Is it Time to Change our System of Government?

Charles Lane in The Washington Post comments on “The Perils of Presidentialism,” by Yale University’s Juan J. Linz, in which Linz argues that the Westminster-style parliamentary system is inherently more stable than our ‘presidentialist’ systems that divide executive and legislative power between separately elected presidents and assemblies.

“Linz identified the fundamental disadvantage of “presidentialist” democracy: “Whereas a prime minister owes his power to the same majority that produces parliament, the president and legislature in a presidentialist democracy can both claim to represent the national majority, a source of competition that can spawn conflict, even chaos, when rival parties control the two branches.”

“Presidential systems include a fixed term for the chief executive, to add predictability and to curb dictatorial tendencies. However, this intended stabilizer actually makes politics ‘rigid,’ … The rise and fall of prime ministers might give parliamentary countries … [an] appearance of political instability; but … their revolving door is actually a source of stability, since short-term kerfuffles help ‘avoid deeper crises.’”

“Adding to the drama, presidentialism makes the chief executive a personal repository ‘for whatever exaggerated expectations his supporters may harbor. They are prone to think that he has more power than he really has or should have.’ For his part, a president may ‘tend to conflate his supporters with ‘the people’ as a whole,’ making the ‘obstacles and opposition he encounters seem particularly annoying.’”

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