browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

Political Systems

type of government head of state head of gov’t

Federal parliamentary constitutional republic

Pranab Mukherjee Manmohan Singh

India is the world’s largest democracy in terms of citizenry.

India is as a nation has been labelled as a “sovereign democratic republic” with feature of “egalitarian secular” . Like the United States, India has had a federal form of government since it adopted its constitution. However, the central government in India has greater power in relation to its states, and its central government is patterned after the British parliamentary system.

China Single-party socialist republic Xi Jinping Li Keqiang

People’s Republic of China is a democratic dictatorship, socialist state, and single-party communist state.

Many Chinese and foreign observers see the Peoples Republic of China as in transition from a system of public ownership to one in which private ownership plays an increasingly important role. Privatization of housing and increasing freedom to make choices about education and employment severely weakened the work unit system that was once the basic cell of Communist Party control over society.

China’s complex political, ethnic and ideological mosaic, much less uniform beneath the surface than in the idealized story of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, resists simple categorization.

As the social, cultural and political as well as economic consequences of market reform become increasingly manifest, tensions between the old—the way of the comrade—and the new—the way of the citizen—are sharpening.

S. Korea Unitary presidential constitutional republic Park Geun-hye Jung Hong-won

Since 1948, the constitution has undergone five major revisions, each signifying a new republic. The current Sixth Republic began with the last major constitutional revision in 1988.

 Japan multi-party parliamentary representative democratic Constitutional monarchy Emperor Akihito  Shinzo Abe

Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the constitution as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.” Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people.Japan’s legislative organ is the National Diet, a bicameral parliament. The Diet consists of a House of Representatives with 480 seats, elected by popular vote every four years or when dissolved, and a House of Councillors of 242 seats, whose popularly elected members serve six-year terms.

Vietnam single-party socialist state Trương Tấn Sang Nguyễn Tấn Dũng

Along with only China, Cuba, Laos, and North Korea, Vietnam is officially a Marxist-Leninist communist state.

Its constitution asserts the central role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in all organs of government, politics and society. The General Secretary of the Communist Party (currently NguyễnPhúTrọng) performs numerous key administrative and executive functions, controlling the party’s national organization and state appointments, as well as setting policy. Only political organizations affiliated with or endorsed by the Communist Party are permitted to contest elections in Vietnam. These include the Vietnamese Fatherland Front and worker and trade unionist parties.

Although the state remains officially committed to socialism as its defining creed, its economic policies have grown increasingly capitalist, with The Economist characterizing its leadership as “ardently capitalist communists”.

Malaysia federal constitutional elective monarchy King Abdul Halim Najib Tun Razak

The system of government is closely modelled on that of the Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. The head of state is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King. The King is elected to a five-year term by and from among the nine hereditary rulers of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection. By informal agreement the position is systematically rotated among the nine, and has been held by Abdul Halim of Kedah since December 2011. The King’s role has been largely ceremonial since changes to the constitution in 1994, picking ministers and members of the upper house.

Netherlands Unitary parliamentary representative democracy under a constitutional monarchy King Willem-Alexander Mark Rutte

a consociational state. Dutch politics and governance are characterized by a common striving for broad consensus on important issues, within both the political community and society as a whole.

United States Federal presidential constitutional republic Barack Obama Barack Obama

Two political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, have dominated American politics since the American Civil War, although smaller parties like the Libertarian Party and the Tea Party movement also exist and achieve minor amounts of representation.

There are major differences between the political system of the United States and that of most other developed democracies. These include greater power in the upper house of the legislature, a wider scope of power held by the Supreme Court, the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive, and the dominance of only two main parties. Third parties have less political influence in the United States than in other developed country democracies.

Indonesia Unitary presidential representative democratic republic, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

The 1945 constitution provided for a limited separation of executive, legislative and judicial power. The governmental system has been described as “presidential with parliamentary characteristics.”[1] Following the Indonesian riots of May 1998 and the resignation of President Suharto, several political reforms were set in motion via amendments to the Constitution of Indonesia, which resulted in changes to all branches of government.

Thailand Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy King Bhumibol Adulyadej known as Rama IX Yingluck Shinawatra

Thai kingdoms and late Kingdom of Siam were under absolute rule of the kings. However, after the ‘democratic revolution’ in 1932, led by westernized bureaucrats and traditional-oriented military, the country officially became under a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister as the head of government. The first written constitution was issued. Yet the politics became the arena of fighting factions among old and new elites, bureaucrats, and generals.

Coups happened from time to time, often bringing the country under the rule of yet another junta. To date Thailand has had seventeen charters and constitutions, reflecting a high degree of political instability. After successful coups, military regimes have abrogated existing constitutions and promulgated interim charters. Negotiation among politicians, men of influence and generals has become the prime factor for restoration of temporary political stability.

(descriptions above are copied from Wikipedia)

The classification below is according to the Democracy Index by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit. They examine the state of democracy in 167 countries: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture.

The ideal seems to emphasize democracy and human rights with a level of individual economic security.

Democracy Index 2012

Democracy Index 2012 Greener, more democratic Redder, more authoritarian

M Pr PM F # parties % vote rank population
land area
(sq. miles)
Full Democracy
Netherlands x x 10 84 22 17 13,000
United States x x 2 48 138 320 3,500,000
S. Korea x x 7 73 54 50 39,000
Japan  x  x 10 69 65 126 146,000
Flawed democracy
India x x 360+
(in 6 groups)
62 94 1,200 1,200,000
Malaysia x x x 9 58 108 30 127,000
Hybrid regime
Thailand  x x 40 82 29 66 200,000
Indonesia  x 17 88 10 240 700,000
Authoritarian regime
China x 1 1,400 3,700,000
Vietnam x x 1 91 128,000

M = Monarch (King or Emperor)
Pr = President
PM = Parliament/Prime Minister
F = Federal: authority shared between central and local governments
# = number of political parties with significant percentage of votes in last election or any seats in legislature

Voter turnout: from International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

% vote = voter turnout: percentage of voting-age population who vote
rank = rank among countries of voter turnout; the lower the number, the higher the turnout.

Flawed democracies

“These countries have free and fair elections and even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties will be respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture, and low levels of political participation.”

The Democracy Index rates the U.S. as the 19th most democratic of the 25 full democracies. What do 17 of the 18 countries ranked higher than the U.S. (as well as 4 of the 6 countries ranking directly below the U.S.) have in common that is different from the U.S.?


All of the seventeen — Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Switzerland (with a unique twist), Luxembourg, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Malta, and the Czech Republic — as you can see on the index, are parliamentary democracies. And by all of our other measures, these are wealthy, prosperous, modern countries.

List of countries by system of government

The U.S. has a presidential system, as do about half of the countries we are studying.

forms_of_governmentWorld’s states colored by form of government as of April 2006.

forms_of_government_legendThe main idea of a presidential system is that the people elect a legislature, but they also elect a head of state who is also the head of government, aka, the president. Often the legislature passes laws, including budgets, and the president administers them.

The main idea of a parliamentary system is that the people elect a legislature, and the leader of the largest party becomes prime minister. The budget is administered by ministers accountable to the prime minister.

How does a parliamentary system work? Here’s a case study of the parliamentary system in the Netherlands. But first, let’s understand the basic terminology about the political spectrum.