Parliamentary government system

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Republican form of government:
  • presidential political system
  • semi-presidential system of government
  • Parliamentary government system
  • parliamentary executive power

  • Monarchical form of government:
  • parliamentary monarchy
  • Constitutional monarchy
  • Absolute Monarchy

  • Dictatorial systems (mostly in republics):
  • One-party system (although block parties may exist)
  • Constitutional government overthrown
    ( de facto mostly military dictatorships )

  • other systems or unclear
    political situations
  • Last updated 2012

    The parliamentary system of government is the term used to describe those forms of parliamentary systems of Western democracies in which the government is dependent on direct or indirect support from parliament for its election and for the exercise of its office . The two institutions are interlinked in terms of personnel and the parliament has distinctive powers, primarily the election and removal of the government. It is also important that the chairman of the government (i.e. the chief such as the chancellor or a prime minister ) is elected by parliament and has extended rights over the ministers.

    The alternative known type of democratic system of government is called presidential democracy with the prototype of the United States of America . The mixed form with elements of both types is called a semi-presidential system of government ; Today's Fifth French Republic is a striking example .

    Conceptual and institutional development

    The term “parliament” comes from the old French word “parlement” - to speak, to converse - from; as a name for the imperial assemblies of the Franconian kings it appears for the first time in the 12th century. In England in the 13th century, the conversation between the king and the estates was called “parliamentum”, which is the origin of today's parliamentarism . It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the word spread in Germany, but it still competes to a certain extent with terms like “day” or “assembly” (Bundestag, Landtag).

    Under the reign of King Alfonso IX. the “ Cortes ” of 1188 were held in the city of León . This was the first European parliament (Spanish Cortes , assembly of estates) with the participation of the third budget (the bourgeoisie of the cities). This parliament recognized the inviolability of private homes and the inviolability of the mail, as well as the need for the king to convene parliament to declare war or make peace. Various individual and collective rights were guaranteed. The Cortes of Benavente (in 1202) extended the basic and economic rights of the Kingdom of León and its inhabitants (Keane 2009: 169–176).

    The English system is generally regarded as the country of origin of parliamentarism, which has shown a continuous, 800-year, relatively uninterrupted evolution of political institutions towards the current system. With the formation of the English feudal system, the royal advisors developed into the “Council of the King” (curia regis) , which gradually acquired a say in tax collection, among other things. In the 13th century, this body was then around the "commons", i.e. H. Bourgeois (craftsmen, guild members, traders and knights) expanded, and thus a second chamber was established. The two chambers were gradually able to expand their rights in budget law. The budget law was thus one of the first competencies that the cores of future parliaments could gain from the monarchs, and through which they could influence other policy areas over and over again, even against the will of the monarchs (English power of the purse , " Power of the purse ”). With the exception of Russia, Denmark and Norway, it became generally accepted that the levying of taxes (beyond the feudal) could not be carried out without the consent of the persons concerned; the right of the estates to obtain tax permits remained in most countries into the 17th century (except in France , where they lost it again in 1440). The “Power of the Purse” thus helped parliaments to make themselves indispensable and led to a gradual concentration of sovereignty in parliaments.

    Configuration of the parliamentary system

    Depending on the approach, different authors have tried at different times to describe parliamentary systems. Political scientist Klaus von Beyme compiles the following catalog:

    1. A close connection between the executive and legislative branches, combined with the compatibility of parliamentary mandate and ministerial office (but is missing e.g. in Luxembourg or the Netherlands ).
    2. Prime ministers and other ministers usually come from parliament; For a long time, individual departments (foreign, defense and technical ministerial offices) had the tendency to attract experts from outside.
    3. The government must resign (“resign”) if the parliamentary majority withdraws its confidence (political or parliamentary ministerial responsibility); mostly a vote of no confidence developed , otherwise also a vote of confidence by the government, or a hostile vote / budget refusal by parliament.
    4. Parliament has the right to control the government through interpellations (formal inquiries) and to obtain information through other resources such as committees of inquiry. This will facilitate the decision on the application of the sanction; the budget law also sometimes served as a sanction.

    Classification of a parliamentary system

    Further possibilities for the classification of a system as "parliamentary":

    • The compatibility of parliamentary mandate and government office: In the parliamentary system, the wearing of a government office and a parliamentary mandate by the same person is legally permissible and also politically necessary. In some political systems, like that of the UK, ministers even have to come from the ranks of Parliament. This compatibility leads to a personal entanglement of the two state powers, the executive and the legislative, but does not affect their institutional division.
    • The removal of the government by the parliament: The function of government control is expressed in parliamentary systems primarily by the fact that the parliament is able to remove the government for political reasons. This is done through the so-called “no confidence vote”, which obliges the government to abdicate and leads to the election of the new head of government. This competence can also refer to individual ministers. The mandate to appoint a government, on the other hand, often lies with Parliament, but is not a mandatory part of this type of system. As a result of this, the government is dependent on parliament to maintain its office.
    • Dissolvability of parliament by the government: The government reserves the right to dissolve parliament. Thus, the parliament is also gradually dependent on the government, although the dissolution of the parliament in the parliamentary system results in the resignation of the government.

    Primary features

    The above configurations have certain effects on the cooperation between parliament and government and the internal structure of parliament:

    • Strict party and parliamentary group discipline : Since parliament and government are so interdependent, it is essential for a stable government that the head of government has his party or parliamentary group under control. In contrast to presidential systems, parliamentarians are bound in favor of their own party or faction and to the detriment of the respective constituency. On the other hand, there is the principle of the free mandate , which grants the MPs freedom of conscience in individual decisions.
    • The government majority : The government majority is the number of members of parliament who keep the government in office through their support. It thus includes all members of the government, members of the ruling party and possibly the coalition parties. In presidential systems, where the government and its head are independent of parliamentary majorities , there is no such government majority.
    • The clearly recognizable opposition in parliament: In return for the government majority, there is also a recognizable opposition in parliament. In other words, there is a clear distinction between the government and the opposition in parliament. In the presidential system, this distinction is of no great importance, since there the president rules with so-called ad hoc majorities - that is, with a majority only for the respective decision and largely independent of structural party and coalition boundaries. The opposition brings its position to the parliamentary process and thereby contributes to the control of government work. Depending on the party system in question, it can even provide a counter-government for a possible change of government, such as the shadow cabinet in the British lower house.

    Secondary features

    • The double head of the executive : In parliamentary systems that knows executive two heads: In addition to the government kicking leader . In contrast to the presidential system , these offices are inevitably two different organs (see example in Switzerland ), each with its own legitimation. In monarchies the head of state is the monarch; the office is inherited, except in electoral monarchies. In republics, on the other hand, he is elected, either directly by the people or by delegates to an assembly. The head of government is elected in both cases.

    Parliamentary republic

    The term parliamentary republic often refers to the republican form of the parliamentary system of government. Sometimes it is also used for the general classification of a ( semi-presidential ) republic with a relevant parliament. In the first case, the tasks of the head of state , who is not a monarch, but is determined by election, primarily represent the state internally and externally. In addition to the strong position of the head of government, it is also characteristic that the prime minister is elected by parliament and appoints the ministers in his cabinet . In contrast to the presidential system, the government is directly dependent on the confidence of parliament . The principle underlying this distribution of power is parliamentarism.

    Since the concept of the parliamentary republic is heterogeneous, it is not enough to look at the relevant legal texts. The distribution of competencies is largely determined by the assertiveness of individuals in political offices. Accordingly, there are the following categories:

    Executive cooperation
    It is an equal distribution of influence between the two executive organs, government and head of state. It can be found in Italy or Austria , for example .
    Chancellor domination
    One speaks of chancellor dominance (also chancellor democracy ) when the head of government appears as a decisive political actor. In the Federal Republic of Germany one always speaks of chancellor dominance in periods when the current chancellor appears as a strong personality; in the times of Konrad Adenauer or Helmut Schmidt . The era of Kurt Georg Kiesinger is a much-cited counterexample .
    Congregation dominance
    This subtype of the parliamentary system describes the dominant position of parliament in the state, but is rarely found today. In Switzerland it can be said that the parliament elects the members of the Federal Council (the Swiss government), which is relatively weak from the point of view of checks and balances (Art. 175 Federal Constitution ); in the legislative process, on the other hand, the legislative competence of parliament is tied back by the possibility of forcing referenda on laws (Art. 138 ff. BV) ( direct democracy ).

    Parliamentary monarchy

    Within the monarchical form of the parliamentary system of government, the monarch cannot set the tone, as he lacks the obligatory democratic legitimation to do so. Instead, it largely takes on representative functions. Even in monarchies, whose laws guarantee the monarch extensive powers, he hardly takes any notice of them. The head of government elected by parliament is dominant here . In this context one speaks of a parliamentary monarchy .

    The role of parliament

    It is a well-known paradox that parliament has little room for maneuver, particularly in parliamentary systems. The following breakdown is intended to explain this fact:

    Labor parliament
    One speaks of working parliaments when, in addition to passing laws , the parliament is also significantly involved in drafting and introducing them into the parliamentary debate. Parliament uses its committees for this .
    Speech parliament
    If the parliament is functionally restricted to legislative decisions and leaves the work largely to the government, it is called a speech parliament. It is precisely this type that can often be found in parliamentary democracies. As the fact that the government is dependent on parliament is subject to strong parliamentary group discipline, parliament is limited in its ability to work against the government. After all, this has a majority in parliament and therefore, as a rule, does not have to expect strong parliamentary opposition. In this case, Parliament largely confines itself to debates. However, since, as described above, the members of the government largely belong to the parliament, it exercises government control through questioning.


    • Ernst Fraenkel , Karl-Dietrich Bracher (Ed.): State and Politics , Das Fischer Lexikon, Vol. 2, Frankfurt am Main 1964.
    • Jürgen Hartmann (Ed.): Western systems of government, parliamentarism, presidential and semi-presidential system of government. From: Basic knowledge of politics, vol. 29, Opladen 2000.
    • John Keane (Australian political scientist, WZB Berlin): The Life and Death of Democracy , London 2009.
    • Stefan Marschall : Parliamentarism. An introduction. Nomos 2005.
    • Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics , Vol. 5: Terms, Munich 1998.
    • Winfried Steffani : Parliamentary and presidential democracy. Structural Aspects of Western Democracies , Opladen 1979.
    • Winfried Steffani (Ed.): Government majority and opposition in the states of the EC. Opladen 1991.
    • Winfried Steffani (ed.): To distinguish between parliamentary and presidential systems of government. In: Journal for Parliamentary Issues, 14th vol. (1983), Issue 3, pp. 390–401.
    • Uwe Thaysen, Roger H. Davidson, Robert G. Livingstone (eds.): US Congress and German Bundestag. Comparison of the current situation , Opladen 1988.
    • Quirin Weber: Parliament - Place of Political Decision? Legitimation problems of modern parliamentarism - illustrated using the example of the Federal Republic of Germany , Basel 2011, ISBN 978-3-7190-3123-7 .

    Web links

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ The Decreta of León of 1188 - The oldest documentary manifestation of the European parliamentary system . UNESCO Memory of the World. 2013. Retrieved May 21, 2016.