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POLITICS & GOVERNANCE

What is the Presidential Form of Republican Democracy?

Presidential form of government is usually employed to refer to the American System of government. It refers to a political system which the executive is independent from the legislature.

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Presidential form of government is usually employed to refer to the American System of government. According to professor Agcaoili, it refers to a political system which the executive is independent from the legislature. This system focuses on the separation of powers. The presidential model centralizes both political power and symbolic authority in one individual, the president.

At this point, we have to digress a little bit further to take into account the notion of Checks and balances. We can appreciate better the study of the different branches of government if we consider or focus our attention on the Presidential

Form of Government. Here, the three branches are respective powers are clearly separated.

EXECUTIVE

LEGISLATIVE

JUDICIARY

- Vetoes Bills

- Suggest Legislations

- Calls Special Sessions

- Grants pardon for Federal offenses

- Sets up Agencies and Programs

- Enters into treatises

- Appoints Judges.

- Overrides Vetoes

- Impeaches and removes officials including the President

- Approves or denies Treaties

- Impeaches and removes Judges

- Fixes number of Justice who sits on Supreme court

- Approves and rejects Presidential Appointments

- Determines Constitutionality of laws

- Sets up lower Courts

- Regulates types of appeals

- Interprets Laws and treaties

- Declares actions of President and Congress unconstitutional

The notion that centralized power is dangerous, thus power must be distributed and checked, reached maturity in the eighteenth century, and its first full-scale application was to be found in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. There, delegates to the Federal Convention continuously cited “the celebrated Montesquieu,” John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and other support of the idea that political power, in order to be safe, had to be divided. The legislature needs to have a check on the executive, the executive on the legislature, and so on. Many of Johns Locke ideas were adopted and can be found in The Federalist (especially no.47), among other places, and expressed the philosophy that the executive force had to be kept separate from the legislative force. For example, the president can veto work of the Congress, and Congress can refuse to pass the legislative request of the president, but neither can force the other to do anything.

“A pure presidential regime or system”, or Presidentialism, in a democracy is a system of mutual independence (Stepan & Skatch, 1993):

  1. The legislative power has a fixed electoral mandate that is its own source of legitimacy.
  2. The chief executive power has a fixed electoral mandate that is its own source of legitimacy.

Presidentialism has been a popular choice amongst many new democracies in the last decade, especially in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America (Mahler, 1995; Lawson, 1992). While the influence of the United States, the world’s best known presidential system, is probably partly responsible for this trend, recent experience has also highlighted a number of advantages of presidentialism:

A directly elected president is identifiable and accountable to voters to a high degree. The office of the president can be held directly accountable for decisions taken because, in contrast to parliamentary systems, the chief executive is directly chosen by popular vote. It is thus easier for the electorate to reward or retrospectively punish a president (by voting him or her out of office) than is the case with parliamentary systems (Mahler, 1995; Lawson, 1992; Healey and Tordoff, 1995; Hyden, 1992).

Ability of a president to act as a unifying national figure, standing above the fray of sectarian disputes. A president enjoying broad public support can represent the nation to itself, becoming a unifying symbol between rival political groupings. To play this role, however, it is important that the rules used to elect the president are tailored so as to achieve this type of broad support.

In a presidential system, there is a higher degree of choice. The fact that presidential systems typically give voters a dual choice – one vote for the president and one vote for the legislature – means that voters can be presented with a broader range of choice under presidential systems than parliamentary ones.

Closely linked to this is the presidential system’s stability of the office and continuity in terms of public policy. Unlike parliamentary governments, a president and his or her administration normally remains relatively constant throughout their term, which can give greater stability in office and predictability in policy-making than some alternatives. This leads, in theory at least, to more efficient and decisive governance, making it attractive for those cases where governments change frequently because of weak parties or shifting parliamentary coalitions, or where hard political decisions, such as contentious economic reforms, need to be taken (Lijphart, 1992).

Now, the problems of this system.

The presidential system has the propensity to be captured by one faction, party or social group. This can create particular difficulties in multi-ethnic societies, where the president can easily be perceived as the representative of one group only, with limited interest in the needs or votes of others (Ibid.). This is what we are dealing with in the difficult and bloody problem concerning the Moro rebellion in Mindanao; or in Indonesia which lead to the successful independence of East Timor and the on-going rebellion in the archipelago (Dejillas & Mamaclay, 1995); or in the case of Afghanistan, where a number of relatively coherent groups are present; and Iraq, which is torn by three large ethnic groups.

Other disadvantages include the absence of real checks on the executive. This becomes even truer when there is a concordance between the president’s party and the majority party in congress. In this case (typified, for many years, by the Philippines and Mexico) the congress has almost no real checks on the executive and can become more of a glorified debating chamber than a legitimate house of review. This problem can be exacerbated by the fact that a president, unlike a parliamentary prime minister, can become virtually inviolable during his or her term of office, with no mechanism for dismissing unpopular incumbents – except through the difficult process of impeachment (in the Philippines, this difficulty has already lead to two EDSA revolutions, in 1986 and in 2001).

The presidential system lacks genuine flexibility. While impeachment of the president by the legislature is a device built into many presidential systems, it remains the case that the presidency is a much less flexible office than the major alternatives. Salvador Allende’s election as president of Chile in 1970, for example, gave him control of the executive with only 36 percent of the vote, and in opposition to the center and right-dominated legislature (Mahler, 1995). Some analysts have argued that Chile’s 1973 military coup can be traced back to the system that placed an unpopular president in a position of considerable long-term power. In short, the presidential system has contributed to the emergence of militaristic and undemocratic systems.

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