Presidential Politics

As a political science major, you’ll study presidential politics in depth. In a presidential system, the executive branch and the legislative branch coexist in the governing of a nation’s people. Although the two branches work together, they are distinct entities and operate independently. In the United States, this distinction is formalized in the Constitution, whereby the presidential election is separated from Congress.

The legislative branch has the responsibility of creating and passing bills outside presidential control. The president has the authority to veto any bill, but if a sufficient number of legislators override the president’s veto, the bill enters into law.

In a presidential system, the president is elected for a fixed and limited time period. Some countries that operate under a presidential system allow for a president who has broken a law to be removed from office. The president’s cabinet members are nominated by the president to execute presidential and legislative policies. While the president nominates cabinet members, many countries under a presidential system require legislative approval; the same holds true for judicial appointments. The president holds no sway over judges, although executive-branch employees, cabinet members, and the military are under presidential jurisdiction. The president, in most countries that operate under a presidential system, can commute criminal sentences, as well.

A true presidential system requires the free election of the president. There are a number of dictatorships in which the nation’s leader is called the president but the governmental system is not a true presidential one. In other cases, countries that are democratic and parliamentary, such as India, Israel, and Portugal, have a titular president who lacks the power of a true president but retains responsibility for ceremonial functions.

Presidential systems have four primary advantages.

Because the president is elected either by direct vote or, as in the case in the United States, by an electoral college, presidential authority is more easily accepted by the citizens, who have mandated that authority. Second, in a presidential system, the executive and legislative branches work together but remain relatively independent, permitting each to monitor the other in order to prevent abuses of power.

Third, an elected president who has been given authority over cabinet members and the military can, in the event of a national emergency, move forward decisively and quickly. During peaceful times, this ability to act as a strong arm is slowed by the legislature. Finally, because a presidential term is of a fixed length of time, there is a greater degree of executive stability than in nations with prime ministers or other leaders who can be dismissed at the will of legislators.

As a political science major, you’ll consider the three primary arguments against the presidential system.

The first is that this method of governing allows for a greater possibility of authoritarianism. Citizens who are directly responsible for the election of the president may be less likely to protest presidential decisions through civic participation. A second argument against the presidential system is that, because the executive and legislative branches exist in parallel, political gridlock can be the result when Congress is in favor of an action or bill and the president opposes it. Also, because of the way this system is established, both the president and members of the legislature can point fingers of blame at one another when issues are not resolved in a timely or satisfactory manner. Finally, opponents of the presidential system argue that a president who is not fulfilling obligations and meeting responsibilities in a sufficient manner or who is abusing the power of the station is difficult to remove from office before the term is up.

Last Updated: 05/22/2014


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