What are the major differences between the presidential and parliamentary forms of government?

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The presidential and parliamentary forms of government are different approaches to democracy. In the presidential system—like the United States has—power is shared between the various branches of government and the President is elected separately from Congress (the legislative, or law-making, body).

In the parliamentary system—like the United Kingdom has—the legislative body, Parliament, has the most power. The Prime Minister (who serves the same role as the US President in most ways), is elected by the Parliament, not by the people, the way the US President is selected.

Four major differences between the presidential and parliamentary systems are:

  1. Separation of powers. In the presidential system, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches share power. The President is not supposed to have more power than Congress, nor the other way around. In contrast, the Parliament is the most powerful body in a parliamentary system. The Prime Minister is elected by the Parliament, and so can only rule if he or she has their support.
  2. Election of the chief executive. In a presidential system, like in the US, the public votes for the President. In a Parliamentary system, like in the UK, the public votes for members of Parliament, and then members of Parliament vote for Prime Minister.
  3. Election of cabinet members. In a presidential system, the President generally appoints members to the cabinet—such as Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. Congress has some influence over who ultimately receives each cabinet appointment, but most Presidents have control over the majority of appointments. In contrast, cabinet members are elected along with the Prime Minister (by Parliament) in a Parliamentary system.
  4. Voting intervals. In a Parliamentary system, the Parliament may call for the election of a new Prime Minister at any time. In contrast, elections usually occur at fixed intervals—like every four years for US Presidential elections.

It is important to note that each country has its own laws and practices. For instance, some countries, like France, have both a President and a Prime Minister.

For more information about the effects of each style of government on politics, check out this eNotes Homework Help answer.