Parliamentary System of Government: Examples & Features

The parliamentary system of government is one of the oldest forms of government. Another name for it is “Cabinet System“. So, in this article, we shall be using both terms interchangeably.

The Cabinet System of government has its features, advantages and disadvantages. In other words, there are specific reasons why some countries, including Nigeria, adopted it years back. In the same way, there are certain reasons they shifted from it.

We are going to look at what parliamentary system is all about, its good and bad sides and its characteristics. I will also give you examples of countries that practice a parliamentary form of government.

What is parliamentary system of government?

The parliamentary system of government is a type of government where governmental powers are in the hands of two officers, one serving as the head of State while the other serves as the head of government. In other words, two authorities control the State’s affairs.

Cabinet system is mostly seen as the direct opposite of the presidential system of government, where one person (the president) is both the Head of State and the Head of government.

The parliamentary System was practiced in Nigeria during Alhaji Tafawa Belewa. The presidential system has also been tried in Nigeria from 1979 to 1983. It was overthrown by the military in December 31st, 1983. A military government headed by Major General Bihari was established. As it stands now, Nigeria no longer practices cabinet system of government.

Britain is a classic example of a country presently practicing a cabinet form of government.

The parliamentary system also has its constitution, which stipulates all the roles and responsibilities of the different heads.

See also: What are the Major Functions of the Constitution in a Country?

Features of Cabinet System of government

Below are the Characteristics of the cabinet system.

Both heads (of State and Government) are members of the parliament

This is another notable characteristic of the cabinet system of government. Both the Prime Minister and the King or Queen must be members of the parliament. The parliament makes the law in a State. So, both heads must participate in the law-making process.

In fact, the Prime Minister is always the leader of the majority party in the house.

Powers are shared between two persons

The Head of State is quite different from the Head of government. The Head of government is usually the Prime Minister, while the Head of State is the King or Queen.

Both have different functions to perform. The Prime Minister performs the executive functions while the King or Queen performs the ceremonial functions. The King or Queen is also called the ceremonial head. While the Prime Minister is also called Executive head.

The Executive and Legislature are fused

Under the parliamentary system, there is no difference between the Executive and Legislature. This is because the executive head also forms part of the parliament. The fact that both heads form part of the parliament means that both are the same.

In other words, all members of the Executive are also members of the Legislature. The head of the Executive is the Prime Minister and he is in power.

Let me make something clearer here. The Prime Minister (Head of government) in a cabinet system of government is like the Senate President in a presidential System of government. On the other hand, the King or Queen (Head of State) in a parliamentary system is like the president of a country in a presidential System.

In a presidential system, the president is the executive head and not a parliament member.

The Prime Minister appoints his cabinets

Just like the president appoints Ministers in a presidential System, the Prime Minister has the power to appoint his cabinets in a parliamentary system. Another name for these cabinets are ministers.

The Prime Minister also has the power to dismiss any of these ministers.

Existence of Principle of Collective Responsibility

The Principle of Collective Responsibility believes that any error by a cabinet member will cause all the members to resign. For instance, if a member of the cabinet defaults, all other ministers, including the defaulter, will go in for it by resigning.

Advantages of parliamentary system of government

  • Co-operation between the Executive and the Legislature
  • Flow of information
  • Less expensive economy

Let’s briefly explain each of the advantages.

Co-operation between the Executive and the Legislature

In the parliamentary system, there is more and better cooperation between the Legislative and Executive organs of government. Both work together to yield better results in the running of the government.

Easy flow of information

Since both arms are working together, information can easily disseminate between them. Moving motions and making policies won’t be hard since both arms push it together.

In a case where there is a need for both houses to perform a particular function together, it will easily be communicated and action is taken promptly.

Less expensive economy

The parliamentary system is less expensive. It involves fewer general election than the presidential system. Again, the president system has more political office holders, all of which are paid for from public funds.

Disadvantages of the cabinet system of government

  • Existence of doctorial tendencies
  • Fusion of powers
  • Problems of coalition

Let’s briefly explain each of these disadvantages.

Existence of doctorial tendencies

The Prime Minister and his ministers were regarded as colleagues in the past. The Prime Minister was merely the first among equals. But as it stands now, the powers of the Prime Minister is increasing. For example, he can appointment and also dismiss a minister. For this reason, no minister dare opposes his decisions without the prospect of losing his ministerial post.

Moreover, since he is the political party leader, every party member is expected to agree to his views. An over-ambitious Prime Minister can use this medium to make himself so powerful and oppress the common people.

Fusion of powers

Since the Executive and the Legislature are joined together, each arm will always influence the decisions of the other. It will also be hard for each of the arms to monitor and move against the mismanagement of powers by the other arm. In addition, the Executive can control the Legislature, and as a result the Legislature serves as an obedient rubber stamp to executive decisions.

Problems of coalition

The strength of the Executive under the Cabinet System of government depends on one party having a clear majority in the parliament. However, a clear majority is not always possible. Two or more parties must come together to form a coalition government. Each member of the parliament owes loyalty to his own party. For that reason, the coalition formed may be weak. Well, this situation always occurs in a country with many political parties.

For these reasons above, some countries have resolved to adopt other forms of government like the presidential system, the federal system, etc.

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