When the Presidential election of India rolls around, The people aren’t involved in the electoral process but it is the MPs and MLA’s of the State and National Assemblies who elect the President. So my questions stand thusly:-

  1. Why is this so?
  2. What happens to Indian democracy if people elect Presidents the way they do to Prime Ministers?
  3. What is the relevance of a President elected by the people in a democracy like India?
  • 5
    I don't know much about the Indian politics, is the president very powerful? Because in Germany, the president isn't elected by the people but by the parliament. But he has few powers (we experienced a bad effect when the president was powerful * cough *) and has mostly a representional role.
    – miep
    Apr 1, 2019 at 12:50
  • 1
    @miep - I've always found that strange. Germany experienced a bad effect when a chancellor was powerful too. And now it's the chancellor who's the real power in the German government, and they don't have term limits.
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 1, 2019 at 16:26
  • 1
    @Obie2.0, the German President has a few emergency powers while the Chancellor has powers in her role as the chairperson of the cabinet. For instance, the Secretary of Defense is comnander in chief in peacetime.
    – o.m.
    Apr 1, 2019 at 17:02
  • 1
    @miep Nitpicking, but it’s not exactly the parliament but a body twice as large as the parliament including the same number of representatives from the state parliaments as there are MdB’s in the Bundestag.
    – Jan
    Apr 6, 2019 at 18:02
  • 1
    @Obie2.0 Except the chancellor currently doesn’t have that many powers either. The real troubling bad effects of the early 1930’s that lead to the experiences of the second half of the 1930’s was that the president could just order laws (Notverordnungen) without parliament and then the chancellor/cabinet was empowered to also pass laws without parliament (Ermächtigungsgesetz). Only after March 1933 the chancellor had sufficient power to completely ignore parliament. Nowadays, laws are passed by parliament and as long as everybody respects that the danger is exceedingly low.
    – Jan
    Apr 6, 2019 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


Two forms of democracy are common worldwide:

  • A parliamentary democracy where citizens elect a parliament and the parliament elects the executive (presidents, prime ministers, etc.).
  • A presidential democracy where citizens separately elect a parliament and the leader of the executive.

There are good reasons from history and political theory to prefer one or the other. It weakens the separation of powers to have the executive elected by the legislative. On the other hand, the budget authority of the legislative controls key actions of the executive, so it would be inconsistent to have an executive of a different political orientation execute it.

But as long as India has a prime minister who is the head of government, it would be inconsistent to have a directly elected president who is head of state. If the ceremonial representative of the state has a popular mandate and the governing representative of the state does not, that undercuts the ability of the prime minister to govern.

So if the president was directly elected, one would have to do away with the prime minister position and adopt a system like the US or France (where the prime minister is appointed by the president).

  • Re the last paragraph: France might not be the best example, given that it does have a Prime Minister. Apr 2, 2019 at 6:58
  • @SteveMelnikoff, I clarified that the French prime minister is not elected.
    – o.m.
    Apr 2, 2019 at 7:07
  • 2
    I'm afraid that there are counter-examples to this argument. For example, the President of Ireland is directly elected, but has a similar role to the President of India, and a similar relationship to the government. The Prime Minister of Ireland is appointed by the President on the nomination of parliament, as in your answer. Apr 2, 2019 at 8:27

India is a Parliamentary system. Hence President is a non-executive.

A non-executive president separates the representative embodiment of the permanent institutions of the state from the leader of the incumbent government. This may provide additional continuity and stability and may enable more inclusive representation. In addition, a non-executive president may act as a figure of national unity and may moderate political conflicts. Some argue that a non-executive president with little effective power is an unnecessary addition to the political system. Conversely, a non-executive president who possesses effective powers of discretionary intervention may oppose the elected government and cause a divisive power struggle.

Head of government and head of state

Parliamentary systems usually separate the functions of head of state and head of government. The head of state’s duties typically include representing the country, performing ceremonial duties as an embodiment of the authority of the state and providing civic leadership as an expression of national identity, values and aspirations. The head of state might also have limited functions as a constitutional arbiter or guardian: he or she might, for example, have some discretionary power to nominate a prime minister, to dissolve parliament, to make non-political appointments and perhaps even to veto legislation or to call a referendum. Meanwhile, the head of government (who is usually called the prime minister) is responsible for directing the administration and setting executive policy. He or she appoints and dismisses ministers, is in charge of the implementation and execution of laws and has the ability (subject to the constitution and the law) to direct the power of the state, including the civil service and the armed forces. In a parliamentary system, the head of government also leads the legislature and sets the legislative policy agenda. This includes developing and introducing new legislation in order to pursue policy objectives, and steering legislation through parliament. A parliamentary democracy may have either a hereditary monarch or elected president as head of state. Monarchies are dealt with in International IDEA Constitution-Building Primer No. 7, Constitutional Monarchs in Parliamentary Democracies.

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