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The Executive, Presidential and Parliamentary forms of government: Operational conceptualization into its reality.


Abraham T. O. Stewart, PhD.

Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences

Ignatius Ajuru University of Education

Port Harcourt.


This paper examined the executive, as an important organ of government. How operational this organ performs in the presidential and parliamentary system. This work is a descriptive research, the secondary data was employed which has baseline and qualitative information from authoritative scholars. In political science, the use of the term executive is restricted to those whose primary duties are rather that of seeing that laws are enforced, than that of doing the things which the laws call for. This study survey of the constitutions indicates that the functions of the executive are not every where or at all times, identical. They vary according to the types of executive, (being greater in respect of legislation in countries having a parliamentary executive than in those having a non-parliamentary executive), and according to the prevailing conceptions regarding the sphere of the state (being greater in totalitarian than in liberal states. The objective of this paper is to examine the functionalities of the executive in the two forms of government and its importance. This paper adopted group theory as its theoretical framework and listed out some recommendations to enhance the better practice and working of the executive arm in the systems.


Keywords: Executive, Presidential, Parliamentary, Governmental System, Operations, Conceptualization in its reality.



The command and application of the public force to execute the laws, to maintain peace, and to resist foreign invasion, are powers so obviously of an executive. The nature and requirement of the exercise of qualities so peculiar adopted to this department that they always been exclusively appropriate to it in every well-organized government on earth.

The term executive is derived from the word “execute”. It is the aggregate or totality of all the functionaries or agencies which are concerned with the execution of the will of the state as that will has been formulated and expressed in terms of laws”. The executive can be most useful to be look as the residuary legatee. It is well known that formerly all the power in the state used to be in the hands of the executive. It was later on that the functions of the judiciary and the legislature were separated. The result is that the executive possesses today whatever has not been taken away by the other organs of the government.


Types of Executive:

A distinction must be made between the various kinds of executives which are found and are operational in the World. These are as follows: (1) Nominal and Real executive, (2) Single or Uni-cephalous and Plural executive, (3) Bi-cephalous or Parliamentary / Presidential executive, (4) Hereditary and elective executive.

  1. Nominal and real executive: The country having a parliamentary form of government, there are two kinds of executive. While the prime minister and members of his cabinet are the real executive, the King or the president is the nominal. eg. America, real executive, India both nominal and real.
  2. Single or uni-cephalous and plural executive: This could be likened to the type obtained in the presidential system of government. Here the final control of executive power rests with one individual. This was the case with Nigeria’s second, third and fourth republic. It is also the same with the president of the United States of America. The president in a single executive system has ministers who are named by him. He has political power over the ministers. These ministers are also dependent on him. They act as his advisers and agents. They are not colleagues.

Advantages of single executive:

  1. It make the government decisions fast;
  2. There is singleness of purpose and unity of action; and
  3. In crises situation, when quick decision and unity of control is required, single executive becomes a major advantage.

Disadvantages of single executive:

  1. It can create room for dictatorship;
  2. The wisdom of one single executive can hardly be complete; and
  3. The single executive can easily encroach into the rights of the citizens.

Plural executive:

Here there exist a federal council in charge of the government and administration of the state. The president is the chairman of the council other members are his colleagues. They are not his agents or advisers as found in the single executive system. Any act by the executive is regarded as the act of the council as one body and not that of the president.


Advantages of the plural executive:

  1. It is made up of men of integrity and abundant experience. The collective experience of five wise men is better than the wisdom of one man;
  2. The executive find it difficult to encroach on the rights of the citizens; and
  3. The system prevents one man from turning himself into a dictator.

Disadvantages of plural executive system:

  1. Plural executive impairs unity; and
  2. In periods of emergency, quick decision might be difficult to take.

Bi-cephalous or Parliamentary and presidential executive system: in the parliamentary system the executive is chosen from the parliament or the legislature an example of where this function are Great Britain, France, India, Italy etc. The executive continues to be in the office so long as it enjoy the confidence of the parliament.


Advantages of parliamentary executive:

  1. It provides a fertile ground for initiation and training of the executive;
  2. The executive brings the ministry into contact with the opposition, in this way it contributes to the efficiency of the administration;
  3. It makes an administration less despotic and more responsive to public opinions, if the executive loses the confidence of the parliaments, such could lead to their resignation. As such the executive tries to avoid exercise of arbitrary powers; and
  4. It ensures unity and cooperation between the executive and legislature. This makes for efficient administration. In the administration process, members of the executive acquire a lot of experience. This experience helps in making law passed by the legislature more realistic than they would have been.

Disadvantages of parliamentary executive system:

  1. Uncertainty of tenure- the parliamentary executive could be removed from office any time through a vote of no confidence. This is especially the case when the dominant party is not well organized;
  2. Lack of full attention to primary duties- because of the involvement of the executive in parliamentary work ministers are likely to be distracted from their executive duties. This was the case of France under the third republic;
  3. Ministers are only chosen from the members of the dominant party in the parliament. This creates room to appoint people who are not the best qualified and whose only qualification is that they are members of the ruling party; and
  4. Where the executive and parliament disagrees over a major policy, this could lead to the dissolution of house of representative or house of common as in Britain or resignation of the executive. This kind of situation does not augur well for political stability.

Presidential executive system: This is the system where the president is the head of the state and he has the real executive powers, and is not responsible to the parliament, the system is known as the presidential type of executive, example of countries that operate it are, United states of America, Brazil, Nigeria etc. The president is elected for a fixed term in these countries and he can be removed only through an impeachment.

Features of presidential system:

  1. The president is the chief executive both in theory and in practice. The president performs real executive functions. He does not share the responsibility for the execution of the executive functions;
  2. Members of the cabinet are chosen by the president. The president appoints the ministers and makes them to be in charge of different ministries and can dismiss any of them at any time;
  3. The ministers are individually responsible to the president;
  4. The president is elected directly by the electorate. The president is not responsible to the parliament;
  5. The president is solely responsible for the success and failure of the government, and hence the president must do everything within his reach to success;
  6. There is separation of powers. There is no fusion of the legislative  functions with the executive functions. Members of the cabinet are not necessary members of the legislature.
  7. The supremacy of the constitution is the most important characteristic of a presidential system of government; and
  8. It has written constitution which is usually rigid.

Advantages of presidential executive system:

  1. The system makes it easier to apportion blames for governmental actions;
  2. It enable the electorate to select the man they want to rule the country and also their local representatives;
  3. It helps in faster decision making and execution since the president can over-ride his ministers and take any decision bearing in mind that he would be solely held responsible for it; and
  4. It helps to protect elected members of the legislature from being black-listed, should the government fail because of a bad policy since the system does not allow such members to be members of the executive at the same time.

Disadvantages of presidential system:

  1. The electorate may find if difficult to control the president since he is not responsible to the parliament;
  2. Lobbying as a feature of the presidential system of government lead to wide spread corruption;
  3. The system might easily develop into dictatorship since it gives more powers to one person- the president;
  4. The ministers being “hand-picked” by the president, there is always the danger of arbitrary dismissal of the members of his cabinet; and
  5. Members of the executive because they are individually responsible to the president and always loyal to him instead of the people’s representatives in government. etc.

Hereditary and elective executive: When the King is the head of the state and when after death his son or in case of his being issueless, some of his near relative occupies the throne, this system is called hereditary executive, example of the countries that operate this system are England, Norway, Sweden, Japan etc.

In countries where the head of state is elected either by the people or by their representative, this system is called elective executive, this system is found in India, Nigeria, France, Italy, and United States of America etc.


Advantages of hereditary executive:

  1. In this system the election do not take place and the occupies of the throne is for life. Thus the monarch is free from the election expenses and groupism which are there in the presidential system;
  2. Since the monarch is not elected with the help of any party, he can’t appease and party. Hence he performs his duties without any fear or favour;
  3. Since the monarch remains in office for life, he becomes experienced. The country can be benefitted by his experience, for it is said experience is the best teacher;
  4. Limited monarch helps the development of the country and it does not hinder the progress;
  5. The monarch makes the administration stable and united. After the death of the monarch his son or a near relative occupies the throne. Thus there is no possibility of intrigue rebellion and civil war etc.

Disadvantages of hereditary executive system:

  1. It is not necessary that the successor of an able monarch must be able. Generally it has been observed that a wise ruler has an unwise successor. This is very harmful for the country;
  2. Sometimes after the death of the monarch, there are many dispute regarding succession which shakes the entire empire;
  3. The idea of hereditary executive seems on the face of things are absurd as the hereditary mathematician or the hereditary poet laureate;
  4. An autocratic king will not care for the people and he will crush the freedom of the people; and
  5. According to Rousseau, every government has a tendency to degenerate but there are greater chances of degeneration of a king than a good numbers of elected representatives.

Direct election of the chief executive: In certain countries of the World, the head of the state is elected directly by the voters. This principle is just the opposite of the hereditary principle. eg Mexico, Brazil, Austria etc. This system is recently introduced in France.


Advantages of elective executive:

  1. This system conforms to the imagination of democracy;
  2. It gives political education to the people;
  3. The people take keen interest in political matters; and
  4. People elect a person as their president, who is responsible to them.

Disadvantages of elective executive

  1. At the time of elections party feeling is aroused, which is harmful for the country;
  2. If the president is very popular, he wield all the powers by and by, he please his supporters by offering them high posts and himself becomes an autocrat;
  3. When the elections take place without long interval, we see the influence of those people who are having the power of votes, when their candidate is elected president, the latter tries to appease his supporters;
  4. This system is expensive. The candidates for the presidential election generally do not possess enough money to engage thousand of conversers;
  5. There is a great political tension and excitement among the people because of this election; and
  6. Ordinary people have no sense to decide correctly the qualities of the candidate for the highest office of the land. The common people are swayed by fiery speeches, slogan and other factions of the political parties etc.

Theoretical framework:

As stated earlier, this paper adopted the group theory as its theoretical framework. This theory stated that a group means “a certain pattern of the men of a society taken, however, not a physical mass cut off from other masses of men but as a mass of activities which does not preclude the men who participate in it from participating likewise in many other groups.

A group is not a mere collection of individuals, a group does not emerge unless the interaction among the individuals members are both frequent and sufficiently pattern to produce directional activities. A genuine group is therefore different from a category or informal group which simply refers to a number of individual who share one or more features but who do not interact with any degree of frequency (ie categoric or informal group).

This theory is significant to the paper in that the executive, and either the presidential or the parliamentary system is the interaction and patterned process, and interest, this is refers to a share attitude in each system, that concerned a claim or claims to be made by one group upon certain other groups in a social system.

One can identify the interest of any group by looking into its policies and stated objectives and goals hence all groups have one type of interest or another. The group and the system of the government endeavors each system to maximize its own interest. Groups gain their full meaning in relation to the other groups or system (presidential or parliamentary).

Accordingly, the resources of money, skill, power, influence and organization available to the various groups vary from one group to another. The differences in skill of resources help to determine the extent a system is able to achieve its goals and interests. Groups become political to the extent they bring issues to the political system. Therefore, the political system is that special group which reconciles other groups when they are in conflict. Government also provide general framework through which groups sort out their differences eg. social welfare. Governments redress the problems associated by each system and provide a sort of balance among the systems.


Operational conceptualization:


  • The relationship between the executive and the legislature under the presidential system of government:



  1. The legislative approves of certain appointment to executive posts, eg. ministers and ambassadors;
  2. The executive assents to bills passed by the legislature before they become law;
  3. The legislature approved finances for the executive to
  4. The legislature is empowered to summon members of the executive to appear before it to answer questions about their departments; and
  5. There is greater separation of power between the executive and the legislature under the presidential system, for members of the legislature are not members of the executive.



  • The relationship between the executive and the judiciary under presidential system of government:


  1. There is greater separation of powers;
  2. Judges of the supreme court are appointed by the executive upon the advice of the judicial service commission of the senate;
  3. The judiciary has power to declare as unconstitutional any action of the executive which violates the constitution; and
  4. The term of the office of the judges is independent of the executive.



  • The relationship between the legislature and the judiciary under presidential system of government:


  1. The legislature approves the appointment of the members of the supreme court;
  2. The judiciary has power through the process of judicial review to nullify any law made by the legislature if it  violates the constitution;
  3. The term of office of the judges is independent of the legislature; and
  4. Members of the judiciary are not also members of the legislature.


  • The relationship between the legislature and the executive under parliamentary system of government:


  1. There is less separation of powers;
  2. The legislature approves finances for the implementation of government policies;
  3. The executive initiates bills and follows them up in the legislature to make sure that they are passed into law;
  4. The appointment to position in the executive is usually approved by the legislature without much difficulty, since the majority of the members of the legislature belong to the executive party;
  5. There is “collective responsibility” between the legislature and the executive and the vote of “no confidence” by the legislature leads to the dissolution of both; and
  6. The executive assent to bills passed by the legislature becomes a mere formality since most of such bills are initiated b y the executive itself.



  • The relationship between the legislature and the judiciary under parliamentary system of government:


  1. The appointment of the judges of the supreme court is approved by the legislature;
  2. The judiciary has power through the process of judicial review, to declare as unconstitutional any law passed by the legislature which violates the constitution;
  3. The term of office of the judiciary is different from the legislature but not totally independent of the legislature; and
  4. Members of the judiciary maybe members of the legislature too, for example, in Great Britain the lord chancellor who is the head of the judiciary is also a member of the executive and also sits in parliament.

Why the power of the executive has grown:

Before we come to the conclusion, mention must be made of a remarkable trend in modern politics, the growth in the power of the executive at the expense of the legislature. This development is true not only of government in totalitarian states but also in democratic states. What are the reasons for this new development?. It might, indeed, be expected that the legislature should generally be the great overruling power in every free community, for the will of the state must be expressed before it can be enforced, and that will is expressed by the legislature. The legislature has power over the purse, it has power to regulate matters the power over which has not be conferred on other departments; where a parliamentary executive exists, the tenure of the executive is controlled by the legislature; and the importance of the legislative function has increased in proportion to the increased of collectivist legislation.


The executive tends to over shadow the legislature in practice for several reasons:

  1. Modern executive business is concerned not only with the executive of laws, but also in many cases with the initiation of bills to be sanctioned by the legislature;
  2. The increase of collectivist legislation, which increase the importance of the legislature, pari-passu increases also the importance of the executive; for almost every law delegates to the executive the power of enactment subsidiary legislation;
  3. In many states, the executive has acquired quasi-judicial powers;
  4. War necessarily results an increase in the power of the executive, and the habit acquired in war-time tends to continue in peace- time as well;
  5. In totalitarian states, the concentration of power in the executive is part of their very philosophy; and
  6. The nature of modern government is such that leadership. Continuous and acknowledge, concentrated and coordinating adequately informed and equipped is vitally necessary.


  1. The both system should be geared towards the development of the country and allow for separation of power among the arm of government.


  1. The feature of the democratic principles of election should be allowed to function properly and adequately.


  1. The systems should all, for the protection and safeguard of the fundamental rights of the citizens and the rule of law.


  1. No one man knows is all, hence a joint and collective processes of policies making and implementation by all the system is advocated.



Though no system is completely free from defects, yet we shall have to accept that each system is best to the people and counties that practice it.

Also it worthy to note that a presidential system is not self-corrective, as the executive does not sit in the legislature, there is no criticism of the executive as in parliamentary government and consequently is becomes blind to its misgivings and short comings.

The parliamentary system has many advantages for countries of moderate size; the presidential, constructed for safety rather than for promptitude in actions, and not staking large issues on sudden decisions, is to be preferred for state of vast area and population.



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