Polity

Features of Presidential form of Government

Features of Presidential form of Government

In the last article, we discussed the features of the Parliamentary form of Government, and why did India choose this Parliamentary System over the Presidential System. In this article, we’d be discussing the features of Presidential form of Government and why exactly did the framers of Indian Constitution deliberately rejected this system of Government?

Features of Presidential form of Government

Countries having the Presidential form of Government
Features of Presidential form of Government
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The first and foremost example of countries following the Presidential form of Government is the USA. Other countries are-

  • Argentina
  • Sri Lanka
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Philippines
  • Columbia
  • Zimbabwe
  • Venezuela
  • Uruguay

There are certainly more countries following the Presidential System of Government around the world, but these are some of the prominent countries following this system.

Powers and functions of the President
Features of Presidential form of Government
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One of the distinctive features of Presidential form of Government is the powers and functions of the President. Unlike the Parliamentary form of Government where the President is the nominal head of the state, in the Presidential form of Government, the President is the real executive and head of the state.

The President is the head of the Government and leads the executive organ of the Government. In the Parliamentary form of Government, it’s the Prime Minister who is the head of the Government and leader of the executive organ and takes all the major policy decisions. But in the Presidential system, this position is occupied by the President, and it’s the President who takes all the major policy decisions.

As the President is the head of the state, he also occupies a ceremonial position.

Election of the President

In the USA, which is the foremost example of this system of government, the President is elected by an electoral college for a fixed term of four years. Similarly, the Vice President is also elected by the same process.

The President cannot be removed by Congress (Lower House of Parliament of USA) except by the process of impeachment when the President does a grave unconstitutional act.

However, the President does not have the power to dissolve Congress.

The Kitchen Cabinet

In the Presidential form of Government, the President governs the country with the help of a cabinet or a smaller body called the ‘Kitchen Cabinet.’

Features of Presidential form of Government
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The US President appoints members of the Cabinet with the approval of the Congress, who function as executive heads of the departments. They are selected and appointed by the President and are responsible only to the President, and not to anyone else, including Congress.

Separation of Executive from the Legislative
Features of Presidential form of Government
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The doctrine of Separation of Power, which was best elaborated by the French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu in his book Esprit Des Lois (The Spirit of Laws) published in 1748, forms the foundation on which the entire structure of the U.S. Constitution is based.

So, another distinctive feature of Presidential form of Government is the separation of the Executive organ of the Government from the Legislative organ.

In the Presidential System (in the USA), the President is elected by the people, and so is Congress. But neither the President is responsible to Congress nor the Congress is responsible to the President. Unlike the Parliamentary System, in which it’s mandatory for the Ministers in the Cabinet to be the member of either House of Parliament, in the Presidential System, the appointed secretaries, who constitute the cabinet of the President, are not responsible to Congress. They are not members of Congress and do not participate in the discussions and voting in Congress. Also, in the Parliamentary System, the ministers are elected by the people, while the Secretaries in the Presidential System are not elected by the people, but rather appointed by President.

Interlinking between the different organs and the principle of Checks and Balances

As discussed earlier, the Presidential System in the USA is based on the principles of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. The Principle of Checks and Balances, as elaborated by Montesquieu, states that each organ of the Government shall have the obligation to act within its own sphere and not beyond it. If the authority acts beyond the permitted limits, it would be checked by the other organs. It means that each organ of the Government should be kept separate from one another and each organ should be independent of the control of others. And if one organ interferes with the functions and independence of other organ, it shall be checked by another organ of the government. And this separation of powers and checks and balances are very important for safeguarding the liberty of the people.

Features of Presidential form of Government
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Even though there’s a firm separation of powers in the USA, the different organs of the Government are interlinked with one another in their functions. Some examples of their interlinkage and checks and balances are-

  • The President (executive) has the power to make appointments, but these appointments have to be ratified by the Senate (Legislature, Upper House of Parliament).
  • The Judges (judiciary) of the Supreme Court of the USA are appointed by the President (executive), but again, these appointments have to be ratified by the Senate (Legislature).
  • In both the above-mentioned cases, the Senate has the power to refuse to ratify the choices made by the President.
  • The President has the power to declare war, but he could only do so once he gets the approval of both the Houses of Congress (Senate and House of Representatives).
  • The Supreme Court has the power of Judicial Review. It means that the Supreme Court has the power to examine the acts passed by the Legislature and executive orders issued by the President. And if these legislations and executive orders contravene with the Constitutional Provisions of the USA, the Supreme Court can declare them null and void.
  • The President could intervene in the business of the court through his power of pardon for all offenses except treason.

Reasons for adopting the Parliamentary System of Government

There was a plea made in the Constituent Assembly in favor of the US Presidential System of Government. But our Constitutional Framers deliberately rejected the Presidential System and preferred the British Parliamentary system. The reasons for this are-

The problem of Personality Cult

The Presidential executive puts much emphasis on the president as the chief executive and as a source of all executive power. So, there’s always a danger of personality cult in the presidential executive. The Constitutional framers indeed wanted to have a government with a strong executive branch, but however, they wanted that there should be enough safeguards to check against the personality cult. And one of the important features of the Parliamentary form of Government is that there’s a mechanism to ensure that the executive would be answerable to and controlled by the people’s representatives i.e. the Legislature. As we all know that the Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the lower house of the Parliament (Lok Sabha).

Image by- The New York Times

However, it couldn’t be said that the problem of personality cults has been completely ruled out. There were leaders with a personality cult, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. This problem was mitigated during the coalition era, but after the landslide victory of Narendra Modi in both the 2014 and 2019 General elections, emerged another leader with a personality cult. But it couldn’t really be stated that a leader with a cult personality isn’t good for the country, as every country needs a strong leader.

‘Rocket Science’ for the People

When the Constitution of India was written, India already had the experience of running the Parliamentary system of Government under the Government of India Act of 1919 and the Government of India Act of 1935 (it is also stated that the Indian Constitution is a carbon copy of the Government of India Act, 1935). So, the people of India were very much familiar with this system of Government and understood the election procedure and how the Government functions.

But in the case of the Presidential System, the people of India had no experience and knowledge of this system. And given the complexity of this system, it would’ve been ‘rocket science’ for the people to understand the election process and how the government functions in the Presidential System.

K.M Munshi, in the Constituent Assembly, argued, “For the last thirty or forty years, some kind of responsibility has been introduced in the governance of this country. Our Constitutional Traditions have become Parliamentary. After this experience, why should we go back and buy a novel experience.”

Conflicts in the separation of Executive from the Legislative organ
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As discussed earlier, the US constitution is based on the Principle of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. So, the conflict between the legislative and executive was bound to occur in the Presidential System that was prevalent in the USA.

The conflicts that would’ve arisen on account of the separation of powers between the Legislative and Executive was the last thing our infant democracy could afford to face! And the framers of the Indian Constitution did not want to take the risk of a perpetual conflict between the two organs of the Government, which would’ve been hazardous for our infant democracy. They wanted a Government that would be conducive to the manifold development of the country.

The diversity of Indian Society

As we all know, India is a diverse country consisting of people following different religions, cultures, traditions, speaking different languages, etc. In short, India is one of the most heterogeneous and complex societies in the world.

And in this complex society, a system that would provide for the maximum representation of the people from different sections of the society was needed. And the Parliamentary System of Government was the best system to ensure representation, rather than the Presidential System.

Responsibility of the head

Dr. B.R. Amebdkar, in the Constituent Assembly, stated that a democratic executive must satisfy two conditions: Stability and Responsibility. So, one of the important features of Presidential form of Government is that it ensures stability. But the drawback is that the system puts less emphasis on responsibility.

However, the Parliamentary System also failed to provide both Responsibility and Stability, as it puts more emphasis on responsibility, but less on stability. So, our Constitution framers, in selecting the Parliamentary System, preferred more responsibility over more stability.

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