Parliamentary Form of Government: Its meaning and Features essay

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Parliamentary Form of Government: Its meaning and Features

Parliamentary form of Government or Cabinet system is an important and popular form of Government in modern democratic countries.

What is the meaning of 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.

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parliamentary government is broadly defined in the above way, in such a system the supremacy of the legislature has now been replaced by the supremacy of the Cabinet.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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4.  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.

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

  • Individual responsibility, and
  • Collective 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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 majority 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”.

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