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Chapter 9

Chapter 9- Legislatures and Legislators.docx

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Political Studies
POLS 110
Jonathan W Rose

Chapter 9- Legislatures and Legislators Functions of Legislatures  Legislatures are crucial institutions in any political system, but above all in democracies  They act as checks upon the freedom of manoeuvre of the state executive, and without then the modern state would be highly concentrated and potentially oppressive  They can publicize attempts to subvert them and they can support the courts if the executive attempts to undermine or suspend them  There are two ways of presenting a comparative overview of legislatures, and one way is to focus upon the functions that they perform  The second way is to concentrate upon institutional arrangements that are common so as to show their similarities and differences: in this case debating chambers, standing committees, and so on  The functions of parliaments can be divided into three broad groupings o Representational functions, where parliaments represent either the views of the citizens, or are representative of particular groups o Governmental functions, where legislatures contribute to forming governments, formulating policy, and ensuring the accountability of the government o There are procedural functions that determine the procedures under which legislatures do their work Representation  To be legitimate, they have to represent the people  A recent trend has been to seek to make the composition of legislators correspond more exactly to the basic structure of the population as a whole  Representation can also be taken as an expressive function, and a member of parliament is seen as a channel of communication to those in authority  Many states enshrine the principle of parliamentary immunity to protect the rights of deputies to speak out without fear of prosecution for what they say in parliament  Most parliaments enshrine the principle of a direct link between an elected representative and a particular district within that country o It is regarded as an essential contribution to the legitimacy of parliament  The size of constituencies and the redrawing of their boundaries to ensure a rough similarity between different constituencies is a controversial issue Key Points  Members of parliament represent wider society, most often through the means of territorial districts  Part of their legitimacy is based upon the assumption that they are also representative of society  The extent and ways to which they are representative is controversial however, and varies from one state to another  The introduction of quotas to increase recruitment of women in parliament may lead to measures to do the same for other groups under-represented there Governmental Presidentialism vs. Parliamentarianism  One major function is the formation of the government itself  In a parliamentary system, the head of the government is almost always decided by the parliament  This, parliamentarianism denotes the principle that parliament is the final arbiter in the choice of the head of the government  The alternative principle is presidentialism, which means that the head of the state, whether elected or not, either determines the choice or prime minister, or is personally the head of the executive branch of government  If there is a separate prime minister, the parliament can offer advice and ratify the decision, but it does not have the power to make the decision itself  In parliamentary systems the normal practice is that the prime minister is chosen because they can command a majority in parliament  Parliamentarianism is more advantageous for democracy because it leads to greater stability, whereas presidentialism is more fragile  Presidential democratic rule assumes a powerful executive based upon a mandate from the whole people, while at the same time legislators also lay claim to popular mandates  Therefore president and parliament are driven by their respective senses of equal public legitimacy for their views into clashes over policy  Parliamentary systems tend to be more flexible as they encourage actors holding different political positions to negotiate compromises because they have to reconcile their own individual mandates with the potential national mandate for government o They can also keep a tighter discipline among their members in parliament because they offer the prospect of promotion to avoid challenging government policies  It can be argued that presidential systems appear less stable because of the political contexts in which they have to operate  There are hybrid versions that synthesize these two principles  One form is the increasing practice of parties choosing their own leader through elections that involve their wider membership rather than simply their own parliamentary members  This allows doe the possibility of a national prime-ministerial candidate being chosen who holds a post in one of the state governments rather than from the national parliament  Another hybrid system could be where the president is responsible for nominating the prime minister but the prime minister must have the confidence of parliament Legislation  It is the national legislature that determines the final shapes of laws  This is why elected representatives have been trained as lawyers  It is the executive that is the chief initiator of legislation Ensuring Accountability  It is important in ensuring that governments honour the commitments that they made to the public when seeking election  Even in authoritarian regimes parliaments can hold executives to account  Parliaments are not the only institutions that hold executives to account as the media also performs this role whether or not it is recognized by the state  Horizontal accountability institutions that keep a check on what other executive agencies do within the executive  Vertical accountability checks performed by parliaments within the executive Formation of Public Attitudes  Legislatures have a role to contribute to the formation of public opinion and set the agenda for public debate  Debates in parliament are often reported to the media Key Points  Par
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