Parliamentary democracy is a democratic system where voters choose representatives to sit in Parliament and rule them. Supporters maintain that elected representatives are (hopefully?) more intelligent than typical voters. Since elected representatives work with Politics full-time they almost certainly understand the political system better than a typical voter.

Systems of parliamentary democracy

There are many different voting systems that can be used in Parliamentary democracies. The "first past the post" system as in the United Kingdom frequently results in one party with a majority sufficient to govern alone, but often as is usual in the UK the Government gets a majority of the seats even though the majority of those who voted voted for other parties. By contrast under proportional representation (PR) systems the party or parties that form a majority Government almost always have been voted for by more than half of those who voted.

Different electoral systems have very different effects, not only on how democratic and fair the election is, but also on how representative the system is of women and minorities, how stable the country is and how much influence voters, business and the party machine have over Politicians.

Conservatives tend to support First past the post systems as in extreme cases they can benefit them quite dramatically. In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher was able to win large majorities in Parliament with as few as 43% of the electorate supporting her and more than 55% voting for parties that opposed her.

Some systems of PR such as the List system can result in a multiplication of parties. Other systems encourage "broad church" parties that are themselves a diverse coalition that have come together to increase their chances of winning elections.

Under proportional representation coalition governments are the norm in many countries.

In a parliamentary democracy the ruler or Prime Minister is usually chosen by parliament. This contrasts with presidential systems where the president tends to be directly elected by the people as in the United States.

Selection of candidates

Parliamentary systems vary very widely in terms of how the parties pick candidates, and how much control a party has over its politicians with three extremes:

  1. In list systems the party machine picks the sequence of its candidate on the list and if a party gets enough votes for two seats its first two choices are elected.
  2. In constituency systems such as Dual member and First past the Post the local party in each constituency typically chooses its candidates, though often with a national system of approved candidate lists.
  3. In preferential systems such as STV, and also in open primaries the voters get to choose between different candidates of the same party.
  4. In practice there is a fourth system as in America where business and other lobbyists who supply the funding for primary elections have the real clout as to who the politicians are. See Plutocracy.

Many systems are combinations of these.


Another key divide between different types of Parliamentary democracies is between constituency and general systems. In a constituency a politician represents a geographic area either on their own or in combination with others. In other systems Politicians can be elected by the whole country and have a national focus.

Some constituency systems can be gerrymandered to rig elections, either by giving thinly inhabited rural areas more than their fair share of the seats or by manipulating boundaries to concentrate the other parties' voters in a few very safe seats and spreading their own voters thinly so they can clearly but not overwhelmingly win a majority of the seats, with each of "their" seats having a large minority of voters for the other party.

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