“Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority”, was correctly quoted by Albert Camus. Democracy has always been the most critically acclaimed institutional configuration, which understands the needs of citizens, ideates numerous policies for their welfare and safeguards their interests. Under this form of government, there are primarily two types of systems parliamentary and presidential.
Parliamentary systems: There are more parliamentary systems in the world than the presidential democracies. This system places substantial powers in the hands of the legislative branch. It involves voters electing the parliamentary representatives (from different constituencies). The party, which wins the largest number of seats in different constituencies, further elects its head of the government, known as the Prime Minister, Chancellor or Premier.
One defining characteristic of this government is the presence of a split executive, which consists of the head of the government and the head of the state. The head of the government controls the legislative process and sets the policymaking agenda, while the head of the state serves as the ceremonial representative of the country.
For instance, Boris Johnson is the head of the government in the UK, he works with his party on domestic policy and collaborates with opposition and heads of other countries for issues concerning foreign affairs. While Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the state. As such, she does not formulate or revise policies. She does not control the actions of the Prime Minister and she also cannot remove him from office. As the ceremonial representative, she has to be present at all the state and international events to represent the nation of Great Britain.
Another feature of this system is that the real executive should form a part of the legislature. For instance, in India, the person should first become a member of the parliament in order to become a minister.
One of the major advantages of this system is that the Prime Minister is responsible to the legislature. The members of the Parliament can ask questions and discuss matters of public importance with the ruling government. Another merit is that the lower house of the government can pass a No-Confidence motion and thereafter the head of the state invites the leader of the opposition party to form the government.
Further, within parliamentary democracy, there are two subsystems, ‘First Past the Post’ and ‘Proportional Representation’. First past the post is a voting system wherein voters vote for a candidate of their choice in a constituency, and the one getting the highest number of votes wins. Countries like the UK, India, and Canada follow this system. Proportional representation is an electoral device in which seats are allotted to political parties on the basis of the number of votes cast for them. In other words, votes are cast for a candidate in First past the post system, while votes are cast for a political party in the Proportional Representation system. The Proportional representation system ensures the representation of all classes, as each party gets as many seats as the proportion of votes cast in their favor in the elections. For instance, 35% of seats shall belong to a political party in Israel for winning 35% of the total votes.
Proportional representation results in a multi-party coalition, which leads to the clash of interests in the parliament.
Presidential systems: The presidential system of a country has three branches- legislative, judiciary and executive, all of which are constitutionally independent of each other. No branch can dismiss or dissolve any other. The executive (the President) is responsible for enforcing laws, legislature for making them and the judiciary for ensuring justice in execution. In this form of government, the president is directly elected by the voter citizens, however, this does not mean that the president holds supremacy of power like the Prime Minister of parliament. As in this form of government, the power is divided amongst many, no individual or institution can ever become supreme.
The total executive responsibility is assigned to the president as an individual and not collectively to a council of ministers in the case of the parliamentary system. The President’s cabinet doesn’t consist of the legislature (which is an independent body), but rather of individuals, considered capable by the President and approved by the Senate.
Due to the presence of only one executive, there have often been certain views regarding the prevalence of despotism in the presidential form of government. Also, due to the lack of small constituencies as in the case of a parliamentary system, this form of government usually lacks a wide representation of people.
However, the truth has quite been the opposite. In the history of 230 years in the US, no president has acted autocratically. A president is not akin to a prime minister. He has no control over the states, the courts, and the legislature. He cannot even pick his cabinet without the legislature’s approval and nor can he make budgets on his own. Every new program proposed by the President needs the legislature’s approval and can be stopped by the courts. This prevents the government from doling out the taxpayers’ money and also prevents vote-bank politics.
Different experts have different views on the pros and cons of these two systems. The type of system followed in a country also depends on the salient features of that country. For instance, India is a country with huge diversity, it makes sense for it to follow the parliamentary system as it allows leaders from various communities to represent such a diverse populace. Thus we on a general basis cannot choose one system over the other, but which system fits best for a country depends on the circumstances, both of them back having their own share of advantages and disadvantages.