are completely alike, even if they use the same type of system. Presidential and parliamentary systems of government can vary in specific details from one country to another, but certain general aspects typically are the same in countries that have the same type of system. For example, in some parliamentary systems, the national legislative body is called a parliament, and in others, it might be called by a term such as "national assembly," but they generally serve the same purposes, regardless of their names. Likewise, the specific powers or duties of presidents might vary from country to country, but they generally are all elected by the people and are separate from the legislative body.

Presidential Systems

In a presidential system, the president is the head of government and the head of state. As the head of government, he or she oversees the operations of the government and fulfills certain duties, such as appointing officials and advisers to help run the government, signing or vetoing laws passed by the legislature and establishing an annual budget. A president's duties as head of state include tasks such as making speeches, representing the country at public events, hosting or visiting diplomats from other countries, and presenting prestigious national awards.


Parliamentary Systems

The roles of head of state and head of government often are held by different people in a parliamentary system. For example, a country might have a prime minister who acts as its head of government and a monarch who acts as its head of state. Some countries that have a parliamentary system also have a president instead of a monarch, who acts as the head of state. A country that has both a prime minister and a president is sometimes said to have a semi-presidential system of government, although it is more closely related to a parliamentary system because of the power held by the legislature and prime minister in such a system.

Legislative Efficiency

Another difference between these systems of government is the effects that each system has on things such as efficiency and political acrimony. In a presidential system, because the chief executive and members of the legislature are elected separately, it is possible for the president to be from one political party and the legislature to be controlled by a different political party. This can cause discord at the highest levels of the government and make it difficult for the executive and the legislators to achieve their respective goals. In a parliamentary system, the prime minister is almost always from the political party that controls the legislature, so there is less discord, and it is easier for that party to accomplish its goals.

Removing a Chief Executive

Parliamentary and presidential systems also differ in their abilities to remove the chief executive from power. In a parliamentary system, it is much easier for the legislature to remove the prime minister. Even a disagreement in policy or a lack of effective leadership could be enough reason for this to happen. A president is more difficult to remove from his or her position, and it usually is possible only in extreme cases, such as when the leader is accused of a serious crime.

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Discussion Comments
By anon969448 — On Sep 10, 2014

A parliamentary monarchy is much better than a parliamentary republic. Why do you need a boring (with high costs) president, who actually does nothing but divide people? If you have a monarchy, the monarch remains neutral in all political matters and is a real safeguard of democracy, of course with lots of cool history and traditions, which symbolize the nation.

Presidents, meanwhile (in both parliamentary and presidential republics), just divide people. For example, in the USA, Barack Obama won the election with just 51 percent of the vote. That leaves almost half (47 percent) of the people hating the head of state, because they voted for the opposite candidate. For comparison in the UK, the Queen is accepted by over 80 percent of the British people. She can perform the ceremonial duties of the nation and unite the UK, while the Prime Minister can focus on politics.

By anon951809 — On May 18, 2014

I think the presidential system of government is more democratic in nature than the parliamentary system of government.

By anon352049 — On Oct 18, 2013

I am Australian and I must say I prefer the parliamentary system. If the leader does not perform, he can be replaced, usually as a result of public pressure. This is a good thing as we do not get stuck with an under-performer for the duration of the government.

Another thing to note is the under this system you are really voting for policies not the person. Thus the person may be replaced but the policies remain.

By anon343738 — On Aug 02, 2013

How many countries in the world practice the Parliamentary system of government?

By anon339319 — On Jun 22, 2013

I don't think either the parliamentary or presidential system is more advantageous over the other. It depends on the commitment of the government in both system to uphold democracy, rule of law, and protection of human rights. --Solomon K., Ethiopia

By anon307031 — On Dec 03, 2012

This website has helped me a great deal in preparing for my politics final. The discussion people have posted have also helped so I just wanted to say thank you very much.

By anon288232 — On Aug 29, 2012

Which form of the government systems are more democratic among the presidential and parliamentary?

By anon275866 — On Jun 20, 2012

Well for me, parliamentary or presidential, they are both ineffective when leaders don't have discipline within themselves. Another thing is when it comes on communicating with one another, they don't listen to the opinions and goals; rather, they value their pride and corruption more than focusing on what is best for our country.

By anon256614 — On Mar 22, 2012

Neither system is perfect. In each one, the members, waste, or steal the country's money.

Put bluntly, they loot the country and make it become lender internationally.

Especially the parliamentary system in Pakistan.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. That is what the parliament of Pakistan does. So, I for one prefer a simpler form of government.

By anon246942 — On Feb 12, 2012

Which is actually the best system of government?

By anon218713 — On Sep 30, 2011

A very good article and after reading it no wonder Canada is thriving and America is tumbling down.

By anon193438 — On Jul 05, 2011

i learned a lot!

By anon190643 — On Jun 27, 2011

A presidential system is more perfect because a president works under pressure to fulfill his duties under their mandate.

By anon152417 — On Feb 14, 2011

I think for a country it is best to pick parliamentary government The one you are saying less "freedom" its not true at all. it is just a matter of fact that the parliament is a system where discipline and orderliness occurs, so i prefer parliament even if I'm a filipino citizen!

By anon147356 — On Jan 29, 2011

We can debate 100 years about which is best or not. But it all depends on the attitudes of individuals. If all people have good and desired attitudes, if we think of the others before as or if we love our brothers as much as we love our selves, each one will have the same result as long as we all think for the good of the society. Let's all work on our ethics and attitudes.

By anon139639 — On Jan 05, 2011

Both types of government, parliamentary and presidential, are good. It only depends on the leader on how he or she uses such system. A country who uses pure presidential type of government may lead to a dictatorship type.

In parliamentary, one of the disadvantages is that the 'prime minister' is swayable. Also the 'prime minister' is indirectly elected, not the same in the presidential type that the leader is chosen directly by the electorate.

By anon136056 — On Dec 21, 2010

To me, the main advantage of the parliamentary system over the presidential system (at least the system in the USA) is that candidates standing for the legislature in general do not have to raise campaign money individually. That is usually done at the level of the political party.

The American system, with its need for generating personal advertising revenue, requires candidates to promote the aims of the special interest groups that fund their campaigns. At best, this means that candidates are not free to vote with their conscience. At worst, the system is absolutely corrupt.

By anon132419 — On Dec 06, 2010

I live in Canada which is a Parliamentary system. I have to say I have no complaints and I like the fact that we have a new election every time the party members vote on the fact the the Prime Minister is not doing a very good job instead of being stuck with a president for four years. You basically vote for the person who represents the party.

By anon126786 — On Nov 13, 2010

It's Interesting to look at the differences. I prefer parliamentary form for this reason, quoted from above about the legislature and chief executive working together to solve problems. Seems they get the work done, whereas in the presidential system, differences are seemingly swept under the rug and resolution is detrimentally delayed, e.g., the problem generated for not addressing medicare payments to doctors. The issue is over a decade old and still not resolved.

By anon122878 — On Oct 29, 2010

I think democratic government is better because it is by the people.

By anon116580 — On Oct 07, 2010

i think the presidential system of government is more democratic in nature than the parliamentary system of government.

By anon108564 — On Sep 03, 2010

Which of the two is the best to be practiced in nigeria?

By anon75677 — On Apr 07, 2010

Which of the two is the best to be practiced in a country?

By anon71125 — On Mar 17, 2010

@ post. no. 9: Executive, legislative and judicial

By anon70829 — On Mar 16, 2010

what are the three branches of government?

By anon70820 — On Mar 16, 2010

i think this is a good website.

By anon67611 — On Feb 25, 2010

Which type of government is better for budding democracies -- especially following an authoritarian or totalitarian regime?

By anon57991 — On Dec 29, 2009

What are the merits and demerits of presidential system and parliamentary system of government in a tabular form?

By anon39236 — On Jul 31, 2009

main differences between parliamentary and presidential type of government?

By anon37248 — On Jul 18, 2009

what are the advantages of a parliamentary form of government as compared to a presidential form of government

By anon33872 — On Jun 13, 2009

What are the advantages of a hybrid system of government compared to either presidential or parliamentary?

By anon14871 — On Jun 26, 2008

what are the similarities between both Presidential and Parliamentary form of Government?

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