Parliamentary system is defined as a system of government in which the head of state is distinct from the head of government. Both offices and functions attached to them are in the hands of twoindividuals, unlike the presidential system where the two offices (head of state and government) are fused.
The head of state exercises ceremonial functions. The prime minister is the head of government and he exercises executive functions. The prime minister and his cabinet are drawn from the parliament, making them members of the executive as well as the parliament.
The prime minister is the chairman in all cabinet meetings.
In Britain, for example, the head of state is the Monarch (Queen). In a country that is not a Monarchy, the head of state is the president. Britain has a cabinet or parliamentary system of government.
Benefits of Cabinet System of Government
The arguments usually advanced in support of the cabinet system of government include the following:
The system is generally responsive to public opinion. If public opinion is decidedly against a minister, for instance, he has no choice but to resign.
The government and the individual ministers are accountable to parliament and this makes for efficiency in government.
The parliamentary system of government is simple and easy to operate and understand.
The cost of running the government is relatively low.
The fact that the president or king, in a cabinet system, performs mainly ceremonial functions relieves the real executive from numerous public appearances and enables him to concentrate upon solution to problems of the people.
The president or king may use his influence to smooth over difficulties when consulted.
It is most suitable in a nearly homogeneous society like Britain or Italy where most people are divided into different political camps by idiologies or policies of government rather than by ethnicity or religion.
The cost of electioneering in a parliamentary system of government in very low in terms of campaign. Candidates seeking election to the parliamentary only need to campaign in their respective constituencies.
The arguments against the cabinet system of government are myriad and the problems have to do with nature of politics in countries operating the system.
There is too much emphasis on party politics, which keeps many important matters other than party interest from receiving an adequate attention.
The cabinet system of government is generally unstable as a defeat of the cabinet in parliament is a defeat of the government. For example the National Assembly of France defeated twenty-one governments during the Fourth Republic (1946 1958). Similarly, the average life span of Italian governments between 1946 and 1975 was nine months.
This system undermines the principle of separation of powers as both the executive and the legislature are intertwined.
The cabinet system of government leads to dictatorship of the cabinet. For example, Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister who was first elected in 1997 on the platform of the Labour Party served for ten years. In the same vein, several key cabinet ministers such as Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer who replaced him as Prime Minister in 2007, have been in office since the inception of the Labour government in 1997. Before then Mrs.Margaret Thatcher of the Conservative Party had served as Prime Minister for good fourteen years.
The system promotes the division and atomization of society. Sectional or group agenda may override national interest. Within six years of the practice of the Westminster model in Nigeria, for example, the country almost disintegrated largely because the cabinet system brought to the fore all the ills associated with divisions in a society. In all these cases sectional interests and ambitions dwarfed the national interest.
It is difficult to operate the system in highly heterogeneous societies
Where political parties tend to mirror the divisions in the society and Champion mainly sectional agenda.
National political lenders may be parochial in their orientation.