Characteristics of presidents
Some national presidents are "figurehead" heads of state, like constitutional monarchs, and not active executive heads of government (although some figurehead presidents and constitutional monarchs maintain reserve powers). In contrast, in a full-fledged presidential system, a president is chosen by the people to be the head of the executive branch.
Presidential governments make no distinction between the positions of head of state and head of government, both of which are held by the president. Many parliamentary governments have a symbolic head of state in the form of a president or monarch (Again, in some cases these symbolic heads of state maintain ...view middle of the document...
In some presidential systems such as Weimar Germany and South Korea, there is an office of prime minister or premier but, unlike in semi-presidential or parliamentary systems, the premier is responsible to the president rather than to the legislature.
Advantages of presidential systems
Supporters generally claim four basic advantages for presidential systems:
• Direct elections — in a presidential system, the president is often elected directly by the people. To some, this makes the president's power more legitimate than that of a leader appointed indirectly. However, this is not a necessary property of a presidential system. Some presidential states have an unelected or indirectly elected head of state.
• Separation of powers — a presidential system establishes the presidency and the legislature as two parallel structures. Supporters say that this arrangement allows each structure to monitor and check the other, preventing abuses.
• Speed and decisiveness — some argue that a president with strong powers can usually enact changes quickly. However, others argue that the separation of powers slows the system down.
• Stability — a president, by virtue of a fixed term, may provide more stability than a prime minister who can be dismissed at any time.
In most presidential systems, the president is elected by popular vote, although some such as the United States use an electoral college (which is itself directly elected) or some other method. By this method, the president receives a personal mandate to lead the country, whereas in a parliamentary system a candidate might only receive a personal mandate to represent a constituency. Since prime ministers are not elected directly, it could be argued their mandate to lead is not a personal mandate and therefore less legitimate.
Separation of powers
The fact that a presidential system separates the executive from the legislature is sometimes held up as an advantage, in that each branch may scrutinize the actions of the other. In a parliamentary system, the executive is drawn from the legislature, making criticism of one by the other considerably less likely. A formal condemnation of the executive by the legislature is often regarded to be a vote of no confidence. According to supporters of the presidential system, the lack of checks and balances means that misconduct by a prime minister may never be discovered. Writing about Watergate, Woodrow Wyatt, a former MP in the UK, said "don't think a Watergate couldn't happen here, you just wouldn't hear about it." (ibid)
Critics respond that if a presidential system's legislature is controlled by the president's party, the same situation exists. Proponents note that even in such a situation a legislator from the president's party is in a better position to criticize the president or his policies should he deem it necessary, since the immediate security of the president's position is less dependent...