Parliamentary System

  • The democratic system of government can be divided into the parliamentary and the presidential system based on the relationship between the executive and the legislature. In a parliamentary system, executive is a part of legislature, which implements the law and plays an active role in framing it as well. Parliamentary System
  • In a parliamentary system, the head of the state may be a monarch or a president, but both of these positions are ceremonial. The head of the government, who is generally called as the Prime Minister, is the real head. Thus, all the real executive powers are vested in the Prime Minister.
  • The parliamentary government is also called as the Cabinet government due to concentration of executive powers in the cabinet. Articles 74 and 75 deals with the parliamentary system at the centre and Article 163 and article 164 deals with the Parliamentary system at the states.

Elements and Features of Parliamentary System are;

1. Nominal and Real Head: The head of the state holds a ceremonial position and is the nominal executive. For example, the President.

2. In India, the head of government is the Prime Minister who is the real executive.  Article 75 of the Indian constitution provides for a Prime Minister to be appointed by the president. According to Article 74, the Prime Minister headed council of ministers would aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions.

3.Executive is a Part of Legislature: The Executive forms a part of the legislature. In India, the person should be a member of parliament to become a member of the executive. However, the constitution provides that a person can be appointed as a minister for a period of not more than six consecutive months if he is not a member of the parliament, after which the person ceases to be a minister.

4. Majority Party Rule: The party which wins majority seats in the elections of the Lower House forms the government. In India, the President invites the leader of the majority party in Lok Sabha to form the government. The President appoints the leader as the Prime Minister and the other ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The President may invite a coalition of parties to form the government, in case, no party has got majority.

5. Collective Responsibility: The council of ministers are collectively responsible to the parliament. The lower house of parliament has an ability to dismiss a government by getting the no confidence motion passed in the house. In India, the government survives till the time it enjoys support of the majority of members in the Lok Sabha. Thus, Lok Sabha is empowered to introduce no-confidence motion against the government.

6.Prime Minister as the Centre of Power: In India, the Prime Minister is the real executive. He is the head of the government, the council of ministers and the ruling government. Thus, he has to play a significant and important role in the working of the government.

7. A Parliamentary Opposition: No government in the parliament can get hundred percent majority. The opposition plays an important role in checking the arbitrary use of authority by the political executive.

8. Independent Civil Service: The civil servants advice and implement decisions of the government. Civil servants hold permanent appointments based on merit-based selection process. They ensure continuity of employment even when the government changes. The civil service also ensures efficiency in execution of duties and responsibilities.

9. Bicameral Legislature: Most of the countries following parliamentary system, including India, have bicameral legislature. The members of the Lower House of all these countries are elected by the people. The Lower House can be dissolved, in case, the term of the government is over or there is no scope of government formation due to lack of majority in house. In India, the President can dissolve the Lok Sabha on recommendation of the Prime Minister.

10. Secrecy: The members of the executive in this system have to follow the principle of secrecy in matters such as proceedings, executive meetings, policymaking etc. In India, the ministers take oath of secrecy before entering their office.

Advantages of Parliamentary System

The parliamentary system has the following advantages over the presidential system:

1. Represents Diverse Group: The parliamentary form of government provides opportunity to various ethnically, racially, linguistically and ideologically diverse groups to share their views in framing of laws and policymaking. Countries, such as India, which have high level of diversity enables accommodation by providing political space to various diverse sections of the society.

2. Better Co-Ordination Between Legislature and Executive: The executive is a part of the legislature. As the government enjoys the support of majority of members in the lower house, the tendency of disputes and conflicts decreases. It makes easy for the government to pass the legislation in the parliament and implement them.

3. Prevents Authoritarianism: In a parliamentary system, the tendency of authoritarianism decreases as the power is vested in the council of minister rather than a single individual. The parliament can remove the government through no-confidence motion.

4. Responsible Government: The parliament can check the activities of the executive as the latter is responsible to the former. In a presidential system, the president is not responsible to the legislature. The members of the parliament can ask question, move resolutions, and discuss matters of public importance to pressurize the government. Such provisions are not available in Presidential system.

5Availability of Alternate Government: The lower house of the parliament can introduce and pass a no-confidence motion. In such a situation, the head of the state invites the leader of the opposition party to form the government. In the United Kingdom, the opposition forms a shadow cabinet for the cabinet of the government, so that they can become ready for the role.

Demerits of The Parliamentary System –

Unstable Government –There is no guarantee that a government can survive its tenure. The ministers depend on the mercy of the majority legislators. A no-confidence motion or political defection or multi-party coalition can make the government unstable.

No Continuity of Policies –Uncertainty of the tenure is not conductive for the formulation and implementation of long-term policies. Change in the ruling party is usually followed by changes in the policies of the government.

Dictatorship of the Cabinet – When the ruling party enjoys absolute majority in the Parliament, the cabinet becomes autocratic and exercises nearly unlimited powers.

Against Separation of Powers –In the parliamentary system, the legislature and the executive are together and inseparable. Thus it goes against the theory of separation of powers. In fact, there is a fusion of powers.

Government by Amateurs –The system is not conductive to administrative efficiency as the ministers are not experts in their fields. The PM in the selection of ministers is restricted to the members of Parliament alone and cannot tap into external talent. Also, the ministers devote most of their time to parliamentary work,cabinet meetings and party activities.

Merits of Presidential Government

1. Separation of powers: The independence of three organs of government from each other makes for efficiency in administration. Equally , the three organs are linked with each other by an elaborate system of checks and balances.

2. Stability: Presidential government is stable. The tenure of the President is fixed. He does not have to strain his nerves to remain in office. The President can formulate and easily implement long term policies. There is no danger of sudden fall of government. The administration becomes efficient and free from corruption.

3. Expert Government: The President can choose people with specialized knowledge as his Ministers/ Secretaries, without consideration of their party affiliations. Further, he is free to accept their advice or not. The ultimate power to take decisions rests with the President. Thus, quick decisions are made possible.

4. Less influence of party system: The evils of party system do not adversely affect the administration in presidential government. The President cannot be removed before the expiry of his tenure. Therefore, the parties do not waste their time in trying to dislodge the government.

Demerits of Presidential Government

1. Less responsible Executive: The President is not responsible to the Legislature. He cannot be removed by the Legislature. The mistakes of the Executive cannot be punished by the Legislature. Such independence of the President can make him authoritarian. The system also breeds inflexibility on the part of the Executive.

2. Deadlocks between Legislature and Executive: Since the President as well as the legislature both are directly elected by the people, both assert their authority. This causes deadlocks between Legislature and the President and often embarrassment to the President. An uncooperative Legislature can create serious difficulties for the President. Solutions cannot be found till the next general election. This leads to wastage of time and money. Efficiency also suffers.

3. Rigid government: Presidential government is rigid. It lacks flexibility. Election Schedules are rigidly observed.

4. Spoils system: The Presidential system gives the President very wide powers of patronage at his disposal, giving way to the ‘spoils system’ to take its roots. The President may offer government posts to his people- friends, kith and kin, vested interests and business associates.

Reasons for Adopting Parliamentary System

  1. Familiarity with the System
  2. Preference to More Responsibility
  3. Need to Avoid Legislative–Executive Conflicts
  4. Nature of Indian Society

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