Parliamentary Form of Government

Parliamentary form of Government is the system of government in which there exists an intimate and harmonious relationship between the executive and the legislative departments, and the stability and efficacy of the executive department depend on the legislature.Its a system of government in which the power to make and execute laws is held by a parliament.

Although the parliamentary government is broadly defined in the above way, in such a system the supremacy of the legislature has now been replaced by the supremacy of the Cabinet. Hence, such form of government is also called Cabinet Government.

In a Parliamentary form of government, the head of the state is usually a different person than the head of the government. A Monarch or a President is usually the head of the state. However, he or she is the head of state, but not the head of government. The functions of the head of the state is chiefly formal or ceremonial. The council of ministers or the cabinet exercises the real executive powers and authority to run the Government. In many countries, the Prime Minister is the the head of the council of ministers.

The Parliamentary or the Cabinet system originated in England. This form of government exists in countries like Britain, India and Canada. This Parliamentary form of government is also called Responsible government.



The features of Parliamentary form of Government has been discussed below:


  1. Existence of a Titular or Constitutional Ruler: The first characteristic feature of the parliamentary system is the existence of a Titular of Constitutional Ruler. Legally the administration of all the affairs of the state is conducted by the head of the state. In reality, however, the administration is carried by the Council of Ministers. The Monarch or the President, as the case may be, is the head of the state, but not the head of the government.


  1. Absence of Separation of Powers: In the parliamentary system the principle of separation of powers is not adopted. Here the three departments of government work in close, intimate contact, sharing some of the powers and functions of one another.


  1. Main Role of the Lower House in Ministry-formation: In the parliamentary government the lower house of the legislature, i.e., the popular chamber plays a vital role in the formation of the ministry. The leader of the party or alliance which wins the majority in this house is appointed the Prime Minister or Chancellor. The constitutional ruler appoints the other members of the ministry on his advice.


  1. Responsibility to the Legislature: In such a system the Cabinet or Ministry has to remain responsible to the legislature for all its activities and policies. In countries having bi-cameral legislatures, the Cabinet remains responsible to the lower house composed of the people’s representatives.


  1. Collective Responsibility: The ministerial responsibility to the legislature may again be of two kinds:


Individual responsibility, andCollective responsibility.

Individual responsibility means that the minister in charge of a department must be answerable for the activities of his department. But when the ministers remain jointly or collectively responsible to the legislature for the policies and activities of the government, it is called ‘collective responsibility’. Since no individual minister can unilaterally perform any business of government without the consent of the Cabinet, the entire Ministry or Cabinet has to remain accountable for the errors of the minister concerned.


  1. Intimate relationship between the Legislature and the Executive: In the parliamentary system an intimate relationship exists between the executive and the legislative departments. So they can easily control each other. The leaders of the majority party or alliance in the legislature become the members of the Cabinet or Ministry. Naturally, the ministers can easily extend their influence on the legislature. Consequently, the programs and policies of the Cabinet are backed by a majority inside the legislature.


  1. Leadership of the Prime Minister: The leadership of the Prime Minister is another major feature of the parliamentary system. The leader of the majority party in the legislature becomes the Prime Minister. Though, in theory, he is ‘primus inter pares’, i.e. ‘first among equals’, in reality, he possesses much greater power and status than the other ministers. As the undisputed leader of the majority party or alliance in the legislature he plays the most vital role in the determination and execution of government policies. Indeed, the success of parliamentary democracy depends, to a great extent, on the personality, efficiency and charisma of the Prime Minister.


  1. Existence of a Strong Opposition: The existence of one or more strong and well-organized opposition party or parties is the hall-mark of the parliamentary system. By criticizing the errors of the government, the opposition can compel it to adopt welfare measures and prevent it from becoming despotic. Judged from this angle, the opposition can be called the life-force of parliamentary democracy.


  1. Cabinet Dictatorship: In the parliamentary system of government the cabinet has to perform manifold functions.


It is the Cabinet which:


formulates well-considered policies of the Government after reviewing both the national and international issues,takes necessary, arrangements for passing laws to implement the policies formulated by it,determines the matters to be included in the agenda of the central legislature,controls and directs the administrative departments so that laws, Government orders, etc. are to be implemented properly,co-ordinates the activities of different departments of the Government,prepares the draft budget in consultation with the Prime Minister and takes necessary initiative to get it passed in the legislature,formulates economic policies and takes necessary steps for implementing the same,advice’s the constitutional head to take necessary action during emergency or unforeseen situation, etc.In this way the Cabinet acts as ‘the keystone of the political arch’ or has become the ‘steering wheel of the ship of the state’. In fact, in the parliamentary system of government as the cabinet members are the leaders of the majoity party or alliance in the legislature. Some critics think that the Parliament is controlled by the Cabinet under the leadership of the Prime Minister giving rise to some sort of “Cabinet dictatorship”.


Advantages :


The Parliamentary form of Government offers a lot of: advantages. The close cooperation between the executive and the legislative organs leades to smooth functioning of government and avoids unnecessary confrontation between them. These two organs work as mutually complementary to each other.


The responsibility of the government ensures an open administration. The executive, conscious of its responsibility to remain responsible for all its actions and to answer the question of the legislature relating to administration to their satisfaction always tries to remain alert, because this influences its electoral prospects. The more the mistake the less the chance of popular support in the election.


The system is flexible. Flexibility is an asset in any system as it provides room for adjustment. The parliamentary form of government is highly adaptive to changing situation. For example in times of grave emergency the leadership can be changed without any hassles, to tackle the situations as it happened during II World War in England. Mr. Chamberlain made way for Mr. Winston Churchil to handle the war. Even the election can be deferred till normalcy is restored. Such flexibility in the system does not exist in Presidential form of government which is highly rigid.


Under this system it is easier to locate responsibility for the lapses in administration. There is a vast body of civil servants who constitute the permanent executive. In fact they help the political masters to formulate policies of administration and their implementation. But it is the political leadership or the cabinet who takes the responsibility for everything in administration. Therefore it is said that the bureaucracy thrives under the cloak of ministerial responsibility.


A great merit of the system, as painted by Lord Bryce, if its swiftness in decision making. The executive can take any decision and quickly implement that without any hindrance. Since the party in power enjoys majority support in the legislature it can act freely without the fear of being let down.




However no system is completely foolproof. Advantages and disadvantages are part of any system irrespective of its soundness. Under this system the liberty of the people are at a stake as the executive and legislative organs of the government work in close collaboration. This greatly affects the principle of separation of powers. In view of the legislative support and the formidable power at its disposal the cabinet virtually becomes dictatorial. It becomes whimsical in exercising its power without caring for liberty of the people.


Politicization of administration is another demerit of the system. Political consideration in policy formulation and implementation outweigh popular interest. In other words people’s interest suffers at the cost of political considerations. The leadership of the party by virtue of powers it enjoys mobilizes the administration to strengthen the party prospects in the election.


The same can be said of the opposition parties who oppose the party in power for political considerations. They hardly show interest in the activities of the government and offer constructive criticism.


Prof. Dicey points out another serious lacuna in the system. According to him the executive under a parliamentary system fails to take quick decision at the time of any crisis or war. The members of the cabinet always are not unanimous on all problems. The Prime Minister discusses with his colleagues in the cabinet and ultimately prevails over them to take unanimous decision. This is different from the Presidential system where he takes the decision himself and implements that.


This system is unsuitable in countries with more than two parties. Usually in a multi party system the electorate fail to support a particular party in the election as a result of that there is hardly any party which gets majority votes. This leads to instability, chaos and confusion in selecting a party or a leader to form the government. As we observe the large number of political parties in India have contributed to political instability. Countries like Great Britain do not demonstrate such state of affairs as dual party system is the true basis of parliamentary democracy.


A criticism leveled against the Parliamentary system is that the government is run by the novice, ‘without any administrative training, skill or background. They are elected from social field and therefore depend heavily on the civil servants for formulation and implementation of policies. The bureaucrats under the system assume greater authority and consolidate their own position to use their political masters as mere tools.

Our constitution provides for parliamentary form of government. We have borrowed the constitutional features of several democratic countries. But our parliamentary model is predominantly based on the British system. The Head of Government in our system, the Prime Minister, can hold office only so long as he commands the confidence  of  the  Lok  Sabha.  Confidence  of  the  House  is  reflected  in existence/continuance of majority support – whether it be of a single party or of a coalition of parties. This feature can, and does, cause instability in governance. In Presidential democracies, the Head of Government, the President is directly elected by the people and cannot be removed from office except in circumstances of high crimes  and  misdemeanour  established  through  impeachment  process.  Hence, Presidential democracies provide stable governance. In our parliamentary system, we have had changes of government through mid term elections or political realignments. Changes in government undoubtedly bring about disruptions in implementation of policies, development programmes and schemes.



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