|Politics Portal · edit|
In government, bicameralism (bi + Latin camera, chamber) is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. Thus, a bicameral parliament or bicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses. Bicameralism is an essential and defining feature of the classical notion of mixed government. Bicameral legislatures tend to require a concurrent majority to pass legislation.
Although the ideas on which bicameralism are based can be traced back to the theories developed in Ancient Sumer and later ancient Greece, ancient India, and Rome, recognizable bicameral institutions first arose in medieval Europe where they were associated with separate representation of different estates of the realm. For example, one house would represent the aristocracy, and the other would represent the commoners. The Founding Fathers of the United States also favored a bicameral legislature. The idea was to have the Senate be wealthier, and (apparently) wiser. The Senate was created to be a stabilizing force, elected not by mass electors, but selected by the State legislators. Senators would be more knowledgeable and more deliberate—a sort of republican nobility—and a counter to what Madison saw as the `fickleness and passion' that could absorb the House. He noted further, "The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch." Madison's argument led the Framers to grant the Senate prerogatives in foreign policy, an area where steadiness, discretion, and caution were deemed especially important". The Senate was chosen by state legislators, and had to possess a significant amount of property in order to be deemed worthy and sensible enough for the position. In fact, it was not until the year 1913 that the 17th Amendment was passed, which "mandated that Senators would be elected by popular vote rather than chosen by the State legislatures".
As part of the Great Compromise, they invented a new rationale for bicameralism in which the upper house would have states represented equally, and the lower house would have them represented by population.
In subsequent constitution making, federal states have often adopted bicameralism, and the solution remains popular when regional differences or sensitivities require more explicit representation, with the second chamber representing the constituent states. Nevertheless, the older justification for second chambers—providing opportunities for second thoughts about legislation—has survived.
Growing awareness of the complexity of the notion of representation and the multifunctional nature of modern legislatures may be affording incipient new rationales for second chambers, though these do generally remain contested institutions in ways that first chambers are not. An example of political controversy regarding a second chamber has been the debate over the powers of the Canadian Senate or the election of the Senate of France.
The relationship between the two chambers varies; in some cases, they have equal power, while in others, one chamber is clearly superior in its powers. The first tends to be the case in federal systems and those with presidential governments. The latter tends to be the case in unitary states with parliamentary systems.
Some theorists believe that bicameralism makes meaningful political reforms more difficult to achieve and increases the risk of deadlock (particularly in cases where both chambers have similar powers). Others argue strongly for the merits of the "checks and balances" provided by the bicameral model, which they believe helps prevent the passage into law of ill-considered legislation.
Some countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States, link their bicameral systems to their federal political structure.
In the United States, Australia, and Mexico, for example, each state is given the same number of seats in the legislature's upper house. This takes account of population differences between states — it is designed to ensure that smaller states are not overshadowed by more populous ones. (In the United States, the deal that ensured this arrangement is known as the Connecticut Compromise.) In the lower houses of each country, these provisions do not apply, and seats are allocated based purely on population. The bicameral system, therefore, is a method of combining the principle of democratic equality with the principle of federalism — all citizens are equal in the lower houses, while all states are equal in the upper houses.
In Canada, the country as a whole is divided into a number of Senate Divisions, each with a different number of Senators, based on a number of factors. These Divisions are Quebec, Ontario, Western Provinces, and the Maritimes, each with 24 Senators, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, each with 1 Senator, and Newfoundland and Labrador has 6 Senators, making for a total of 105 Senators. Senators in Canada are not elected by the people but are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Senate does not originate most legislation (although a small fraction of government bills are introduced in the Senate and Senators may introduce private members' bills in the same way as MPs) but merely acts as a sort of rubber stamp to legislation passed by the House of Commons that is made up of Members of Parliament (MPs) who have been elected by the people. The Senate must pass legislation before it becomes law and can therefore act as a wise facilitator or engage in filibuster. The Senate does not have to endure the accountability and scrutiny of parliamentary debate nor elections. Therefore, the bicameral structure of Canadian parliament is more de jure than de facto.
In the German, Indian, and Pakistani systems, the upper houses (the Bundesrat, the Rajya Sabha, and the Pakistani Senate respectively) are even more closely linked with the federal system, being appointed or elected directly by the governments of each German Bundesland, Indian State, or Pakistani Province. (This was also the case in the United States before the 17th Amendment.) The Indian Upper House does not have the states represented equally, but on the basis of their population. Same holds for German Bundesrat, although less populated states still have a stronger voting power than would be the case in a system based purely on population.
There are also instances of bicameralism in countries that are not federations, but which have upper houses with representation on a territorial basis. For example in South Africa, the National Council of Provinces (and before 1997, the Senate) has its members chosen by each Province's legislature. "
The European Union maintains a bicameral legislative system which consists of the European Parliament, which is elected in general elections on the basis of universal suffrage, and the Council of the European Union which consists of members of the governments of the Member States which are competent for the relevant field of legislation. Although the European Union is not considered a state, it enjoys the power to legislate in many areas of politics; in some areas, those powers are even exclusively reserved to it.
Norway had a kind of semi-bicameral legislature with two chambers, or departments, within the same elected body, the Storting. These were called the Odelsting and Lagting and were abolished after the general election of 2009. According to Morten Søberg, there was a related system in the 1798 constitution of the Batavian Republic.
In a few countries, bicameralism involves the juxtaposition of democratic and aristocratic elements.
The best known example is the British House of Lords, which includes a number of hereditary peers. The House of Lords represents a vestige of the aristocratic system which once predominated in British politics, while the other house, the House of Commons, is entirely elected. Over the years, there have been proposals to reform the House of Lords, some of which have been at least partly successful — the House of Lords Act 1999 limited the number of hereditary peers (as opposed to life peers, appointed by the government) to 92, down from around 700. The ability of the House of Lords to block legislation is curtailed by the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. Further reform of the Lords is planned.
Many bicameral systems are not connected with either federalism or an aristocracy, however. Japan, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Ireland and Romania are examples of bicameral systems existing in unitary states. In countries such as these, the upper house generally exists solely for the purpose of scrutinising and possibly vetoing the decisions of the lower house.
In some of these countries, the upper house is indirectly elected. Members of France's Senate, Ireland's Seanad Éireann are chosen by electoral colleges consisting of members of the lower house, local councillors, the Taoiseach, and graduates of selected universities, while the Netherlands' Senate is chosen by members of provincial assemblies.
In some countries with federal systems, individual states (like those of the United States, Australia and Few States of India) may also have bicameral legislatures. Only two such states, Nebraska in the US, Queensland in Australia, have adopted unicameral systems. Few Indian States - Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jammu-Kashmir & Bihar have Bicameral Legislatures.
However, in early United States history, unicameral state legislatures were not totally uncommon: even though twelve of the original thirteen States (Pennsylvania being the only exception) had a bicameral legislature at the time of the Philadelphia Convention, some of the new States didn't immediately adopt such system. It was not until 1836, for example, that Vermont finally created a Senate.
During the 1930s, the Legislature of the State of Nebraska was reduced from bicameral to unicameral with the 43 members that once comprised that state's Senate. One of the arguments used to sell the idea at the time to Nebraska voters was that by adopting a unicameral system, the perceived evils of the "conference committee" process would be eliminated.
A conference committee is appointed when the two chambers cannot agree on the same wording of a proposal, and consists of a small number of legislators from each chamber. This tends to place much power in the hands of only a small number of legislators. Whatever legislation, if any, the conference committee finalizes must then be approved in an unamendable "take-it-or-leave-it" manner by both chambers.
During his term as Governor of the State of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura proposed converting the Minnesotan legislature to a single chamber with proportional representation, as a reform that he felt would solve many legislative difficulties and impinge upon legislative corruption. In his book on political issues, Do I Stand Alone?, Ventura argued that bicameral legislatures for provincial and local areas were excessive and unnecessary, and discussed unicameralism as a reform that could address many legislative and budgetary problems for states.
In Australian states, the lower house was traditionally elected based on the one-vote-one-value principle, whereas the upper house was partially appointed and elected, with a bias towards country voters. In Queensland, the appointed upper house was abolished in 1922, while in New South Wales there were similar attempts at abolition, before the upper house was reformed in the 1970s to provide for direct election. Nowadays, the upper house is elected using proportional voting and the lower house through preferential voting, except in Tasmania, where proportional voting is used for the lower house, and preferential voting for the upper house.
A 2005 report on democratic reform in the Arab world by the US Council on Foreign Relations co-sponsored by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged Arab states to adopt bicameralism, with upper chambers appointed on a 'specialised basis'. The Council claimed that this would protect against the 'Tyranny of the majority', expressing concerns that without a system of checks and balances extremists would use the single chamber parliaments to restrict the rights of minority groups.
In 2002, Bahrain adopted a bicameral system with an elected lower chamber and an appointed upper house. This led to a boycott of parliamentary elections that year by the Al Wefaq party, who said that the government would use the upper house to veto their plans. Many secular critics of bicameralism were won round to its benefits in 2005, after many MPs in the lower house voted for the introduction of so-called morality police.
A referendum on introducing a unicameral Parliament instead of the current bicameral Parliament was held in Romania on 22 November 2009. The turnout rate was 50.95%, with 77.78% of "Yes" votes for a unicameral Parliament. This referendum had a consultative role, thus requiring a parliamentary initiative and another referendum to ratify the new proposed changes.