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Legislatures Paolo R. Graziano Political Science AY 2011-2011 Lecture 12 Legislatures Legislatures are multimember representative bodies which are at the heart of any given political regime. Legislatures provide main source of legitimation for (input) democracies Formal locus of policy making Variance with respect to: structure functions Structure (I) Size: number of members. Big assemblies are weaker, not stronger due to member veto power ‘personalistic’ local politics Number of chambers: legislatures may be: unicameral (more effective, at least in principle) bicameral (more balanced- unless weak bicameralism) Structure (II) – selection of the second chamber direct election – ex. USA indirect election – ex. France appointment – ex. Canada Functions representation deliberation legislation (including budgetary functions) making governments scrutiny Representation basic democratic function: voters’ preference representation societal diversity needs to be represented institutionally electoral systems may interfere with the representation function of the legislatures in order to guarantee representation of minorities, reserved seats may be offered (ex. Maori in New Zealand). differential party discipline Deliberation Legislatures as institutional arena for public debates of national concern Differential organization of deliberation: debating legislatures (ex. UK) committee-based legislatures (ex. US) Differential partisanship partisan legislatures (often combined with debating legislatures) bipartisan legislatures (often combined with committee-based legislatures) Legislation Important but not exclusive function Relevance depends on the nature of party-legislatures relations: concentrated or party-dominated parliaments (ex. UK) fragmented or committee-dominated parliaments (ex. US) Authorizing expenditure as (almost) autonomous public policy cycles Parliamentary governments In parliamentary governments, the legislatures also ‘make the governments’ since: the governing parties emerge from the assembly the executive is responsible before the legislature parliamentary majority is directly linked with the executive Scrutiny Particularly relevant in parliamentary governments, it may be obtained through: questions – (oral and written) queries to ministries interpellations – more formal request of information emergency debates – high profile request of governmental information followed by a parliamentary debate votes of confidence – formal approval/dismissal of government and/or individual ministers committee investigations (also in presidential governments) – ex. 9/11 Commission The committees standing committees are the most important legislatures’ committees select and mediation committees are ad hoc committees (and therefore less relevant) Specific functions: enhance parliamentary competence reduce partisan conflicts and create mutual trust provide qualified staff to legislatures’ members Membership the rise of professional politicians… …and the political class. Beyond partisan differences, professional politicians may share interests (connected to their political status) and specific policy goals Main goal of professional politician: (re-) election, not (only) representation. Legislatures in nondemocratic regimes lack of autonomy vis-à-vis government and/or President mainly symbolic functions they may be used in order to incorporate moderate opponents into the regime – first step towards democratization? possible pool of potential recruits to the elite Conclusion Legislatures perform vital functions… …which go beyond mere representation. As institutional fora, they are also a key target of partisan competition… …and have contributed to the creation of a political class.
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