Parliamentary Procedures in Presidential and Parliamentary Parliamentary procedures in presidential

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  • Parliamentary procedures in presidential and parliamentary systems

    Simone Wegmann∗ Département de science politique et relations internationales

    Université de Genève

    Paper prepared for presentation at the 7th ECPR General Conference Bordeaux, September 4-7, 2013

    First version: July 2013, this version: August 24, 2013


    In research on democracy a general distinction is drawn between the agendas of democratic transition and democratic stability. The explanatory factors in order to explain democratic stability in recent analyses are varied. Among the most promi- nent hypothesis is the one about parliamentary or presidential systems to favor stable democracy. But, the literature shows rather conflicting results on whether parliamentary or presidential systems favor stability. What has to be taken into con- sideration, however, is the fact that the United States of America and Great Britain are among the few countries that come close to the ideal types of parliamentarism and presidentialism, respectively. Categorizing a country as either parliamentary or presidential does not account for much of the differences neither within parlia- mentary nor within presidential systems. In this paper I argue that parliamentary procedures account for some of the conflicting results in the literature about parlia- mentarism/ presidentialism and democratic stability. Rather than focusing on the different executive-legislative relations in parliamentary and presidential systems I concentrate on the different legislative rights and resources of legislative actors. I present new data on parliamentary procedures which allows for a more detailed look at and comparison of parliaments in both presidential and parliamentary systems around the world. First results show considerable differences of parliamentary and presidential systems when it comes to their parliamentary procedures which might help explain some of the rather conflicting results in the literature.

    ∗ Département de science politique et relations internationales, Faculté des sciences économiques et sociales; Université de Genève; 40 Boulevard du Pont d’Arve; 1211 Genève 4; Switzerland; email:

  • Parliamentary procedures in presidential and parliamentary systems

    1 Introduction

    The Westminster system of Great Britain and the presidential system of the United States of America are considered what approximates the ideal types of a parliamentary and a presidential system, respectively. Based on Shugart (2006, 348–349) a presidential system includes a popularly elected president as "chief executive" that directs the cabinet and has some constitutionally granted law-making authority. The terms of the chief executive and the legislative assembly are fixed and not subject to mutual confidence. A parliamentary system is characterized by an executive authority consisting of a prime minister and a cabinet that arises out of the legislative assembly. The executive is at all times subject to potential dismissal via a vote of "no confidence" by a majority of the legislative assembly. The ideal type of a parliamentary system is one in which the legislative agenda is controlled by the government whereas the prototype of a presidential system is one in which independent legislators act based on their individual electoral needs as follows from the separation of power between the executive and the legislature (Cheibub, 2007; Cheibub and Limongi, 2002, 169–170).

    However, this distinction between presidentialism and parliamentarism "do[es] not necessarily tell us where power really resides" (Fish, 2006, 6). The allocation of power to different groups is crucial in economic models of democratization and democratic stabil- ity. Such power determines the degree of influence these different groups can take and, consequently, it determines the degree of benefit these groups can get from a particular political system. As different groups have different political interests they will accept democracy if the system does not pose a threat to their interests. But, democracy does not contribute significantly to the welfare of the majority if the elite has too much power. Such a political system will either result in a revolution by the majority or repression by the minority (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2006, 34–35). Hence, successful democracy seems to depend upon a stable balance of power between different groups in society.

    Different authors highlight the importance of electoral losers for the survival of demo- cratic regimes. Przeworski (1991, 15) states that the central question is why electoral losers comply with the outcome of elections and continue to accept the democratic insti- tutions whereas Riker (1983, 62) states that "the dynamics of politics is in the hands of the losers". Similarly, Anderson, Blais, Bowler, Donovan and Listhaug (2005, 1–2) high- light that "... the attitudes and behaviors of losers determine whether the [democratic] game will go on in the first place and whether it will continue to be played in the long run". Apart from the distinction between parliamentary and presidential systems these arguments about the importance of losers’ consent and the influence of power of different


  • Parliamentary procedures in presidential and parliamentary systems

    groups for democratic survival might add to the explanation of democratic stability. Hence, rather than considering the distinction between parliamentary and presidential

    systems, focusing on the difference in legislative power of actors might help explaining the democratic stability of different regimes. Legislative procedures influence the structure of decision-making as well as the weight of individual legislators in policy decisions (Cheibub and Limongi, 2002, 168). Therefore, this paper presents a first comparison of presiden- tial and parliamentary systems when it comes to different legislative powers of actors. More specifically, the paper presents data on rights of different actors to introduce bills, shows some differences and similarities in agenda setting power of the executive between parliamentary and presidential systems, and analyses the veto power of the executive.

    The remainder of the paper is organised as follows: Section two briefly reviews the theoretical literature and argues in more detail why moving beyond the parliamentary- presidential distinction is important. Section three discusses the data collection. Section four presents a first comparison of legislative power in parliamentary, semi-presidential and presidential systems. Section five draws on these insights to make suggestions in which direction the empirical literature should evolve.

    2 Beyond the parliamentarism - presidentialism dis- tinction

    Parliamentary and presidential systems show different structures of their executive- leg- islative relationship. Whereas the former shows a hierarchical structure of the executive- legislative relationship, the latter shows a transactional one. In a hierarchical setting, the authority of one institution is derived from another institution. Contrary, in a transactional setting, the authority of the two institutions are derived independently (Shugart, 2006, 344).

    A vast literature exists on the influence of these two types of executive-legislative re- lationships on regime stability. This literature, however, shows rather conflicting results on whether parliamentary or presidential systems favor more regime stability. On the one hand, the comparison of parliamentary and presidential systems by Stephan and Skach (1993; 1994) shows several features of parliamentary systems making them more stable than presidential ones. These include, amongst others, a greater "propensity of govern- ments to have majorities to implement their programs"; a "greater ability to rule in a multiparty setting" and "greater tendency to provide long party or government careers,


  • Parliamentary procedures in presidential and parliamentary systems

    which add loyalty and experience to political society" (Stepan and Skach, 1993, 22). Sim- ilarly, Linz (1994), Lijphart (1994; 2008), and Przeworski, Alvarez, Cheibub and Limongi (1996) argue that parliamentary systems are more likely to lead to stable democracies than presidential systems. Or, put differently, that "presidentialism seems to involve greater risk for stable democratic politics than contemporary parliamentarism" (Linz, 1994, 70).

    On the other hand, several scholars show more stability for presidential democra- cies than for parliamentary ones. Mainwaring and Shugart (1997a, 449), for example, show that presidential systems are probable to function better "where presidencies have weak legislative powers, parties are at least moderately disciplined, and party systems are not highly fragmented" (see as well Mainwaring and Shugart (1997b) and Power and Gasiorowski (1997) who do not find any support for this thesis). Hence, especially pres- idential systems in combination with some other features, as for example multiparty systems (Mainwaring, 1993, 210–222), are less likely to lead to stable democracy. Simi- larly, Cheibub and Limongi (2002) and Cheibub (2007) argue that presidential systems per se are not less likely to be stable democracies but presidential systems "have existed in countries where the environment is inhospitable for any kind of democratic regime" (Cheibub, 2007, 136).

    Different approaches suggest alternative ways to classify countries into regime types. First, Tsebelis’ veto player approach does not focus on the well-known institutional fea- tures of the presidentialism-parliamentarism dichotomy. With reference to presidential- ism, for example, Tsebelis (1995,