Parliamentary system

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Politics and government

A parliamentary system, also known as parliamentarianism (and parliamentarism in U.S. English), is distinguished by the executive branch of government being dependent on the direct or indirect support of the parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence. Hence, there is no clear-cut separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, leading to a lack of the checks and balances found in a presidential republic. Parliamentarianism is praised, relative to presidentialism, for its flexibility and responsiveness to the public. It is faulted for its tendency to sometimes lead to unstable governments, as in the German Weimar Republic and the French Fourth Republic. Parliamentary systems usually have a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state, with the head of government being the prime minister or premier, and the head of state often being an appointed figurehead or hereditary monarch with only minor or ceremonial powers. However, some parliamentary systems also have an elected president with many reserve powers as the head of state, providing some balance to these systems (called a parliamentary republic). As a general rule, constitutional monarchies have parliamentary systems.

The term parliamentary system does not mean that a country is ruled by different parties in coalition with each other. Such multi-party arrangements are usually the product of an electoral system known as proportional representation. Parliamentary countries that use first past the post voting usually have governments composed of one party. The United Kingdom, for instance, has only had one General Election since the Second World War, where no single party had a majority of seats, (February 1974). However, parliamentary systems of continental Europe do use proportional representation, and tend to produce election result where no single party has a majority of seats.

There are broadly two forms of Parliamentary Democracies.

  • Westminster System or Westminster Models tend to be found in Commonwealth of Nations countries, although they are not universal within and exclusive to Commonwealth Countries. These parliaments tend to have a more adversarial style of debate and the plenary session of parliament is relatively more important than committees. Some parliaments in this model are elected using " First Past the Post" electoral systems, (Australia, Canada, India and the UK), others using proportional representation, e.g. Ireland and New Zealand. However even when proportional systems are used, the systems used to tend to allow the voter to vote for a named candidate rather than a party list. This model does allow for a greater separation of powers than the Western European Model, although the extent of the separation of powers is nowhere near that of the United States.
  • Western European Parliamentary Model (e.g. Spain, Germany) tend to have a more consensual debating system, and have hemi-cyclical debating chambers. Proportional electoral systems are used, where there is more of a tendency to use party list systems than the Westminster Model legislatures. The committees of these Parliaments tend to be more important than the plenary chamber. This Model of Parlimanetarism is sometimes called the West German Model- since it was used in the Parliament of the West German, later united Germany Parliament.

There also exists a Hybrid Model, drawing on both presidential systems and parliamentary systems, for example the French Fifth Republic. Much of Eastern Europe has adopted this model since the early 1990s.

Parliamentarianism may also be heeded for governance in local governments. An example is the city of Oslo, which has an executive council as a part of the parliamentary system.

Advantages of a parliamentary system

Some believe that it's easier to pass legislation within a parliamentary system. This is because the executive branch is dependent upon the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and often includes members of the legislature. In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and legislature in such a system include members entirely or predominantly from different political parties, then stalemate can occur. Former US President Bill Clinton often faced problems in this regard, since the Republicans controlled Congress for much of his tenure as President. That being said, presidents can also face problems from their own parties, as former US President Jimmy Carter did .

In addition to quicker legislative action, Parliamentarianism has attractive features for nations that are ethnically, racially, or ideologically divided. In a unipersonal presidential system, all executive power is concentrated in 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 a classical parliamentarianism. Iraq similarly disdained a presidential system out of fears that such a system would be equivalent to Shiite domination; Afghanistan's minorities refused to go along with a presidency as strong as the Pashtuns desired.

In the English Constitution, Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarianism for producing serious debates, for allowing the 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.

There is also a body of scholarship, associated with Juan Linz, Fred Riggs, Bruce Ackerman, and Robert Dahl that claims 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 transitioned to democracy. By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully transitioned to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns. As Bruce Ackerman says of the thirty countries to have experimented with American checks and balances, “All of them, without exception, have succumbed to the nightmare [of breakdown] one time or another, often repeatedly.”

A recent World Bank study found that parliamentary systems are associated with lower corruption.

Criticisms of parliamentarianism

A main criticism of many parliamentary systems is that the head of government cannot be directly voted on. Occasionally, an electorate will be surprised just by who is elevated to the premiership. In a presidential system, the president is directly chosen by the people, or by a set of electors directly chosen by the people, but in a parliamentary system the prime minister is elected by the party leadership.

Another major criticism comes from the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. Because there is a lack of obvious separation of power, some believe that a parliamentary system can place too much power in the executive entity, leading to the feeling that the legislature or judiciary have little scope to administer checks or balances on the executive.

In the United Kingdom, the prime minister is traditionally thought of as the " first among equals" of the cabinet. It has been alleged in The Economist and by a former UK Member of Parliament Graham Allen that the prime minister's power has grown so much in recent years that he or she is now dominant over the government and that collegiality is no more. Rather than being "first among equals," the modern British prime minister is "like the moon among the stars," as The Economist once put it. "Instead of a healthy balance we have an executive [the prime minister] who stands like an 800 lb. gorilla alongside a wizened legislature and judiciary." (Allen, 12)

Although it is possible to have a powerful prime minister, as Britain has, or even a dominant party system, as Japan has, parliamentary systems are also sometimes unstable. Critics point to Israel, Italy, the French Fourth Republic, and Weimar Germany as examples of parliamentary systems where unstable coalitions, demanding minority parties, no confidence votes, and threats of no confidence votes, make or have made effective governance impossible. Defenders of parliamentarianism say that parliamentary instability is the result of proportional representation, political culture, and highly polarised electorates.

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. In some systems, such as the British, a ruling party can schedule elections when it feels that it is likely to do well, and so avoid elections at times of unpopularity. 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. In other systems, such as the Dutch, the ruling party or coalition has some flexibility in determining the election date.

Parliamentarism and party formation

Parties in parliamentary systems have had much tighter ideological cohesiveness than parties in presidential systems. It would be difficult for a parliamentary system to have a party like the United States Democratic Party, which until the 1980s was a coalition of Southern conservative Protestants (' Dixiecrats') and urban liberals with no single unified ideology. In a parliamentary system, a party such as this would typically splinter because, if in government, it may be unable to govern effectively. Having splintered, though, the resulting parties might join in a governing coalition.

This form of government is often compared to a Presidential system.

Countries with a parliamentary system of government

Unicameral system

This table shows countries with parliament consisting of a single house.

Country Parliament
Albania Kuvendi
Bangladesh Jatiyo Sangshad
Bulgaria National Assembly
Burkina Faso National Assembly
Croatia Sabor
Denmark Folketing
Dominica House of Assembly
Estonia Riigikogu
Finland Parliament
Greece Hellenic Parliament
Hungary National Assembly
Iceland Althing
Israel Knesset
Latvia Saeima
Lithuania Seimas
Malta House of Representatives
Moldova Parliament
Mongolia State Great Hural
New Zealand Parliament
Norway Storting
Papua New Guinea National Parliament
Portugal Assembly of the Republic
Saint Kitts and Nevis National Assembly
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines House of Assembly
Singapore Parliament
Slovakia National Council
Sweden Riksdag
Tanzania National Assembly
Turkey Grand National Assembly

Bicameral system

This table shows countries with parliament consisting of two houses.

Country Parliament Upper chamber Lower chamber
Australia Parliament Senate House of Representatives
Austria Parliament Federal Council National Council
Antigua and Barbuda Parliament Senate House of Representatives
The Bahamas Parliament Senate House of Assembly
Barbados Parliament Senate House of Assmebly
Belize National Assembly Senate House of Representatives
Belgium Federal Parliament Senate Chamber of Representatives
Canada Parliament Senate House of Commons
Czech Republic Parliament Senate Chamber of Deputies
Ethiopia Federal Parliamentary Assembly House of Federation House of People's Representatives
Germany Bundesrat Bundestag
Grenada Parliament Senate House of Representatives
India Parliament Rajya Sabha Lok Sabha
Republic of Ireland Oireachtas Seanad Éireann Dáil Éireann
Iraq National Assembly Council of Union Council of Representatives
Italy Parliament Senate of the Republic Chamber of Deputies
Jamaica Parliament Senate House of Representatives
Japan Diet House of Councillors House of Representatives
Malaysia Parliament Dewan Negara Dewan Rakyat
the Netherlands States-General Eerste Kamer Tweede Kamer
Pakistan Majlis-e-Shoora Senate National Assembly
Poland Parliament Senate Sejm
Romania Parliament Senate Chamber of Deputies
Saint Lucia Parliament Senate House of Assembly
Slovenia Parliament National Council National Assembly
South Africa Parliament National Council of Provinces National Assembly
Spain Cortes Generales Senate Congress of Deputies
Switzerland Federal Assembly Council of States National Council
Thailand National Assembly Senate House of Representatives
Trinidad and Tobago Parliament Senate House of Representatives
United Kingdom Parliament House of Lords House of Commons
  1. ^ The Council of Union is defined in the constitution of Iraq but does not currently exist.
  2. ^ Prior to the coup d'etat of September 19, 2006
Retrieved from ""