Parliamentary Democracy Facts
While the U.S. has a presidential democracy with an independently-elected executive, most democracies around the world use a parliamentary system as opposed to the U.S. presidential system. In many parliamentary democracies such as the UK, voters rank all parliamentary candidates in order of their preference, rather than choosing one individual. The leader of the party that holds the majority of seats in parliament after elections becomes the chief executive of the government.
1 Legislative Supremacy
Parliament holds the most power in parliamentary democracies. Rather than being elected directly by the nation's people, the head of government is chosen by the parliament and remains in office subject to their continued support. Parliament legislates by majority vote. Although legislation requires the head of state's signature, that individual typically does not have the power to veto acts of parliament. Parliament continually reviews the work of government and debates national and international issues. In the UK, for example, the prime minister must publicly answer questions in the House of Commons on a weekly basis.
2 Majority Rule
Executive officers in parliamentary democracies don't enjoy a fixed or guaranteed term of office. At the same time, there are no restrictions on the continued re-election of the prime minister. Government ministers remain in office as long as they continue to have support and approval from a majority of the members of parliament. If parliament issues a vote of no confidence against the prime minister, the government dissolves and elections are called immediately. Proponents of the parliamentary system argue that it is more efficient than presidential systems -- like that of the U.S. -- because the prime minister is always a member of the legislative majority, eliminating potential government gridlock.
3 Party Politics
Members of parliament organize themselves by political party affiliation. The party that makes up the majority of the parliament's membership selects the prime minister, who then selects the ministers of the various government departments. In the UK, the second largest party becomes known as the Opposition, with its own leader and opposition ministers known as the shadow cabinet. In the event a single party doesn't constitute a majority, separate parties that share similar goals and interests create a coalition and select ministers from among their total membership.
4 Power to the People
Parliamentary elections mean the government is directly responsive to the will of the people. If people are dissatisfied with the government, electing new parliamentary representatives may result in that government losing its hold on the majority. When this happens, the government is voted out of office immediately. Advocates believe this makes the parliamentary system more democratic than the presidential system because it responds more rapidly to popular influence. In a presidential system, government officials serve fixed terms, regardless of how their constituents feel about their performance.