Parliamentary Government: Definition, Types, Examples, Pros & Cons

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Parliamentary System of Government | Definition | Types | Features | Merits & Demerits

Parliamentary System of Government | Definition | Types | Features | Merits & Demerits

Parliamentary System of Government | Definition | Types | Features | Merits & Demerits

Meaning of Cabinet System of Government

The Cabinet or parliamentary system of government is an executive based on parliamentary majority. It is sometimes known as party government. It is the leader of the party that wins the largest majority in parliament in a general election that is called upon to form a government. He becomes the Prime Minister if he is able to form a government.

Examples of countries, which practise parliamentary or cabinet system of government include Britain, Canada, Australia, India, Italy and Israel.

Features of Parliamentary System of Government

  • The head of state is separated from the head of government.
  • The president or monarch is the head of state with nominal roles and ceremonial functions while the prime minister is the head of government who heads the cabinet that runs the government.
  • The president or monarch is usually elected through either popular mandate (people’s votes) or parliament or hereditary principle (in the case of monarch). While the prime minister, more often the leader of the majority party in the parliament, is appointed along with other members of his/her cabinet (team) by the legislature rather than through popular mandate or hereditary principle.
  • The ministers are not answerable to the president or monarch as the head of state but to the legislature through which the executive power is delegated to them. They therefore, must work individually and collectively not to betray the confidence reposed on them by the parliament, and which can decide to withdraw their executive power through votes of no confidence.
  • There is fusion of power between the legislatures and executive rather than separating the power of the two.
  • The council of ministers is different and subordinate to the cabinet. The cabinet is chaired by the prime minister who appoints few of the members who are most influential and important in the council of ministers. The council of ministers may have more than 50 members including the cabinet ministers, ministers, deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Among them the cabinet ministers may not be more than 20.
  • Party plays greater role in promoting a stable government. This because it is the party that control the majority of parliamentarian seats, that will form the cabinet (the executive) and here, the laws and conventions of the party guide the conduct of both the legislative and executive. This may be one of the reasons for the high level of solidarity displayed by the leadership of both organs of government.
  • The principle of collective responsibility often paints the cabinet as a form of ‘secret cult’. The principle imposes absolute covenant on cabinet members to always work individually or together for their collective goals. Shortcomings of members are hardly discussed openly. Even when things are going worse, they pretend as if all is well. Thus, cabinet is appointed as a team.
  • The parliament has the power to dissolve the entire cabinet through vote of no confidence.
  • To sack the chief executive is less difficult and less time-consuming unlike the presidential system which has great hurdles that must be passed before the executive president can be removed.
  • The president can dissolve the parliament on the advice of the prime minister and new elections will be scheduled immediately.

Types of Parliamentary System of Government

There are two main types of parliamentary or cabinet system of government, they are:

  • Westminster System (Britain)

This form of parliamentary system is more popular among the Commonwealth countries practicing parliamentary democracy. It is a parliamentary model that often attracts heated debates because prominence is given to the plenary session than the committees.

This is to say that most issues are deliberated upon more during the plenary sessions than having the committees do the work. Thus, in such a situation, the parliamentarians usually engage one another in hot debates where each of them or a group tries to have strategic advantage over the others in form of articulation of superior argument.

  • West German Model 

This model is otherwise known as Western European parliamentary Model. It is the opposition of Westminster model because its debate system often takes consensual dimension rather than aggressor’s style of the Westminster model. The committees enjoy more relevance than plenary sessions.

Therefore, most deliberations are done by the committees, whose members are fewer than the plenary which consists of the whole parliamentarians. There is doubt, the fewer the people, the less hot the debates will appear.

Merits & Demerits of Parliamentary System of Government

Below are the advantages and disadvantages of parliamentarians system of government.

Merits of Parliamentary System 

  1. The system provides the opportunity for the easier passage of bills. This is because it is the same party that controls the legislature that must form the executive. But contrary is the case in presidential system. For instance, currently in the United States, the Republican controls the federal executive under the tutelage of George Bush Jr., while the congress is controlled by the Democratic Party for having the majority seats. In this case, the executive in the United States will need to persuade the congress (parliament) some much before it could have its sponsored legislations passed by the congress. But in parliamentary, the cabinet members also participate in legislative deliberations, making it less difficult to have its legislations passed by the parliament.
  2. It promotes harmonious relation between the executive and legislature:
  3. It encourages cohesion and stability in polity because the cabinet members act in unison knowing that they came in as a team and a sack of one member is tantamount to a sack of the whole cabinet, making to work together and discourage division.
  4. It is flexible. This is because the parliament can appoint a new prime minister at any time for a particular purpose or the other. For instance – “Winston Churchill replaced Arthur Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister of United Kingdom because national emergency demanded it and this change was brought about without any political upheaval in the country”.
  5. It prevents dictatorship:
  6. Political parties always articulate laudable programmes in order to win more popular support, knowing that winning the majority of seats in the parliament does not only guarantee control of the legislature but also the power to form the cabinet.
  7. Due to the above reason, people enjoy wide spectrum of educative values from the political parties which arouse and increase their political intelligence.
  8. The system experiences frequent conduct of bye elections and the results of such bye-elections make the government to know the opinion of the public which make the government to adjust and reexamine its policies if the opinions (election results) are negative.

Demerits of Parliamentary System of Government

  1. The fusion of power or simply non-separation of power of the two branches of government: legislature and executive can attract a situation where both of them gang-up against the people, especially as the party directives pattern their policy.
  2. There is limitation in the people’s choice of the chief executive. This is because the prime minister is not directly elected by the people but by the appointment. This situation may not actually allow us to know if the prime minister is a popular candidate or not.
  3. Overwhelming power of the legislature does not allow any truly independent institution to oppose or veto its legislations because the executive that is to serve such purpose also has its members performing legislative functions.
  4. It can also be a source of political instability. This is because vote of no confidence can be applied unjustly against the cabinet (executive). And the Prime Minister, if fast enough to reading the antagonistic hand writing of the legislative wall, can gang-up with the president to dissolve the parliament. This situation is likely to threaten the political stability of the country.
  5. The flexible nature of the system allows elections to be held at anytime, and having no definite election timetable can be abused by the political elite.
  6. Weak and lackadaisical head of state.
  7. There is absence of unilateral legislation initiative from the executive.
  8. There may be absence of prompt decision making in the time of emergency or crisis.
  9. The system promotes too much secrecy in government.
  10. The opposition parties in their quest to hijack power from the ruling party can decide to employ some destructive methods like propaganda, subversion, among others to have a strategic advantage. This is because of dual purpose of election: to control the legislature and power to form the cabinet in a single election.
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