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History of Parliamentarism

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For a definition of Parliamentarism see: Parliamentary system of government.

Origins of Parliamentary Democracy: The Westminister Model

The origins of the modern concept of prime ministerial government go back to the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707-1800). (The Parliamentary System in Sweden 1721-1772 has had lesser impact. Primarily due to Sweden being a smaller country without much influence.)

In theory, power resided in the monarch, who chaired cabinet and chose ministers. In reality, King George I's inability to speak English led the responsibility for chairing cabinet to go to the leading minister, literally the prime or first minister. The gradual democratisation of parliament with the broading of the voting franchise, increased parliament's role in controlling government, and in deciding whom the King could ask to form a government. By the nineteenth century, the Great Reform Act of 1832 led to parliamentary dominance, with its choice invariably deciding who was prime minister and the complexion of the government.

Other countries gradually adopted what came to be called the Westminster Model[?] of government, with an executive answerable to parliament, but exercising powers nominally vested in the head of state, in the name of the head of state. Hence the use of phrases like Her Majesty's government or His Excellency's government. Such a system became particularly prevalent in older British dominions, many of whom had their constitutions enacted by the British parliament. Examples include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Irish Free State and the Union of South Africa.

France: Swinging between Presidential & Parliamentary Systems

France swung between different styles of presidential, semi-presidential and parliamentary systems of government; parliamentary systems under Louis XVIII, Charles X, the July Monarchy[?] under Louis Philippe, King of the French and the Third Republic and Fourth Republic[?], though the extent of full parliamentary control differed in each, from one extreme under Charles X (a strong head of state) to full parliamentary control (under the Third Republic). Napoleon III offered attempts at some degree of parliamentary control of the executive, though few regarded his regime as genuinely parliamentary and democratic. A presidential system existed under the short-lived Second Republic[?]. The modern Fifth Republic system combines aspects of presidentialism and parliamentarianism.

The Spread of Parliamentarism in Europe

Democracy and Parliamentarism became increasingly prevalent in Europe in the years after World War I, partly imposed by the democratic victors, France and England, on the defeated countries and their successors, notably Germany's Weimar Republik[?] and the new Austrian Republic. 19th century urbanisation, industrial revolution and modernism had however already for long fueled the political Left's struggle for Democracy and Parliamentarism. In the radicalized times at the end of World War I, democratic reforms were often seen as a means to counter popular revolutionary currents. Thusly established democratic regimes suffered however from a limited popular support, in particular from the political Right.

Another obstacle was the political parties' unpreparedness for long-term commitments to coalition cabinets in the multi-party democracies on the European continent. The resulting "Minority-Parliamentarism" led to frequent defeats in votes of confidence[?] and almost perpetual political crisis which further diminished the standing of democracy and parliamentarism in the eyes of the electorate.

Many early twentieth century regimes failed through political instability and/or the interventions of heads of state, notably King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy's failure to back his government when facing the threat posed by Benito Mussolini in 1922, or the support given by King Alfonso XIII of Spain to a prime minister using dictatorial powers in the 1930s. Finland is sometimes given as a counter-example, where a presidential democracy was established after a failed revolution 1918 ending in half-a-year of bitter Civil War. In 1932 the Lapua-movement[?] attempted a coup d'Útat, aiming at the exclusion of Social Democrats from political power, but the Conservative President Svinhufvud maintained his democratic government. Parliamentarism was (re-)introduced by Svinhufvud's successor Ky÷sti Kallio in 1937.

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