Political regimes are the result of the interplay of political forces within the institutional framework defined by the Constitution or by custom. There are other factors, historical, ideological, and cultural, which determine the nature of political regimes.
Not all political regimes are democratic. Democracies are distinguished by the existence of a plurality of political parties. By the freedom of choice left to citizens and by the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers.
In addition, we can classify the different types of democratic regimes according to whether they favor the collaboration of the different powers (assembly regime, parliamentary regime) or their strict separation (presidential regime). Some regimes also have a mixed character, both parliamentary and presidential.
The assembly regime
The assembly system is an institutional system in which all powers proceed from an assembly elected by direct universal suffrage. It elects from among its member’s committees which exercise executive and, where appropriate, judicial functions.
Such a regime is characterized by the confusion of powers and by the omnipotence of the Legislature. It is most often only practiced on a transitional basis by assemblies responsible for drawing up a Constitution. This was particularly the case in France at the time of the Convention (1792-1795). For this reason, we speak of a conventional regime.
The parliamentary regime
The parliamentary system differs from the assembly system by a greater separation of the different powers and by the existence of regulatory mechanisms in the event of disagreement between the executive and the parliamentary assemblies.
The main characteristic of this regime lies in the need for the Government to have the confidence of the parliamentary majority: it is, therefore, accountable to it and must resign if it no longer has a majority.
For this reason, the executive is dissociated between the Head of State and the Government. The first, who can be a monarch, embodies the continuity of the State and does not participate in the exercise of power apart from the appointment of the Head of Government. Not having, in principle, an active role, is politically irresponsible. On the other hand, the Head of Government and his ministers assume the conduct of national policy under the control of the parliamentary assemblies: political authority and responsibility are thus closely linked. For this reason, most acts of the Head of State must be countersigned by the members of the Government concerned.
The functioning of the parliamentary system implies close collaboration between the Government and the assemblies. Members of the Government, who are most often chosen from among parliamentarians, have access to the assemblies. The Government also has the legislative initiative and participates in the drafting of the law.
Taking into account the risks of blocking which could result from the questioning of the responsibility of the Government or from the loss of confidence in one of the chambers, a power of dissolution is recognized to the Head of State or the Head of Government. The overthrow of the Government or the dissolution thus appear as two regulatory mechanisms making it possible to overcome the tensions which may arise between the Government and its majority. The dissolution has, moreover, the interest of requesting the arbitration of the electors.
The presidential regime
Implemented by the United States in 1787, the presidential system is characterized by a strict separation of powers: the legislative power has a monopoly of initiative and full control of the legislative procedure; the executive power, which has a legitimacy based on universal suffrage, cannot be overthrown; the judiciary has wide prerogatives.
The main characteristic of the presidential system lies in the method of appointment of the Head of State. Elected by direct or indirect universal suffrage. The President thus enjoys a strong legitimacy which is the basis of the broad powers at his disposal. He has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and has authority over them. The executive reporting to the President alone, the latter is both Head of State and Head of Government. Its political responsibility cannot be called into question by the assemblies. But, reciprocally, it has few means of constraint with regard to them. Indeed, he cannot dissolve them and only has a right of veto over legislative texts that do not suit him.
The parliamentary assemblies for their part hold important prerogatives of legislation and control. They thus have full control over the passage of laws and the monopoly of legislative initiative. They also have very advanced means of investigation into the functioning of the services under the executive branch.
The mixed diet
This regime corresponds to that of the Fifth Republic. Since the introduction of the election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage in 1962.
There are certain characteristics of the presidential system: the head of state, elected by the people, chooses and dismisses the members of the Government if he has a parliamentary majority in accordance with his views. The mixed regime also borrows elements from the parliamentary regime: the Head of Government is distinct from the Head of State and his responsibility can be questioned by the lower house (in France, the National Assembly). The Head of State has the power of dissolution and the Government enjoys important prerogatives in the legislative procedure.
Such a regime can only work if there is an agreement between the Head of State and the parliamentary majority: in such a configuration the Head of Government is doubly responsible (to the President of the Republic and to the Parliament). Otherwise, the regime operates as a full-fledged parliamentary regime: the President cedes his preeminence to the Prime Minister. This is the case with the “cohabitation” of the Fifth Republic.