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13 Governments And Policy Making Essay

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The Politics of Modern

Lecture 13
Governments and


The aims of this lecture are to

Types of government
The nature of Presidential systems
The nature of Parliamentary systems
Strengths and weaknesses of the
different systems

What is Government?

 So far in this module, we have looked at the
state in general – yet it is, of course,
comprised of various institutions (inc. the
army, police and civil service)
 One of the most important of these is the
government – and though state and
government are often treated as synonyms,
they are not the same! For example:
 The state encompasses the whole population
and territory within its borders – while the
government is composed of only a limited
number of people, and exists in specific
 The state is (more-or-less) permanent –
whereas governments come and go
 The state has ‘absolute’, ‘unlimited’

 Yet what exactly government means is open to
 Some view it very broadly, as referring to all
public institutions that make or implement
political decisions – including the executive,
legislative and judicial branches; and at every
level – central, regional, local
 e.g. this is how government is understood in
the US
 Yet others view it more narrowly, as referring
purely to the central political executive
 e.g. this is how it is often used in the UK – only
those who occupy ministerial posts: the Prime
Minister, Cabinet and Junior Ministers (approx.
100 MPs)

What is Government?

 As we have seen before … the development of
the modern state took many centuries. The
same is true of modern systems of
 Today’s governments emerged through the
gradual, piecemeal ‘splitting-off’ of state
functions from a traditionally undivided
central authority – typically, a monarch
 e.g. in England, we can go right back to the
establishment of the first Parliament (11th c.)
and Magna Carta (1215) to see the beginnings
of this
 Over time, a broadly accepted notion has
arisen that power should be dispersed – e.g.
executive, legislative and judicial powers
(though there are great national variations as

What is Government?

 Thus, whether we include all three elements
(executive, legislative and judicial) or only the
first within our definition of ‘government’, the
key point is that few systems today – even
authoritarian ones – vest all authority within a
single institution
 At the same time, in practice, the tendency
has been for power to flow to the executive in
most modern states, regardless of
constitutional set-ups
 Thus, executive branches tend to dominate in
most states - e.g. they typically control foreign
policy; and domestically, they often dominate
policy-making (drafting or proposing major
laws) vis-à-vis legislatures
 However, particularly interesting to reflect on

What is Government?

 The basic choice is between two systems –
normally with the following features:
 Head of govt. and head of state are
 The Prime Minister (PM) is not directly
 The PM is politically accountable to
 Head of govt. and head of state are the
 The President is directly (or semi-directly)

What is Government?

 However, it is also worth mentioning three
variants, which mix elements of both:
 In which a President exists alongside a Prime
Minister and Parliament
 France is the modern archetype, though many
others now exist – e.g. Russia, Ukraine,
Algeria, DRC
 Unlike in ‘pure’ Parliamentary systems, there
is an elected head of state, who is more than
just a symbolic figure – e.g. often appointing
the Cabinet
 Yet it differs from ‘pure’ Presidentialism in that
the Cabi...

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