Parliamentary System


Another important feature of the Indian political system is its parliamentary form of government both at the union and state levels. However, democratic governments are classified into parliamentary and presidential on the basis of nature of relations between the executive and the legislative organs of the government. The Constitution of India provides for a parliamentary form of government, both at the Centre and in the states. In the Indian Constitution, Articles 74 and 75 deal with the parliamentary system at the Centre and Articles 163 and 164 deal with the parliamentary system in the states.
The parliamentary system was developed by England and India adopted this system from the UK with some changes. The parliamentary government is also known as the cabinet government or responsible government. In the UK, the parliamentary system is also known as the Westminster system. However, countries having parliamentary democracies can be of two kinds – constitutional monarchies and parliamentary republics. In a Constitutional monarchy, the head of the state is the monarch while the head of the government is generally the parliament with or without a constitution. This system is prevalent in the UK, Sweden, Japan, and Denmark. While in parliamentary republics in which the head of the state is a ceremonial president and the legislature forms the head of the government. This system is prevalent in India, Ireland, Germany, and Italy.
The presidential system of government is one in which the executive is not responsible to the legislature for its policies and acts and is constitutionally independent of the legislature in respect of its term of office. In this system, the President is both the head of state and the government. The head of the government is the President, who is responsible for enforcing the laws. This system rejects legislative supremacy. The presidential government is also known as non-responsible or non-parliamentary. This system is prevalent in the USA, Brazil, Russia, Sri Lanka among others.
Hence, the chief difference between these systems is the extent of power separation between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Another major difference between the presidential and parliamentary systems is the accountability of the executive to the legislature.

Features of the Parliamentary System

The features or principles of the parliamentary system are as follows:

  • Close relationship between the legislature and the executive: The Prime Minister along with the Council of Ministers forms the executive, in a Parliamentary system. They are elected as the members of the Parliament, which means that the executive emerges from the legislature. Only a member of Parliament can be appointed as part of the executive. There is no strict separation of power between the executive and legislature. Therefore, in a parliamentary system, the executive and the legislature are so closely related.
  • Executive responsible to the legislature: The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are collectively answerable in Lok Sabha and individually to the President. The executive loses its power when it loses confidence in the Lok Sabha. Legislature makes the laws and then relies on the executive for its implementation.
  • Dual executive: Dual executive means two executives – the real and the titular. The titular or nominal executive (president or monarch) is the head of the state, and the real executive is the Prime Minister who is the head of the government. Legally, all the power and privileges are conferred on the President as per different law and constitution, but in practice, all these powers are enjoyed by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.
  • Secrecy: The ministers operate on the principle of secrecy of procedure and cannot divulge information about their proceedings, policies and decisions. They take the oath of secrecy before entering their office. The oath of secrecy to the ministers is administered by the President.
  • Leadership of the Prime Minister: In this system of government, the Prime Minister plays the leadership. He is the leader of the council of ministers and leader of the majority party in Lok Sabha. He is selected through elections held through a universal adult franchise.
  • No fixed tenure: The term or the duration of the ruling government is not fixed in a Parliamentary System. In normal circumstances, the tenure of the government is for 5 years, and after that the election is held again. The term is dependent on the confidence of the ruling party in the lower house. If anyone of the Council of Ministers resigns or the majority party is not able to prove its confidence in the house, then the government falls.
  • Bicameral Legislature: Many parliamentary democracies have the practice of following bicameralism. In India, at the center level, it has two houses (Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha) to deliberate and discuss policies, laws, and issues of national importance. At the state level, Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assemblies) is equal to Lok Sabha and Vidhan Parishad (State Legislative Council) is equal to Rajya Sabha.
  • Double Membership: The Prime Minister and ministers are members of both the legislature and the executive. This means that a person cannot be a minister or prime minister without being a member of the Parliament.

Merits of the Parliamentary System

The parliamentary system of government has the following merits:

Better coordination between executive and legislature: The executive is a part of the legislature. The majority party has a stronghold in the parliament which makes it easier for the law and policies to be passed and implemented. As a result, there is less scope for disputes and conflicts between the two organs.

Responsible government: The Parliamentary form of government is also known as ‘Responsible government’. The members of the legislature can ask questions and discuss matters of public interest and put pressure on the government. Through this process, there can be checks on the activities of the government.

Wide Representation: In a parliamentary system, the parliament offers representation to diverse groups of the country. Hence, it is possible to provide representation to all sections and regions in the government.

Prevents Authoritarianism: In the Parliamentary system, the executive authority is vested in the council of ministers and not in a single person. The executive is responsible to the legislature and can be removed by a no-confidence motion.

Ready Alternative Government: The Prime Minister can be removed from power very easily as compared to the Presidential system. In case the ruling party loses its majority, the Head of the State can invite the opposition party to form the government. This means an alternative government can be formed without fresh elections.

Demerits of the Parliamentary System

The Parliamentary System suffers from the following demerits:

  • Unstable Government: In the parliamentary system, the governments sustain only as long as they can prove a majority in the house, there is instability if there is no single-largest party after the elections. The Prime Minister has to depend on the support from the party members or any other party in the parliament. Coalition governments are mainly transitory and unstable.
  • No Continuity of Policies: In the parliamentary system, the system is not conductive for the formulation and implementation of long-term policies due to the uncertainty of the tenure of the government. A change in the ruling party is usually followed by changes in the policies of the government.
  • Party Politics: Party politics is more evident in the parliamentary system where partisan interests drive politicians more than national interests.
  • Against Separation of Powers: In the parliamentary system, the legislature and the executive are together and inseparable. The minister acts as the member of the legislature as well as the executive. Hence, the whole system of government goes against the spirit of the theory of separation of power.
  • Create Unqualified Legislators: Most of times the parliamentary system creates legislators whose intention is to enter the executive only. They are largely unqualified to legislate.

Features of the Presidential System

In the Presidential System, the head of the government is the chief executive who is directly elected by the people, and the executive is not responsible to the legislature. All the organs of the government, i.e., legislature, executive and judiciary, function separately from each other and are constitutionally independent. The head of the government is the President, who is responsible for enforcing the laws. The notable features of the presidential system are:

  • Executive can veto acts of the legislature: The executive here is a President who can veto acts or laws passed by the Congress (legislature). Basically, veto means the power of the President to approve, refuse or joint resolution to prevent the enactment of any law. This veto power does not grant him (President) to change the content of the legislation, but only the ability to approve or reject the bill.
  • Fixed Tenure: In a Presidential system, the President has a fixed tenure. Elections are held regularly and cannot be disturbed by passing of no-confidence motion or other parliamentary procedures.
  • President holds quasi-judicial powers: The President has the power to pardon and commute judicial sentences awarded to the offenders.
  • The President is elected directly by the people or by an electoral college.

Merits of the Presidential System

The merits of the presidential system are as follows:

  • Separation of powers: In a presidential system, administrative and political power are divided between the three branches of the government, i.e., legislature, executive and judiciary. These organs function separately from each other and are constitutionally independent. The President is chosen by a separate election from that of the legislature.
  • Expert government: In the presidential system, the executive need not be legislators, the President can choose experts in various fields to head relevant departments or ministries. This will make sure that people who are capable and knowledgeable form part of the government.
  • Stability: The tenure of the president is fixed and is not subject to the condition of the majority support in the legislature, he has no fear of losing the government. There is no political pressure on the president to make decisions. Hence, the presidential system is much more stable when compared to the Parliamentary system.
  • Less influence of party system: There is less influence of political parties in the decision-making process. Political parties do not attempt to dislodge the government since the tenure is fixed.

Demerits of the Presidential System

The demerits of the presidential system are as follows:

  • Less responsible executive: Since the legislature has no hold over the executive and the president. Hence, the executive tends to be less responsible. Thus, the head of the government can turn authoritarian in the presidential system.
  • Rigid government: The fixed tenure of the president brings stability which leads to rigidity in the presidential system. It makes the system more rigid. It becomes difficult to remove the President even if people are not happy with the work carried out by him or his party.
  • Deadlocks between executive and legislature: Since there is a clear separation of powers here, there can be frequent tussles between both arms of the government, especially if the legislature is not dominated by the president’s political party.
  • President’s sweeping powers: The Presidential system endows him with the sweeping power of patronage. The President has the power to choose the members of his cabinet. This gives rise to the spoils system where people close to the president (relatives, business associates, etc.) get roles in the government.

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