Parliamentary Form of Republican Democracy

The Parliamentary model is a split-leadership model. “split leadership” or “split executive” means that there are two Heads or leaders of the political system:

  1. The Head of Government (or the leader vested with executive power) is the Prime Minister. Elected by the members of the parliament themselves.
  2. The Head of State (or the leader with ceremonial or symbolic powers) can be a monarch or a president.
Head of StateChief executive
MonarchPrime Minister
Receive Ambassadors, hosts reception and perform other ceremonial tasks of government.A full-time politician, Chief Diplomat Chief Economist, Commander in Chief
The Head of state is the Voice of the People, the symbol or personification of the State prestige.Chief Legislator and usually, the Chief of the Party

According to Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skatch (1993), “A pure parliamentary system or regime” in a democracy is a system of mutual dependence: the chief executive power must be supported by a majority in the legislature and can fall if it receives a vote of no confidence, and the executive power (normally in conjunction with the head of state) has the capacity to dissolve the legislature and call for elections.

The following are the countries possessing a Parliamentary form of government

CountryFormHead of StateChief Executive
AustraliaParliamentaryGovernor GeneralPrime Minister
CanadaParliamentaryGovernor GeneralPrime Minister
IsraelParliamentaryPresidentPrime Minister
JapanParliamentaryEmperorPrime Minister
United KingdomParliamentaryQueenPrime Minister
Russia (1991- present)ParliamentaryPresidentPrime Minister

What follows are its advantages in terms of the general context of government accountability.

A parliamentary system has the ability to facilitate the inclusion of all groups within the legislature and the executive. Because cabinets in parliamentary systems are usually drawn from members of the elected legislature, parliamentary government enables the inclusion of all political elements represented in the legislature (including minorities) in the executive. Cabinets comprising a coalition of several different parties are a typical feature of many well-established parliamentary democracies. In societies deeply divided by ethnic or other cleavages, this principle of inclusion can be vital (Lijphart, 1992).

Parliamentary systems also have flexibility and capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Because governments in most parliamentary systems can change on the floor of the legislature without recourse to a general election, advocates of parliamentarism point to its flexibility and capacity to adapt to changing circumstances as a strong benefit. A discredited government can be dismissed from office by the parliament itself, in contrast to the fixed terms common to presidential systems.

The parliamentary system is said to foster greater accountability on the part of the government of the day towards the people’s representatives because it promotes “Checks and balances” by making the executive dependent, at least in theory, upon the confidence of the legislature. Proponents argue that this means that there is not only greater public control over the policy-making process, but also greater transparency in the way decisions are made (Mahler, 1995; Lawson, 1992; Healey and Tordoff, 1995; Hyden, 1992).

However, the parliamentary system is not all together free from any disadvantages.

First, it exhibits a tendency towards ponderous or immobile decision-making. The inclusiveness that typifies coalition governments can easily turn into executive deadlocks caused by the inability of the various parties to agree upon key issues. This was typified by the “immobilism” that affected Fourth Republic France and that was partly responsible for General de Gaulle’s assumption of presidential power (Mahler, 1995).

The Parliamentary system may also lead to some problems concerning accountability and discipline. Critics argue that parliamentary systems are inherently less accountable than presidential ones, as responsibility for decisions is taken by the collective cabinet rather than a single figure (hence, it is difficult to pin point who’s accountable). This is especially problematic when diverse coalitions form the executive, as it can be difficult for electors to establish who is responsible for a particular decision and make a retrospective judgement as to the performance of the government (Healey and Tordoff, 1995; Hyden, 1992).

It also shows a propensity towards the weak or fragmented government. Some parliamentary systems are typified by shifting coalitions of many different political parties, rather than by a strong and disciplined party system. Under such circumstances, executive government is often weak and unstable, leading to a lack of continuity and direction in public policy (Ibid.).