Do the relations of a country’s governing institutions differ depending on whether it has a presidential, parliamentary or hybrid political system? Is it possible to draw general conclusions? This study from United Nations Development Program (UNDP) suggests that generalisations are useful for helping to determine characteristics of political systems of other nations, although actual practice varies between nations within each type. The report seeks to highlight these characteristics.
Although each country has its own variance on presidential, parliamentary or hybrid political systems, some conclusions can be drawn about the characteristics of each of these systems and their relationship to political conflict and executive and legislative power. With the exception of the United States of America (US), presidential systems in the past have often been associated with politically unstable and authoritarian regimes. Many countries that the US has influenced regionally, culturally or militarily have a presidential system. Countries that have adopted a form of the parliamentarianism include the United Kingdom (UK), much of continental Europe, Israel, Japan and many of the former British colonies. The French hybrid system has provided a model for a number of countries including former French colonies. The Portuguese hybrid system has influenced former colonies like Mozambique and Angola.
The research highlights the following the key aspects of executive-legislative relations:
- The separation of powers – the extent to which the powers of government are separated functionally between branches.
- The extent that the executive can control the legislative branch or how much the legislature can control the executive (oversight) and the extent that the legislative branch controls the capacity to legislate.
- Removal from office – a key difference between presidential and parliamentary systems lies in the power to remove a chief executive or to dissolve the legislature.
- The structure of legislative parties and leadership – the influence that the governing system has on the structures developed by parties in the legislature; degree of hierarchical control, internal discipline, and latitude for openness to representing local differences.
- Party discipline is needed to keep control of the executive, a need that varies among the three systems.
- In parliamentary, presidential and hybrid systems, the legislature is a forum for discussion of political, economic and social issues and is required to legitimise new laws.
Key differences between presidential, parliamentary and hybrid systems include the following:
- In a presidential system, political and administrative powers are divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Officials in these branches serve different terms of office and different constituencies.
- In a parliamentary system, Parliament is sovereign and executive authority (exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet) is derived from the legislature. In a hybrid system, executive power is shared between a separately elected President and a Prime Minister.
- In parliamentary systems, the chief executive’s term of office is directly linked with that of the legislature, while in presidential systems the terms are not linked.
- In countries that are transitioning to a two or multiparty system, party discipline may be generally weak owing to the fact that parties may be newer, lack a strong internal structure and constituent base and/or lack experience in operating in a multiparty legislature.
- Discipline is typically stronger in parliamentary systems than in presidential systems because the ‘executive’ government requires majority party cohesiveness for its own survival.
- One of the major differences between these systems lies in the legislature’s power (or lack thereof) to formulate and initiate legislation.