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The legislative branch

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  • 1. LECTURE III THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
  • 2.
    • Legislature: One of the most important and oldest institutions and one of the most studied in Comparative Politics
    • There exist a wide variety of forms of legislature
    • What Legislatures do:
    • “ [make the values, goals, and attitudes of a social system authoritative in the form of legislative decision.”
    • Serve as a forum for public grievance
    • Regulate group interaction in society
    • Tend to play a role for the regime stability in developed nations, and often a destabilizing one in developing nations
  • 3. UNICAMERAL/BICAMERAL SYSTEMS 13 7 Latin-America 8 17 Sub-Saharan Africa 9 8 South and East-Asia 4 6 Middle-East and North-Africa 3 10 East-Europe and North-Asia 15 7 Atlantic area Bicameral Unicameral
  • 4.
    • What are the chamber’s functions?
    • Distinction between de jure and de facto situation: de jure is their function as legally established, whereas de facto correspond to the facts
    • Ex.: in law, the upper or lower house of the given legislature of a country may have the power to delay or veto a bill (de jure).
    • Yet , may have not exercised this power for centuries, while in the real world, the upper or lower house in question may be prohibited to do so by customs and tradition
  • 5.
    • FACTS:
    • Small countries tend to have one chamber rather than two (political power less difficult to exercise in such societies)
    • Socialist countries view bicameral systems as inefficient (except Norway, all Scandinavian countries have opted in the beginning of the 20 th century for unicameral systems)
    • 13 th century England as the country with the first legislature (served as an aristocratic institution of control- House of Lords)
  • 6.
    • Why a Two-House System?
    • Second house no longer an instrument of aristocratic system
    • In federal systems , a bicameral system reflects the split nature of the state. The bicameral system often serves as the condition for national unification
    • Ex.: The 1787 Great Compromise gave to the U.S. its bicameral system, which purpose was to ensure equal representation between smaller and bigger states (the House of Representative proportionally elected generally served the interests of bigger states, while the Senate gave each state two representatives regardless of their population
    • Ex.: In Canada, Quebec refused to join the confederation unless there were provisions yielded by the establishment of a second chamber (the Senate) that would ensure equal representation to the provinces
    • In unitary systems instead, having a second chamber can add a “revising” institution to the first chamber
  • 7.
    • Generally, in federal systems:
    • Lower House: represents the interests of the national, popular jurisdictions
    • Upper House: represents the intermediate structures (states/provinces…)
    • Ex.: U.S., Canada, and Germany
  • 8.
    • While nearly all federal systems are bicameral (Swaziland as an exception), not all bicameral systems are federations (new nations may adopt the structure of the former colony, while their size or diverse population may force them to adopt bicameralism)
    • The Upper House:
    • Can represent territorial units assortments (in Canada, 24 senators each for Ontario and Quebec, against 24 for all maritime provinces together Newfoundland excepted)
    • Can have equal representation (U.S.) or not (Germany)
    • Can simply be a second lower house elected on the same principles and serving as a revising organ
    • Can represents several jurisdictions at once (local and national units in Japan)
    • Can have a rather symbolic function (the House of Lords in the UK represents the tradition)
  • 9.
    • Upper/Lower House (previously distinction in rank and precedence)
    • Today:
    UPPER HOUSE (indirectly elected) LOWER HOUSE (directly elected)
  • 10. 92 38 54 Total 10 7 Latin-America 8 16 Sub-Saharan Africa 7 8 South and East-Asia 4 6 Middle-East and North-Africa _ 10 East-Europe and North Asia 9 7 Atlantic area Total Bicameral Unicameral UNITARY SYSTEM
  • 11. 15 14 1 Total 3 _ Latin-America _ 1 Sub-Saharan Africa 2 _ South and East-Asia _ _ Middle-East and North-Africa 3 _ East-Europe and North-Asia 6 _ Atlantic area Total Bicameral Unicameral FEDERATION
  • 12. INTERACTION BETWEEN HOUSES
    • Equal or differentiated power
    • Cooperative/Competitive relation
    • De jure / de facto
    58 No upper house 1 Upper house only advisory 0 Upper house stronger than lower house 22 Upper house equal to lower house 26 Upper house weaker than lower house Number of Countries Category
  • 13.
    • Lower house usually stronger than the upper house (generally indirectly elected or composed of appointees, and therefore viewed as undemocratic)
    • When theoretically equal on paper, this does not correspond to the reality in practice. Ex.: In Canada, although, the Senate has legally equal powers with the House of Commons, it has refused to make real use of them
  • 14. De jure/de facto powers
    • The upper chamber has legally fewer powers than the lower one
    • Ex.: France, Turkey, India, Norway
    • The upper chamber chooses to exercise fewer power than the lower house (role of culture and political tradition)
    • Ex. Canada
  • 15.
    • Case where both house are equal both de jure and de facto : the Senate and the House of Representatives in the U.S.
    • Also in Italy, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Liberia, Mexico, and Jordan
    • Cases where the upper house is superior than the lower house are uncommon. Ex.: U.S.(?); House of the Lords in the past
    • In Germany, when legislation affects the länders, need of the approval of the Bundesrat (veto power of the upper house)
    • Absolute veto power of the upper house possibly leading to the failure of a legislation (the Senate in the U.S.)
    • Suspensory power : refusal to approve a legislation can only slow down the process
    • Rubber-stamp power : the upper house legally has power to affect legislation, yet traditionally and culturally is prohibited to do so (Canada)
  • 16. VARIANCE IN THE SIZE OF LEGISLATURES
    • Lower Houses: China
    • St Vincent Barbados
    16 24 3000
  • 17.
    • Upper Houses:
    • United-Kingdom
    • Equatorial Guinea
    6 1,174
  • 18.
    • Factors affecting the size:
    • Expansion until there is no room left (becomes frozen). Ex.: U.S. House of Representatives from 1/30,000 in 1787 to 1/500,000 by 1970 (a law was passed in 1929 to limit the house to 435 members). Ex.: In Canada, the size of the House of Commons has evolved over two decades from 263 to 301 members. House of Commons reached 630 before being frozen.
    • Symbolic number: the first legislative authority elected by Jews in the 4 th and 5 th century was composed of 120 members (ten per tribe). This number determined the size of the unicameral Israeli Knesset
    • Mathematical formula: Used for example to determine the German upper house
  • 19. POLITICAL PARTIES IN LEGISLATURE
    • Political Parties Legislature
    • Parties participate to the organization of the legislature by providing candidates to the legislative positions, speakers, committee chairs…
    • Parties can affect the behavior of individual members within the legislature
  • 20.
    • High Low
    • Party Party
    • Discipline Discipline
    • High party discipline: legislators generally act in concert with their party leader’s direction (voting, debating, speeches, introduction of bills…). Ex.: In the British House of Commons (except during “free vote” sessions
    • Low party discipline: party affiliation is less important to determine individual behavior
  • 21. LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES
    • Exist because legislative bodies are usually too big to generate any efficient discussion/debate on particular issues + Need of a specialization of the legislators
    • Division of labor and specialization into various groups having expertise in an issue-area
    • Members usually serve on several committees (ex.: Committee on Foreign Relations)
  • 22.  
  • 23.
    • Types of Committees:
    • Standing/permanent committees: serve for the length of the legislature
    • Select committees: committees having specific scope of inquiry or special problem to address (generally have a specific duration)
    • Joint-committees (for bicameral systems): have members of both houses
    • Committee of the whole: technical device according to which a legislative body adopts different rules (/debate time, how motions can be introduced…)
    • + Informal committees (Caucus on French-American relations)
    • Role of Committees depending on the national legislature: important in the American system, rather unimportant in the British one
    • Committees are important in the examination, modification, delay, or abandonment of proposals
  • 24. SELECTION OF LEGISLATORS
    • Single-Member district voting vs. Proportional Representation voting
    • Single-member-district voting: the country is divided into a certain number of districts/electoral boxes each having a representative. The electorate votes upon the geographical district they belong to. The individual receiving the most vote is elected
    • Proportional representation: no geographical delineation. Instead, the electorate votes for the single party they prefer. The proportion of votes a party receives determines the proportion of seats it will receive in the legislature
  • 25.
    • SINGLE-MEMBER-DISTRICT VOTING:
    • Ex.: U.S.; Canada; UK; Mexico; Russia; and most nations
    • Does not usually require a majority (one vote over 50) but just more than anyone else ( plurality ; first past the post system )
    • Advantage: members have districts that are theirs to represent, while the electors know that these representatives are theirs
    • Disadvantage: overrepresentation of majorities, underrepresentation of minorities, promotion of a two-party system unfavorable to small parties
  • 26. 4 0 4 Total votes 400 196 204 Total votes 100 49 51 District 4 100 49 51 District 3 100 49 51 District 2 100 49 51 District 1 Total Party B Party A District
  • 27. 4 0 2 2 Total seats 400 132 134 134 Total votes 100 33 34 33 District 4 100 33 34 33 District 3 100 33 33 34 District 2 100 33 33 34 District 1 Total Party C Party B Party A District
  • 28.
    • PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION:
    • Ex.: 120 legislative positions at the Knesset . The party fills the positions proportionally to the votes it receives. They usually provide a list of 120 candidates and fill up the positions from the top.
    • Advantages: highly representative
    • Disadvantages: PR legislatures are multiparty legislatures because of the facility for small parties to have candidates elected; possibility for extreme and radical groups to get positions
  • 29.  
  • 30.
    • Various experiments on SMD and PR models:
    • Multiple-Member district: each district has several representatives, while electors vote for one candidate (4 or 5 in Japan for instance). Elections of U.S. Senators fall somehow in this category. Two Senators/state (district), although the mode of election is SMD (one can vote only for one senator)
    • SMD with majority: the French system requires a majority in the district. Because of the number of parties, few district reach a majority the first time. Therefore, elections are held two weeks in a row with a runoff election in the second round between the best two candidates of the first round
  • 31.
    • 1995 Presidential Election in France
    • First ballot (main candidates)
    • Lionel Jospin (PS): 23.2% Jacques Chirac (RPR): 20.4% Edouard Balladur (RPR): 18.5% Jean-Marie Le Pen (FN): 15.2% Robert Hue (PCF): 8.7%
    • Second ballot
    • Jacques Chirac: 52.7% (elected President of the Republic) Lionel Jospin: 47.3%
  • 32.
    • COMPLEXITY OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN CASE OF BICAMERALISM:
    • Selection of the second house through election by people (U.S.; Italy, Australia, and Japan)
    • Second house appointed by the head of state (Canada)
    • Second chambers elected by other bodies (France and Norway)
    • Second chambers can have members chosen through more than one method (UK)
  • 33. LEGISLATIVE FUNCTIONS
    • Five functions:
    • Overseeing the other branches of government (the executive): Criticism of the other branches is necessary for the stability of the political system
    • Debating: Forum for discussion and decision of governmental policies
    • Law-making and Legislating: Law-making almost universally a task of legislatures
    • Communicating with the public, representing, and legitimating: Communication with the public involves tasks of explaining to constituents the decisions made by the legislature, answering the mail of, and interceding in favor of their constituents
    • Recruitment, education, and socialization: Recruitment, education, and socialization have to deal with the processes of attracting individuals to politics, educating the public about important issues, and transmitting certain values
    • Variation in how legislatures perform these functions + degree of success
  • 34. Recruitment Education socialization Communication Representation legitimation Lawmaking /legislation Debate Criticism And Control LEGISLATURE
  • 35. LEGISLATURE AND REPRESENTATION
    • Legislatures sometimes not truly representative, yet need to appear representative (“taxation without representation”)
    • To what level should legislatures be representative, and what criteria should be used?
    • Demographics? (younger people?)
    • Gender representation? Nowhere do women represent more than ten percent of the body of representatives (Norway and Sweden=10%)
    • Ethnic, religious, racial minorities underrepresented (survival of biases even in settings where there is no legal impediments)
  • 36. LEGISLATIVE ROLES
    • Importance of role perception: legislators believing to have a minor role to play are most likely to become apathetic or cynical than others
    • Hierarchy among legislators (ex. In the UK):
    • “ Frontbenchers” “Backbenchers”
    • Party-leaders followers
  • 37.  
  • 38.
    • Legislative behavior as contingent to:
    • Constitutional system
    • Substructures of the legislative system
    • Legislative staff and services
    • Buildings and facilities
    • Party organization and leadership
    • Individuals’ background and socialization process
    • Recruitment
    • Constituency and group pressure
    • Party organization
    LEGISLATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • 39. THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
    • The sponsor of a bill is one of the most important ingredients in the legislative process
    • Bill sponsored by majority (likely to pass; Government bills)/minority (likely to fail; private members’ bill )
    • Not a problem usually in parliamentary systems where the head of the legislative branch is often the head of the majority, bills invariably become laws
    • Bills sponsored by frontbenchers of the majority are most likely to pass than bills proposed by backbenchers
    • Both majority and minority are however most likely to invoke party discipline to defeat a bill from the other side
    • Consequence of the party discipline factor for parliamentary questions (time in which questions can be asked by individual members): backbenchers and opposition often not treated as seriously as the questions asked by the frontbenchers of the majority
  • 40. LEGISLATIVE AND EXECUTIVES
    • Current decline of the legislature/executive (checks)
    • A good thing?
    • Strict Executive
    • Separation
    • Of power Legislative
    • Efficiency
    • Expediency
  • 41.
    • Ex.: the British House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs cannot oversee anymore the Ministry of External Affairs (staff issue); the special Committee of the Knesset has a hard time overseeing the Ministry of External Affairs; and the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations can hardly oversee the State Department anymore
    • Situations in which the legislature can evaluate the executive only through the information that are given by the executive branch itself
  • 42. LEGISLATIVE REFORM
    • Recent trend towards reforms so as to regain some of the powers that legislatures have lost to the executive
  • 43.
            • END