Parliamentary government is also known as the Westminster system. It is a form of democratic governance where the executive branch derives its legitimacy from and is accountable to the legislature (parliament). Below are some key features of parliamentary government:
- Fusion of Powers: Unlike presidential systems where the executive and legislative branches are separate, in parliamentary systems, there is a fusion of powers. The executive branch, headed by the Prime Minister, is drawn from and accountable to the legislature.
- Executive-Parliamentary Relationship: The executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet) is dependent on the support of the majority in the parliament to remain in power. The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the majority party or coalition in the legislature.
- Collective Responsibility: The principle of collective responsibility means that all members of the Cabinet (ministers) must publicly support all government decisions or resign. This ensures unity within the executive branch and accountability to parliament.
- Dual Executive: In parliamentary systems, there is a dual executive structure. The ceremonial head of state (monarch or president in some parliamentary republics) represents the state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government responsible for policy formulation and implementation.
- No Fixed Term: The tenure of the executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet) is not fixed. They remain in office as long as they retain the confidence of the majority in the parliament. If the government loses a vote of confidence or a critical piece of legislation, it may lead to its resignation or dissolution of the parliament.
- Question Time: Parliament exercises oversight over the executive through mechanisms like question time, where members of parliament can question government ministers about their policies and actions.
- Flexible Legislative Process: Parliamentary systems often feature a more flexible legislative process compared to presidential systems. Bills can be introduced and passed more swiftly, and the executive can influence the legislative agenda more directly.
- Party Discipline: Political parties play a crucial role in parliamentary systems. Members of parliament are often expected to vote along party lines, maintaining party discipline. This ensures that the government can implement its agenda with the support of its parliamentary majority.
- No Separation of Powers: Unlike presidential systems that emphasize a strict separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, parliamentary systems have a more intertwined relationship between the executive and legislative branches.
- Gradual Change of Government: Changes in government usually occur gradually and without major disruption, as a result of elections or shifts in parliamentary support, rather than through separate executive elections.
These features collectively define the nature of parliamentary government, emphasizing accountability, flexibility, and the central role of the legislature in the governance process.
Comparison of Parliamentary government and Presidential government:
|Head of State
|Ceremonial (Monarch or President)
|Head of Government
|Fusion of powers; Executive drawn from legislature
|Separation of powers; Executive and legislative branches independent
|Directly accountable to legislature (parliament)
|Indirectly accountable to legislature; Separation of powers limits direct accountability
|Method of Executive Selection
|Indirectly elected by legislature or party members
|Directly elected by the people
|Term Length of Executive
|No fixed term; Remains in power as long as it retains the confidence of the majority in parliament
|Fixed term; Typically 4-5 years, regardless of legislative support
|More flexible; Bills introduced and passed swiftly
|More rigid; Checks and balances between executive and legislative branches may slow down legislative process
|Separation of Powers
|Less emphasis; Executive and legislative branches intertwined
|Strong emphasis; Clear separation of executive, legislative, and judicial branches
|Strong; Members expected to vote along party lines
|Varied; Members may vote independently of party lines
|Changes in government occur gradually; Resignation or dissolution of parliament
|Changes in government can occur abruptly; Elections for executive are separate from legislative elections
This table outlines the key differences between parliamentary and presidential forms of government in terms of their structures, processes, and mechanisms of governance. Thanks for reading the article on Features of Parliamentary Government.