Parliamentary system

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Map of different governmental systems
  Constitutional monarchies in which authority is vested in a parliament.
  Parliamentary republics where parliaments are effectively supreme over a separate head of state.
  Parliamentary republics with an executive president elected by and responsible to a parliament.

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 the 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, Pakistan, India and Italy). In a few parliamentary republics, such as Botswana, South Africa 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 modern concept of prime ministerial government originated 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.[1]

The Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany. The Consensus system is used in most of Western European countries.

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, of their personal choice, without reference to a parliament. While in practice most prime ministers under the Westminster system (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India 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;[citation needed]
  • 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 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 Éireann;
  • 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.

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.

Parliamentarism 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.

Advantages and disadvantages

One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it is faster and easier to pass legislation,[4] 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[dubious ] 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.[citation needed]

It can also be argued that power is more evenly spread out in parliamentary government.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] These scholars point out that since World War II, two-thirds of Third World countries establishing parliamentary governments successfully made the transition to democracy.[citation needed] By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns.[citation needed]

A recent World Bank study found that parliamentary systems are associated with less corruption.[5]

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.[citation needed]



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
 South Africa Parliament of South Africa elects the President who appoints the Cabinet of South Africa

Americas & The Caribbean

Parliament of Canada
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 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
 Grenada Parliament of Grenada elects the Prime Minister of Grenada
 Guyana Parliament of Guyana elects the President, who appoints the Cabinet of Guyana
 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
 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


Sansad Bhavan, parliament building of India, India
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 Lok Sabha approves the Prime Minister of India who then forms the Cabinet of India.
 Iraq Council of Representatives approves the Cabinet of Iraq
 Israel Knesset approves the Cabinet of Israel
 Japan National Diet nominates the Prime Minister who appoints the Cabinet of Japan
 Kuwait National Assembly approves the Crown Prince who appoints the Prime Minister who appoints the Cabinet of Kuwait
 Kyrgyzstan Supreme Council approves the Cabinet of Kyrgyzstan
 Lebanon Parliament of Lebanon approves the Cabinet of Lebanon
 Malaysia Parliament of Malaysia appoints the Cabinet of Malaysia
   Nepal Parliament of Nepal appoints the Prime Minister who, by turn, 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


The administrative building of the Albanian Parliament
Country Connection between legislative and executive branch
 Albania Parliament of Albania approves the Cabinet of Albania
 Austria National Council can dismiss the Cabinet of Austria through a motion of no confidence
 Belgium Federal Parliament approves the Cabinet of Belgium
 Bulgaria National Assembly appoints the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria
 Croatia President of the Republic of Croatia appoints the President of the Government (Prime Minister) who must have confidence of the Croatian Parliament. The President of the Government forms cabinet (Croatian Government) after confidence being given to the programme and the members of the Croatian Government by the Croatian Parliament
 Czech Republic President of the Czech Republic appoints the leader of the largest party or coalition in the Parliament as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet
 Denmark The Monarch appoints, based on recommendations from the leaders of the parties in Folketinget, the cabinet leader who is most likely to successfully assemble a Cabinet which will not be disapproved by a majority in Folketinget.
 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 grants and revokes its confidence in the Cabinet of Italy, appointed by the President of Italy
 Kosovo Assembly of Kosovo appoints the Government of Kosovo
 Latvia Saeima appoints the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia
 Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies appoints the Cabinet of Luxembourg
  1. REDIRECT Template:Country data North 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 The General Courts 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
 Turkey Grand National Assembly approves the Cabinet of Turkey
 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


  1. Lijphart, Arend (1999). Patterns of democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "How the Westminster Parliamentary System was exported around the World". University of Cambridge. 2 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Julian Go (2007). "A Globalizing Constitutionalism?, Views from the Postcolony, 1945-2000". In Arjomand, Saïd Amir (ed.). Constitutionalism and political reconstruction. Brill. pp. 92–94. ISBN 9004151745.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. T. St. John N. Bates (1986), "Parliament, Policy and Delegated Power" (PDF), Statute Law Review, Oxford: Oxford University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Lederman, Daniel; Loayza, Norman; Soares, Rodrigo. "Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter"

External links