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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Notes from "Parliamentary, Presidential and Semi-Presidential Democracies: Making and Breaking Governments"

Chapter 12 of Principles of Comparative Politics (William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder and Sona Nadenichek Golder)


- Classifying democracies (the presence of a president isn't sufficient):
Is the government responsible to the elected legislature?
+ No: Presidential democracies (the government doesn't depend on a legislative majority to exist). 
E.g 2008: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, the US, Venezuela, etc.
+ Yes=> Is the head of state popularly elected for a fixed term of office?
  • Yes: Semi-presidential. E.g 2008: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Niger, Poland, Portugal, Taiwan, etc.
  • No: Parliamentary. E.g 2008: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, the UK, etc.

- Legislative responsibility: a legislative majority has the constitutional power to remove the government from office without cause.
A vote of no confidence: initiated by the legislature; if the government doesn't obtain a legislative majority in this vote, it must resign.
(A constructive vote of no confidence must indicate who will replace the government if the incumbent loses a vote of no confidence=> to reduce instability).
A vote of confidence: initiated by the government; if the government doesn't obtain a legislative majority in this vote, it must resign.
- A head of state is popularly elected if voters either cast ballots directly for the candidate they wish to elect, or cast ballots to elect an assembly (sometimes called an electoral college), whose sole role is to elect the head of state.
To serve a fixed term: the head of state serves for a fixed period of time before he needs to be reappointed and cannot be removed from office in the meantime.

I/ Making and breaking governments: Parliamentary democracies
- Government= a PM (political chief executive and head of government) + a cabinet (composed of ministers whose job it is to be in the cabinet and head the various government departments).

- An investiture vote is a formal vote in the legislature to determine whether a proposed government can take office. Absolute majority or plurality.
A caretaker government occurs when an election is called or when an incumbent government either resigns or is defeated in a vote of no confidence=> rules the country for an interim period until a new government is called.

- 2 types of politicians:
+ An office-seeking politician: interested in the intrinsic benefits of office; wants as much office as possible.
=> To other party leaders: "I'll give you X ministerial posts in the government in exchange for your legislative support".
=> Gamson's law: the cabinet portfolios will be distributed among government parties in strict proportion to the number of seats that each party contributes to the government's legislative majority.
  • Minimal winning coalition: there are no parties that are not required to control a legislative majority.
  • Least minimal winning coalition: MWC with the lowest number of surplus seats.

+ A policy-seeking politician: only wants to shape policy.
A connected coalition: 1 in which the member parties are located directly next to each other in the policy space.

-  Different types of government:
+ Minority government: the party or parties in power don't explicitly command a majority of legislative seats (=> implicit majority in the legislature that supports it).
  • more likely when opposition influence is strong.
  • more likely in corporatist countries (corporatist interest groups relations occur when key social/ economic actors- labour, business, agriculture groups, are integrated into the formal policymaking process; as opposed to pluralist interest group relations, which occur when interest groups compete in the political marketplace outside of the formal policymaking process).
  • less likely when there's a formal investiture vote (when rules are positive- investiture votes required=> the onus is on the government to demonstrate that it's supported; when rules are negative=> the onus is on the parliament to show that the government's not tolerated).

+ Surplus majority government: the cabinet includes more parties than are strictly necessary to control a majority of legislative seats.
Preelectoral coalition: collection of parties that don't compete independently at election times.
Government coalition: coalition that forms after election.

II/ Making and breaking governments: Presidential democracies
- Government: a president+ a cabinet.
Doesn't have to maintain majority legislative support in order to maintain office=> doesn't have to negotiate.
- Portfolio coalition: composed of those legislators belonging to parties in the cabinet.
Legislative coalition: voting bloc composed of legislators who support a piece of legislation.

- Presidential decree: an order by the president that has the force of law.
Presidents can achieve their policy goals either through the legislature or through decrees.
Weak decree power/ small party in the legislature/ party exhibiting low level of party discipline=> likely to appoint cabinets that are like those from parliamentary democracies=> more partisan ministers, more proportional allocation of cabinet portfolios.

III/ Making and breaking governments: Semi-presidential democracies
- Government: A PM+ a cabinet.
- 2 types:
+ Premier-presidential system: government responsible to the legislature but not the president. As the name suggests, the reins of power are firmly with the "premier" or prime minister and the president is not considered part of the executive. 
Looks and functions like parliamentary democracies with a presidential head of state. Only difference: popularly elected for a fixed term of office.
+ President- parliamentary system: government responsible to the legislature and the president. As the name suggests, the president is much more powerful in this system and considered part of the executive. The functions may vary, but it is often the case that the president has more influence in matters of foreign policy and the PM's more powerful in domestic politics. 

=> Responsibility of government in each type of democracy:


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- Delegation occurs when 1 person/ group, called the principal, relies on another person/ group, called an agent, to act on the principal's behalf.
e.g in life: patient/ customer: principal, doctor/ mechanic: agent.
- Direct democracy: form of government in which people collectively make decisions for themselves.
Representative democracy: form of government where citizens delegate power to elected individuals to represent them and act on their behalf.
- A principal-agent, or delegation, problem: difficulties that arise when a principal delegates authority to an agent who potentially has different goals from the principal and cannot be perfectly monitored.
Agency loss: difference between the actual consequence of delegation and what the consequence would have been had the agent been perfect (= does what a principal would have done had the principal been the agent).
- Adverse selection: the agent has attributes that are hidden from the principal.
Moral hazard: the agent has the opportunity to take actions that are hidden from the principal.
=> These problems can be mitigated if the principal can gather more information about the agent.
=> ex ante mechanism: helps principals to learn about their agents before these agents are chosen (election campaign, debates, screening, etc.)
or ex post mechanism: used to learn about agents' actions after they have occurred.
  • police patrol system: principals monitor the actions of their agents themselves (public hearings).
  • fire alarm system: principals rely on information from others to learn about what the agents are doing (media).

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