In this lesson, we will review the major differences between Congress and Parliament. We will take a closer look at why these differences exist and how they affect decision-making in those particular democratic countries.
Parliamentary democracy and congressional democracy are two systems of government that are utilized in democratic governments. Parliamentary democracy is a system of democratic governance in which the executive branch is held accountable to the legislative branch and the head of government is almost always a member of the legislature. The Parliament is the legislative branch of a parliamentary democracy. This type of democracy is found in Britain and in free, independent countries that Britain used to rule.
Conversely, a congressional democracy is a system of democratic governance in which the executive branch is separate from the legislative branch and the head of government is not a member of the legislature. The Congress is the legislative branch of a congressional democracy. This type of democracy is found in the United States and a few other democratic countries.
While these two systems of government have similarities, they also have a few very important differences that we will be looking at during this lesson.
How Candidates Are Selected
If you wanted to become a member of Parliament, the first step would be to ask members of your political party to put your name on the ballot. Then the political party makes a decision whether or not to put your name on the ballot. Most political decisions in parliamentary democracy are made by people following their party line and making very few individual decisions. Then the public votes on the candidate to officially elect them to Parliament.
In sharp contrast, political decisions in congressional democracy are mainly made by the people - even though support by a political party is common. Candidates for Congress have their careers, ambitions and plans looked at individually by the people and are elected mainly based on these attributes. Although it is possible and common to have the support of a political party, it is not necessary.
Membership in Legislature
In Parliament, the majority party selects its prime minister, who is the official head of government and also serves with his cabinet members of the legislature. What this means is that members of Parliament aren't able to make independent decisions from what the majority party and the head of government want because they are all part of one lawmaking body. Put simpler, because the head of state (the executive branch) and the Parliament (the legislative branch) are so intermixed, they must always vote to support each other or else the government will not succeed.
In Congress, the members have more freedom. The president, who is the official head of government, is elected popularly by the people, and he independently chooses members of his cabinet from people that are not members of Congress. The head of government does not participate in the legislature. The members of Congress, although some may be members of the same political party as the president, do not have to answer to him directly and can make independent decisions.
Put simpler, because the head of state and Congress are separated, the government is protected by a system of checks and balances because Congress and the president do not always agree and have the power to disagree with, or, in some cases, vote to change, decisions that the other makes. This makes our government stronger.
How a Law Is Passed
In Parliament, it is simple to get a law passed. A majority vote is all that is necessary to get a law passed. Can you imagine why this is easy? Most of the members of Parliament are of the same party due to the way in which members get chosen to be there. In that way, it is then easier to get laws passed because they agree on the same things and have the same views.
In Congress, it is not so simple. There is a lengthy process of proposing a bill, carrying out committee work amongst the individual members of Congress who have different political parties and then voting on the bill to become law. Then, the law must be presented to the president. It is a much more involved and lengthy process.
There are a few major differences between Congress and Parliament. Let's look at the main points we covered about each in the lesson.
- Members are chosen by the major political party to serve, and the choice is based mainly on the fact that they are a member of the major political party.
- Decisions are usually made based on what the political party wants, not based on an independent point of view.
- Lawmaking is a short process that requires a simple majority vote.
- Members are voted in based more on their personal attributes and goals for the time they are serving than based on political party affiliation.
- Members make decisions based on their own individual viewpoints, not based on what the political party wants.
- Lawmaking is a lengthy process involving various steps.
After finishing this lesson, you should be prepared to:
- Define parliamentary democracy and congressional democracy
- Summarize the main differences between Parliament and Congress