A parliament (1265- ) is the law-making part of government common in many democracies. It is especially common in countries that were once part of the British Empire (apart from America). Its prime minister rules the country day to day, though the king or president holds the final authority, which he exercises on rare occasion.
The parts of the system:
- MPs – short for “members of parliament”. Each represents his own part of the country, called a constituency. MPs discuss and vote on laws.
- constituency – the part of the country that an MP represents. It can cover part of a large city or several small towns. During an election the citizens of a constituency vote for who they want for MP.
- prime minister – the MP who is the leader of parliament. The other MPs vote him into office. He puts forward laws for parliament to consider and leads the government from day to day. He chooses MPs to be ministers or heads of the departments or ministries of government: defence, health, transport, foreign affairs and so on.He can call a general election at any time, but must call one within five years of taking office. Each constituency votes for its own MP and the MPs in turn choose the next prime minister. If they liked the old prime minister they can vote him back in.
- vote of no-confidence: a vote where the MPs can throw the prime minister out of office. If the prime minister loses, the government falls and a new election is held.
- kings, queens and presidents: stand above parliament. He is the final authority. He can dissolve parliament and force new elections. Happens rarely. Kings and queens hold their position for life. It is something you are born into. Presidents are elected by the country as a whole to serve for some number of years.Kings and presidents often have other powers like declaring war or being able to step in and take power if parliament becomes too corrupt or broken.
Once a prime minister is selected he forms a government, choosing his ministers.
MPs are divided into parties, like Labour and Tory. Each party has different ideas of where to lead the country.
If a party gets more than half the seats in parliament, it can form a government on its own. Otherwise parties cut deals among themselves to get enough votes in parliament to form a coalition government, where several parties govern together.
Most coalition governments only last for a short time: sooner or later one party or other will disagree with the rest and walk out of the government causing it to fall and forcing new elections.
Parties that did not form the government are called the opposition.
In America there is no prime minister – the president has his powers. On the other hand, no one can force a government to fall or force elections – elections happen at set times no matter what happens.