Within parliamentary systems, the government i.e. the legislature consist of the political party with the most popularly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) in the main legislative parliament e.g. the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister is appointed by the party to lead as the executive decision-maker, and the legislature work to support and carry out their will (Fish, 2006). In presidential systems, the President is directly elected with the support of their political party, with the legislative being separately elected and, in the case of the United States, being made up of representatives from different states (BIIP, 2004). This essay will provide examples to suggest that Presidents are generally more powerful than Prime Ministers. As two of the oldest forms of parliamentary and presidential governments (Mainwaring and Shugart, 1997), the United Kingdom and the United States will be the main focus of this essay, but other parliamentary and presidential countries will be mentioned.
Separation of power is an important concept within presidential systems like the United States, with presidential power constricted by established levels of responsibility. According to Lijphart (1999: 125), the separation of power within presidential systems implies “not only the mutual independence of the executive and legislative branches but also the rule that the same person cannot simultaneously serve both”, which isn’t the case in parliamentary systems, where the Prime Minister does have control of both branches of government (SOURCES). This also applies to the powers of US state governments, with certain areas of policy i.e. educational standards and criminal justice (BIIP, 2004) controlled by states rather than by the President. The executions of Edgar Tamayo in Texas and Troy Davis in Georgia are recent example of the limitations of executive power in presidential systems – although the President was able to suggest a course of action (Valdes, Mears and Shoichet, 2014), state law took precedence in both cases, with the President legally unable to intervene (Benen, 2011; Cook, 2011).
Both executive posts have strengths and weaknesses in passing legislation - in parliamentary systems, a Prime Minister is strengthened by a majority government which is “unconstrained by other powerful domestic (or) international actors” (Krauss and Nyblade, 2005: 357). Not only can a strong Prime Minister dissolve a legislative, a power available in many British-based i.e. post-colonial parliamentary systems and unavailable in presidential systems (Lijphart, 1999), they are also able to control policy debates within elected parliament i.e. the length of debates and voting times (Szilagyi, 2009: 313).
Garnett and Lynch (2007: 120) used Blair as an example of a Prime Minister who enjoyed the advantages of “large parliamentary majorities, a strong position within the (Labour) party and a largely quiescent Cabinet”, which...