Characteristics of a parliamentary form of government

A parliamentary system of government is a type of democracy. It shares democratic features that also occur in a direct democracy such as Switzerland or a presidential democracy such as the United States. Basic principles that are common to democracies include a separation of powers, a constitution, rule of law, free elections and multiple political parties. Although a parliamentary system includes these things, there are specific characteristics that set it apart from other democracies.


In a parliamentary system of government, the Head of State and the leader of the government are two different people, as opposed to a presidential system where both roles are filled by the president, or a direct democracy where these roles are filled by the people through voting on referendums. Often times the head of the government is the Prime Minister and the head of state is part of a monarchy. For example, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy which operates under a parliamentary form of government with a Prime Minister and the Queen of England as the head of state.


The executive part of a parliamentary form of government includes the Prime Minister and a group of advisers, often referred to as ministers individually or the Cabinet collectively. The Cabinet of Ministers typically belong to the majority party of the parliament because they are appointed by them. The parliament also holds the power to remove an individual or all of the cabinet members. Additionally, cabinet members must be elected members of parliament. They take on executive powers in addition to their legislative role in parliament.


The parliament is the legislative branch of a parliamentary form of government. They are responsible for debating and voting on laws. If there is a majority, the bill will instantly become a law because it does not need the approval nor can it be vetoed by the prime minister. Typically the parliament is bicameral with two houses or chambers. However, in smaller countries the parliament may be unicameral with only one house. The members of parliament are the only members of a parliamentary government that are elected by the people.


In a parliamentary system the parliament holds the most power out of other roles of the government because it rules by the majority. Similarly, because of being ruled by the majority party, a parliamentary form of government remains free of effective checks and balances. In the event that a majority is not formed, the parliament may be dissolved by the prime minister and new elections would be held. Conversely, if the parliament is unhappy with the prime minister, they may vote to remove him.

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About the Author

Jessica Morelock began her professional writing career in 2007, after a three-year stint as a producer and co-host on Sirius Satellite Radio. She has also worked for the airline industry and as a travel agent. She completed a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.