Parliamentary Systems and Presidential Systems
The relationship between the governing institutions in a country differs depending on the political system in force. Though each country possesses varying political systems, conclusions can be drawn on characteristics describing these systems and their relation to political instability. It is prudent to understand that a majority of European political systems are run by a parliamentary system with a cabinet appointed prime minister or chancellor heading the cabinet (Rothacher, 18). Besides the prime minister, other members form the cabinet and are charged with responsibilities pertaining to national education, defense agriculture, foreign affairs and so on. The defining characteristics are the ultimate explanations of instability in parliamentary systems and presidential systems.
Most democracies in European nations use a parliamentary system with fundamentally different rules from what is regarded as the stable American presidential system. One important characteristic defining the parliamentary system is the mandate of selecting the executive through the parliament. The nation’s citizens elect the parliament thus making it the sole body claiming the responsibility of representing the people’s will. The cabinet is the executive branch of the European parliamentary system headed by the sitting prime minister. In any cabinet, the role of the prime minister may be weak or strong depending on the overall political circumstances and individual personality. Legal authority also has a role to play in this aspect. For example, the chancellor in Germany is particularly strong coming from his or her legal authority to direct other members of the cabinet. This authority is not available in other parliamentary nations where the prime minister or chancellor resorts to informal means when exerting influence (Rothacher, 26). This aspect makes this political system unstable.
It is mandatory that a new cabinet wins the parliament’s vote of confidence. However, an explicit vote of confidence in nations under the European Union is not necessary. In this case, the head of state is charged with the responsibility of appointing the cabinet, and the cabinet confidence is assumed unless the head expresses a lack of confidence in it. However, this premise does not alter the fact that the cabinet is dependent on the parliament’s confidence vote. The aspect of confidence vote imposes party discipline thus making this system unstable. When a member of parliament acts against party discipline, a vote of no confidence may be passed and thus leading to severe sanctions or even expulsion from the party at the extreme. The handling of confidence votes varies in different nations under the European Union. A political party having the majority share in the parliament is the most influential factor and can manipulate proceedings in the parliament maliciously.
The aspect of instability in the parliamentary system of European Union nations comes through a single party possessing absolute majority within the parliament ((Huber, 34). One good example is of this situation is Great Britain. General elections in this nation lead to the absolute majority in the House of Commons to either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. When one party possesses absolute majority, an imposed party discipline implies a straightforward party discipline. In simple terms, the majority part forms the cabinet. This factor can be illustrated by the events following the elections in 2005 where Labour secured 356 of the total 646 available seats. This victory implied that Labour would form the cabinet.
There are two considerations in the situation above. Either party forming the cabinet was already in power prior to the election or it was in opposition. For example, when the Labor party won in 2005, it had held office since 1997. With the idea of retaining the winning team, most members of the previous cabinet retained their seats including Tony Blair as the Prime Minister then (Kornberg, 58). The other situation involves forming the cabinet as an opposition party. This situation can be illustrated by the 1979 elections won by the Conservatives. The party announced the names of members and the respective posts they were expected to fill. This aspect or rule creates instability within the parliament. Parliamentary rule becomes seemingly biased since they are represented by a party with a common view. Furthermore, current progress in development by the previous party is halted or hindered by the takeover in office.
Other situations maintain that no party possesses control in majority at the parliament. In this case, the process of forming the cabinet is different from that used in Great Britain. Cabinet formation manifests itself through minimal winning. This necessitates the coalition of parties to form the cabinet. Germany serves as a good illustration of this parliamentary system. In 1969, for example, Christian Democrats won the elections with 242 seats followed Social democrats with 224 and Free Democrats with 30 seats. The Christian Democrats felt they had secured the elections but were later surprised on learning deal between Social democrats and Free Democrats. The Social democrats and Free Democrats decided to merge and combine their votes to a total 249 thus gaining majority legally. However, this created instability in the parliament from the aspect of ousting the party that garnered the most number of votes. However, others felt that a coalition parliament represented the majority of voters with 249 rather than the 224 of the single party the Christian Democrats (Kornberg, 85).
Other than mini sized parliaments, there also exist oversize parliaments. Even though their occurrence is not often, the formation of these cabinets is a time encouraged by certain circumstances. Oversized cabinets arise from merging more coalition partners than necessary required to attain majority in the parliament. Switzerland is one European Union country that illustrates this concept. Furthermore, Switzerland is the only country where the government cannot be dissolved once the legislature has set it up. The members of the cabinet are elected individually to serve a four-year period. Unlike a regular parliamentary system, the Swiss government owes no responsibility to the legislature. However, the government depends on the legislature to pass legislation, but the legislature cannot issue a vote of no confidence henceforth. Therefore, a Swiss government cannot be toppled even when if fails to live up to its legal responsibilities (Rosenthal, 24).
Another form of parliamentary instability comes through with Italy. Since the World War II was concluded, the Italian parliament has had large numbers of parties and strong parties, as well. Strong parties in Italy include Neofascist Italian Social Movement and the Communists. Until the cold war was concluded, these two parties were excluded from forming part of the cabinet. The reason behind this decision was that these parties did not ally democratic principles (Warwick, 37). Cabinet formation was therefore, always left to the hands of moderate parties such as Republicans, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. Christian Democrats had at one time secured majority votes in parliament. They consequently developed into the governing party since no cabinet could be formed without their participation.
The dominant force of the Christian Democrats was the weakness of the system. From a democratic point of view, voters hold the key to ousting a party from cabinet rule. Regardless, the Italian parliamentary system there was no vote alternative to a cabinet formed by the Christian Democrats since cabinet rule by Neofascists and Communists could not be allowed (Warwick, 51). Regardless of the election results, the cabinet prime minister was always from the Christian Democrat party until the early 1980s. The logic expectation may translate to cabinet stability because one party held dominance, but the reverse was true. Cabinets usually served for a small period and prime ministers from Christian Democratic Party succeeded each other at brief intervals. This occurred partly because the Christian Democratic Party was formed in form of a loose federation that included several independent fractions. When Christian Democratic formed endeavored to form the cabinet, it often amounted in infighting among the fractions.
If a fraction was not included in important cabinet posts, it endeavored to oust the cabinet and replace it with one dominated by its members (Warwick, 62). Consequently, Italy endured frequent crises in its parliamentary system despite the fact Christian Democrats always had a representative prime minister. The make-up of the cabinet was always under constant change with tussle revolving around the same politicians. The key factor was a prime minister in this particular cabinet, absent from the next, foreign minister, and then back to prime minister in another cabinet. An extreme case of this scenario is held by Giulio Andreotti who held thirty-six cabinet posts including seven runs as the prime minister. Cabinets in Italy were under constant change but the members remained the same. This instability meant that overthrowing the cabinet was not an expensive action.
In new democracies across Eastern and Central Europe, instability of the parliamentary system is often similar to that of Italy. A similar situation can be illustrated by Czech Republic after the parliamentary elections in 2006. In the elections for the 200 member parliament seats, both parties to the cabinet had managed to gather an equal share of 100 seats each. This scenario resulted to a severe deadlock. In September the same year, the Civic Democratic Party attempted to form the cabinet through minority rule. However, it lost cabinet position through a no confidence vote within a month. In January the next year, three social democrat members abstained from participating in the elections. This implied that the opposing party won the tally 100:97. Instability continued as the Social Democrats attempted to overthrow the cabinet.
According to Rothacher (78), the rapid speed within the globalization process ultimately influences the proceedings of all countries including members of the European Union. This influence occurs regardless of the country’s capacity to cope with it. Mindful of the aspect behind internal and foreign debts limits the opportunities of any nation to integrate into the globalization process. It is prudent to understand that some of these countries owe debts that exceed their national budgets for health, housing education, and environmental programmes. This implies that their governments have to divert funds from human development funds and economic initiatives. Ultimately, this affects the democratic development as well as political stability of the nation through aggravating conflicts.
In conclusion, the above analytical report has established several parliamentary systems in the European Union nations with unstable rule. However, it is fundamental to understand that instability does not necessarily occur in a parliamentary system. This report was able to establish that this premise is dependent on the kind and number of political parties participating in parliament, and this in turn is dependent on various systems of parliamentary elections practiced in European Union nations. In an effort to understand how parliamentary systems are constrained by an institutional setting, there is need to grasp the concept behind the interactions of cabinet formation rules and parliamentary election rules (Huber, 74).
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Kornberg, Allan. Legislatures in Comparative Perspective. New York: D. McKay Co, 1973. Print.
Rosenthal, Maoz. “Unstable Multiparty Parliamentary Democracy: Evidence from the European Nations.” Constitutional Political Economy. 23.1 (2012): 22-44. Print.
Rothacher, Albrecht. “European Union Parliamentary Systems.” Problems of European Integration: the Case of the Southern and East Central European Countries. (2008): 131-136. Print.
Warwick, Paul. Government Survival in Parliamentary Democracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.