Westminster system

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The Westminster system is a democratic parliamentary system of government modelled after the politics of the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The system is a series of procedures for operating a legislature. It is used, or was once used, in the national legislatures and subnational legislatures of most Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth nations upon being granted responsible government, beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890.

There are other parliamentary systems whose procedures differ considerably from the Westminster system.


Key characteristics

Important features of the Westminster system include the following, although not all of the following aspects have been preserved in every Westminster-derived system:[citation needed]

  • a sovereign or head of state who is the nominal or theoretical holder of executive power, and holds numerous reserve powers, but whose daily duties mainly consist of performing the role of a ceremonial figurehead. Examples include Queen Elizabeth II, the presidents of many countries and state/provincial governors in federal systems.
  • a head of government (or head of the executive), known as the prime minister (PM), premier or first minister. While the head of government is appointed by the head of state, the constitutional convention is that the person appointed must be supported by the majority of elected Members of Parliament.[1] If more than half of elected parliamentarians belong to the same political party, then the person appointed is typically the head of that party.[2]
  • a de facto executive branch usually made up of members of the legislature with the senior members of the executive in a cabinet led by the head of government; such members execute executive authority on behalf of the nominal or theoretical executive authority.
  • parliamentary opposition (a multi-party system);
  • an elected legislature, often bicameral, in which at least one house is elected, although unicameral systems also exist; legislative members are usually elected by district in first-past-the-post elections (as opposed to country-wide proportional representation). Exception to this are New Zealand, which changed to use proportional representation; Israel, which has always used country wide proportional representation; and Australia, which uses Preferential voting.
  • a lower house of parliament with an ability to dismiss a government by "withholding (or blocking) Supply" (rejecting a budget), passing a motion of no confidence, or defeating a confidence motion. The Westminster system enables a government to be defeated, or forced into a general election, independently of a new government being chosen.
  • a parliament which can be dissolved and elections called at any time.
  • parliamentary privilege, which allows the Legislature to discuss any issue deemed by itself to be relevant, without fear of consequences stemming from defamatory statements or records thereof.
  • minutes of meetings, often known as Hansard, including an ability for the legislature to strike discussion from these minutes.

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