‘Parliamentary democracy, democratic form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the Parliament (legislature) forms the government, its leader becoming Prime Minister. Executive functions are exercised by members of the Parliament appointed by the Prime Minister to the cabinet. The parties in the minority serve in opposition to the majority and have the duty to challenge it regularly’. It is also known as Cabinet Form of Government with ministerial responsibility. The Constitution of India sets up parliamentary form of government to both the union and the states. Indian system is a legacy of the British rule and follows the English Parliamentary System.
Characteristic Features of Parliamentary Democracy
Parliamentary democracy has certain important features which are:
- Dual Executive
In the parliamentary democracy, there are two executives namely, the titular head and the real executive head. The former is the head of the state and the latter is the head of the government. In India, the President is the titular head and the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers is the real executive head. Constitution regulates the relationship between the two.
- Bicameral Legislature
In the parliamentary democracy, there are two Houses namely, the Council of States and the House of the People.
- Responsible Government
A responsible government is one which is responsible to the people. It is essential that the government enjoys the confidence of the Parliament for making laws to govern the country. Responsible government refers to two elements of parliamentary government in British derived parliamentary systems. First, the government— Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, is accountable to the Lower House of Parliament. Hence, the government must maintain majority support in the Lower House; loss of that support means that the government must resign. In this sense, responsible government is another term for parliamentary government; a ministry is ‘responsible’ to Parliament for the activities of government and must resign if it loses the confidence of the lower house. Thus, a government whose accountability to people is ensured through the answerability to the Houses of the Parliament for all its acts, is a ‘Responsible Government’.
- Ministerial Responsibility
The parliamentary form of government is otherwise known as ‘Cabinet Form of Government with Ministerial Responsibility’. The collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the House of People for all acts of commission and omission of the government and the individual minister being answerable to the Houses of Parliament for the performance of the ministry/department in his charge are two dimensions of ministerial responsibility.
- Weak Separation of Powers
Montesquieu, a French social and political philosopher coined the term ‘separation of powers’ in his book ‘Spirit of the Laws’. According to him, the political authority of the state is divided into legislative, executive and judicial powers in order to promote liberty most effectively. Separation of powers is an essential element of the Rule of Law and limits one branch from exercising the core functions of another and prevents the concentration of power and provides for checks and balances. The legislature enacts the laws, the executive implements and administers the law and public policy and the judiciary interprets the constitution and laws and decide disputes. In the presidential form of government there is a complete separation of powers. However, this arrangement is weak in the parliamentary system. ‘The parliamentary government has a sort of link between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.’ In the parliamentary system there is a strong executive branch government but answerable to and controlled by the legislature.
- Continuous coordination of Legislature and Executive
‘The presidential government has complete separation of powers of the three principal organs of the state, each embodying the sovereignty of the people in the different aspects of the state’s activities and there is no link between them.’ Hence, in this form the executive is pivoted on the President and he is the chief executive and the source of all executive power. In such a system the imminent danger of personality cult is unavoidable. As a consequence, there is a need for continuous coordination of the executive and legislature. This is a natural feature in the parliamentary form of government as there is no complete separation of powers. Furthermore, given the low rate of literacy and low level of political socialization in India it would be difficult to resolve any conflict between the three organs of the government. The coordination system inherent to the parliamentary form helps resolving such conflicts by itself without the citizen playing a role. To quote Shri K. Hanumanthaiya, ‘Instead of having a conflicting trinity it is better to have a harmonious governmental structure’.
- Complete and Continuous Responsibility of Executive to Legislature
The founding fathers wanted to establish a responsible and accountable government; they wanted the government to be sensitive to public expectations, hence, they had chosen the parliamentary form of government. The ‘complete and continuous responsibility’ of the executive to the Parliament is the most distinctive characteristic feature of a parliamentary democracy. Hence, the parliamentary system of government is also known as cabinet form of government with ministerial responsibility. According to M. V. Pylee, the parliamentary system works under the ‘principle of concentrated authority under strict control’. This on the one hand enables an ‘intimate cooperation’ between the Council of Ministers and the Parliament and on the other fixes’ responsibility of the council to the Parliament. Hence, the council is under the constant vigil of the Parliament which is the ‘real merit’ of the Parliament system.