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Unit 2

2.2 Comparing Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Systems

4 min readโ€ขnovember 15, 2020

Topic 2.2: Comparing Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Systems

In topic 2.1, we focused on the structures ๐Ÿ—๏ธ of parliamentary, presidential, and semi-presidential systems and we explored how these systems are implemented in several of our Comp Gov countries (Parliamentary in the UK, presidential in Mexico, and semi-presidential in Russia).
Let's now turn our focus ๐Ÿ’ก to comparing each of these systems in regards to their function and structure, as well as how each system allocates power.
Let's look at a quick chart together ๐Ÿ‘€ so we can better compare the structures and functions of each of the systems we studied in topic 2.1

Comparison of Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Systems

Pt. of ComparisonParliamentary SystemPresidential SystemSemi-Presidential System
BranchesNo separation of powersSeparation of powersSeparation of powers
PowerLies with the legislatureSpecific powers within each branchSpecific powers within each branch
ElectionsLegislature elected by the people directlyExecutive and legislative branches voted on by the people directlyExecutive branch voted on by the people directly/President appoints prime Minister and cabinet
RolesPrime MinisterPresident/LegislaturePresident/Prime Minister coexist
FunctionTypically less gridlockGridlock is common problem Little gridlock as Prime Minister is typically an administrative role
In a parliamentary system, like in the UK ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง, there is no separation of powers. The legislature and executive branch are one 1๏ธโƒฃ. This is the complete opposite of a presidential system like Mexico, where the branches are separated.
In the UK, power is fused ๐Ÿคฒ between the executive and legislative branches, so there are far fewer obstacles to get legislation passed โœ… as the legislature is serving the prime minister (and remember, the legislature chooses the prime minister).
A good example of this would be devolution in the UK. This happened very quickly in the late 1990s because the prime minister in control at the time โฒ๏ธ came from the majority party in Parliament. Forgot ๐Ÿค” about devolution from Unit 1? Check out:
๐Ÿ“ Read: AP Comp Govโ€”Unit 1 Study Guide <<Link TK>>
To contrast the UK, in a presidential system like Nigeria ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฌ, the branches and powers are separated, and that creates a greater series of checks and balances โš–๏ธ An example of a check on power would be when the president had his budget ๐Ÿค‘ rejected by the senate in 2016 because it relied too heavily on foreign loans. ๐Ÿ’ธ
The AP Exam does NOT mention a comparison of parliamentary systems or presidential systems with semi-presidential systems. Let's spend a moment to talk about why ๐Ÿค”
The only course county that uses this system is Russia. Russia ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ is a difficult point of comparison for the following two 2๏ธโƒฃ reasons:
  1. Vladimir Putin. In Russia's semi-presidential system, the president and the prime minister co-exist and complement each other. However, Putin is in clear control ๐Ÿ’ช as President. The only Prime Minister of note in the modern era is Mishustin in 2008, so this makes it difficult to compare as an authoritarian ๐Ÿ‘‘ regime.

President Putin

Prime Minister Mishustin

2. Authoritarian ๐Ÿ‘‘ Regime. The course countries that represent parliamentary and presidential systems are democratic ๐Ÿ™‹regimes (UK, Mexico, and Nigeria). The semi-presidential example, Russia, is an authoritarian ๐Ÿ‘‘ regime. This makes it difficult to compare the systems because the regimes are not comparable in regards to who makes decisions. In authoritarian regimes, political elites, like Vladimir Putin, make decisions without much input from citizens. This is very different from the UK, Mexico, and Nigeria, where citizens have greater decision-making ability through elections. In Mexico and Nigeria, different parties can win elections, and have. In Russia ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ, the United Russia Party has not lost an election in the modern era.

Although the parliamentary system tends to be more efficient โœ… with policy making, there is no separation of power between the executive ๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€โš–๏ธ and legislative branches. However, some checks and balances โš–๏ธ STILL exist despite the fused powers. Let's go through a few examples from the UK, our prime example of the parliamentary system.

Examples of Checks and Balances in a Parliamentary System

  1. ๐Ÿ—ณ๏ธElections. In 2011 the Commons passed a law ๐Ÿ“œ allowing for a fixed-term election system. The UK now has fixed-term elections every five 5๏ธโƒฃ years for the House of Commons. This is a way of checking the Prime Minister's power. Remember that the prime minister is selected by the majority party in Parliament. This is a perfect example of what many governments call "imposing time deadlines on calling new elections."
  2. โ“Questions of the Executive. In the UK, the House of Commons regularly holds Questions with the prime minister. If you want a good time, you should watch some examples of this! It's very different from US politics and highly entertaining. This regular event allows the opposition and majority party to ask questions of the prime minister and the cabinet. Click here to watch past Prime Minister's Questions.

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