What is a Parliamentary Government?

Following the city officials of Ancient Greece and the senators of Ancient Rome, a parliamentary government system is one of the oldest forms of democracy. It dates back centuries, but to see modern examples of this form of government at work, one only has to look to countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Pakistan and India, among others. In fact, this is one of the most common forms of governments among today’s First World nations. But what exactly is this form of government, and how precisely does it work? Put in the simplest of terms, a parliamentary government is where the laws and primary decisions of a country are made by a governing body known as the “parliament”– a group of people individually elected by the citizens of said country. Of course, the full explanation is a little more complicated than that and requires more detailed explanation. So, let’s start with the beginnings of this form of government and go from there:

The History Behind Parliamentary Governments

Though democracy itself can be traced back much further (as mentioned above, it dates back to ancient times), “parliament” was first be seen getting its origin in the year 1066, when a feudal system was established in England. With this system, the monarch sought the advice of a council of established and high-ranking people before they could make laws. However, as the years and centuries went on, this council grew to become more powerful and gradually restricted the governing abilities of the monarch. After the Magna Carta agreement of 1215, England’s monarchs became further restricted by the council, whose permission they now had to seek in order to collect taxes and pass certain laws. This council soon developed into “parliament”.

Nevertheless, the modern form of the parliamentary governments seen today dates back to the early 1700s. More particularly, this system derives its origins from the former Kingdom of Great Britain (which ran from 1707 to 1800) and the Swedish government during the country’s “Age of Liberty” (running from 1718 to 1772). For example, prior to the early 1700s, monarchs still greatly influenced who was selected to parliament seats. In fact, elections themselves were often held with short notice and despite progress having been made over the years, it was practically impossible for lower-standing citizens to petition for a position. But it was the unpopular reign of George I in England that provoked political change. The monarch’s power was further decreased, and the concept of a prime minister being elected along with parliament members was introduced. Sweden soon followed suit.

Parliamentary Government vs. Presidential Democracy

Those who are more familiar with governments headed by a president may be a bit confused as to how a parliamentary government functions as opposed to their own form of democracy. For one thing, most parliamentary governments have a prime minister in lieu of a president, but– while comparable– their roles are not exactly the same. A prime minister’s role is to serve as the most senior member of the executive branch of government. Needing first to be elected by the people as a member of parliament and then being selected by parliament to take on the role of prime minister, this person is a part of the legislature. By contrast, the president of a democracy (for example, the president of the United States) is not a part of legislature but rather elected separately by the people to work with legislature.

Different forms of parliamentary governments

Now, even though a parliamentary government is itself a form of the more broader form of government known as democracy, it can still be divided into different, more particular systems:

-Constitutional Monarchy- This is where a country still maintains a monarchy, but said monarchy serves only as the ceremonial head of state. They do not serve as a part of legislature, and the country is instead run by elected officials. This also happens to be the most familiar form of a parliamentary government, with the United Kingdom being an example.

-Parliamentary Republic- This is where a country has a largely ceremonial head of state and is instead run by an elected head of government who usually comes from the legislature (in cases where they are not directly from legislature, they still are held accountable to this governing body). Germany’s system is an example of this form of parliamentary government.

Parliamentary governments around the world

As mentioned, this is a popular form of democracy, and it has only grown around the world since its establishment. Most European countries are now run by parliamentary governments, though it is now seen on virtually every continent (as a side note, most South American countries now operate on presidential democracies). While parliamentary governments themselves seem here to stay for a while, there is the possibility of constitutional monarchies slowly losing favor. Multiple countries that started out with such systems now have parliamentary republics. In countries like Great Britain, for example, public polls on whether or not the ceremonial monarch should remain are commonplace (currently, however, the monarchy is in favor).



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