The various forms of Government: A primary synopsis

By | June 15, 2020
Various forms of Government

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The various forms of Government | Overview

This article revolves around the concepts of different forms of government and provides a primary synopsis of the democratic and republican system, further branching out the system into Parliamentary, Presidential and Semi- Presidential form of government and lays down the benefits and drawbacks.

In addition to this, various examples have been provided of different countries and their constitution and how they function. In each segment of Parliamentary, Presidential and Semi- Presidential system the core essence of Republican and Democratic form is cast which deciphers sovereignty, majority rule and power entrusted upon the people. [1]

Introduction

Samuel Finer, provides four distinct meanings of the term “government”. Firstly, every government is measured according to command or leadership it has over others. Secondly, the government is a condition of the ordered rule, thirdly, it comprises of a group of people who are responsible and allotted a duty to govern. Fourthly, it refers to a manner or method in which a distinct society is to be ruled. [2]

Government has been referred to as a body of persons that constitute the national executive. In furtherance to this, the focus has been laid that the government should be considered as a process which is institutionalized, that provides the room to govern. The composition of the government is generally comprehended as a mechanism through which “ordered rule” is preserved.

The Government is considered as an instrument for making and enforcing compiled decisions by means of public actions for the society in large. The definition suggests various interrelated functional roles: supervising the system of the government, synchronization in relation to public affairs, formulating decisions and administering society, implementation and coordinated policy formulations, deploying leadership.[3]

Forms of Government

I. Non-Democratic Forms of Government

  • Monarchy, which was considered common till the 19th century. In a Monarchy, a single-family rule is present for several generations. The power is accumulated and assigned to a single individual. There are two types in monarchy,

a. Absolute monarchy, in which the monarch has very few or no legal limitations in political matters; the use of political power was considered to be limited by the presence of an implicit customary law and by God’s will, it was considered to be formulated by the nature of law. [4]

b. Constitutional monarchies, here the monarch preserves a distinct legal and ceremonial role but exercises limited or no political power. The term ‘constitutional monarchy’ seems to be acknowledged initially by a French writer, W. Dupre, who wrote in 1801 of ‘la monarchic constitutionnelle’ and ‘un roi constitutionnel’.[5] Example: Constitutional Monarchy in the United Kingdom, where Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family do not make legislation that governs the people but possess ceremonial roles.

  • Oligarchy form of Government is when the power is rested upon a few individuals. These people can be differentiated by royalty, family ties, wealth, education etc. A few prominent families control the state which carry on their influence from one generation to the latter. Aristocracy, meritocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, and theocracy etc are other political structures associated with oligarchy. A few examples of plutocracies would be the Roman Republic, some city-states in Ancient Greece.

According to Aristotle, oligarchy existed only “when men of property have the government in their hands; […] the real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy” (Aristotle, no year: Book III)[6]

  • Theocracy is when the exercise of political power is done by a church or parallel religious leadership (not necessarily) because the aim of the state would be to direct the population towards God, where God is considered as the “head of the state” theoretically.

In today’s era, there are hardly any theocracies present in the world. Saudi Arabia, which imposes a strict form to adhere to a variant of Sharia Law of Islam, to the extent of not permitting non-Islamic worship, is yet ruled by an extended royal family and not by clerics.

In Bhutan, the highest Buddhist religious official, Je Khenpo, is considered to be a significant advisor, but the state is a monarchy.[7] However, Vatican City, headed by Pope Francis who is the spiritual and absolute monarch, possessing authority with regards to all the branches of the government and appointing the subordinates, has a theocratic government.[8]

  • Authoritarian government is when power is sustained and centralized by elimination and repression of any potential competitions. Autocracy is a system where the complete power is vested in the hands of one person, and the decisions are not subjected to any legal discretion or regulatory mechanisms of control.

The Tsarist autocracy in the history of the Russian Empire followed an autocratic form of government. Peter the Great enclosed the idea of autocracy and reform into a symbiosis that restructured the scope of a ruler’s duty. This was followed by generations with changing expectations which mirrored the ongoing ideas of the Enlightenment into Russia, as they considered necessary. [9]

The extreme version of authoritarianism is Totalitarianism. Totalitarianism form of government is when the state has complete power over the society and authority towards various public and private aspects. In “authoritarian regime” the political authority and power is monopolized by a single person- a sole ‘dictator’ or a committee or by a group of political elites.

At present, North Korea possesses a totalitarian structure. The ideology has been explicitly written in the constitution of the country and not much has been done to alter or bring about changes in the same. The Constitution of North Korea mentions that the Worker’s Party should extend leadership for “all activities” within the republic, however many consider North Korea to be ruled by the military rather than the party.[10]

II. Democratic and Republican Form of Government

A. Democratic Government- In a democracy, the leaders of the country are elected by the popular vote of the citizens of the country. It protects the interest of the citizens of the country, reduces monopoly of authority, keeps a check hence, ensures responsibility on the part of the government along with stable administration and fosters equality.

New Zealand is considered to have one of the oldest and most enduring world democracies. The representative elections commit to fair, free and inclusive elections to cast two votes offered under the mixed-member-proportional (MMP) electoral system. The electoral laws of the country extend the right to vote to all residents, inclusive of non-citizens who have been in the country for at least 12 months.[11]

BRepublican Government- The power of the government is held by the citizen of the country, who entrust the leaders with the power through electing their representatives who serve their interests and who they think fit and efficient. The core meaning of a Republican Government revolves around majority rule, sovereignty, and the people’s right to alter or abolish.[12]

The most significant distinction between Democracy and Republicanism is that in a republic people have inherent rights that cannot be voted away by the majority of voters which is deep-rooted in the laws whereas, in a pure democracy, power/rights are solely in the hands of the majority.

The United States of America has a representative democracy, where the people choose their representatives who determine the issues of the day with regards to other branches of the government, according to the law. The system in the US is also known as a “constitutional republic”.[13]

C. Parliamentary form of Government- It was established in 1918 and developed over the twentieth century. A Parliamentary system of government refers to “a system of government having the real executive power vested in a cabinet composed of members of the legislature who are individually and collectively responsible to the legislature.”[14]

India follows this system of governance, here the citizens of the country, make an active participation by electing representatives for the legislative Parliament. Jawaharlal Nehru, who headed the Constitutional Committee put forth a few merits of parliamentary system and stated- “We prize the parliamentary form of government because it is a peaceful method of dealing with problems. It is a method of argument, discussion and decision, and of accepting that decision, even though one may not agree with it.”[15]

The Parliament is accountable for formulating decisions and laws for the state and also directly liable to the people of that state. Upon the completion of the election, the government is formed by the greatest represented party. The leader would be responsible to carry out the executive functions and become the Prime Minister, along with a few members of the parliament who would be appointed to form the Cabinet of the Prime Minister.

The parties who lose in the elections comprise the minority and becomes the opposition party in the Parliament. These party scrutinizes and challenge the decisions taken by the party in power. In cases where the Parliament loses the confidence in the Prime Minister, the Parliament can dissolve the Prime Minister from his power. [16]

The Parliament in the UK (United Kingdom) begun from the signing of the Magna Carta from 1215. The Parliament comprises of the Regent (Queen Elizabeth II) who are the descendants of the Kings of medieval England, the House of Lords, the members are known as “Peers” who consists of the successors of Barons, Dukes, Earls and Marquesses of medieval England and Scotland. They are appointed by the regent with the consent of the House of Commons.

House of Commons are elected representatives of the People of the UK, the members of the government are known as MP’s. The leader of the government becomes the Prime Minister. The tenure suspends after every five year. The House of Commons is the only house which is elected, the constitution constricts the powers of the House of Lords so that they cannot override the powers or decisions made by the Commons.

UK has a bicameral legislature, which signifies two Chambers in the Parliament which are- The House of Commons and the House of Lords. Both the legislative bodies create laws, checks and confront the government and depict views.[17]

Features:[18]

  • In Parliamentary form of government, the head of the state and head of the government is distinct. The head of the state is mostly the president/monarch who is only a formal head. The significant power of the government is vested upon the Prime Minister.
  • There can exist two houses (bicameral) or one house (unicameral).
  • The council of ministers, are together responsible to the Parliament. The lower house can dismiss the ruling government, by passing a no-confidence motion.
  • The proceedings of the cabinet are mostly kept in secrecy and not disclosed to the public. This kind of system is characterised with the majority party rule as well, but a hundred per cent majority cannot be present in any government, and the parliament comprises of opposition. 

Advantages:[19]

  • Enabling effective coordination between Legislature and Executive: The legislature envisages the executive. The government has the benefit of enjoying the support of the majority members in the lower house, hence the disputes and disagreements are reduced. Passing a legislation becomes an easier task along with the implementation of it.
  • Representation is Diverse: The democracy enables representation of various groups. Scope of diversity increases because diverse ethnic, linguistic, racial and various ideological groups convey their views and help in policy and law-making.
  • Authoritarianism is prevented: The likelihood of authoritarianism is reduced because all the powers are not entrusted to a single person, rather it is delegated to the council of ministers. The parliament can pass a no-confidence motion which can remove the government.

Disadvantages:

  • No separation of powers: There is no specific separation of powers, the executive cannot be held responsible always by the legislature. This is true in case the government has a majority in the house. In addition to this, the legislators cannot perform their free will and according to their understanding and opinions, due to the presence of anti-defection rules. They need to go according to the party whip.
  • Unqualified legislators: The legislators are mostly incompetent and unqualified to legislate. The system thereby, is creating legislators who mostly possess the intention to enter the executive solely.
  • Party politics: Party politics is very evident in the parliamentary form of government, the politicians become more biased in working towards national interest. 

III. Presidential Form of Government

In this system, the head of the government is considered as the head of the state. Presidential form of governance is in contrast to the Parliamentary form of government, the President is considered as the Chief Executive and is elected directly by the people or by means of an electoral college system.

In the presidential system, the president or head of the government is elected for a fixed term of office and cannot be removed except in cases of impeachment.[20][21] One significant feature in this system is that the executive is not responsible to the legislature. Here the three branches of government (legislature, executive and judiciary) exists distinctly. The President implements the laws made by the legislature and they are to supervise and exercise the judicial duties.

A. Presidential form of Government in the USA

The United States of America can be a classic example of a Presidential form of Government. The President is considered as both the head of the government and of the State. The President is elected differently from the legislature and may or may not be of the legislature’s majority political party. The Cabinet of the President contains individuals who are not permitted to become members of Congress at the same time. [22]

USA has a two-party system, which is contrasting to various parliamentary systems, where the legislature comprises of ten or more parties. Another significant distinction is that the officials, who are elected in the United States, serve the office for a specific period of time before the re-election. However, in the parliamentary system, elections may be re-considered by the ruling party suddenly or in case there is a vote of no confidence passed in the government.[23]

Article I of the Constitution of the United States of America refers to the legislative branch of the federal government, which constitutes the two chambers of the Congress- the U.S Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The Legislations are required to be passed by both the houses before it is presented to the President to be signed as a law. [24]

Article II mentions about the Executive Branch, within which the President is the head serving for a term of four years. Below the President and the Vice President there exist 15 departments (Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Education (ED) etc.), with collectively constitutes the “government”. [25]

The current President of America, Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States. President Grover Cleveland is considered as the 22nd and the 24th President as he served for two non-consecutive terms of office. Until the 22nd Amendment which was ratified in 1951, a President could serve an unlimited number of terms. It has now been confined to two four-year terms. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected as President from 1932 till his death in 1945. [26]

Article III mentions about the judicial branch which comprises of the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, inclusive of Court of Appeals, bankruptcy courts, and federal district courts.[27]

B. 2017 Amendment in the Turkish Constitution

The amendment of 2017 in Turkey, which comprises of 18 articles but in actuality, a larger number of articles got changed through the amendment. Turkey’s parliamentary government which was a-century-and-a-half long tradition, and it has opened the path for a new form of Turkish type presidentialism. The prime aim of the 2017 amendment was a transition to a presidential system; however, it remains distinct from the American model of Presidential form. [28]

The American presidential system follows a strict separation of powers between the legislature and the executive branch, but in the Turkish system this is not the case. The USA model is also formulated as a system to keep checks and balances, and limits the power of the executive by the legislature and judiciary. In the Turkish system, both the legislature and judiciary are denied of such powers. [29]

Features:[30]

  • The presidential system has a characteristic feature of the sole executive concept. The President is the head of the executive and also the head of the state. He does not possess nominal powers. The President is directly elected by either the people or the electoral college.
  • The President along with his cabinet are not the members of the legislature nor are they answerable or accountable to the legislature. The Separation of power is clear, the three branches are distinct in itself and members of a particular branch cannot be the member of the other branch.
  • President possesses the power to grant a pardon or commute the sentences awarded to the criminals.
  • The President has a fixed tenure and cannot be removed by no-confidence passed in the legislature, except in impeachment cases where a grave unconstitutional act has been performed.

 Advantages:

  • Three Distinct Branches: In Presidential form of government, the distinct segments or branches made in the government enables to preserve checks and balances.
  • Direct election of President: The President is directly elected by the citizens; hence this establishes increased legitimacy than a President who has been appointed indirectly.
  • Independent decision-making: The restriction for the President is lessened in this system of government, hence the decisions can be taken more independently. This instigates quick decision making.

Disadvantages:

  • High chances of misuse of power: In the Presidential form of government, the power is vested in the hands of a single person who is the President, this can lead to misuse of power. In addition to this, the President is not in control of the legislature.
  • Conflicts: Conflicts can arise between the legislature and executive due to the separation of power and this might lead to deadlock. The legislature can reject the policies of the executives, and the executive may not be in agreement with the Acts passed by the legislature.
  • Chances of forming an incompetent cabinet: President is given the power to establish his own cabinet according to his choice in order to form the government. The President may exploit this power and choose incompetent people which can influence the political functioning of the state.

C. Semi-presidentialism elucidates the mixture of a constitutional system that integrates aspects of parliamentarian-ism and presidential-ism. In this system, a fixed-term president is popularly elected along with a prime minister and cabinet who are accountable for the parliament. Semi president system has “a twin-headed executive” which is different from the presidential and parliamentary form of government.

According to Maurice Duverger, a system is considered as a “semi-presidential government” if the constitution formulated, combines three elements, “the president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage; he possesses quite considerable powers;  he has opposite him, however, a prime minister and ministers who possess executive and governmental power and can stay in office only if the parliament does not show its opposition to them .”[31]

In the Semi Presidential form of Government in France, the Executive Powers is exercised by the President of the Republic and the Government. The Government comprises of the Prime Minister and the Ministers. The candidate standing for President is required to achieve a nationwide majority of non-blank votes, in the first or second round of balloting, this ensures that President has been supported to some extent by at least half of the voting population.

The legislative branch comprises of the Parliament, the Parliament is segmented into two houses- the National Assembly which is the principal legislative body and the Senate, which encompasses senators chosen by an electoral college. The powers of the Senate are however limited and the National Assembly has the final word in cases of disagreements.  The Judicial branch in the French law is independent, which is not directly answerable or managed by the two branches of government. [32]

It is possible that in a semi-presidential form of system, there is domination by the president or by the prime minister or what is known as ‘cohabitation’ when two rival parties have leaders in the double executive, this is considered as one of the significant features of a semi-presidential system.[33] There are two sub-types of a semi-presidential form of government: the premier-presidential system, in which only the legislature can dismiss the Prime Minister. Under the president-parliamentary system, both legislature and the president can dismiss the prime minister.[34]

Conclusion

Most of the western ideologies focus on the fact, that the democratic form of governance serves the purpose of fulfilling and addressing the needs of the citizens and hence is considered the most appropriate form of governance. The Democracy in India, for example, is also considered to be one of the prime features for good governance in India.

Constitutional safeguards for every individual with regards to electing government at different levels in a fair manner, with proper participation by all the sections of the society is one of its basic features. This would be considered as a principal requirement for a legitimate government and its responsibility to the electorate.

However, ‘good’ governance is the ability of the government to plan through and correspond to the policies, laws, projects etc and whether there is proper and effective implementation, along with addressing the needs of the citizens.

The ‘ideology of governance’ would revolve around the ideologies of the Nations such as Democratic or theocratic ideals etc. However, “form” would mean how it is structured such as Parliamentary/Presidential form or single/multi-party systems. Ultimately ‘good’ governance regardless of the form of government would only be prosperous when the government is addressing the needs and requisitions of its people and implementing policies which are effective and for the highest good in the long run. [35]


[1] HeinOnline, Akhil Reed Amar, “ The Central Meaning of Republican Government: Popular Sovereignty, Majority Rule, and the Denominator Problem” Visit Here

[2] Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Government and Politics (Vol 1), Hans Keman, “Structure of Government”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Oxford University Press, W. H. Greenleaf, “The Thomasian Tradition and the Theory of Absolute Monarchy”

[5] Oxford University Press, Vernon Bogdanor, “The Monarchy and the Constitution”

[6] Kreuzer, Peter. Oligarchy and the Provision of Coercion. Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, 2011, pp. 2–4, Domination in Negros Occidental: Variants on a Ruling Oligarchy, www.jstor.org/stable/resrep14544.5. Accessed 10 June 2020.

[7]  Kitchin R, Thrift N (eds) International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography, Volume 11, Megoran N, “Theocracy” pp. 223–228 (2009)

[8] Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Article 1

[9] Whittaker, Cynthia H. “The Reforming Tsar: The Redefinition of Autocratic Duty in Eighteenth-Century Russia.” Slavic Review, vol. 51, no. 1, 1992, pp. 77–98. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2500262. Accessed 10 June 2020.

[10] Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, “North Korea: Fading Totalitarianism in the “Hermit Kingdom” (May 13, 2010)

[11] Auckland University Press, Raymond Miller, “Democracy in New Zealand” (May 2015)

[12] University of Colorado Law Review, Vol 63, Akhil Reed Amar, “The Central Meaning of Republican Government: Popular Sovereignty, Majority Rule and The Denominator Problem”

[13] University Press of North Georgia, Book on The Basics of American Government, Chapter 1, “Theories of Democracy & Types of Government” by Ross C. Alexander

[14] IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Volume 22, Issue 9, Madhulika Jain,” Presidential v/s Parliamentary system for India”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Secretary-General, Rajya Sabha, Parliament of India, New Delhi, Dr Yogendra Narain, “An Introduction to Parliament of India”

[17] UK Parliament, “How it works, Parliament, Government, Democracy and You” Visit Here

[18] IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Volume 22, Issue 9, Madhulika Jain,” Presidential v/s Parliamentary system for India”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Sargentich, Thomas O. “The Presidential and Parliamentary Models of National Government.” American University International Law Review 8 no. 2/3 (1993): 579-592

[21] Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy, Juan J. Linz, “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does It Make a Difference?”

[22] Jason L. Stern, US Department of State, “About America, how is the United States Governed” Visit Here

[23] Ibid

[24] Article I of The Constitution of The United States of America

[25] Article II of The Constitution of The United States of America

[26] The Executive Branch, United States, Visit Here

[27] Article III of The Constitution of The United States of America

[28] Hauser Global Law School Program, New York University School of Law, Serap Yazıcı, “Constitutional Amendments of 2017: Transition to Presidentialism in Turkey” (2017)

[29] Ibid

[30] Mexican Law Review, Jorge Carpizo, “Essential Characteristics of the Presidential System and Influences for its Establishment in Latin America.”  (2007)

[31] Sargentich, Thomas O. “The Presidential and Parliamentary Models of National Government.” American University International Law Review 8 no. 2/3 (1993): 579-592.

[32] Politics of France “Presidential Election in France” a project within the Bosch Alumni Network

[33] University of Pittsburgh, Cole Joseph Harvey, “The Double Headed Eagle Semi- Presidentialism and Democracy in France and Russia.” (2008)

[34] International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Sujit Choudhry, Thomas Sedelius and Julia Kyrychenko, “Semi-presidentialism and Inclusive Governance in Ukraine Reflections for Constitutional Reform” (2018)

[35] ResearchGate, Singh, Vikraant. (2017), “Effective Forms of Government: What makes a government successful or not?”


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