Advantages & Disadvantages of a Parliamentary System
Advantages of a parliamentary system
One of the commonly attributed advantages to parliamentary systems is that it’s faster and easier to pass legislation.
This is because the executive branch is dependent upon the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and often includes members of the legislature. Thus, this would amount to the executive (as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature) possessing more votes in order to pass legislation.
In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and legislature in such a system include members entirely or predominantly from different political parties, then stalemate can occur. Accordingly, the executive within a presidential system might not be able to properly implement his or her platform/manifesto.
Evidently, an executive in any system (be it parliamentary, presidential or semi-presidential) is chiefly voted into office on the basis of his or her party’s platform/manifesto. It could be said then that the will of the people is more easily instituted within a parliamentary system.
In addition to quicken legislative action, Parliamentarianism has attractive features for nations that are ethnically, racially, or ideologically divided. In a uni-personal presidential system, all executive power is concentrated in the president.
In a parliamentary system, with a collegial executive, power is more divided. It can also be argued that power is more evenly spread out in the power structure of parliamentarianism. The prime minister seldom tends to have as high importance as a ruling president, and there tends to be a higher focus on voting for a party and its political ideas than voting for an actual person.
Parliamentarianism has been praised for producing serious debates, for allowing the change in power without an election, and for allowing elections at any time
The four-year election rule of the United States to be by some to be unnatural.
There is also a body of scholarship, associated with Juan Linz, Fred Riggs, Bruce Ackerman, and Robert Dahl that claims that parliamentarianism is less prone to authoritarian collapse. These scholars point out that since World War II, two-thirds of Third World countries establishing parliamentary governments successfully made the transition to democracy. By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns.
Criticisms of parliamentarianism
One main criticism and benefits of many parliamentary systems is that the head of government is in almost all cases not directly elected.
In a presidential system, the president is usually chosen directly by the electorate, or by a set of electors directly chosen by the people, separate from the legislature. However, in a parliamentary system the prime minister is elected by the legislature, often under the strong influence of the party leadership. Thus, a party’s candidate for the head of government is usually known before the election, possibly making the election as much about the person as the party behind him or her.
Another major criticism of the parliamentary system lies precisely in its purported advantage: that there is no truly independent body to oppose and veto legislation passed by the parliament, and therefore no substantial check on legislative power (see tyranny of the majority). Conversely, because of the lack of inherent separation of powers, some believe that a parliamentary system can place too much power in the executive entity, leading to the feeling that the legislature or judiciary have little scope to administer checks or balances on the executive. However, parliamentary systems may be bicameral, with an upper house designed to check the power of the lower (from which the executive comes).
Although it is possible to have a powerful prime minister, as Britain has, or even a dominant party system, as Japan has, parliamentary systems are also sometimes unstable. Critics point to Israel, Italy, Canada, the French Fourth Republic, and Weimar Germany as examples of parliamentary systems where unstable coalitions, demanding minority parties, votes of no confidence, and threats of such votes, make or have made effective governance impossible. Defenders of parliamentarianism say that parliamentary instability is the result of proportional representation, political culture, and highly polarized electorates.
Although parliamentarianism has been praised for allowing an election to take place at any time, the lack of a definite election calendar can be abused.
In some systems, such as the British, a ruling party can schedule elections when it feels that it is likely to do well, and so avoid elections at times of unpopularity. Thus, by wise timing of elections, in a parliamentary system a party can extend its rule for longer than is feasible in a functioning presidential system. This problem can be alleviated somewhat by setting fixed dates for parliamentary elections, as is the case in several of Australia’s state parliaments. In other systems, such as the Dutch and the Belgian, the ruling party or coalition has some flexibility in determining the election date. Conversely, flexibility in the timing of parliamentary elections avoids having periods of legislative gridlock that can occur in a fixed period presidential system.
It has been argued that elections at set intervals are a means of insulating the government from the transient passions of the people, and thereby giving reason the advantage over passion in the accountability of the government to the people
Critics of parliamentary systems point out that people with significant popular support in the community are prevented from becoming prime minister if they cannot get elected to parliament since there is no option to “run for prime minister” like one can run for president under a presidential system.
Additionally, prime ministers may lose their positions solely because they lose their seats in parliament, even though they may still be popular nationally. Supporters of parliamentarianism can respond by saying that as members of parliament, prime ministers are elected firstly to represent their electoral constituents and if they lose their support then consequently they are no longer entitled to be prime minister. In parliamentary systems, the role of the statesman who represents the country as a whole goes to the separate position of head of state, which is generally non-executive and non-partisan. Promising politicians in parliamentary systems likewise are normally preselected for safe seats – ones that are unlikely to be lost at the next election – which allows them to focus instead on their political career.