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A parliamentary system is a system of government where in 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).


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 Oslomarker, 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).

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 Paraliamentary 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.

Advantages of a parliamentary system

One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it's faster and easier to pass legislation.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 Lebanesemarker Taif Agreement, in order to give Muslims greater political power, Lebanonmarker moved from a semi-presidential system with a strong president to a system more structurally similar to a classical parliamentarianism. Iraqmarker similarly disdained a presidential system out of fears that such a system would be tantamount to Shiite domination; Afghanistanmarker'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 premier 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.

Criticisms of parliamentarianism

One main criticism 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.

Another major criticism of the parliamentary system lies precisely in its purported advantage: that there is no truly independent body to oppose and veto legislation passed by the parliament, and therefore no substantial check on legislative power. Conversely, because of the lack of inherent separation of powers, some believe that a parliamentary system can place too much power in the executive entity, leading to the feeling that the legislature or judiciary have little scope to administer checks or balances on the executive. However, parliamentary systems may be bicameral, with an upper house designed to check the power of the lower (from which the executive comes).

Although it is possible to have a powerful prime minister, as Britain has, or even a dominant party system, as Japanmarker has, parliamentary systems are also sometimes unstable. Critics point to Israelmarker, Italymarker, Canadamarker, the French Fourth Republic, and Weimar Germanymarker as examples of parliamentary systems where unstable coalitions, demanding minority parties, votes of no confidence, and threats of such votes, make or have made effective governance impossible. Defenders of parliamentarianism say that parliamentary instability is the result of proportional representation, political culture, and highly polarised electorates.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi criticized the parliamentary system of Iraqmarker, saying that because of party-based voting "the vast majority of the electorate based their choices on sectarian and ethnic affiliations, not on genuine political platforms."

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.

Alexander Hamilton argued for elections at set intervals as a means of insulating the government from the transient passions of the people, and thereby giving reason the advantage over passion in the accountability of the government to the people. .

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

Unicameral System

This table shows countries with parliament consisting of a single house.
Country Parliament
Albaniamarker Kuvendimarker
Bangladeshmarker Jatiyo Sangshad
Bulgariamarker National Assembly
Botswanamarker Parliament
Burkina Fasomarker National Assembly
Croatiamarker Sabormarker
Denmarkmarker Folketingmarker
Dominicamarker House of Assembly
Estoniamarker Riigikogu
Finlandmarker Eduskunta/Riksdag
Greecemarker Hellenic Parliament
Hungarymarker National Assembly
Icelandmarker Althing
Israelmarker Knessetmarker
Kuwaitmarker National Assembly of Kuwait
Latviamarker Saeima
Lebanonmarker Assembly of Deputiesmarker
Lithuaniamarker Seimas
Luxembourgmarker Chamber of Deputies
Maltamarker House of Representatives
Mauritiusmarker National Assembly
Moldovamarker Parliament
Mongoliamarker State Great Khural
Montenegromarker Parliament
Nepalmarker Legislature-Parliament
New Zealandmarker Parliament
Norwaymarker Stortingetmarker
Palestinian Authority Parliament
Papua New Guineamarker National Parliament
Portugalmarker Assembly of the Republic
Republic of Macedoniamarker Sobranie - Assembly
Saint Kitts and Nevismarker National Assembly
Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker House of Assembly
Samoamarker Fono
Serbiamarker National Assembly
Singaporemarker Parliament
Slovakiamarker National Council
Sri Lankamarker Parliament
Swedenmarker Riksdagmarker
Turkeymarker Grand National Assemblymarker
Ukrainemarker Verkhovna Radamarker
Vanuatumarker Parliament
Vietnammarker National Assembly

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
Austriamarker Parliament Federal Council National Council
Antigua and Barbudamarker Parliament Senate House of Representatives
The Bahamasmarker Parliament Senate House of Assembly
Barbadosmarker House of Assemblymarker Senate House of Assembly
Belizemarker National Assembly Senate House of Representatives
Belgiummarker Federal Parliamentmarker Senate Chamber of Representatives
Bhutanmarker Parliament National Council National Assembly
Canadamarker Parliamentmarker Senate House of Commons
Czech Republicmarker Parliament Senate Chamber of Deputies
Ethiopiamarker Federal Parliamentary Assembly House of Federation House of People's Representatives
European Union Council of the European Union European Parliamentmarker
Germanymarker Federal Legislature/Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) Bundesrat marker Bundestag marker
Grenadamarker Parliament Senate House of Representatives
Indiamarker Parliament Rajya Sabha (Council of States) Lok Sabha (House of People)
Irelandmarker Oireachtas Seanad Éireann Dáil Éireann
Iraqmarker National Assembly Council of Union Council of Representatives
Italymarker Parliament Senate of the Republic Chamber of Deputies
Jamaicamarker Parliament Senate House of Representatives
Japanmarker Diet House of Councillors House of Representatives
Malaysiamarker Parliament Dewan Negara (Senate) Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives)
Netherlandsmarker Staaten-Generaal Eerste Kamer Tweede Kamer marker
Pakistanmarker Parliament Senate National Assembly
Polandmarker Parliament Senate Sejm
Saint Luciamarker Parliament Senate House of Assembly
Sloveniamarker Parliamentmarker National Council National Assembly
South Africa Parliamentmarker National Council of Provinces National Assembly
Spainmarker Cortes Generales Senate Congress of Deputies
Switzerlandmarker Federal Assembly Council of States National Council
Thailandmarker National Assembly Senate House of Representatives
Trinidad and Tobagomarker Parliament Senate House of Representatives
United Kingdommarker Parliamentmarker House of Lordsmarker House of Commonsmarker

See also


  1. SSRN-Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter by Daniel Lederman, Norman Loayza, Rodrigo Soares
  2. "How Iraq’s Elections Set Back Democracy", Ayad Allawi, The New York Times, November 2, 2007
  3. The Council of Union is defined in the constitution of Iraq but does not currently exist.

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