Presidential System of Government: Meaning and Features


Presidential System of Government: Meaning and Features

The presidential system government is a model of political and administrative governance in operation in many countries, developed and developing, in which both the executive and ceremonial powers are exercised by a single person who is also addressed as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

This article takes a look at this system of government by first defining it and identifying its major characteristics. It also examines its merits and demerits as well as its practice in specific countries such as the United States and Nigeria.


Meaning of Presidential System of Government

The institution of a single man and non-parliamentary executive chiefly characterizes the presidential system of government. The same person who holds the title of the head of state is also head of government.

The real political or executive power is combined with the ceremonial powers and are both exercised by a single man who is also addressed as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The executive headed by him is the government and it is headed by the president who is also the head of the executive.

The president is normally elected directly through popular votes or, indirectly via the collegiate system, otherwise known as the Electoral College and he is directly accountable to the electorate.

The election to the office of the president is independent of the election to the legislature. The whole country constitutes a single constituency to the president.

On assumption of office, the president is seen as the symbol of national unity and chief administrator for the nation.

Presidential System of Government is defined as that type of government in which the three organs of government, that is the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are separated and co-ordinate in power, each of them acting independently within its own sphere.

The President does not share his power with any other person, unlike the Prime Minister who is first among equals in a parliamentary system. The holder of the office of president is often called executive president because he is solely responsible for the implementation of legislative decisions.

He is the chief security officer of the whole country, and in the exercise of this power, he sees to the maintenance of law and order in the country. He is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, which confers on the occupant of that office the power to declare war to defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of his country.

Examples of countries in the world that practice this system of government are U.S.A, Spain, France, and Nigeria. The tenure office of the president is fixed; he stays in office for a specific tenure and he can be re-elected for a second term. The number of years a president stays in office depends on the constitution of the country concerned.

In Nigeria, the fixed tenure for any president is four years.

Read On: Evaluation of Rule of Law in Nigeria


Features of Presidential System of Government

i) Combination of Two Offices in One: The combination of the office of the head of state and head of government makes for quick and prompt decisions, especially on rare occasions when delays or vacillations may be dangerous for the corporate existence of a nation. To facilitate this, the American presidential system, for instance, allows the president the power to issue executive orders without recourse to the congress, while the Nigerian system also permits a president to take steps in exceptional circumstances, before seeking the approval of the National Assembly.

ii) Presidential Discretion in Appointments: The President also has a free hand in appointing his ministers and other government appointees. Ministers can be chosen from outside the president’s party. This is due to the insulation of the president from party politics under the presidential system of government.

iii) A Single Countrywide Constituency: The whole country constitutes a single constituency for the president in a presidential system of government and he is elected for a fixed term of four years, and separately from members of the parliament.

iv)  Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances: The presidential system of government is anchored on the twin mechanisms of separation of power and checks and balances. This is not the case in the parliamentary system where there is a fusion of power among the three organs of government.

v) Fixed Tenure of Office: The President under the presidential system has a fixed tenure in office, usually a four-year period before another election is due when he can seek for re-election for another term in office. In Nigeria and the United States, no president can serve in office for more than two terms.

vi) Veto Power: In the presidential system of government, the president is constitutionally empowered to refuse to assent any bill passed by the legislature that he considers to be against the public interest, but it isn’t a feature in the parliamentary system of government.

vii) Primacy is accorded to the Constitution: The constitution is the supreme law in the presidential system. This is unlike most parliamentary system where supremacy lies with the parliament.

Read On: Doctrine of separation of powers


Application of the Presidential System of Government

The Presidential system of government is an operation in many countries. The countries include the United States, a country that is unarguably the model for that system of government. Indeed Nigeria, with minor modifications, adopted the American type of presidential system of government in 1979.

The United States’ constitution under Article II provided for the establishment of the office of a strong president. As pointed out by Alexander Hamilton, a popular delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Article II was aimed towards “energy in the Executive”. The constitution did so to overcome the natural stalemate that was built into the bicameral legislature as well as into the separation of powers among the three organs of government.

The President of the United States exercises executive powers as the head of state; head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The arrangement almost equally applies to Nigeria. One major difference is that the vice president in the United States is also the president of the senate, a position he occupies by the fact of his being the incumbent vice president. He seldom attends the sittings of the upper house except on the rare occasion when he is expected to use his casting vote to break a tie in voting in the senate.

In Nigerian, the president of the senate is first and foremost an elected member of the senate before he is elected from among his colleagues as the presiding officer of the senate.


Conclusion on Presidential System of Government: Meaning and  Features

The American experience of over two hundred years has shown that the presidential system of government can be a success story. It is unique because political and administrative powers are divided among the executive, legislative and judicial organs. Despite its many advantages, however, it is claimed by the opponents of the model that the presidential system of government is too expensive to maintain, especially by less developed countries and that it cannot readily guarantee a responsive, or provide a responsible government.

In this article, we began with the treatment of the presidential system of government by defining it and stating its basic features. We also discussed the presidential system of government, citing the United States and Nigeria as case studies to illustrate the practice.

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