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On the Comparison of Presidential and Parliamentary Governments ELIJAH BEN-ZION KAMINSKY - Professor Emeritus of Political Science - Arizona State University Comparison of the French and American presidencies has been made more difficult than it needs to be by confusion over the essential differences between presidential and parliamentary government Classic textbook definitions such as the aphorism that in parliamentary government the executive must be supported by a parliamentary majority while presidents are chosen through national election confuse rather than clarify Franco-American comparisons Even worse are definitions based on the language of constitutional provisions any workable distinction must be based on actual behavior rather than legal prescriptions However misused the terms parliamentary government and presidential government are unavoidable What is the truly fundamental difference between them Parliamentary government is a democratic regime in which the executive and the legislature ultimately must agree on policy The two branches are synchronized so to speak like two gears that mesh If the two branches are out of synch something will be done to compel policy agreement between them How this harmonization is brought about which branch tends to dominate the other and the composition and designation of the executive branch will vary from country to country Temporary failure to agree leads to a short-term crisis prolonged and continuous failure to agree indicates that the system no longer works properly and is due for reform or replacement This is a behavioral not a constitutional or structural definition It is how the political actors behave rather than their constitutional partisan or parliamentary environment that sets the definition of parliamentary government Those environmental elements are of course crucial in producing parliamentary government and determining whether and how it works but no particular aspect such as the written constitution parliamentary procedure or party organization in itself defines or identifies parliamentary government1 Behavior of political actors in presidential government is very different The executive and legislative branches are free to disagree with each
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