Ten Features of the Parliamentary System
1. The first of the ten features of the parliamentary system of government is the supremacy of its legislative branch. This is its defining feature. The legislative branch conducts its business through a unicameral (one house) or bicameral (two houses) Parliament. This group is composed of representatives or members that are elected by citizens of the country. The primary job of members of Parliament is to create and pass laws.
2. The parliamentary system of government, unlike the presidential system, creates a divide between the roles of Head of Government and Head of State. Rather than citizens, members of Parliament elect the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government. The Prime Minister oversees Parliament. This creates an overlap between the legislative and executive branches of government. The Head of State in a parliamentary system is largely a symbolic role. Hereditary monarchs typically have this role reserved.
3. The Prime Minister has no official term length. Thus, so long as Parliament is satisfied, the Prime Minister remains in position. Should it ever be called for, members of parliament will use a majority vote known as a “vote of no-confidence” in order to remove a Prime Minister from office.
4. Majority vote of Parliament passes laws. Then, they are then signed into legislation by the Prime Minister, who does not have veto power. This is contrary to the presidential system. In the case of disagreement, the Prime Minister can return a bill to Parliament. However, a majority vote by Parliament can veto that return.
5. In most parliamentary systems of government, there is a Supreme Court that can declare a law as unconstitutional. This would be done if it were to pose violations against the nation’s constitution. However, some countries, such as Great Britain and New Zealand, lack provisions for judicial review. In these countries, the only check against the legislature is the results of the next election season.
6. Though uncommon, some parliamentary systems have an elected president who exercises foreign powers. An example of some foreign powers would be national defense and military command. The elected president exercises these powers. Some countries that follow this system are Lithuania, Bangladesh and France.
7. Though members of Parliament hold their positions in office by each election season, they can be turned out of office. If one respective party loses majority holdover members of Parliament, they can be removed. Other members of Parliament, as well as the Prime Minister, are then able to vote out a member of Parliament. A no-confidence vote accomplishes this.
8. Parliamentary systems lack what presidential systems call “Checks and Balances.” Therefore, the parliamentary system tends to be more efficient. This is because political gridlocks cannot delay them.
9. A parliamentary system of government consists of members serving various political parties. Therefore, coalitions are a very popular type of agreement in parliamentary governments. Members of opposing political parties will often form a coalition, otherwise known as a temporary union. This alliance utilizes its combined resources to accomplish a common goal.
10. Depending on the rules of voting within a country, the political representation within members of Parliament may consist of one party. It may also be proportionally representative of the nation. If a country follows a “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) principle, Parliament will most likely consist of one or two majority political parties. An FPTP is a principle in which candidates with the most ballots win a seat. However, some countries follow a rule of proportional representation. This means that the political makeup of Parliament members is appropriate to that of the nation.
The Advantages of a Parliamentary Democracy
1. It limits political gridlock.
Leadership within a parliamentary democracy comes from within the ranks of the elected officials. The majority party, or the majority coalition, is responsible for placing the Prime Minister into a position of power. That means there are fewer hiccups that occur for legislation within each session. Debates still occur, and the minority parties still have a say in the process, while at the same time, the majority party or coalition can push forward quickly when required to benefit the country.
2. It can stop societal polarization.
A parliamentary democracy serves several different political parties simultaneously instead of two large political parties. That means people are able to vote for representatives that best suit their local needs. There are fewer needs to compromise within the voting booth, which means there is less overall political polarization in the society. Polarization occurs because people feel like their representatives are not reflective of the voice they want in their government.
Anyone can create a third party, and small parties can gain a political foothold in government.”
3. It creates diversity within the government.
Diversity within a society is strength. Through diversity, we can gather new insights, take advantage of a plethora of experiences, and use unique perspectives to make better decisions. The structure of a parliamentary democracy invites this democracy because it allows different segments of a society to send representatives that are reflective of their local districts. Legislative bodies in this form of government are often more ethnically, racially, and ideologically diverse than other government structures.
4. It is easier to get involved in a parliamentary democracy.
Anyone can form their own political party within a parliamentary democracy. That means each person can represent views that are important to them. If enough people of the same mind come together, they can become a political force that influences future legislation from the government. Most other government structures discourage such a practice – if they do not completely forbid it outright.
5. It encourages political compromise.
The legislation which comes out of a parliamentary democracy is often centrist. Because there are more parties involved and future coalition considerations to take into account, political compromise occurs more frequently within this structure of government. It is very rare for a true political majority to form in this type of government without the need to build some type of coalition.
6. It allows the people to demand elections.
Under the political structures of the United States, major elections are held every 2 years. Outside of this structure, special elections are held when key issues require a vote at local, country, state, or national levels. In a parliamentary democracy, it is possible for voters to demand an election from their officials. That means voters are not forced to wait for up to 24 months, like they are in the U.S., to create some of the changes they feel are necessary.
7. It leads to higher levels of accountability within the government.
The United States creates checks and balances with separate, but equal, distribution of powers through the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In a parliamentary democracy, the checks and balances are created through a unique chain of command. The Prime Minister often reports to a monarch. The legislature reports to the voter. That allows for accountability to remain in the government, limiting chances for pockets of corruption to form.
List of the Disadvantages of a Parliamentary System
1. It can offer inconsistency in leadership.
Because the Prime Minister is elected by the elected representatives, the general public may not have a direct say on who gets to serve as their leader. Many political parties have a named leader that will take the PM title if the party is elected as the majority party, but that is not always the case. At the same time, if the Prime Minister falls out of favor with their party, they can be replaced almost immediately.
In the U.K. Margaret Thatcher served from 1979-1990. Tony Blair served from 1997-2007. On the other side of the spectrum, Harold Wilson served from 1974-1976. Bonar Law served from 1922-1923.
2. It offers lower levels of direct representation.
Communities do have the opportunity to send a diverse set of candidates to form the legislative body. The need to form political coalitions to govern, however, reduces the impact of this diversity. In many instances, the good of the nation outweighs the needs of individual communities. Even if a community elects someone new to represent them, the presence of the coalition reduces the impact of the voter’s voice.
3. It reduces the influence of the minority.
Once a coalition is formed within a parliamentary democracy, the minority parties who are not part of the coalition have a reduced voice in the legislative body. The majority coalition can act on legislation without hearing from the minority parties. In severe instances, this could shift the politics of a country to the extreme right or left and there would be little that anyone could do about the shift until the next scheduled or announced election.
4. It can provide unpredictable election schedules.
Within a parliamentary democracy, there are election windows where the leadership must call for a nationwide election. There are also times when an early election could be called. That means there isn’t a set schedule for elections that voters can anticipate, which is much different that the political structures in the United States, where major elections are held every 2 years.
5. It is often based on a monarchy.
In many parliamentary democracies, the leader of the government is a monarch. The monarch may be a figurehead leader, or they may have extensive powers. That means voters may not have the ability to challenge certain edicts or laws because the monarch has the ability to override all bodies of government as its overall leader.
These parliamentary democracy pros and cons show us that being able to elect representatives to a government allows for voters to have a voice. It encourages compromise, while offering political stability in numerous ways. At the same time, voters in a parliamentary democracy may feel like their votes carry less weight when compared to other forms of democratic governing.