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Parliamentary Democracy

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Parliamentary Democracy

Template:Politics A parliamentary system is a system of democratic governance of a state in which the executive branch derives its democratic legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature (parliament); the executive and legislative branches are thus interconnected. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is normally a different person from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system in a democracy, where the head of state often is also the head of government, and most importantly: the executive branch does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.

Countries with parliamentary systems may be constitutional monarchies, where a monarch is the ceremonial head of state while the head of government is almost always a member of the legislature (such as United Kingdom, Sweden and Japan), or parliamentary republics, where a mostly ceremonial president is the head of state while the head of government is regularly from the legislature (such as Ireland, Germany, India and Italy). In a few parliamentary republics, such as South Africa and Botswana, the head of government is also head of state, but is elected by and is answerable to the legislature.


The modern concept of prime ministerial government originated with the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800) and its contemporary, the Parliamentary System in Sweden (1721–1772).

In 1714, Prince Elector George Ludwig of Hanover, Germany acceded to the throne of Great Britain after his cousin Queen Anne died with no heirs of her body. As King George I he chaired the cabinet and chose ministers of the government; however, he initially spoke no English. This shifted the balance of power towards the leading minister, or first minister, who de facto chaired the cabinet. During his reign, Parliament's role in controlling government and in deciding who the king could ask to form a government gradually increased. Towards the end of his reign, actual power was held by Sir Robert Walpole, who evolved as Britain's first prime minister over the years from 1721 to 1730. Later, the Great Reform Act of 1832 broadened the franchise and was accompanied by increasing parliamentary dominance, with Parliament always deciding who was prime minister.


A parliamentary system may be a bicameral system with two chambers of parliament (or houses): an elected lower house, and an upper house or Senate which may be appointed or elected by a different mechanism from the lower house. Another possibility is a unicameral system with just one parliamentary chamber. Scholars of democracy such as Arend Lijphart distinguish two types of parliamentary democracies: the Westminster and Consensus systems.[1]

  • The Western European parliamentary model (e.g. Spain, Germany) tends to have a more consensual debating system, and usually has semi-circular debating chambers. Consensus systems have more of a tendency to use proportional representation with open party lists than the Westminster Model legislatures. The committees of these Parliaments tend to be more important than the plenary chamber. Some West European countries' parliaments (e.g. in the Netherlands and Sweden) implement the principle of dualism as a form of separation of powers. In countries using this system, Members of Parliament have to resign their place in Parliament upon being appointed (or elected) minister. Ministers in those countries usually actively participate in parliamentary debates, but are not entitled to vote.

Implementations of the parliamentary system can also differ on whether the formation of government needs the explicit approval of the parliament, rather than just the absence of its disapproval, and under what conditions (if any) the government has the right to dissolve the parliament.

  • In some countries like Denmark and Australia, the prime minister has the de facto power to call an election at will.
  • Other countries only permit an election to be called in the event of a vote of no confidence against the government, a supermajority vote in favour of an early election or prolongued deadlock in parliament. These requirements can still be circumvented. For example, in Germany in 2005, Gerhard Schröder deliberately allowed his government to lose a confidence motion, in order to call an early election.
  • In Sweden, the government may call a snap election, but the newly elected Riksdag is only elected fill out the previous Riksdag's term. The last time this option was used was in 1958.
  • Norway is unique among parliamentary systems in that the Storting always serves the whole of its four-year term.

The Parliamentary system can be contrasted with a presidential system which operates under a stricter separation of powers, whereby the executive does not form part of, nor is appointed by, the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments. There also exists the semi-presidential system that draws on both presidential systems and parliamentary systems by combining a powerful president with an executive responsible to parliament, as for example the French Fifth Republic.

Parliamentarianism may also apply to local governments. An example is the city of Oslo, which has an executive council (Byråd) as a part of the parliamentary system.

Advantages of parliamentary systems

One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it is faster and easier to pass legislation,[2] as the executive branch is dependent on the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and often includes members of the legislature. Thus the executive (as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature) has a majority of the votes, enabling them to pass legislation. In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and the majority of the legislature are from different political parties, then stalemate can occur. Thus the executive might not be able to implement their legislative proposals. An executive in any system (be it parliamentary, presidential or semi-presidential) is chiefly voted into office on the basis of his or her party's platform/manifesto, and the same is also true of the legislative branch.

In addition to quicker legislative action, Parliamentarianism has attractive features for nations that are ethnically, racially, or ideologically divided. In a presidential system, all executive power is vested in one person: the president. In a parliamentary system, with a collegial executive, power is more divided. In the 1989 Lebanese Taif Agreement, in order to give Muslims greater political power, Lebanon moved from a semi-presidential system with a strong president to a system more structurally similar to classical parliamentarianism. Iraq similarly disdained a presidential system out of fears that such a system would be tantamount to Shiite domination; Afghanistan's minorities refused to go along with a presidency as strong as the Pashtuns desired.

It can also be argued that power is more evenly spread out in the power structure of parliamentarianism. The prime minister is seldom as important as a ruling president, and there tends to be a higher focus on voting for a party and its political ideas than voting for an actual person.

In his 1867 book The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarianism for producing serious debates, for allowing change in power without an election, and for allowing elections at any time. Bagehot considered the four-year election rule of the United States to be unnatural.

Some scholars like Juan Linz, Fred Riggs, Bruce Ackerman, and Robert Dahl claim that parliamentarianism is less prone to authoritarian collapse. These scholars point out that since World War II, two-thirds of Third World countries establishing parliamentary governments successfully made the transition to democracy. By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns.

A recent World Bank study found that parliamentary systems are associated with less corruption.[3]

Some constituencies may have a popular local candidate under an unpopular leader (or the reverse), forcing a difficult choice on the electorate. Mixed member proportional representation (where voters cast two ballots) can make this choice easier by allowing voters to cast one vote for the local candidate but also cast a second vote for another party.

Although Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarianism for allowing an election to take place at any time, the lack of a definite election calendar can be abused. Previously under some systems, such as the British, a ruling party could schedule elections when it felt that it was likely to retain power, and so avoid elections at times of unpopularity – . Election timing in the UK, however, is now partly fixed under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Thus, by wise timing of elections, in a parliamentary system a party can extend its rule for longer than is feasible in a functioning presidential system. This problem can be alleviated somewhat by setting fixed dates for parliamentary elections, as is the case in several of Australia's state parliaments. In other systems, such as the Dutch and the Belgian, the ruling party or coalition has some flexibility in determining the election date. Conversely, flexibility in the timing of parliamentary elections can avoid periods of legislative gridlock that can occur in a fixed period presidential system.

Critics of the Westminster parliamentary system point out that people with significant popular support in the community are prevented from becoming prime minister if they cannot get elected to parliament since there is no option to "run for prime minister" as one can run for president under a presidential system. Additionally, prime ministers may lose their positions if they lose their seats in parliament, even though they may still be popular nationally. Supporters of parliamentarianism respond by saying that as members of parliament, prime ministers are elected first to represent their electoral constituents and if they lose their support then consequently they are no longer entitled to be prime minister. This is, however, a moot point if proportional representation is used.

Countries with a parliamentary system of government


Country Connection between legislative and executive branch
 Botswana Parliament of Botswana appoints the Cabinet
 Ethiopia Federal Parliamentary Assembly appoints the Council of Ministers
 Libya General National Congress approves the Cabinet of Libya
 Mauritius National Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Mauritius
 South Africa Parliament of South Africa elects the President who appoints the Cabinet of South Africa


Cayman Islands

Country Connection between legislative and executive branch
 Antigua and Barbuda Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda appoints the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda
 The Bahamas Parliament of the Bahamas appoints the Cabinet of the Bahamas
 Barbados Parliament of Barbados appoints the Cabinet of Barbados
 Belize National Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Belize
 Canada House of Commons of Canada approves the Prime Minister of Canada, who forms the Cabinet of Canada
 Grenada Parliament of Grenada elects the Prime Minister of Grenada
 Jamaica Parliament of Jamaica appoints the Cabinet of Jamaica
 Saint Kitts and Nevis National Assembly elects the Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis
 Saint Lucia Parliament of Saint Lucia appoints the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines House of Assembly appoints the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
 Trinidad and Tobago Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago approves the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago


Country Connection between legislative and executive branch
 Bangladesh Jatiyo Sangshad appoints the Cabinet of Bangladesh
 Bhutan Parliament of Bhutan approves the Lhengye Zhungtshog
 Cambodia Parliament of Cambodia approves the Council of Ministers
 India Parliament of India approves the Prime Minister of India who formed Cabinet of India
 Iraq Council of Representatives approves the Cabinet of Iraq
 Israel Knesset approves the Cabinet of Israel
 Japan Diet of Japan appoints the Prime Minister who appoints the Cabinet of Japan
 Kyrgyzstan Supreme Council approves the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan
 Lebanon Parliament of Lebanon approves the Cabinet of Lebanon
 Malaysia Parliament of Malaysia appoints the Cabinet of Malaysia
 Mongolia State Great Khural confirms the Government of Mongolia
   Nepal Constituent Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Nepal
 Pakistan Parliament of Pakistan appoints the Cabinet of Pakistan
 Singapore Parliament of Singapore approves the Cabinet of Singapore
 Thailand House of Representatives appoints the Prime Minister who appoints the Cabinet of Thailand
 Turkey Grand National Assembly approves the Cabinet of Turkey


Country Connection between legislative and executive branch
 Albania Parliament of Albania approves the Cabinet of Albania
 Austria Parliament of Austria appoints the Cabinet of Austria
 Belgium Federal Parliament approves the Cabinet of Belgium
 Bulgaria National Assembly appoints the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria
 Croatia Parliament of Croatia appoints the Government of Croatia
 Czech Republic President of the Czech Republic[4] appoints the Cabinet of the Czech Republic
 Denmark The Monarch appoints the MP leading the largest coalition in the Folketing as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet
 Estonia Riigikogu appoints the Government of the Republic of Estonia
 Finland Parliament of Finland appoints the Cabinet of Finland
 Germany Bundestag elects the Federal Chancellor, who forms the Cabinet
 Greece Hellenic Parliament approves the Cabinet of Greece
 Hungary National Assembly approves the Cabinet of Hungary
 Iceland Althing appoints the Cabinet of Iceland
 Ireland Oireachtas appoints the Government of Ireland
 Italy Italian Parliament appoints the Cabinet of Italy
 Kosovo Assembly of Kosovo appoints the Government of Kosovo
 Latvia Saeima appoints the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia
 Lithuania Seimas appoints the Government of Lithuania
 Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies appoints the Cabinet of Luxembourg
 Republic of Macedonia Assembly approves the Government of Macedonia
 Malta House of Representatives appoints the Cabinet of Malta
 Moldova Parliament of Moldova appoints the Cabinet of Moldova
 Montenegro Parliament of Montenegro appoints the Government of Montenegro
 Netherlands Staten-Generaal appoints the Cabinet of the Netherlands
 Norway The Monarch appoints the MP leading the largest party or coalition in Stortinget as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet
 Poland Parliament of Poland approves the Cabinet of Poland
 Serbia National Assembly appoints the Government of Serbia
 Slovakia National Council approves the Government of Slovakia
 Slovenia National Assembly appoints the Government of Slovenia
 Spain Cortes Generales elects the President of the Government, who forms the Cabinet
 Sweden The Riksdag elects the Prime Minister, who in turn appoints the other members of the Government
  Switzerland Federal Assembly elects the Federal Council
 United Kingdom The Monarch appoints the MP leading the largest party or coalition in the House of Commons as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet


Country Connection between legislative and executive branch
 Australia Parliament of Australia appoints the Cabinet of Australia
 New Zealand Parliament of New Zealand appoints the Cabinet of New Zealand
 Papua New Guinea National Parliament appoints the Cabinet of Papua New Guinea
 Samoa Legislative Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Samoa
 Vanuatu Parliament of Vanuatu appoints the Cabinet of Vanuatu

See also


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