Forms of Government
Breaking down Basics
Democratic System of governance is broken down into two basic forms: Parliamentary and Presidential forms.
Systems with features of both forms also exist as hybrids.
Democratic governments can be classified on the basis of the relationship between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, and the extent of separation of powers between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary.
Accountability of the Executive to the Legislature distinctly differentiates between the two basic forms.
What is Presidential Form?
Form of governance in which a head of government leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch.
The Head of State is also the designated Head of Government – and is called the President.
Executive is constitutionally independent of Legislature.
Presidentialism is the dominant form of governance in mainland Americas – 19 out of 22 sovereign states – and is also widespread in Central Asia, Central and Southern West Africa. The only republics to follow this system in Europe are Belarus and Cyprus.
The United States of America is the perfect example of Presidential governance.
Each of the three branches – judiciary, executive and legislative – are independent of the others, deriving authority from the constitution.
Features of Presidential Governance:
Separation of Powers: Executive and Legislature are at par. Neither President nor Cabinet members are part of/responsible to Legislature.
System of Checks and Balances exists in the following forms –
- Executive in form of the President has Veto power over Legislative.
- Legislature is enabled with power to remove President by the process of impeachment.
- Judiciary – Supreme Court – has the power to declare the Legislature’s laws, and Presidents orders as unconstitutional.
Single Executive: Unlike Parliamentary form, here the President is the real Head of State as well as Head of Government. There is no concept of a titular/nominal Head.
Prominent Position: President occupies a pre-eminent position in the Government and has subordinate members of Cabinet whose advice he may accept or reject.
Fixed Term: Removal before completion of the President’s fixed term is possible only through impeachment on the basis of constitutional violation.
Presidential Form in the USA – A Quick Note
While Presidential Systems allow election of President via popular vote, some countries like the United States use Electoral College.
Electoral College is a body of electors established by the USA Constitution, forming every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president of the United States.
It consists of 538 electors, and an absolute majority of electoral votes, 270 or more, is required to win the election. The number of electors per state is equal to the number of senators plus representatives in the Congress. Each elector gets 1 vote in the Electoral college. The winner of the elections per state gets all the votes of the electors in the electoral college of that state. For example, if the State of California has 5 electors, and the general public in California vote for Candidate A, then all 5 votes of electors of California will be given to Candidate A.
Is it possible that the candidate with the most votes from the general public will not ultimately be elected the President?
Yes, since the President is not chosen directly by the voters, but by the electoral college. This means that if by popular vote, Candidate A wins in 27 states, and Candidate B wins in 23 States, but the total number of electors in the Electoral College of the 23 States is more than the number of electors in the 27 states, then Candidate B will be elected President.
In the 2016 Presidential Elections, Donald Trump (current President of the USA) had 3 million votes lesser than his rival Hillary Clinton, however he won the presidency because of a majority in the Electoral College.
Donald Trump won over the Electoral College with 304 votes, while Hillary Clinton came close with 277 votes.
Merits and Demerits of Presidential Form
What is Parliamentary Form?
The form wherein executive is selected from among the members of the legislature and is responsible to the legislature is called Parliamentary government. a.k.a. Cabinet form of Government as the real executive power lies with the Cabinet.
Executive is held accountable by Legislature. Due to this feature it is also called “Responsible Government”.
India’s current Parliamentary form of governance is an inheritance from its colonial past.
Parliamentary governments can either be constitutional monarchies (United Kingdom etc.) or parliamentary republics (Italy, Germany, Ireland etc.)
Parliamentarianism is the most common form of governance in Europe, in the Caribbean etc. and throughout the world, usually in former colonies of the British Empire.
Westminster model of Parliamentary governance – a system incorporating three arms of government - the executive, the legislature and an independent judiciary – is found in most former colonies including India.
Features of Parliamentary Governance
Houses of Parliament: Parliamentary governments can be either bicameral (two houses of parliament) or unicameral; most parliamentary democracies follow bicameral legislature.
Accountability of Executive: The executive – Prime Minister and ministers – emerge from Legislature (Parliament) and are therefore always answerable to the Legislative.
Dual Executive: There is a nominal, or a titular executive, the President (or monarch etc.) – Head of State – and a real executive, the Prime Minister – Head of Government.
The Prime Minster is the acknowledged head of the Parliamentary system.
Oath of Secrecy: Whatever is discussed in the cabinet stays in the cabinet. Divulsion of information can cost a Cabinet Minster his/her seat.
Parliamentary Form in India
The Parliamentary system is dealt with under Article 74 and Article 75 when it comes to Centre.
The State Parliamentary system is highlighted under the articles 163 and 164.
In our Parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is the senior-most minister of cabinet of the executive.
Members of Cabinet are selected by the PM and may be dismissed by him.
Executive powers are exercised by Union Council of Minister while the Union Cabinet, a smaller body, is the supreme body of executive powers.
According to Article 75, Union Cabinet members are the Prime Minister and ministers of the rank of cabinet minister.
Chief differences from the British Parliamentary system which we emulated –
Appointed Speaker formally resigns from previous party unlike India where party membership continues and yet the Speaker must remain unbiased.
Absence of a ‘shadow cabinet’ to monitor and criticize the majority government, keep them in check.
Merits and Demerits of Parliamentary/Cabinet Form
By definition, a cabinet is a body of high-ranking State officials – like leaders of executive branch.
Functions of Cabinet may vary between decision making bodies with collective responsibility and purely advisory bodies that are assistant to Head of State/Government.
The term used for Cabinet differs across countries. The Cabinet is known by names such as "Council of Ministers", "Government Council" or "Council of State", or by lesser known names such as "Federal Council" etc.
In the following table, role of Cabinet is highlighted for both forms of governance.
In conclusion, a Cabinet is found in almost all forms of Government, the two major ones – Presidential, Parliamentary – and other hybrid versions such as semi-Presidential system etc. The members are responsible for daily management of the Government, response to emergency situations and sudden events. They play an important role in any form of Governance and help to keep things running smoothly.