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A parliamentary system is a system of democratic governance of a state where the executive branch derives its democratic legitimacy from the legislature (parliament) and is also held accountable to that legislature. 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 head of state while the head of government is almost always a member of the legislature (such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, 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 Botswana, South Africa, Switzerland and Suriname, as well as German states, the head of government is also head of state, but is elected by and is answerable to the legislature.
The first parliaments date back to the Middle Ages, for example in 1188 Alfonso IX, King of Leon convened the three states in the Cortes of León. An early example of parliamentary government developed in today's Netherlands and Belgium during the Dutch revolt (1581), when the sovereign, legislative and executive powers were taken over by the States General of the Netherlands from the then-monarch, King Philip II of Spain. The modern concept of parliamentary government emerged in 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 1742. Later, the Great Reform Act of 1832 broadened the franchise and was accompanied by increasing parliamentary dominance, with Parliament always deciding who was prime.
A parliamentary system may use bicameralism 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 unicameralism with just one parliamentary chamber.
Scholars of democracy such as Arend Lijphart distinguish two types of parliamentary democracies: the Westminster and Consensus systems.
- The Westminster system is usually found in the Commonwealth of Nations and countries which were influenced by the British political tradition. These parliaments tend to have a more adversarial style of debate and the plenary session of parliament is more important than committees. Some parliaments in this model are elected using a plurality voting system (first past the post), such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and India, while others use proportional representation, such as Ireland and New Zealand. The Australian House of Representatives is elected using instant-runoff voting, while the Senate is elected using proportional representation through single transferable vote. Regardless of which system is used, the voting systems tend to allow the voter to vote for a named candidate rather than a closed list.
- 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 the manner of how the prime minister and government are appointed and as to 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 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. Example: Italy, Thailand;
- The head of state appoints the leader of the political party with the majority of the seats in the parliament as prime minister. Example: Greece, where in the case of no party has a majority, then, 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 as prime minister. Example: Spain, where the King sends a nomination to parliament 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 who the head of state is then constitutionally obliged to appoint as prime minister. Example: Japan, where the Emperor appoints the Prime Minister on the nomination of the Diet. Also, Ireland where the President of Ireland appoints the Taoiseach on the nomination of the Dáil;
- A public office holder (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. he 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.
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 like 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 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.
- 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, 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, as for example the French Fifth Republic.
A few parliamentary democratic nations such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc. have enacted a law i.e. Anti-defection 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.
Advantages and disadvantages
One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it is faster and easier to pass legislation, as the executive branch is formed by 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, and can pass legislation at will. 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 its 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 legislature.
In addition to quicker legislative action, parliamentary government 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 parliamentary government. 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 parliamentary government. 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 parliamentary government 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 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 recent World Bank study found that parliamentary systems are associated with less corruption.
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 Bagehot praised parliamentary government 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 parliamentary government 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.
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Botswana||Parliament of Botswana elects the President who appoints the Cabinet|
|Ethiopia||Federal Parliamentary Assembly appoints the Council of Ministers|
|Mauritius||National Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Mauritius|
|Somalia||Federal Parliament of Somalia elects the President who appoints the Prime Minister|
|South Africa||Parliament of South Africa elects the President who appoints the Cabinet|
Americas & The Caribbean
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Antigua and Barbuda is appointed Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda by the Governor-General of Antigua and Barbuda, who then appoints the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Bahamas, The||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of the Bahamas is appointed Prime Minister of the Bahamas by the Governor-General of the Bahamas, who then appoints the Cabinet of the Bahamas on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Barbados||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of Barbados is appointed Prime Minister of Barbados by the Governor-General of Barbados, who then appoints the Cabinet of Barbados on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Belize||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Belize is appointed Prime Minister of Belize by the Governor-General of Belize, who then appoints the Cabinet of Belize on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Canada||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Commons of Canada is appointed Prime Minister of Canada by the Governor General of Canada, who then appoints the Cabinet of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Dominica||Parliament approves the Cabinet of Dominica|
|Grenada||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Grenada is appointed Prime Minister of Grenada by the Governor-General of Grenada, who then appoints the Cabinet of Grenada on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Jamaica||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Jamaica is appointed Prime Minister of Jamaica by the Governor-General of Jamaica, who then appoints the Cabinet of Jamaica on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the National Assembly of Saint Kitts and Nevis is appointed Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis by the Governor-General of Saint Kitts and Nevis, who then appoints the Cabinet of Saint Kitts and Nevis on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Saint Lucia||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of Saint Lucia is appointed Prime Minister of Saint Lucia by the Governor-General of Saint Lucia, who then appoints the Cabinet of Saint Lucia on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is appointed Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines by the Governor-General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who then appoints the Cabinet of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Suriname||National Assembly elects the President, who appoints the Cabinet of Suriname|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago approves the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago|
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Australia||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the Australian House of Representatives is appointed Prime Minister of Australia by the Governor-General of Australia, who then appoints the Cabinet of Australia on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|New Zealand||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the New Zealand Parliament is appointed Prime Minister of New Zealand by the Governor-General of New Zealand, who then appoints the Cabinet of New Zealand on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Papua New Guinea||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the National Parliament is appointed Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea by the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, who then appoints the Cabinet of Papua New Guinea on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Samoa||Legislative Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Samoa|
|Vanuatu||Parliament of Vanuatu appoints the Cabinet of Vanuatu|
- Parliamentary republic
- Semi-parliamentary system
- Semi-presidential system
- Presidential system
- List of countries by system of government
- List of legislatures by country
- Parliament in the Making
- Parliamentary leader
- Rule according to higher law
- Rule of law
- Law reform
- "The Decreta of León of 1188 - The oldest documentary manifestation of the European parliamentary system". UNESCO Memory of the World. 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
- John Keane: The Life and Death of Democracy, London 2009, 169-176.
- Dr Andrew Blick and Professor George Jones — No 10 guest historian series, Prime Ministers and No. 10 (1 January 2012). "The Institution of Prime Minister". Government of the United Kingdom: History of Government Blog. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
- Carter, Byrum E. (2015) . "The Historical Development of the Office of Prime Minister". Office of the Prime Minister. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400878260.
- Lijphart, Arend (1999). Patterns of democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Julian Go (2007). "A Globalizing Constitutionalism?, Views from the Postcolony, 1945-2000". In Arjomand, Saïd Amir. Constitutionalism and political reconstruction. Brill. pp. 92–94. ISBN 9004151745.
- "How the Westminster Parliamentary System was exported around the World". University of Cambridge. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- Seidle, F. Leslie; Docherty, David C. (2003). Reforming parliamentary democracy. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780773525085.
- Duverger, Maurice (September 1996). "Les monarchies républicaines" [The crowned republics] (PDF). Pouvoirs, revue française d’études constitutionnelles et politiques (in French). No. 78. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. pp. 107–120. ISBN 2-02-030123-7. ISSN 0152-0768. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
- Frosini, Justin Orlando (2008). Ferrari, Giuseppe Franco, ed. Forms of State and Forms of Government. Giuffrè Editore. pp. 54–55. ISBN 9788814143885. Retrieved 13 November 2016 – via Google Books.
- "ANTI-DEFECTION LAW: A DEATH KNELL FOR PARLIAMENTARY DISSENT?" (PDF). NUJS Law Review. Mar 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
- T. St. John N. Bates (1986), "Parliament, Policy and Delegated Power" (PDF), Statute Law Review, Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Lederman, Daniel; Loayza, Norman; Soares, Rodrigo. "Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter"
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