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A parliamentary system is a system of democratic governance of a state where the executive branch derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislative branch, typically a parliament, and is also held accountable to that parliament. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is usually a different person from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, the executive branch does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.
Countries with parliamentary democracies may be constitutional monarchies, where a monarch is the head of state while the head of government is almost always a member of parliament (such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and Japan), or parliamentary republics, where a mostly ceremonial president is the head of state while the head of government is regularly from the legislature (such as Ireland, Germany, India and Italy). In a few parliamentary republics, such as Botswana, South Africa, and Suriname, among some others, the head of government is also head of state, but is elected by and is answerable to parliament. In bicameral parliaments, the head of government is generally, though not always, a member of the lower house.
Parliamentarism is the dominant form of government in Europe, with 32 of its 50 sovereign states being parliamentarian. It is also common in the Caribbean, being the form of government of 10 of its 13 island states, and in Oceania. Elsewhere in the world, parliamentary countries are less common, but they are distributed through all continents, most often in former British Empire colonies.
Since ancient times, when societies were tribal, there were councils or a headman whose decisions were assessed by village elders. Eventually these councils have slowly evolved into the modern Parliamentary system.
The first parliaments date back to Europe in the Middle Ages, specifically in 1188 Alfonso IX, King of Leon (Spain) convened the three states in the Cortes of León. An early example of parliamentary government developed in today's Netherlands and Belgium during the Dutch revolt (1581), when the sovereign, legislative and executive powers were taken over by the States General of the Netherlands from the then-monarch, King Philip II of Spain. The modern concept of parliamentary government emerged in the Kingdom of Great Britain between 1707–1800 and its contemporary, the Parliamentary System in Sweden between 1721–1772.
In England, Simon de Montfort is remembered as one of the fathers of representative government for holding two famous parliaments. The first, in 1258, stripped the King of unlimited authority and the second, in 1265, included ordinary citizens from the towns. Later, in the 17th century, the Parliament of England pioneered some of the ideas and systems of liberal democracy culminating in the Glorious Revolution and passage of the Bill of Rights 1689.
In the Kingdom of Great Britain, the monarch, in theory, chaired cabinet and chose ministers. In practice, King George I's inability to speak English led the responsibility for chairing cabinet to go to the leading minister, literally the prime or first minister, Robert Walpole. The gradual democratisation of parliament with the broadening of the voting franchise increased parliament's role in controlling government, and in deciding who the king could ask to form a government. By the nineteenth century, the Great Reform Act of 1832 led to parliamentary dominance, with its choice invariably deciding who was prime minister and the complexion of the government.
Other countries gradually adopted what came to be called the Westminster Model of government, with an executive answerable to parliament, but exercising powers nominally vested in the head of state, in the name of the head of state. Hence the use of phrases like Her Majesty's government or His Excellency's government. Such a system became particularly prevalent in older British dominions, many of whom had their constitutions enacted by the British parliament; examples include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Irish Free State and the Union of South Africa. Some of these parliaments evolved, were reformed from, or were initially developed as distinct from their original British model: the Australian Senate, for instance, has since its inception more closely reflected the US Senate than the British House of Lords; whereas since 1950 there is no upper house in New Zealand.
Democracy and parliamentarism became increasingly prevalent in Europe in the years after World War I, partially imposed by the democratic victors, Great Britain and France, on the defeated countries and their successors, notably Germany's Weimar Republic and the new Austrian Republic. Nineteenth century urbanisation, industrial revolution and, modernism had already fueled the political left's struggle for democracy and parliamentarism for a long time. In the radicalised times at the end of World War I, democratic reforms were often seen as a means to counter popular revolutionary currents.
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A parliamentary system may be either bicameral, with two chambers of parliament (or houses) or unicameral, with just one parliamentary chamber. In the case of a bicameral parliament, this is usually characterised by an elected lower house that has the power to determine the executive government and an upper house which may be appointed or elected through a different mechanism from the lower house.
Implementations of the parliamentary system can also differ on the manner of how the prime minister and government are appointed and as to whether the government needs the explicit approval of the parliament, rather than just the absence of its disapproval. Some countries such as India also require the prime minister to be a member of the legislature, though in other countries this only exists as a convention.
Furthermore, there are variations as to what conditions exist (if any) for the government to have the right to dissolve the parliament:
The parliamentary system can be contrasted with a presidential system which operates under a stricter separation of powers, whereby the executive does not form part of, nor is appointed by, the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, parliaments or congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments. There also exists the semi-presidential system that draws on both presidential systems and parliamentary systems by combining a powerful president with an executive responsible to parliament, as for example the French Fifth Republic.
A few parliamentary democratic nations such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, have enacted an anti-defection law, which prohibits a member of the legislature from switching to another party after being elected. With this law, elected representatives lose their seats in parliament if they vote contrary to the directions of their party.
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One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it is faster and easier to pass legislation, as the executive branch is formed by the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and often includes members of the legislature. Thus the executive (as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature) has a majority of the votes, and can pass legislation at will. In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and the majority of the legislature are from different political parties, then stalemate can occur. Thus the executive might not be able to implement its legislative proposals. 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, and the same is also true of the legislature.
In addition to quicker legislative action, parliamentary government has attractive features for nations that are ethnically, racially, or ideologically divided. In a presidential system, all executive power is vested in one person: 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[dubious ] to a system more structurally similar to classical parliamentary government. 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 parliamentary government, as the government and prime minister do not have the ability to make unilateral decisions as the entire government cabinet is answerable and accountable to parliament. Parliamentary Systems are less likely to allow celebrity-based politics to fully dominate a society unlike what often happens in presidential systems, where name-recall and popularity can catapult a celebrity, actor, or popular politician to the presidency despite such candidate's lack of competence and experience.
In his 1867 book The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot praised parliamentary government for producing serious debates, for allowing 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, as it can potentially allow a president who has disappointed the public with dismal performance in the second year of his term to continue on until the end of his 4 year term. Under a parliamentary system, a prime minister that has lost support in the middle of his term can be easily replaced by his own peers.
Some scholars like Juan Linz, Fred Riggs, Bruce Ackerman, and Robert Dahl have found that parliamentary government 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.
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 votes) can make this choice easier by allowing voters to cast one vote for the local candidate at the constituency level but also cast a second vote for another party at the wider parliamentary level.
Although Bagehot praised parliamentary government for allowing an election to take place at any time, the lack of a definite election calendar can be abused. Previously under some systems, such as the British, a ruling party could schedule elections when it felt that it was likely to retain power, and so avoid elections at times of unpopularity. (Election timing in the UK, however, is now partly fixed under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.) 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 can avoid periods of legislative gridlock that can occur in a fixed period presidential system. Such feature in being able to time elections whenever it is advantageous to the ruling party is not a real issue, however, as voters ultimately have the ability to still make the choice of whether to vote for the ruling party or not.
It has been well-observed that the rankings of top-performing countries according to performance indices such as List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita, Human Development Index, Global Competitiveness Report, Corruption Perceptions Index, and many more performance indexes feature most of the best-performing countries having parliamentary systems, while most of the worst-performing countries have presidential systems or strong-president semi-presidential systems. This also extends to the fact that majority - if not all - of the countries that dominate top ranks of lists like the Global Liveability Ranking, the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, the Henley & Partners Passport Index, and many such ranking lists use parliamentary systems. In contrast, the List of cities by murder rate shows an overwhelming number of cities found in countries that use presidential systems.
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Botswana||Parliament of Botswana elects the President who appoints the Cabinet|
|Ethiopia||Federal Parliamentary Assembly appoints the Council of Ministers|
|Mauritius||National Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Mauritius|
|Somalia||Federal Parliament of Somalia elects the President who appoints the Prime Minister|
|South Africa||Parliament of South Africa elects the President who appoints the Cabinet|
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Antigua and Barbuda is appointed Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda by the Governor-General of Antigua and Barbuda, who then appoints the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Bahamas, The||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of the Bahamas is appointed Prime Minister of the Bahamas by the Governor-General of the Bahamas, who then appoints the Cabinet of the Bahamas on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Barbados||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of Barbados is appointed Prime Minister of Barbados by the Governor-General of Barbados, who then appoints the Cabinet of Barbados on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Belize||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Belize is appointed Prime Minister of Belize by the Governor-General of Belize, who then appoints the Cabinet of Belize on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Canada||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Commons of Canada is appointed Prime Minister of Canada by the Governor General of Canada, who then appoints the Cabinet of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Dominica||Parliament approves the Cabinet of Dominica|
|Grenada||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Grenada is appointed Prime Minister of Grenada by the Governor-General of Grenada, who then appoints the Cabinet of Grenada on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Jamaica||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives of Jamaica is appointed Prime Minister of Jamaica by the Governor-General of Jamaica, who then appoints the Cabinet of Jamaica on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the National Assembly of Saint Kitts and Nevis is appointed Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis by the Governor-General of Saint Kitts and Nevis, who then appoints the Cabinet of Saint Kitts and Nevis on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Saint Lucia||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of Saint Lucia is appointed Prime Minister of Saint Lucia by the Governor-General of Saint Lucia, who then appoints the Cabinet of Saint Lucia on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the House of Assembly of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is appointed Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines by the Governor-General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who then appoints the Cabinet of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Suriname||National Assembly elects the President, who appoints the Cabinet of Suriname|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago approves the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago|
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Bangladesh||Jatiyo Sangshad approves the Cabinet of Bangladesh|
|Bhutan||Parliament of Bhutan approves the Lhengye Zhungtshog|
|Cambodia||Parliament of Cambodia approves the Council of Ministers|
|India||President of India appoints the leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the Lok Sabha as Prime Minister of India, who then forms the Cabinet of India|
|Iraq||Council of Representatives approves the Cabinet of Iraq|
|Israel||Leader of the political party with the most Knesset seats in the governing coalition is appointed Prime Minister of Israel by the President of Israel. The Prime Minister then appoints the Cabinet of Israel.|
|Japan||National Diet nominates the Prime Minister who appoints the Cabinet of Japan|
|Kuwait||National Assembly approves the Crown Prince who appoints the Prime Minister who appoints the Cabinet of Kuwait|
|Kyrgyzstan||Supreme Council approves the Cabinet of Kyrgyzstan|
|Lebanon||Maronite Christian president is elected by the Parliament of Lebanon. He appoints the Prime Minister (a Sunni Muslim) and the cabinet. The Parliament thereafter approves the Cabinet of Lebanon through a vote of confidence (a simple majority).|
|Malaysia||Parliament of Malaysia appoints the Cabinet of Malaysia|
|Myanmar||Assembly of the Union, by an electoral college, elects the President who forms the Cabinet of Myanmar|
|Nepal||Parliament of Nepal elects the Prime Minister who, by turn, appoints the Cabinet of Nepal|
|Pakistan||Parliament of Pakistan appoints the Cabinet of Pakistan|
|Singapore||Parliament of Singapore approves the Cabinet of Singapore|
|Thailand||The Monarch appoints the MP nominated by in the House of Representatives (usually the leader of the largest party or coalition) as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet of Thailand. Under the current junta, the appointee is nominated by the National Legislative Assembly.|
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Albania||Parliament of Albania approves the Cabinet of Albania|
|Armenia||National Assembly appoints and (no sooner than one year) can dismiss through the constructive vote of no confidence the Government of Armenia|
|Austria||In theory, chancellor and ministers are appointed by the President. As a practical matter, they are unable to govern without the support (or at least toleration) of a majority in the National Council. The cabinet is politically answerable to the National Council and can be dismissed by the National Council through a motion of no confidence.|
|Belgium||Federal Parliament approves the Cabinet of Belgium|
|Bulgaria||National Assembly appoints the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria|
|Croatia||Croatian Parliament approves President of Government and the Cabinet nominated by him/her.|
|Czech Republic||President of the Czech Republic appoints the leader of the largest party or coalition in the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet. The Prime Minister must gain vote of confidence by the Chamber of Deputies.|
|Denmark||The Monarch appoints, based on recommendations from the leaders of the parties in Folketinget, the cabinet leader who is most likely to successfully assemble a Cabinet which will not be disapproved by a majority in Folketinget.|
|Estonia||Riigikogu elects the Prime Minister candidate nominated by the President of the Republic (normally this candidate is the leader of the parliamentary coalition of parties). The Government of the Republic of Estonia is later appointed by the President of the Republic under proposal of the approved Prime Minister candidate. The Riigikogu may remove the Prime Minister and any other member of the government through a motion of no confidence.|
|Finland||Parliament of Finland appoints the Cabinet of Finland|
|Germany||Bundestag elects the Federal Chancellor (after nomination from the President of Germany), who forms the Cabinet|
|Greece||Hellenic Parliament approves the Cabinet of Greece|
|Hungary||National Assembly approves the Cabinet of Hungary|
|Iceland||The President of Iceland appoints and discharges the Cabinet of Iceland. Ministers can not even resign without being discharged by presidential decree.|
|Ireland||Dáil Éireann nominates the Taoiseach, who is then appointed by the President of Ireland|
|Italy||Italian Parliament grants and revokes its confidence in the Cabinet of Italy, appointed by the President of Italy|
|Kosovo||Assembly of Kosovo appoints the Government of Kosovo|
|Latvia||Saeima appoints the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia|
|Luxembourg||Chamber of Deputies appoints the Cabinet of Luxembourg|
|Macedonia||Assembly approves the Government of Macedonia|
|Malta||House of Representatives appoints the Cabinet of Malta|
|Moldova||Parliament of Moldova appoints the Cabinet of Moldova|
|Montenegro||Parliament of Montenegro appoints the Government of Montenegro|
|Netherlands||Second Chamber of the States-General can dismiss the Cabinet of the Netherlands through a motion of no confidence|
|Norway||The Monarch appoints the MP leading the largest party or coalition in Stortinget as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet|
|Serbia||National Assembly appoints the Government of Serbia|
|Slovakia||National Council approves the Government of Slovakia|
|Slovenia||National Assembly appoints the Government of Slovenia|
|Spain||The Congress of Deputies elects the President of the Government, who forms the Cabinet|
|Sweden||The Riksdag elects the Prime Minister, who in turn appoints the other members of the Government|
|Switzerland||A United Federal Assembly elects the members of the Swiss Federal Council|
|United Kingdom||The Monarch appoints the MP leading the largest party or coalition in the House of Commons as Prime Minister, who forms the Cabinet|
|Country||Connection between legislative and executive branch|
|Australia||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the Australian House of Representatives is appointed Prime Minister of Australia by the Governor-General of Australia, who then appoints the Cabinet of Australia on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|New Zealand||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the New Zealand Parliament is appointed Prime Minister of New Zealand by the Governor-General of New Zealand, who then appoints the Cabinet of New Zealand on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Papua New Guinea||Leader of the political party that has the support of a majority in the National Parliament is appointed Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea by the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, who then appoints the Cabinet of Papua New Guinea on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Samoa||Legislative Assembly appoints the Cabinet of Samoa|
|Vanuatu||Parliament of Vanuatu appoints the Cabinet of Vanuatu|
Britain pioneered the system of liberal democracy that has now spread in one form or another to most of the world's countries
The earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th, and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and, eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the political requirement that representative government depended upon the consent of citizen subjects.... However, as can be seen through provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man" enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789.
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