Checks and Balances: The Importance of and Independently Functioning Executive

Democracies take shape in various ways around the globe with the two most prevalent democratic systems being the presidential and the parliamentary. In the presidential system, the executive is leader of government as well as head of state. In the parliamentary system, the executive is the prime minister and he or she is held accountable by the parliament. Scholars have long debated which form of democracy creates the best advantages for the society it governs. Ultimately, the presidential form is preferable, because executive and legislative bodies working independently, with constructive checks and balances, can hold each branch accountable.

While critics of the presidential system will cite its inefficiency, it is that very same inefficiency that avoids a tyrannical majority. In a presidential system, the legislative branch prevents a president from gaining excessive party power because congress is an independent entity, separate from the executive. Additionally, supporters of the parliamentary systems argue that the “vote of no confidence,” which allows a party to withdraw support from its head of government, keeps the prime minister from solidifying excessive power. However, “the threat a prime minister faces of losing office through a vote of no confidence has all but disappeared.”[1] In fact, recent history indicates that a Untied States president has a likelier chance of being impeached than a prime minister has of being thrown out because of a no-confidence vote. The British parliamentary system, arguably the most symbolic in the world, is applauded by supporters for having multiple parties represented in elections, but is essentially bipartisan as well. The Labour and Tory parties traditionally dominate political discourse within the nation.

Of course, the presidential system is not without its flaws. In fact, it was Winston Churchill, an English Prime minister who famously claimed: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” It just happens that the presidential system is the lesser of the evils.


[1] Kesselman, Mark, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph. (Introduction to Comparative Politics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin) 2004. 59



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