Many nations around the world use a parliamentary system, a type of representative government that shapes the way the nation functions. While many know the U.S. for its presidential system, most European nations tend to use a parliamentary system, in which citizens vote for a specific party to allocate seats based on the vote percentages. Parliamentary systems are all around the world, each one with its own unique form and institutions. These unique characteristics shape the way countries run and develop. Here is some information about how a parliamentary system works.
Features of a Parliamentary System
The main characteristic of how a parliamentary system works is the “supremacy of the legislative branch,” which runs through a unicameral (one-chamber) or bicameral (two-chamber) parliament. The parliament consists of members who each represent the constituents. The legislative body votes for laws and the head of state can either sign a bill or return it to legislation, showing their agreement or disagreement with the bill. However, parliament can still override the head of state’s veto with a vote.
The Prime Minister leads the executive branch as the head of government. Often in a parliamentary system, the roles of the legislative branch and the executive branch are either “blurred or merged,” because the two branches do not exist to check each other’s power like in the presidential system of the U.S.
Many parliamentary systems also consist of a special constitutional court, which has the right to judicial review and may state a law as unconstitutional if it violates the law of the land or the constitution.
Political Parties, Elections and Voting
In a parliamentary system, the people do not choose the head of government or the Prime Minister. Instead, the members of the legislative branch choose their leader. Voters vote for the party that they want to represent them in parliament. Typically, the majority party chooses an individual to be the Prime Minister. The legislative branch also chooses members to be a part of the executive cabinet. When voting does not give a party a majority, parties tend to form coalitions.
In terms of the electoral system, most parliamentary systems use proportional representation. A proportional representation (PR) system creates a representative body that “reflects the overall distribution” of the voters for each party. It ensures that minority groups still have representation, but only so long as they participate in elections. A PR electoral system has two varieties, a party-list and a mixed-member PR.
Denmark is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates PR into its electoral system. People know its parliament as the Folketing, and the PR system elects its members. Like the United Kingdom, Denmark is also a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government.
On the other hand, many countries use a plurality system, which places power in the hands of an individual from a strong party. Within a plurality system, there are different variations, such as a single-member district plurality system or first-past-the-post system, typically known as a “winner-take-all” system. In this system, voters vote for a candidate whose party they support and want to represent them. India, Canada and the United Kingdom are great examples of parliamentary systems that incorporate a plurality electoral system.
Canada is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates a plurality electoral system. Canada has a unique governmental structure, as it follows the context of the British constitutional monarchy, despite the U.K. and Canada being two separate nations. Its parliament consists of members that receive election through a plurality system in each electoral district. The party that obtains the most votes wins the majority of seats in parliament.
Advantages of a Parliamentary System
The major advantage of how a parliamentary system works is the fact that it allows all parties, large and small, majority and minority, to receive representation and have a voice in the policy-making process. In a presidential system, all power of the executive branch goes into the hands of an individual of the majority party. This can ignore the minority groups, thus creating social and political tensions. The ability of a parliamentary system to form coalitions allows all parties, including the minorities, to have representation. As a result, it minimizes tensions that develop among societies.
– Krishna Panchal