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3.4] Parliamentary System

In a representative democracy, the two dominant political systems are presidential and parliamentary system. India follows a parliamentary system of government, where the executive branch derives its legitimacy from and is accountable to the legislature. We can make following comparison between the presidential and parliamentary system of governance.

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FeatureParliamentary SystemPresidential System
Executive Selection and RolePrime Minister (head of govt.) is typically the leader of the majority party or coalition in the legislature. He is appointed by the head of state (president or monarch) and is accountable to the legislature. President is often, a nominal head of the state, and enjoy no real powers.President is the head of government, and is elected directly by the people. The President has significant executive powers, including the ability to veto legislation.
Separation of PowersThere is a fusion of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The Prime Minister and other ministers are drawn from the legislature, blurring the lines between the two branches.There is a strict separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The President and their administration operate independently of the legislature.
Legislative FunctionThe executive is accountable to the legislature, and the Prime Minister and their Cabinet must maintain the support of the majority in the legislature to remain in power.The legislature and executive are independent of each other. President is not required to maintain the support of the legislature to remain in office.
Flexibility and StabilityThe parliamentary system is often more flexible and hence also unstable. Governments can be formed and dissolved relatively easily through votes of no confidence or floor test.The presidential system is often more stable, as the President serves a fixed term and cannot be easily removed from office. However, this stability can sometimes lead to gridlock if there is a divided government.
Role of OppositionThe opposition plays a crucial role in holding the government accountable through debates, questioning, and votes of no confidence. The opposition may form an alternative government if it gains majority support.The opposition may have limited power to influence the executive, as the President and their administration operate independently of the legislature.

Note: The above comparison is based primarily by comparing the Indian and the American political system. In practice, there can be many variants of the presidential/parliamentary system, and the details may vary accordingly.

Apart from Parliamentary and Presidential form of democracy, there also exists another type i.e Semi Presidential System. In such system, the president is not the nominal head but enjoys significant powers. Many European countries like France, Finland, Portugal have this type of system.

Why Constituent Makers Chose Parliamentary System?

  1. Through the British acts of 1919 and 1935, India had already some experience with the parliamentary system of governance.
  2. Constitution makers also felt that since the executives are accountable to people’s representatives in parliamentary system, the government would remain sensitive to public expectations.
  3. There is always a danger of personality cult in presidential executive.
  4. In the parliamentary form there are many mechanisms that ensure that the executive will be answerable to and controlled by the legislature or people’s representatives.
  5. It is considered to be more representative. Because of the concept of plural executive i.e. Prime Minister (PM) and Council of Ministers (CoM). It is also supposed to be more democratic. It ensures the accountability of the government on day-to-day basis.

In practice, only USA have a thriving presidential system. In many third world countries, the presidential system has paved way for authoritarianism. Thus, Indian constitution makers were wise in adapting a parliamentary system for Indian democracy.

Posted in PSIR NOTES

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