The Perils of Presidentalism.doc

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Political Science
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Jeffrey Kopstein

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The Perils of Presidentalism - as more of the world’s nations turn to democracy, interest in alternative constitutional forms and arrangements has expanded well beyond academic circles - the vast majority of the stable democracies in the world today are parliamentary regimes, where executive power is generated by legislative majorities and depends on such majorities for survival - only presidential democracy with a history of continuity is the United States - parliamentary regimes can also be unstable, especially under the conditions of bitter conflicts - superior historical performance of parliamentary democracies is no accident - parliament is more conductive to stable democracy that presidential Parliamentary vs. Presidential Systems - in a parliamentary system the government’s authority is completely dependent upon parliamentary confidence - while they may include presidents who are elected by direct popular vote, but they usually lack the ability to compete seriously for power with the prime minister - in presidential systems the president is directly elected by the people for a fixed term and is independent or parliamentary votes of confidence - not only is he the holder of the executive power but also the symbolic head of state and can be removed between elections only by the drastic step of impeachment - may be more or less dependent on the cooperation of the legislature - balance between legislature and executive can vary - two things about presidential government stand out o presidents strong claim to democratic legitimacy o the second is his fixed term in office - in a presidential system, the legislators can claim democratic legitimacy - the presidents fixed term in office breaks the political process into discontinuous, rigidly demarcated periods, leaving no room for the continuous readjustments that events may demand - a paradox of presidential government that while it leads to the personalization of power, its legal mechanisms may also lead, in the event of a sudden midterm succession, to the rise of someone whom the ordinary electoral process would never have made the chief of state Paradoxes of Presidentalism - presidential constitutions also reflect profound suspicion of the personalization of power - while parlimentarism imparts flexibility to the political process, presidentalism makes it rigid - prime minister can be changed without necessarily a regime crisis Zero-Sum Elections - institutional arrangements both directly and indirectly shape the entire political process or “ way of ruling” - presidentalism is problematic because it operates according to the rule of “winner take all” which tends to make democratic politics a zero sum game, with all the potential for conflict - parliamentary elections produce an absolute majority for a single party, they more often give representation to a number of parties - the zero sum game in presidential elections and inevitably exacerbates their attendant tension and polarization - one of the possible consequences of two-candidate races in multiparty systems is that broad coalitions are likely to be formed in which extremist parties gain undue influence - two round election can avoid problems as the preliminary round shows the strength and allows the two major candidates to reckon just which alliances they must make to win o promotes rational decisions The Style of Presidential Politics - the new president must consider whether gestures designed to reconcile his recent opponents might
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