Presidential System of Government

A presidential system of government is a government where all executive powers are vested in a president who is the head of state and head of government. The president may exercise the executive powers of government either directly by himself or through the vice-president, ministers or other officers in the public service of the federation. See section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution. The powers of the president is to maintain the constitution and to apply all the laws made by the legislature for the time being in force and to implement party programmes and generally uphold the interest of the nation and the welfare of the people at all times.

The President is elected directly by the people or indirectly through an electoral college. The President and the cabinet of ministers appointed by him are not members of the legislature. The President is free to choose his ministers from within and outside his party subject to confirmation by the Legislature. The President is a member of the ruling party. The party advises and supports him and he implements the programmes of the party. The ministers are first responsible to the president who appointed them and he is primarily responsible to discipline the ministers or otherwise call them to order. The legislature and the executive may be controlled by different political parties. The president is responsible to the legislature which may investigate and impeach him for gross misconduct and he is also responsible to the people who are the sovereign power in a country and who may not renew his mandate at election. The United States of America, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa are examples of countries operating a presidential system of government.

There are many checks and balances under the presidential system of government. While the legislature may refuse to vote for taxes, thus checking a difficult Executive, the Executive (President) in turn may veto a bill which has been passed by an uncompromising legislature. But if the bill is passed the second time by two thirds majority, it becomes law. If however the Bill/Law is challenged on questions of illegality/constitutionality in court, the judiciary may declare it unconstitutional, thus acting as a check though the judges are appointed by the Executive. One can then say that the presidential model of government is in essence a government of separation of powers coupled with checks and balances.

Parliamentary System of Government

A parliamentary or cabinet system of government is a government where all the executive powers of government are vested in a Prime Minister who is the head of government and head of the majority party or ruling party, but is not the head of state. In this system of government, the head of state who exercises only ceremonial functions may be a monarch or president who is the figure head.

The prime minister and the entire ministers in his cabinet are all members of the same party or coalition of parties. In a cabinet system of government, there is no complete separation of powers, nor a complete fusion of powers. Though the executive and the legislature are completely fused, there is no over-lapping of powers because the same people constitute both arms. Apart from the minister of justice, the judiciary is completely separate from the legislature and the executive. Apart from the doctrine of collective ministerial responsibility and the doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility to parliament, the prime minister as head of the government or executive arm has the power to dismiss any minister and he is primarily responsible for the discipline of his cabinet. The stability of the government depends a lot on the ruling party controlling a reasonable majority in the parliament or being able to form a coalition government with another party or parties.

There is an official opposition party in the parliament, which is usually the party having the highest number of votes next to the ruling party in the parliament. The members of the parliament and the executive arm are one. The prime minister is subject to his party and is controlled by the party. He remains in office a long as his party has the majority of members in the parliament. However when a vote of “no confidence” is passed on him and his cabinet by parliament, the Prime Minister and his entire cabinet is obliged to resign.

The United Kingdom is the origin and home of this system of government. Other countries operating a parliamentary system of government include: Canada, Jamaica, Israel, India, Australia, Lesotho, Ethiopia, etc. Before independence and between 1960 to 1966, Nigeria operated a parliamentary system of government.

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Presidential and Parliamentary Systems of Government

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