The presidential system of government, also known as the non-parliamentary executive system, operates in a country where the executive arm of government is separated from, but is of equal status with, the legislative arm of government. The United States of America operates the presidential system of government.
1. The head of state who doubles as head of government is directly elected.
One major feature of the presidential system or the non-parliamentary executive system is that the president is directly or popularly elected. Because the president is popularly elected just like the members of the legislature, his mandate from the people is as strong as that of the legislature. This then distinguishes the system from the parliamentary system where the prime minister’s position is by virtue of the fact that he is the leader of the winning party in the general election.
2. A monocephalous or single executive
The presidential system is characterized by a monocephalous or single executive. This means that executive power rests with one person, the president, but not shared between him and another person acting as head of state. His ministers are to advise him but he is under no obligation to accept their advice. He is thus the head of state as well as head of government. For instance, the American constitution specifically states that executive power shall be vested in the president of the United States of America.
3. A fixed tenure
It has a fixed term of office: Regardless of what the legislative majority may say or think of the president, he cannot be removed from office through a vote of no confidence. It is only at the end of his constitutionally mandated term that the president may be voted out of office by the electorate. Congress or parliament can, however, impeach the president in which case he may be forced to resign before his tenure formally expires.
4. Clear separation of powers
There is a clearer separation of powers under the presidential or non-parliamentary executive system: A major feature of the presidential system of government is the existence of separation of powers. In the United States, for example, no member of Congress is a member of the president’s cabinet or vice-versa. The legislature can refuse to approve policies of the president. Similarly, the president has the power to veto congressional bills. The judiciary is also separated from both the executive and the legislature and exercises the power of judicial review. By review, the judiciary can declare any action of both the executive and the legislature unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
5. There is no officially recognized opposition.
This means that members of parliament do not vote for or against policies on party lines but they consider the interest of the electorate or the nation. The president may even appoint his ministers from within or outside his own party.
6. Absence of the practice of collective responsibility
Finally, there is no collective responsibility in the presidential system of government. What this means is that ministers are individually responsible to the president and not to the legislature as is the case in the parliamentary system of government.