Government » Structure and Systems of Government » Parliamentary System of Government

Characteristics of Parliamentary System

Characteristics of Parliamentary System

A parliamentary system may be either bicameral, with two chambers of parliament (or houses) or unicameral, with just one parliamentary chamber. In the case of a bicameral parliament, this is usually characterised by an elected lower house that has the power to determine the executive government and an upper house which may be appointed or elected through a different mechanism from the lower house.

Implementations of the parliamentary system can also differ on the manner of how the prime minister and government are appointed and as to whether the government needs the explicit approval of the parliament, rather than just the absence of its disapproval. Some countries such as India also require the prime minister to be a member of the legislature, though in other countries this only exists as a convention.

Formation of Cabinet

When the general election is over and the prime minister is elected, then the prime minister nominates her council of ministers or cabinet. This responsibility of the prime minister is of prime significance. The list of ministers is presented before the head of state for her approval. They are commonly taken from the party’s ring leadership. Well-experienced, alert and learned members are given preference because of the sensitive nature of the parliamentary system.

Team Work Spirit

In parliamentary system all ministers work with a team spirit. They must agree on an issue in a cabinet meeting and because of different opinions, the minister concerned must resign or he is expelled from the cabinet. All differences must be kept secret. The cabinet members are in the same boat and they either swim together or sink together.

Supremacy of Premier

In ministerial or parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is very important and has too many powers. In the legislature, he or she is leader of the house while in executive he or she is leader of the council of ministers. The Prime Minister is to appoint, remove, allot portfolios and supervise the activities of his or her ministers. He or she acts as a bridge between cabinet and president. On his or her resignation, the council of ministers must resign. 

Coordination of Powers

It is the basic principle of this system that two organs, legislature and executive share their powers. In this system, both the organs (legislature and executive) are dependent upon each other. In different constitutional ways, they interfere with each other affairs. For example, bills are presented in the legislature by the ministers. They can take part in legislation, address legislature, call meetings and even to dissolve the lower house etc. On the other hand, parliament can question the activities of the cabinet members, present various motions and to remove cabinet through no confidence. Both government organs have strong checks upon each other.

Political Collective Responsibility

It is another significant attribute of the parliamentary system that cabinet is collectively accountable to legislature. The activities of the cabinet can be questioned and checked by legislature through various constitutional means. Ministers remain in office as long as they enjoy confidence in legislature.  In a case of no confidence in a single minister, the whole cabinet must resign. A bill presented by a minister must be supported by all ministers because its defeat means no-confidence in the whole cabinet. Cabinet members (ministers) are responsible before people through their elected representatives. People can present their grievances through their representatives and ministers are accountable before the people.


The term of the cabinet is fixed by the constitution but not in a rigid sense. A minister may be removed or changed any time. Parliament can be dissolved during national emergencies. If the parliament is dissolved, the government no longer remains in office. The parliament, through no-confidence movement against any particular minister, the prime minister or against the whole cabinet, can remove government. Therefore, the term of a parliamentary government is uncertain.

Two Executives

Another characteristic of parliamentary system is, that there are two type of executives i.e. titular executive and real executive. Titular executive is head of the state, for example, the President of Pakistan. This type of executive is merely a symbolic or constitutional head of state. The second is the real executive who can exercise real powers of the state and is head of government, for example, the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Summary of Features

  • The Parliamentary system of government operates the dual executive. It is also called the bicephalous executive. There is a head of state who performs the ceremonial functions and a head of government who performs the governmental functions.
  • It is based on the concept of fusion of powers between the executive and the legislature meaning that the members of the executive are at the same time time, members of the legislature.
  • Members of the executive arm are made equally responsible and accountable to legislature. In fact, they could be forced to collectively resign their position where they no longer enjoy the support of the legislature.
  • This system operates under the principle that parliament is supreme.
  • In the Parliamentary system, the executive does not have a fixed term of office and a vote of no confidence can be used to force the cabinet to step down.
  • Members of parliament are not expected to deviate from the goals and policies of their party and are not allowed to openly criticize their party.
  • There is an official recognition of an official opposition which puts the ruling government in check by monitoring its work and waits in line so that when a need arises, it could become the next government.

[Attributions and Licenses]

This is a lesson from the tutorial, Structure and Systems of Government and you are encouraged to log in or register, so that you can track your progress.

Log In

Share Thoughts