Parliamentary System of Government: Charcteristics, Merits & Demerits

A parliamentary or cabinet system of government is one in which there is no distinct separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. In this system, the head of state called president, is different from the head of government called prime minister.

Executive powers are vested in the cabinet, headed by the prime minister, and the legislature which is the source of authority for the executive.

Characteristics of a Parliamentary System Of Government

  1. There is lack of strict separation of powers between the executive and legislature.
  2. The head of state is different from the head of government. The prime minister is the head of government, while the monarch or president is the head of state.
  3. Ministers are collectively responsible to the legislature for state administration. The prime minister is also the parliamentary leader of the party in power, and has the power to dismiss any minister from his cabinet.
  4. There must always be at least two parties; the ruling party, and the opposition party. Thus, an official opposition party is recognised.
  5. A vote of no confidence by the parliament can force the prime minister and his ministers to resign together.
  6. The executive and the legislature are controlled by the party having a majority in the legislature.
  7. The parliamentary system has an in-built majority which can effectively pass bills and govern the country in the desired direction.
  8. The formation of a coalition government is inevitable if no single party wins the overall majority in a general election.
  9. In such a country as Britain, an arm of the parliament, the House of Lords, is the highest court of appeal.
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Merits Of The Parliamentary System Of Government

  1. The principle of collective responsibility in a cabinet system of government enhances the efficiency, accountability and responsiveness of the government to the people.
  2. The executive tends to be less dictatorial in a cabinet system of government, as it could easily be dismissed by the legislature through a vote of no confidence.
  3. Usual conflicts between the executive and the legislature are reduced, since the two arms of government are not strictly separated.
  4. The government usually gets its bills passed in parliament, because members of the government party always vote in favour of government sponsored bills.
  5. Government decision making process is faster in a cabinet system since members of the executive are also members of the legislature.
  6. Party discipline is enhanced in the parliamentary system, since the prime minister is obliged to pick his ministers from his party members in the legislature.
  7. The presence of a recognised opposition party ready to criticise bad policies of the ruling party helps to make for good governance.

Demerits Of The Parliamentary System Of Government

  1. A cabinet system of government does not avail itself of the human resources outside the ruling party. This is because ministers must be chosen from the ruling party.
  2. The absence of individual accountability (as a result of the principle of collective responsibility) lays ministers open to misbehaviour since they cannot easily be judged individually.
  3. Non-separation of powers does not encourage specialisation in the art of government, leading to inefficiency in administration.
  4. The cabinet system is less democratic since the prime minister is not directly elected by the electorate.
  5. The tenure of the cabinet is not stable, since the legislature can dismiss the entire cabinet with a vote of no confidence.
  6. The prime minister could become dictatorial because of the powers vested in him to appoint and dismiss ministers, as well as the fact that he alone can call for the dissolution of the house.
  7. A coalition government which usually emerges in a cabinet system, where no party has won a clear majority in elections, often leads to conflicts, corruption and rivalry among the coalition parties.
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Duties And Constitutional Powers of a Prime Minister

  1. The prime minister is the head of government, as well as the head of the ruling party.
  2. He has power to appoint, or change the position of any minister in his cabinet.
  3. The prime minister exercises real executive powers and represents his country in heads of government summits.
  4. He presides over cabinet meetings, and coordinates the activities of various government departments.
  5. The prime minister is the link between the cabinet and the president.

Role Of The Opposition Party In A Parliamentary System Of Government

  1. It acts as a check on the ruling party by exposing the weaknesses and shortcomings of government.
  2. It serves as an alternative government to the ruling party whenever the need arises.
  3. It helps to make the ruling party alive to their responsibility to the people.
  4. The opposition party helps to safeguard the interests of the people through its critical activities.

Duties And Constitutional Powers Of A Minister In A Cabinet System Of Government

  1. He is the political head of his ministry.
  2. He is a member of parliament.
  3. The minister coordinates the activities of the various departments in his ministry.
  4. He attends cabinet meetings and is responsible for all the bills presented in the parliament concerning his ministry.
  5. The minister participates in government decision making and implementation and, with other cabinet members, accepts responsibility for all actions of government.
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