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Unicameralism is the practice of having only one legislative or parliamentary chamber. Many countries with unicameral legislatures are often small and homogeneous unitary states and consider an upper house or second chamber unnecessary.

Contents

Concept

Unicameral legislatures exist when there is no widely perceived need for multicameralism. Many multicameral legislatures were created to give separate voices to different sectors of society. Multiple chambers allowed for guaranteed representation of different social classes (as in the Parliament of the United Kingdom or the French Estates-General), ethnic or regional interests, or subunits of a federation. Where these factors are unimportant, in unitary states with weak regional identity, unicameralism often prevails. Sometimes, as in Sweden or New Zealand, this comes about through the abolition of the other chambers, or their merger into the remaining chamber, while in others a second chamber has never existed.

Unicameral legislatures are also common in Communist states, including the People's Republic of China, Cuba, and former Communist states such as the People's Republic of Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and Serbia. The Socialist viewpoint regards upper houses as typically conservative and representing the interests of the upper classes.

The principal advantage of a unicameral system is more efficient lawmaking, as the legislative process is much simpler and there is no possibility of legislative deadlock. Proponents of unicameralism have also argued that it reduces costs, as even if the number of legislators is the same as it would be in a multicameral system, there are fewer institutions to maintain and support.

The main weakness of a unicameral system is the lack of restraint on the majority, particularly noticeable in parliamentary systems where the leaders of the parliamentary majority also dominate the executive. There is also the risk, depending on how seats are allocated in the legislature, that important sectors of society may not be adequately represented.

Examples

Approximately half of the world's sovereign states are presently unicameral, including both the most populous (the People's Republic of China) and the least populous (the Vatican City).

Many subnational entities have unicameral legislatures. These include Nebraska, Guam and the Virgin Islands in the United States, Hong Kong, the Australian states and territories of Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, all of the provinces and territories in Canada, all of the German Bundesländer, all of the Italian Regioni and all of the Spanish Autonomous Communities.

In the United Kingdom, the devolved Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly are also unicameral.

Almost all city legislatures are also unicameral in the sense that the city councils are not divided into two chambers. Until the turn of the 20th century, bicameral city councils were common in the United States.

In a non-binding referendum held on July 10, 2004, voters in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico approved changing its Legislative Assembly to a unicameral body by 456,267 votes in favor (83.7%) versus 88,720 against (16.3%). If both the territory's House of Representatives and Senate approve by a 2/3 vote the specific amendments to the Puerto Rico Constitution that are required for the change to a unicameral legislature, another referendum will be held in the territory to approve such amendments. If those constitutional changes are approved, Puerto Rico will switch to a unicameral legislature as early as 2015.

Examples

     Nations with bicameral legislatures.      Nations with unicameral legislatures.      No legislature.
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National

Territorial

Subnational

Federation

Devolution

Unitary

  • The People's Congresses of all levels of provinces, regions and municipalities of the People's Republic of China

Others

Unicameralist trends within the States of the United States

Within the individual United States, bicameralism was usually modeled upon that of the United States Federal Government, with the upper house, in analogy to the states, consisting of State Senators who represented geographic areas independent of their population, typically counties. Reynolds v. Sims ruled that all districts for both State Senate seats and State House seats had to be roughly proportional to each other, which ended the practice of having State Senators apportioned equally to every county.

Nebraska is currently the only state with a unicameral legislature. Nebraska's state legislature is also unique in the sense that it is the only state legislature that is entirely nonpartisan.

In 1999, Governor Jesse Ventura [1] said that the Minnesota Legislature should adopt a single unicameral chamber. Though debated, the idea was never adopted.

Local government legislatures of counties, cities, or other political subdivisions within states are usually unicameral and have limited lawmaking powers compared to their state and federal counterparts.

On June 9, 2009, the Maine House of Representatives voted to form a unicameral legislature [2]. If approved by the Senate, the measure will appear on the ballot in 2010. The transfer would take place in 2014.

On July 13, 2009, in response to legislative gridlock in New York State, former Congressman Rick Lazio, a prospective candidate for governor, has proposed that New York adopt the unicameral legislative model. [3]

Unicameralist trend in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the process of amending or revising the current constitution and form of government is popularly known as Charter Change. A shift to a unicameral parliament is included in the proposals of the constitutional commission created by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. [4] Unlike in the United States, senators in the Philippine Senate are elected not per district and state but nationally; the Philippines is a unitary state. [5] The Philippine government's decision making process, relative to the United States, is more rigid, highly centralized, much slower and susceptible to political "gridlocks." As a result, the trend for unicameralism as well as other political system reforms are more contentious in the Philippines. [6]

See also

Notes


Simple English

A Unicameral system of government is one where there is only one legislative or parliamentary chambers.

It comes from the Latin "uni" (meaning one) and "camera" (meaning chamber).

In the United States, only the state of Nebraska uses a unicameral system. All the other states use a bicameral system instead.


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