Part II:

Parliamentary v. Presidential Systems:

The Empirical Evidence

September 23, 2022

At the request of Sen. Robinhood Padilla’s Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, I attended a hearing held last Sept. 2, prepared to give my views on Foreign Direct Investment.  But apparently, the subject matter was much broader, and Professor Clarita Carlos, National Security Adviser of the Philippines was in attendance.  She was not there as NSA, but was wearing the hat of political scientist, advocate of a federal, parliamentary form of government (vs our unitary, presidential).  


Senators Padilla and Pimentel were in total agreement with her, and part of the discussion was the advantages of a parliamentary system – specifically, on how easy it would be to remove a rogue, corrupt or otherwise unperforming leader – a simple vote of no-confidence, and he/she was gone.

While they were at their lovefest, I typed “constitutional change parliamentary form” on my computer, and lo and behold, there appeared on the screen a power-point presentation I had made in 2006 in UP Los Banos, which discussed charter changes which were the hot topics then:  the change of government from presidential to parliamentary and removing the restrictions on ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities, media and advertising. 

So when Senator Padilla very politely asked me if I had anything to add to the discussion, I think I surprised him by saying that indeed I had, and proceeded to share the results of these empirical findings, the summary of which is as follows:

1.There is conflicting empirical evidence as to which form of government will lead to lower corruption.


A study by Persson and Tabellini (2004) found that  evidence supports the theoretical finding that accountability is stronger (i.e., corruption/rent-seeking is less) in presidential than in parliamentary.  Caveat: the relationship is not robust, and depends on the quality of the democracy. On the other hand, Lederman, et al (2005) show that parliamentary systems are associated with lower corruption.


2. There is conflicting evidence as to whether constitutional type has had any significant bearing on the survival of democracies.

 Stepan and Skach (1993) found that parliamentary democracies had a rate of survival more than three times higher than that of presidential democracies. But Mainwaring, et al (1997) showed that the SS study had serious methodological flaws (selection bias, spurious correlation) which cast serious doubt on their findings.


3. The evidence is pretty strong that presidential regimes have smaller government (government spending as a percentage of GDP) than parliamentary regimes.

Shift from parliamentary to presidential would reduce the total size of government spending by about 5% of GDP in the long run;  spending also grows much faster in parliamentary forms, a feature that is present not only in national governments but in local governments as well. The difference between the two forms is highly significant (PT2003, 2004, P 2005, PT 2006)

4. A parliamentary system is systematically correlated with structural policies (openness, protection of property rights).

 There is a large and significant correlation between parliamentary proportional democracy and structural reforms (PT 2004,P2005), and a significant correlation between parliamentary systems and openness (Lederman, 2005) 

5. A parliamentary system has no significant effect on economic performance. There is no significant effect of parliamentary system on economic performance, as measured by per capita GDP, Total Factor Productivity, and labor productivity.  (P 2005).  

A new parliamentary democracy grows 1.5% less than a new presidential democracy  (PT 2006).


I have yet to update this research.  But what all the above show us is that presidential vs. parliamentary has been debated for a very long time, and there is still NO CONSENSUS that  one is markedly better than the other.   Maybe Richard Albert (The Fusion of Presidentailism and Parliamentarism, American Journal of Comparative Law, Summer, 2009) makes the most sense when he contends that the structural differences between the two often conceal their functional similarities, “which are at once the result of purposeful design, political practice, and unintended consequences”.


So why all the present sound and fury over what is essentially nothing? Well, not really nothing.  Given our present constrained fiscal resources, a presidential system should be preferred (See #3 above).   


 Is it because a parliamentary form of government will put away forever those pesky term limits and ensure the life of political dynasties?  


Just asking.


Lederman, Loayza and Soaresm 2005, Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter, Economics and Politics Vol. 17, Issue 1

Mainwaring and Shugart, 1997, Presidentialism andDemocracy inLatin America, Cambridge University Press

Perrson and Tabellini, 2003,The Economic Effects of Constitutions, What do the data say? , MIT Press , 

Perrson and Tabellini, 2004, Constitutional Rules and Fiscal Policy Outcomes, AER,vol. 94(1)

Perrson, 2005 , Forms of Democracy, Policy andEconomic Development,NBER Working Papers 11171

Perrson and Tabellini, 2006,Democracy and Development: The Devil in the Details, NBER Working Paper 11993

Stepan and Skach, 1993, Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation, World Politics 46, Linz and Stepan,eds.


As I See It

The Official Blog of Winnie Monsod

Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...
%d bloggers like this: