The qua non of a parliamentary system

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The King/Queen or President has a de jure authority, no doubt, and legally he possesses all the powers and privileges which the constitution and laws may confer upon him, but in practice he exercises none. He is simply the bearer of authority. Constitutional conventions in Britain deprive the King or Queen of all his or her powers, privileges and prerogatives. In India the authority of the President was governed by Conventions inherited from Britain and deemed as the sine qua non of a parliamentary system of government. The Forty-second Constitution Amendment Act, 1976, gave the convention a constitutional sanction and provided that the advice of the Council of Ministers shall be binding on the President.

The Forty-fourth Amendment (1978), however, gives discretion to the President to refer the advice tendered to him on a particular matter for the reconsideration of the Cabinet, if he felt hesitant to accept it in the first instance. The government is constituted from the majority party or a combination of parties, if they had agreed on certain fundamentals for purposes of a coalition, in the legislature. The normal procedure is that the Chief Executive, monarch or President, summons the leader of the majority party or a coalition of parties to form the government.

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The person so summoned is the Prime Minister-designate who chooses his own team of ministers from among the members of his party, in the legislature, including a few from outside if deemed necessary, and in case there is no constitutional bar to such an inclusion. The Council of Ministers, thus, constituted functions under the leadership of the Prime Minister and is collectively responsible to the representative chamber of the legislature. Out of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister chooses some fifteen or more but generally not more than twenty, persons, who are the most influential and important, and they make a Cabinet.

Cabinet is a wheel within a wheel and it is the pivot on which the whole political machinery revolves. It is the supreme directing authority; the magnet of policy, as Barker calls it, which coordinates and controls the whole of the executive government and integrates and guides the work of the legislature. There is a sharp distinction between a Cabinet and a Ministry or the Council of Ministers. The Cabinet, wherever the parliamentary system exists, has an extra- constitutional growth and consists of about twenty or less Ministers, who are the most influential and the most important of the Council of Ministers or the Ministry. These members of the Cabinet meet collectively, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, generally once a week, decide upon policy and in general ‘head up’ the Government, whereas the Council of Ministers or the Ministry includes some fifty or more Ministers of different categories—Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of the Cabinet rank, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. The Council of Ministers or the Ministry has no collective functions.

It never meets as a whole and it never deliberates on matters of policy. The duties of a Minister, unless he is a Cabinet Minister, are individual duties relating to the administrative Department or Departments of which he holds the charge or to which he is attached. The Cabinet is, thus, the motive power of all political action. Such a system of government is commonly known as the Cabinet government, because Cabinet is the master of the government.

The Council of Ministers is headed by the Prime Minister. He is the captain of the team which plays the game of politics in accordance with the mandate which the majority party in the legislature, of which the Prime Minister is the duly accredited leader, had received at the general elections. The Prime Minister performs four important functions: (1) he is the head of the Ministry, that is, the government of his country; (2) he is also leader of the legislature of the country the one whose intervention in the debates has the greatest weight, who states and interprets government policy, who is responsible for obtaining the approval of the legislature for the policy of his government; (3) he is the person through whom the head of the State, King/Queen or President, normally communicates with the Cabinet, with the legislature, and ultimately, with the country; (4) he is head of the legislative wing of the party and responsible for maintaining harmony with its organisational wing. They are the two limbs of the party that had been returned by the electorate in majority and to form the government.


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