A government which is structured as a parliamentary democracy allows for representatives to be selected from specific legislative districts. Once selected, these representatives come together into a congressional body or structure of some type to create the necessary regulations and laws that help to keep the government and society protected and operational.
The primary difference with a parliamentary democracy, when compared to other types of democracy, is that the leader of the government is elected from the majority party within the congressional body. It is the representatives who choose this leader, not the people of the country.
A parliamentary democracy may be setup as a constitutional monarchy as well, which means the monarch is the head of state, while the selected representative serves as the head of government.
They may also be parliamentary republics, where a President is the head of state, though in a ceremonial position.
The top pros and cons of a parliamentary democracy are important to examine because there are benefits and disadvantages which come with this societal structure. Here are some key points to think about.
List of the Top Pros of a Parliamentary Democracy
1. This government structure mandates accountability.
Some governments create balance by distributing power throughout different branches of government. The United States, for example, divides power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In a parliamentary democracy, the balance of power is typically maintained through negotiated coalitions as no one party can usually assume complete control.
That structure means the elected representatives can be voted out of office if they are not performing to expected levels.
2. A parliamentary democracy allows for specific elections to be held.
In the United States, a recall election is the only method available to people who feel like their elected official is not meeting their needs. Not every elected position qualifies for the recall process. Just 14 state constitutions in the U.S. allow for this process to take place.
Within a parliamentary democracy, the people have more power in the ability to demand a new election. Assuming that the government has been in power long enough to reach the next election window, voters can put pressure on the head of state or the head of government to begin a new election.
3. Parliamentary democracies are designed to create compromise.
In a one-party system, the only debate which occurs within a government is an internal one. In a two-party system, the lack of compromise leads to political gridlock whenever one party doesn’t have enough power to pass legislation. Within a parliamentary democracy, multiple parties exist, so having one party with a pure majority can be rare. That leads to the need to build political coalitions.
Having a head of government and a head of state creates the need for compromise as well. If the head of state disagrees with a political process, the head of government must negotiate a path forward.
4. This government type allows everyone to participate.
Parliamentary democracies are structured in a way which allows almost anyone to form their own political party. They may choose to form it off of specific social issues, such as abortion or immigration. They could form it off of specific governing issues too, like having a balanced budget or to seek tax reform. When enough people come together on these issues, a political party forms and can win representation within the government.
5. It allows for a more diverse form of governing.
Because more political parties are typically active within a parliamentary democracy, there are more ideas offered for debate during each governing session. Different backgrounds contribute different experiences to the debate, allowing the government to find a central path which helps the most people with legislation and regulation. No one is forced into a specific party platform to which they disagree. That means every representative can vote with their conscience and the conscience of their district or community.
6. Parliamentary democracies reduce societal divides.
As a general rule, humans like to congregate with other like-minded humans. In a two-party system, that means you either agree and can be a friend, or you disagree and can be a rival. With multiple party platforms, more perspectives, and more debate because of this government structure, societal divides are reduced. Communities and their elected representative are encouraged to seek out common ground rather than seek out key points of division.
7. It is a government type which consistently governs.
In the United States, the approval rate for Congress has hovered around 20% for nearly a decade. According to Gallup, in November 2013, the approval rating reached an all-time low of just 9%. The last time the Congressional approval rating was at 50% or higher was in June 2003. By comparison, the approval ratings for parliament in the U.K. are consistently around 40%, with similar historic boosts to the U.S. Congress occurring during times of conflict.
8. There is more stability within the government.
From 1976-2006, there were only 35 states which were able to maintain a stable, continuous democracy globally. The Freedom House political index notes that 90% of these states were parliamentary systems. The only other continuous democracies are in Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States – and even some of those have had questionable outcomes. They are less likely to experience military coups, while reducing the risks of dictatorships forming or clashes between the executive branch and the judicial branch of the government.
No single presidential system is ranked within the Top 10 of the World Bank’s government efficiency index. The U.S. is the top-ranked presidential system in the world and it comes in at 11th.
9. It is a responsible form of government.
One of the unique aspects of the parliamentary democracy is the no-confidence vote. This mechanism, which is not usually found in presidential systems, allows for the government to be unseated if it has lost the support of parliament. In the U.S., a no-confidence vote could take place regarding the executive office, but that action would not unseat the administration.
With this structure, ineffective governing can be immediately countered, allowing for a quicker replacement when there is a lack of responsibility present.
List of the Top Cons of a Parliamentary Democracy
1. Election decisions are often based on the party in power.
When people are unhappy with the direction their government is going, elected officials are generally voted out of office. This phenomenon occurs even if the elected official is part of a minority party. The actions of the majority party or a negotiated coalition, along with the actions of the head of government, dictate voting decisions more than individual actions within this government structure type.
2. Parliamentary democracies can have inconsistent leadership.
The Speaker of the House in the United States is elected through a process that is very similar to that of a parliamentary democracy. Once representatives are elected, it is the elected officials who decide which one of them will become the third person in the chain-of-command for succession of leadership.
There have been 45 presidents elected in the history of the United States. In comparison, there have been 54 people who have served as Speaker of the House.
This negative occurs because a new Speaker is elected whenever a new majority party comes into power. The same phenomenon occurs for the head of government in a formal parliamentary democracy. Because there is inconsistent leadership at the top, socioeconomic inconsistencies can develop over time as policies and regulations shift and change.
3. Direct representation is limited in a parliamentary democracy.
There is an advantage with this government type in that communities can elect representatives. That advantage is somewhat muted, however, if a coalition must be formed to create a majority within the government. As a general rule, the people of a country are not privy to the negotiations that occur between the political parties. They may elect someone because of specific social issues, which then are removed from the party platform after the election through the formation of a coalition.
4. It is a government structure that is easier to manipulate.
There are several levels of power that are found within the structures of a parliamentary democracy. You have the head of government. You have the head of state. You may also have an assistant PM or someone serving in a role that is similar to a Vice President. Any of these individuals may have the power to make unilateral decisions on behalf of everyone in the country. In severe instances, these officials could even stage a coup to take over permanent control of the government.
5. Election schedules are often unpredictable and politically motivated.
Prime Minister Theresa May called an early election in the United Kingdom in 2017 after the Brexit vote. She was unapologetic about the reasons behind the call for the election. May wanted to shore up support for her party in the government, allowing her to have more control over the direction of the country.
The election schedule of a parliamentary democracy is often different than in other democracies. Instead of having them held at specific times, they must be held within a specific period of time.
6. Parliamentary democracies operate as a court government.
Within a parliamentary democracy, there still exists the potential of a court government forming. The elected members of the government could decide that they require additional power, so they could pass legislation which allows them to do so. This allows the government to escape accountability for specific actions that may occur during their time governing. It is also sometimes used as a way to consolidate power to limit the effectiveness of future elections.
7. Multiple parties are not a guarantee of multiple perspectives.
Having diversity within the government may be more likely within a parliamentary government. Many governments, however, work to suppress diversity through its voting structures. There is an emphasis on party discipline found within a parliamentary democracy, just as there is within most other forms of government. Votes can still be whipped, which suppresses the influence of local issues or voices during the voting process. When this occurs, it impairs the representation which is achieved.
8. It can be an unstable form of government.
Historically, parliamentary governments are the most stable form of democracy in the world. This government type can be unstable, however, if no majority support can be achieved within the parliament. This is called a “hung parliament.” When no majority is formed, a coalition between 2+ political parties must take place. Negotiations to form such a coalition between certain parties can be lengthy and extensive.
David Cameron took 5 days to work out a deal to prevent a hung parliament in 2010. For some governments, the process to resolve such a conflict has stretched out for more than 800 days.
The top pros and cons of a parliamentary democracy offer the benefit of having elected officials represent specific communities and districts within the government. That representation guarantees that everyone can have a voice in the direction of their country. This government structure type also makes it more difficult for the people to have a say in their leadership, which means some may feel like they have less participation available to them when compared to other democracies.
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