The Role of Parliaments in a Democracy

Today parliaments play a key role in addressing issues of democracy. Nevertheless, governments being the central institution of democracy and the embodiment of the people's will are becoming more influential. Governments mainly depict the people's expectations in that particular democracy. They respond to the needs of the people and help resolve the most of their pressing issues that affect them in their daily lives. Parliaments, on the other hand, represent a society's diversity and have a unique responsibility of settling conflicting interest and expectations within a society. In a common society, there are different groups and communities that may have divergent opinions regarding issues that affect them all. Through a democracy, parliaments can compromise and dialogue on various matters in order to provide for every citizen. Moreover, parliaments play a key legislative role and are tasked with adopting laws required in a given society. They are responsible for ensuring that governments remain accountable to its citizens. The 21 century has seen parliaments changing as they seek to adapt to the new age challenges. Some of the changes include the push by most governments to engage more effectively with the public. They are becoming more accessible and accountable to the people. Most importantly they are trying to enhance their key responsibility of legislation and oversight of the government. This paper seeks to use comparative analysis to demonstrate the Most Similar System Design in regards to how parliaments are becoming less important compared to governments in modern democracies/


The 21st century, democracy as both an ideal and a set of political institutions and practices has brought about a marked paradox. In 2005, the UN World Summit declared democracy as a universal value which does not belong to a particular region or country.  The paradox has come about through the implementation of this democracy. Recent years has seen a considerable disillusionment brought about by the exercise of democracy, there is what has been referred to as the ‘old' democracy and the ‘new and emerging' democracy. According to a political theorist named Norberto Bobbio, there exists what he terms ‘the broken promises’ brought about by the disillusionment in the practice of democracy. According to Bobbio, there is a difference in what was promised and what actually occurred in the exercise of democracy. Democracies are test when they are called upon to handle forces that often seem to be beyond their control like for example insecurity, struggling democracies, and the well-being and livelihoods of citizens (Rosset et al. 790).

As mentioned above, democracy is both a set of institutions and practices and also an ideal. Democracies represent two main principles: first, that the members of a given association or group need to have a determining control and influence in the policies and rules being enacted. Each member has to participate in the deliberation process of those roles or policies and through it, common interests should be achieved; second, during the first step of the process members have to treat each other as equals. These two principles are mostly applicable from the smallest group to the largest state. Therefore, the success of a democracy will depend on how effectively the principles are realized in practice. Complex sets of institutions and practices help in the realization of the principles especially in a modern state that has different levels of administration. These may include institutions of representative and accountable governments, a well-established framework of citizen rights, a proactive civil society or citizen body, and several institutions that mediate between citizens and the governments. The media and the political parties are also considered important contributors to the attainment of these principles. Although parliaments fall into the category of the set of institutions, they should also play another role as the central institution of the democracy (Rose et al. 332).

Citizens need to have control and influence over the policies and laws being enacted and in order to do so they need to be assured of the safeguarding of basic rights. The rights include for example; the right to expression, right to free association, and the freedom to vote or chose leaders through free and fair elections. Such rights act as frameworks that secure further democratic principles such as being treated without discrimination but as equals. Such fundamental rights may need to be protected even for vulnerable groups of people regardless of the majority support for the infringement of those rights. It is the responsibility of every citizen including ones in parliament and government to ensure the formulation of modes of protection of the basic international human right standards. No legislation should be allowed to undermine the exercise of these rights. The protection also needs to apply to residents who may not have full citizenship of a particular country. In the current society, citizens from developed and developing countries consider social and economic rights as being a major factor in their basic rights as political and civil ones. Parliaments of the world are now faced with a major challenge of effectively protecting these rights. Globalization has made added to this challenge given the current erosion of national sovereignty (Pollock et al. 145).

While parliaments are trying to work out ways of ensuring they provide for the citizens' rights, they are also faced with another task of keeping the government in check. Governments and parliaments constitute the institutions of representatives and together they determine the policies and laws of the societies. Most countries have what is referred to as the separation of powers which entails the divisions of the administration between the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. Given that parliament is made of representative elected by the people, they act as the agents of the people. Parliaments represent the citizens in dealing with other branches of the government, sub-national bodies, and also international ones. Their effectiveness depends on how they fulfill their mediating role and how they represent the people in all their diversity (Marienand Marc 267).


Trends in the modern society are the main cause of the frustration faced by parliaments. Citizens are becoming more vigilant and constantly push for change. The most alarming trend is the disengagement from the process of parliamentary democracy by a majority of the citizens. This is evident through the drop in the turnout at general elections. There could be other reasons that could be linked to the decline but most research has linked the turnout to voter apathy. More people are losing interest and respect for parliament. The numbers of the youth in the last general election especially in the United Kingdom is worryingly low. A large number of young people crossed to Europe to participate in the Genoa demonstration in July, however, the large numbers seem to have failed to participate in the general election in June (Henn and Nick 361).

A group called the Hansard Society carried out a research aiming at obtaining opinions of the young people who did not participate in the election. The study revealed that even though most of the youth had issues of concern that they needed parliament to address hence their participation in the demonstration, a quarter of them did not vote. Such indicators depict how parliament is losing its command and in return the loss of respect from the people. Parliament needs to put in place measures on how it can express the idealism of the people especially the youth. Currently, most parliaments are reluctant to respond to issues that affect the people. Citizens are trying to push their agenda but the parliament that is supposed to respond is busy pushing its own agenda.

As mentioned above, the past twenty years have seen a drop in the turnout in elections even in the United States. For the general United Kingdom parliament, the turnout was almost 78 percent. Such rates were recorded in the 1960s but in 1997 the turnout dropped to 72 percent.  The rates would continue to drop as by 2001 turnout was 59 percent and 2005 it rose slightly to 61 percent and to 65 percent in 2010. Such drop has also been witnessed in elections in the Scottish parliament. The decline is not only special to the United Kingdom given that in the United States, the turnout for 2102 was 57.5 percent which according to the Bipartisan Policy Center was a decline from 2008. The Centre for the Study of the American Electorate released results as follows; the year 200o the turnout was 54.2 percent, 2004 60.4 percent, 2008 62.3 percent, and 2012 57.5 percent. According to political pundits, the decline in the turnout seems to represent a detachment from democracy. The modern society seems to be collectively ignoring or dismissing the trends but consequences of it are what parliaments of the world are trying to fix currently (Öhberg et al. 271).

Among the citizens who actually participate in elections, there are also signs of declined interest compared to the traditional political norms. There has been a decline in the number of voters who register as members of political parties. Instead, there is an increase in the participation in campaigns or single issues organizations and groups such as the membership of pressure. According to Schäfer and Marc (2015), in the current society voters are more likely to abandon their traditional or historic affiliations in general elections, by-elections, local elections, and parliament elections as compared to the past. Citizens seem to prefer direct participation in the process of decision-making. In the past, people were more reluctant and trusted the leaders to pilot what was best for them. The present society rejects the traditional beliefs that political parties are virtually express the legitimate interest of the people. Governments are becoming popular because compared to parliament they respond more effectively to the voice of the people.

Another change witnessed in today's society is the means by which politics and democracy are communicated to and by the people. In the 1990s, political discussions were on a national scale with media apparatus such as newspapers and televised programs being the main channels. Research studies have revealed how there has been a decline in the utilization of these channels in the 31 century. There has been a decline in national newspaper circulation and while television channels such as CNN that would attract millions of viewers now do not. Newspapers such as The Guardian, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, The Times, and the Independent all have lost about 40 percent of their consumers over the past five years(Clark et al. 112).

Recommendations for Change

For centuries, parliamentary debates have been characterized by noisy exchanges by the members. People in today's society are largely educated and employed. Exchange of witty words in parliament no longer cuts it like it did in the past. Citizens are losing the patience with parliamentary games and if this is to be resolved then the members need to adopt new approaches to ensuring that issues raised by citizens are addressed. Parliaments need to, for example, set up Chamber procedures and committee structures that will ensure better management of house functions. Creation of such division will not only enable better accountable but also the efficiency of parliament. The common idea that parliament is always in continuous general elections with no interest in reason scrutiny needs to be done away with. As pointed out, people's interest in elections is on a steady decline. In order to restore public interest and respect, parliament should get back to its prior functions and improve their scrutiny. Both the government and the opposition require a functional parliament in order for the democracy to be functional. Procedural reforms may not be the only solution to the reestablishment of parliament. There is a dire need for the general improvement of the role of legislation. Parliaments need to listen to the citizens including the opposition and government and see to it that the legislation functions are not obstructed but implemented. Britain has been considered to be on the right track given the new breed of members of parliament from both sides of the house who have promised to not only improve governance but also set up a forum for a build up to the coming elections (LeDuc 141).

Another way parliament can improve its performance is to improve the media coverage of the sessions. Offering live coverage on house proceedings will go a long way in improving citizens' participation in the legislation process. There was a time when parliament sessions took more than half of the news columns in newspapers such as The New York Times. Today, the columns have been taken over by plain politics with less and less coverage of parliament proceedings. Such changes have contributed to the decline in the interest of parliament by the people. Televisions stations have also replaced the airing of parliament proceedings with soap operas and other irrelevant programs. Parliaments need to work out a way of either buying airtime or setting up television channels that air live parliamentary proceedings. The best way of fostering public interest is by announcing important policies on the floor of the house. This will attract more people to follow the proceedings knowing that important announcements can be made during the sessions (Newton and Jan 14).


It is true that parliaments are becoming less important in the modern democracies. However, they have a chance to reform. The above describes how parliament can improve its relevance which would, in turn, earn them back the public respect and interest they seem to have lost.  There have to be extensive reforms especially in the reporting of parliamentary proceedings. Modern democracy has taken a flight to the internet and to some certain extent to rolling news channels such as CNN. Social media is considered the largest media platform today. Twitter and Facebook have replaced the traditional newspapers while the Smartphones and iPads have replaced the conventional televisions. Political communications should, therefore, take this into account if it seeks to attract the youth population. It is difficult to disregard the fact that in the modern democracy, parliaments need to adopt new methods in response to the revolutionary developments.

Works Cited

Clark, William Roberts, Matt Golder, and Sona Nadenichek Golder. Principles of comparative politics. CQ Press, 2017.

Henn, Matt, and Nick Foard. "Social differentiation in young people's political participation: the impact of social and educational factors on youth political engagement in Britain." Journal of Youth Studies 17.3 (2014): 360-380.

LeDuc, Lawrence. "Referendums and deliberative democracy." Electoral Studies 38 (2015): 139-148.

Marien, Sofie, and Marc Hooghe. "Does political trust matter? An empirical investigation into the relation between political trust and support for law compliance." European Journal of Political Research 50.2 (2011): 267-291.

Newton, Kenneth, and Jan W. Van Deth. Foundations of comparative politics. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Öhberg, Patrik, Peter Munk Christiansen, and Birgitta Niklasson. "Administrative politicization or contestability? How political advisers affect neutral competence in policy processes." Public Administration 95.1 (2017): 269-285.

Pollock, Gary, Tom Brock, and Mark Ellison. "Populism, ideology and contradiction: mapping young people's political views." The Sociological Review 63.S2 (2015): 141-166.

Rose, Richard, and Doh Chull Shin. "Democratization backwards: The problem of third-wave democracies." British Journal of Political Science 31.2 (2001): 331-354.

Rosset, Jan, Nathalie Giger, and Julian Bernauer. "I the people? Self-interest and demand for government responsiveness." Comparative Political Studies 50.6 (2017): 794-821.

Schäfer, Constantin, and Marc Debus. "Euroscepticism, Policy Alienation and Abstention in the 2014 EP Elections." (2015).

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