A parliamentary system
or parliamentary democracy
is a system of democraticgovernance
of a state
(or subordinate entity) where the executive
derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature
, typically a parliament
, and is also held accountable to that parliament. In a parliamentary system, the head of state
is usually a person distinct from the head of government
. This is in contrast to a presidential system
, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, where the executive does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.
This map was compiled according to the Wikipedia list of countries by system of government
. See there for sources.2
Several states constitutionally deemed to be multiparty republics are broadly described by outsiders as authoritarian states. This map presents only the de jure
form of government, and not the de facto
degree of democracy.
Countries with parliamentary democracies may be constitutional monarchies
, where a monarch
is the head of state while the head of government is almost always a member of parliament
(such as Denmark
and the United Kingdom
), 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
). In a few parliamentary republics, such as Botswana
and South Africa
, among some others
, the head of government is also head of state, but is elected by and is answerable to parliament. In bicameral
parliaments, the head of government is generally, though not always, a member of the lower house.
is the dominant form of government
in Europe, with 32 of its 50 sovereign states
being parliamentarian. It is also common in the Caribbean
, being the form of government of 10 of its 13 island states, and in Oceania. Elsewhere in the world, parliamentary countries are less common, but they are distributed through all continents, most often in former colonies of the British Empire
that subscribe to a particular brand of parliamentarianism known as the Westminster system
Since ancient times, when societies were tribal, there were councils or a headman whose decisions were assessed by village elders. Eventually, these councils have slowly evolved into the modern parliamentary system.
In the Kingdom of Great Britain
, the monarch, in theory, chaired cabinet and chose ministers. In practice, King George I
's inability to speak English led the responsibility for chairing cabinet to go to the leading minister, literally the prime
or first minister, Robert Walpole
. The gradual democratisation of parliament with the broadening of the voting franchise increased parliament's role in controlling government, and in deciding whom the king could ask to form a government. By the 19th century, the Great Reform Act
of 1832 led to parliamentary dominance, with its choice invariably
deciding who was prime minister and the complexion of the government.
Other countries gradually adopted what came to be called the Westminster Model
of government, with an executive answerable to parliament, and exercising, in the name of the head of state, powers nominally vested in the head of state. Hence the use of phrases like Her Majesty's government
or His Excellency's government
. Such a system became particularly prevalent in older British dominions, many of which had their constitutions enacted by the British parliament; such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Irish Free State
and the Union of South Africa
. Some of these parliaments were reformed from, or were initially developed as distinct from their original British model: the Australian Senate
, for instance, has since its inception more closely reflected the US Senate
than the British House of Lords
; whereas since 1950 there is no upper house in New Zealand.
became increasingly prevalent in Europe in the years after World War I
, partially imposed by the democratic victors,[how?]
the United States, Great Britain and France, on the defeated countries and their successors, notably Germany's Weimar Republic
and the new Austrian Republic. Nineteenth-century urbanisation
, the Industrial Revolution
had already fuelled the political left's struggle for democracy and parliamentarianism for a long time. In the radicalised times at the end of World War I, democratic reforms were often seen as a means to counter popular revolutionary currents.
A parliamentary system may be either bicameral
, with two chambers of parliament
(or houses) or unicameral
, with just one parliamentary chamber. A bicameral parliament usually consists of a directly elected lower house
with the power to determine the executive government, and an upper house
which may be appointed or elected through a different mechanism from the lower house.
Scholars of democracy such as Arend Lijphart
distinguish two types of parliamentary democracies: the Westminster and Consensus systems.
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 Western European countries' parliaments (e.g., in the Netherlands
) 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.
Election of the head of government
Implementations of the parliamentary system can also differ as to how the prime minister and government are appointed and whether the government needs the explicit approval of the parliament, rather than just the absence of its disapproval. Some countries such as India also require the prime minister to be a member of the legislature, though in other countries this only exists as a convention.
- The head of state appoints a prime minister who will likely have majority support in parliament. While in practice most prime ministers under the Westminster system (including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) are the leaders of the largest party in parliament, technically the appointment of the prime minister is a prerogative exercised by the monarch, the governor-general, or the president. No parliamentary vote takes place on who is forming a government, but since parliament can immediately defeat the government with a motion of no confidence, the head of state is limited by convention to choosing a candidate who can command the confidence of parliament, and thus has little or no influence in the decision.
- The head of state appoints a prime minister who must gain a vote of confidence within a set time. Examples: Italy, Thailand.
- The head of state appoints the leader of the political party holding a plurality of seats in parliament as prime minister. For example, in Greece, if no party has a majority, the leader of the party with a plurality of seats is given an exploratory mandate to receive the confidence of the parliament within three days. If this is not possible, then the leader of the party with the second highest seat number is given the exploratory mandate. If this fails, then the leader of the third largest party is given it and so on.
- The head of state nominates a candidate for prime minister who is then submitted to parliament for approval before appointment. Example: Spain, where the King sends a proposal to the Congress of Deputies for approval. Also, Germany where under the German Basic Law (constitution) the Bundestag votes on a candidate nominated by the federal president. In these cases, parliament can choose another candidate who then would be appointed by the head of state.
- Parliament nominates a candidate whom the head of state is constitutionally obliged to appoint as prime minister. Example: Japan, where the Emperor appoints the Prime Minister on the nomination of the National Diet. Also, Ireland where the President of Ireland appoints the Taoiseach on the nomination of Dáil Éireann.
- A public officeholder (other than the head of state or their representative) nominates a candidate, who, if approved by parliament, is appointed as prime minister. Example: Under the Swedish Instrument of Government (1974), the power to appoint someone to form a government has been moved from the monarch to the Speaker of Parliament and the parliament itself. The speaker nominates a candidate, who is then elected to prime minister (statsminister) by the parliament if an absolute majority of the members of parliament does not vote no (i.e. they can be elected even if more members of parliament vote No than Yes).
- Direct election by popular vote. Example: Israel, 1996–2001, where the prime minister was elected in a general election, with no regard to political affiliation, and whose procedure can also be described as of a semi-parliamentary system.
Power of dissolution and call for election
Furthermore, there are variations as to what conditions exist (if any) for the government to have the right to dissolve the parliament:
- In some countries, such as Denmark, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, the prime minister has the de facto power to call an election, at will. This was also the case in the United Kingdom until the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. In Spain, the prime minister is the only person with the de jure power to call an election, granted by Article 115 of the Constitution.
- In Israel, parliament may vote in order to call an election or pass a vote of no confidence against the government.
- 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 prolonged 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 at will, but the newly elected Riksdag is only elected to fill out the previous Riksdag's term. The last time this option was used was in 1958.
- In Greece, a general election is called if the Parliament fails to elect a new head of state when his or her term ends. In January 2015, this constitutional provision was exploited by Syriza to trigger a snap election, win it and oust rivals New Democracy from power.
- Norway is unique among parliamentary systems in that the Storting always serves the whole of its four-year term.
- Since 2011 in the United Kingdom, the House of Commons may be dissolved early only by a vote of two-thirds of its members, or if a vote of non-confidence passes and no alternative government is formed in the next fourteen days.
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, parliaments or 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: for example, the French Fifth Republic
Parliamentarianism may also apply to regional
and local governments
. An example is the city of Oslo
, which has an executive council (Byråd) as a part of the parliamentary system.
A few parliamentary democratic nations such as India
, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. have enacted a law which prohibits floor crossing or switching the party after election process. With this law, the elected representative have to lose their seat in the Parliament House, if they defy the direction of the party in any voting.
In the UK Parliament, a member is free to cross over to the other side, without being daunted by any disqualification law. In Canada and Australia, there is no restraint on legislators switching sides.
Supporters generally claim three basic advantages for parliamentary systems:
- Scrutiny and accountability
- Distribution of power
Parliamentary systems like that found in the United Kingdom are widely considered to be more flexible, allowing rapid change in legislation and policy as long as there is a stable majority or coalition in parliament, allowing the government to have 'few legal limits on what it can do'
Due to the first-past-the-post 'this system produces the classic "Westminster Model" with the twin virtues of strong but responsive party government'.
This electoral system providing a strong majority in the House of Commons, paired with the fused power system results in a particularly powerful Government able to provide change and 'innovate'.
Scrutiny and accountability
The United Kingdom's fused power system is often noted to be advantageous with regards to accountability. The centralised government allows for more transparency as to where decisions originate from, this directly contrasts with the United States' system with former Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon
saying "the president blames Congress, the Congress blames the president, and the public remains confused and disgusted with government in Washington".
Furthermore, ministers of the U.K. cabinet are subject to weekly Question Periods in which their actions/policies are scrutinised, no such regular check on the government exists in the U.S. system.
Distribution of power
Parliamentary government has attractive features for nations that are ethnically
, or ideologically
divided. In a presidential system, all executive power is vested in one person, the president, whereas power is more divided in a parliamentary system with its collegial executive. In the 1989 Lebanese Taif Agreement
, in order to give Muslims
greater political power, Lebanon moved from a semi-presidential system
with a powerful president to a system more structurally similar to classical parliamentary government. Iraq similarly disdained a presidential system out of fears that such a system would be tantamount to Shiite
domination of the large Sunni
minority. Afghanistan's minorities refused to go along with a presidency as strong as the Pashtuns
It can be argued that power is more evenly spread out in parliamentary government, as the government and prime minister do not have the power to make unilateral decisions, as the entire government cabinet is answerable and accountable to parliament. Parliamentary systems are less likely to allow celebrity-based politics to fully dominate a society, unlike what often happens in presidential systems, where name-recall and popularity can catapult a celebrity, actor, or popular politician to the presidency despite such candidate's lack of competence and experience.
Some scholars like Juan Linz
, Fred Riggs
, Bruce Ackerman
, and Robert Dahl
have found that parliamentary government 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 2001 World Bank
study found that parliamentary systems are associated with less corruption,
which is supported by a separate study that arrived at the same conclusions.
Calling of elections
In his 1867 book The English Constitution
, Walter Bagehot
praised parliamentary governments for producing serious debates, for allowing for a 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, as it can potentially allow a president who has disappointed the public with a dismal performance in the second year of his term to continue on until the end of his four-year term. Under a parliamentary system, a prime minister that has lost support in the middle of his term can be easily replaced by his own peers.
Although Bagehot praised parliamentary governments 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 a shrewd 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. In any case, voters ultimately have the power to choose whether to vote for the ruling party or someone else.
Disadvantages and criticisms
Critics of parliamentarianism
, namely proponents of anti-parliamentarianism
, generally claim these basic disadvantages for parliamentary systems:
- Legislative flip-flopping
- Party fragmentation
The ability for strong parliamentary governments to 'push' legislation through with the ease of fused power systems such as in the United Kingdom, whilst positive in allowing rapid adaptation when necessary e.g. the nationalisation of services during the world wars, does have its drawbacks. The flip-flopping of legislation back and forth as the majority in parliament changed between the Conservatives and Labour over the period 1940–1980, contesting over the nationalisation and privatisation of the British Steel Industry resulted in major instability for the British steel sector.
In R. Kent Weaver's book Are Parliamentary Systems Better?
, he writes that an advantage of presidential systems is their ability to allow and accommodate more diverse viewpoints. He states that because "legislators are not compelled to vote against their constituents on matters of local concern, parties can serve as organizational and roll-call cuing vehicles without forcing out dissidents."
Parliament of Canada
The administrative building of the Albanian Parliament
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