Parliamentary democracy: Wikis

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Map of different governmental systems
Constitutional monarchies in which authority is vested in a parliament are denoted in red. Parliamentary republics where parliaments are effectively supreme over a separate head of state are denoted in orange. Parliamentary republics where the role of the head of government and head of state are combined are denoted in green.

A parliamentary system is a system of government in which the ministers of the executive branch are drawn from the legislature and are accountable to that body, such that the executive and legislative branches are intertwined. In such a system, the head of government is both de facto chief executive and chief legislator.

Parliamentary systems are characterized by no clear-cut separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, leading to a different set of checks and balances compared to those found in presidential systems. Parliamentary systems usually have a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state, with the head of government being the prime minister or premier, and the head of state often being a figurehead, often either a president (elected either popularly or by the parliament) or a hereditary monarch (often in a constitutional monarchy).

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Background

The term parliamentary system does not mean that a country is ruled by different parties in coalition with each other. Such multi-party arrangements are usually the product of an electoral system known as proportional representation. Many parliamentary countries, especially those that use "first past the post" voting, have governments composed of one party. However, parliamentary systems in continental Europe do use proportional representation, and tend to produce election results in which no single party has a majority of seats. Proportional representation in a non-parliamentary system does not have this result (Arguelles, 2009).

Parliamentarianism may also be for governance in local governments. An example is the city of Oslo, which has an executive council as a part of the parliamentary system. The council-manager system of municipal government used in some U.S. cities bears many similarities to a parliamentary system.

Students of democracy such as Arend Lijphart divide parliamentary democracies into two different systems, the Westminster and Consensus systems (See Lijphart 1999 for this section).

  • Western European parliamentary model (e.g., Spain, Germany) tend to have a more consensual debating system, and usually have semi-cyclical debating chambers. Consensus systems are identified by proportional representation, where there is more of a tendency to use party list systems than the Westminster Model legislatures. The committees of these Parliaments tend to be more important than the plenary chamber. This model is sometimes called the West German Model since its earliest exemplar in its final form was in the Bundestag of West Germany (which became the Bundestag of Germany upon the absorption of the GDR by the FRG). Unlike in Germany however, some West European countries' parliaments (e.g., the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland) implement the principle of dualism as a form of separation of powers. In countries using this system, Members of Parliament have to resign their place in Parliament upon being appointed (or elected) minister. However, ministers in those countries usually actively participate in parliamentary debates - the main difference being their inability to vote. Switzerland is considered one the purest examples of a consensus system.

There also exists a Hybrid Model, the semi-presidential system, drawing on both presidential systems and parliamentary systems, for example the French Fifth Republic. Much of Eastern Europe has adopted this model since the early 1990s.

Implementations of the parliamentary system can also differ on whether the government needs the explicit approval of the parliament to form, rather than just the absence of its disapproval, and under what conditions (if any) the government has the right to dissolve the parliament, like Jamaica and many others.

A Parliamentary system may consist of two styles of Chambers of Parliament one with two chambers (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. This style of two houses is called bicameral system. Legislatures with only one house are known as unicameral system.

One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it's faster and easier to pass legislation[1].This is because the executive branch is dependent upon the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and often includes members of the legislature. Thus, this would amount to the executive (as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature) possessing more votes in order to pass legislation. In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and legislature in such a system include members entirely or predominantly from different political parties, then stalemate can occur. Former US President Bill Clinton often faced problems in this regard, since the Republicans controlled Congress for much of his tenure. Accordingly, the executive within a presidential system might not be able to properly implement his or her platform/manifesto. Evidently, 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. It could be said then that the will of the people is more easily instituted within a parliamentary system.

In addition to quicker legislative action, Parliamentarianism has attractive features for nations that are ethnically, racially, or ideologically divided. In a unipersonal presidential system, all executive power is concentrated in 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 to a system more structurally similar to classical parliamentarianism. 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.

It can also be argued that power is more evenly spread out in the power structure of parliamentarianism. The prime minister seldom tends to have as high importance 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.

In The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarianism for producing serious debates, for allowing the 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.

There is also a body of scholarship, associated with Juan Linz, Fred Riggs, Bruce Ackerman, and Robert Dahl that claims that parliamentarianism is less prone to authoritarian collapse. These scholars point out that since World War II, two-thirds of Third World countries establishing parliamentary governments successfully made the transition to democracy. By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns.

A recent World Bank study found that parliamentary systems are associated with lower corruption.[2]

Criticisms of parliamentarianism

One of the main criticisms and benefits of many parliamentary systems is that the head of government is in almost all cases not directly elected. In a presidential system, the president is usually chosen directly by the electorate, or by a set of electors directly chosen by the people, separate from the legislature. However, in a parliamentary system the prime minister is elected by the legislature, often under the strong influence of the party leadership. Thus, a party's candidate for the head of government is usually known before the election, possibly making the election as much about the person as the party behind him or her.

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.

Although Walter Bagehot praised parliamentarianism for allowing an election to take place at any time, the lack of a definite election calendar can be abused. In some systems, such as the British, a ruling party can schedule elections when it feels that it is likely to do well, and so avoid elections at times of unpopularity. 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 avoids having periods of legislative gridlock that can occur in a fixed period presidential system.

Critics of parliamentary systems 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" like one can run for president under a presidential system. Additionally, prime ministers may lose their positions solely because they lose their seats in parliament, even though they may still be popular nationally. Supporters of parliamentarianism can respond by saying that as members of parliament, prime ministers are elected firstly to represent their electoral constituents and if they lose their support then consequently they are no longer entitled to be prime minister. In parliamentary systems, the role of the statesman who represents the country as a whole goes to the separate position of head of state, which is generally non-executive and non-partisan. Promising politicians in parliamentary systems likewise are normally preselected for safe seats - ones that are unlikely to be lost at the next election - which allows them to focus instead on their political career.

Countries with a parliamentary system of government

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Unicameral System

This table shows countries with parliament consisting of a single house.

Country Parliament
Albania Kuvendi
Bangladesh Jatiyo Sangshad
Bulgaria National Assembly
Botswana Parliament
Burkina Faso National Assembly
Croatia Sabor
Denmark Folketing
Dominica House of Assembly
Estonia Riigikogu
Finland Eduskunta/Riksdag
Greece Hellenic Parliament
Hungary National Assembly
Iceland Althing
Israel Knesset
Kosovo Kuvendi
Kuwait National Assembly of Kuwait
Latvia Saeima
Lebanon Assembly of Deputies
Lithuania Seimas
Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies
Republic of Macedonia Sobranie
Malta House of Representatives
Mauritius National Assembly
Moldova Parliament
Mongolia State Great Khural
Montenegro Parliament
Nepal Legislature-Parliament
New Zealand Parliament
Norway Stortinget
Palestinian Authority Parliament
Papua New Guinea National Parliament
Portugal Assembly of the Republic
Republic of Macedonia Sobranie - Assembly
Saint Kitts and Nevis National Assembly
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines House of Assembly
Samoa Fono
Serbia National Assembly
Singapore Parliament
Slovakia National Council
Sri Lanka Parliament
Sweden Riksdag
Turkey Grand National Assembly
Ukraine Verkhovna Rada
Vanuatu Parliament

Bicameral system

This table shows organisations and countries with parliament consisting of two houses.

Organisation or Country Parliament Upper chamber Lower chamber
Australia Commonwealth Parliament Senate House of Representatives
Austria Parliament Federal Council National Council
Antigua and Barbuda Parliament Senate House of Representatives
The Bahamas Parliament Senate House of Assembly
Barbados House of Assembly Senate House of Assembly
Belize National Assembly Senate House of Representatives
Belgium Federal Parliament Senate Chamber of Representatives
Bhutan Parliament National Council National Assembly
Canada Parliament Senate House of Commons
Czech Republic Parliament Senate Chamber of Deputies
Ethiopia Federal Parliamentary Assembly House of Federation House of People's Representatives
European Union Council of the European Union European Parliament
Germany Federal Legislature/Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) Bundesrat (Federal Council) Bundestag (Federal Diet)
Grenada Parliament Senate House of Representatives
India Parliament (Sansad) Rajya Sabha (Council of States) Lok Sabha (House of People)
Ireland Oireachtas Seanad Éireann Dáil Éireann
Iraq National Assembly Council of Union[3] Council of Representatives
Italy Parliament Senate of the Republic Chamber of Deputies
Jamaica Parliament Senate House of Representatives
Japan Diet House of Councillors House of Representatives
Malaysia Parliament Dewan Negara (Senate) Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives)
Netherlands Staaten-Generaal (States-General) Eerste Kamer (Senate) Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives)
Pakistan Parliament Senate National Assembly
Poland Parliament Senate Sejm
Romania Parliament Senate Chamber of Deputies
Saint Lucia Parliament Senate House of Assembly
Slovenia Parliament National Council National Assembly
South Africa Parliament National Council of Provinces National Assembly
Spain Cortes Generales Senate Congress of Deputies
Switzerland Federal Assembly Council of States National Council
Thailand National Assembly Senate House of Representatives
Trinidad and Tobago Parliament Senate House of Representatives
United Kingdom Parliament House of Lords House of Commons

References

  1. ^ T. St. John N. Bates (1986), "Parliament, Policy and Delegated Power", Statute Law Review (Oxford: Oxford University Press), http://slr.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/7/2/114.pdf 
  2. ^ SSRN-Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter by Daniel Lederman, Norman Loayza, Rodrigo Soares
  3. ^ The Council of Union is defined in the constitution of Iraq but does not currently exist.

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