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#86535 - 08/15/08 03:33 AM Parliamentary democracy
mashenka
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Registered: 11/10/04
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Would somebody explain how exactly parliamentary democracy works? I've read about it but honestly don't quite understand. Who or what is being elected, and by whom? Who needs to form a government and how do they do that? What happens if they don't?

There was a poll on an Israeli website this week "Do you think the new leader of Kadima will be able to form a coalition," and I thought, well, if I knew what that was, I could tell you :) Same thing happens when I read that "her majesty asked Brown to form a goverment." It's just kind of confusing to someone used to the separation of executive and legislative powers.

Moderators, I am not sure if this is the right forum. I thought of posting to News and Views, but this is sort of more general. If there is a more appropriate place please feel free to move it. Thanks!

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#86538 - 08/15/08 03:01 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: mashenka]
StephA
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Registered: 06/13/02
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I can only speak about Canada's system, and even then, I'm no expert.

I can tell you that a coalition government is when two or more parties cooperate to form a government, usually because there is no one party that can get a majority in the parliament. In Canada's history, at least federally, it's very rare. I think it's only happened once or twice, in war-time.

In 2007, the federal government passed a law requiring a federal election every four years; prior to this law being passed, there was a five-year limit on a government's term but elections were often called before that five years was up.

In terms of who or what is elected, in Canada we vote for our local Member of Parliament (MP), who represents a riding, and that MP sits in the sits in the House of Commons. There are 308 ridings across Canada. (You can see the list at Wikipedia, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canadian_federal_electoral_districts).

We don't vote directly for the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister is almost always the leader of the majority party, that is, the party with the most MPs voted in across the country.
Right now, there are four parties represented in the House of Commons:
-Bloc Québécois - social democratic, Quebec separatist
-(New) Conservative Party of Canada - conservative, more right-wing (which is the majority party right now)
-Liberal Party of Canada - liberal, more-centre-left
-New Democratic Party - social democratic, left-wing

In Ontario provincial elections, we vote for a representative of a political party at a provincial level and the person with the most votes in THAT election becomes your Member of Provincial Parliament, or MPP.

Does this help at all? I told you I was no expert.

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#86669 - 09/15/08 11:38 AM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: StephA]
Essy
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Registered: 09/15/04
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In the UK, we vote for...

* Councillors (to represent the interests of your local area on a local level)

* Members of Parliament (to represent the interests of your local area on a national level)

* Members of the European Parliament (to represent the interests of your local area on an international level)

(We also have the House of Lords and the Queen, neither of whom are elected.)



We don't get to vote for the Prime Minister unless s/he happens to be running in our local area. Instead the number of MPs from each party is counted and the leader of the majority party becomes Prime Minister.

This is why when people write moaning letters to the newspapers saying 'How come Brown gets to run the country? I didn't vote for him!' You can guarantee that a pedant will write in the next day saying 'You didn't vote for Blair, either. Unless you live in Sedgefield!'

What the first letter writer meant of course was that he voted for his local Labour MP in the knowledge that Blair would then become Prime Minister and that had he known Brown would come to power he might have voted differently.

(We don't have a clear order of succession for PMs, so there's a huge internal fight amongst the majority party when a PM leaves without an election. All the MPs try to establish their credentials for the top spot without actually coming out and saying they're think the current PM should step down. It's all very back-stabby and High School-ish.)

Sadly most people here don't vote at all, let alone follow politics and when they do vote, the results can be alarming. Boris Johnson was voted into office based on a record of having been inadvertently funny on a TV quiz show. This isn't a reality show, people. It's an election! You can't just vote for people because it would be funny.

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#86672 - 09/15/08 06:58 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: Essy]
mashenka
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Interesting. Thank you. So the majority party decides who the PM will be? Suppose they can't decide or there's controversy? Or, for example, suppose so many people are against a certain person's candidacy that they threaten to leave the party?
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#86674 - 09/15/08 08:41 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: mashenka]
ken_m
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It is possible for a party to "revolt", if they lose confidence in their leader, turf him out and find a new one.

If a party divides into factions and can't agree on a leader, they sometimes split, at which time they might no longer hold a majority (or plurality) position in the House. The key is a tradition called a "vote of confidence". It is considered essential for the government to win votes on certain matters, primarily this means the budget and votes of "no confidence" but there are others. If the prime minister has lost the faith of parliament (because his party revolted or split, for example) and he doesn't have the votes to win the next time a vote of confidence arises, then the government falls. (This is also, usually, how a minority government falls.)

In circumstances like that, the executive power (Queen or governor-general, in the British system) can ask the other parties if they can form a government (a coalition of some kind), or just dissolve parliament and hold a new election.

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#87129 - 12/01/08 12:08 AM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: ken_m]
ken_m
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It is bad news to follow my own post, but the news this weekend is that the opposition parties are about to use the non-confidence method to turf Harper's conservatives out and form a coalition government.

I have very little comment to make on this news except YIPPEEE!!!!!

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#87131 - 12/01/08 08:49 AM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: ken_m]
TraceyB
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I heard about that this morning on NPR, ken_m. I'm not completely clear on how a non-confidence vote works, though - can the opposition parties just call a vote in Parliament at any time? If a vote-of-confidence has results favorable to the ruling party, does anything happen? For example, would they get a couple more years in office before having to call an election? Or do things just carry on?
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#87134 - 12/01/08 12:31 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: TraceyB]
ken_m
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There are actually two questions in what you asked. I will do my best to answer both.

I'm not sure when opposition parties can introduce Non-Confidence Votes (capitalized because it is an actual event). I think it is possible that only on certain days (called Opposition Days) they have the ability to introduce motions. (I might be wrong about that, though.) But basically, on any day when the rules say the opposition can introduce a motion to the house, it can be a motion of Non-Confidence.

However, (here's where it gets tricky) whereas all Non-Confidence Motions are motions of confidence, not all motions of confidence are Non-Confidence Motions. (:)) The key idea is that the government must at all times have the confidence of parliament, or it falls. Any major piece of legislation can therefore be viewed as a confidence motion. Some of them are traditional, but some are situational. If the government introduces a budget (for example) and they lose the vote on it, the government doesn't just lose on the budget, they lose power because budgets are always defined as confidence votes. (If the US were a parliamentary system, this would be like if the president were automatically impeached any time Congress rejected a proposed budget.)

What I mean by "situational" is that the government can also say, "We consider this to be a matter of confidence" about any vote. The subtext is, "Upon your heads be the consequences if you vote against us". Usually, you do this when the polls say you'd win a majority if there were an election. Instead of just calling an election (which looks cynical), you introduce a motion you know the opposition will have to defeat. Then they look like the bad guys, and you can run your campaign on how they "forced" the election on the country. (This, by the way, is the game of brinksmanship Harper was playing during the previous parliament, but the opposition never fell for it.)

Party discipline is so strong in Canada that basically every vote is a vote of confidence, unless they declare it to be a "matter of conscience", in which members are released to vote based on what they think is right, rather than what party leadership tells them. Governments can lose votes of conscience without penalty (but they can't make the budget a matter of conscience. :))


And to address your final question, since the government is required to have the confidence of parliament at all times, there is no gain to them if they survive the vote, except in terms of political capital. It would be very embarrassing for the opposition to file motions of non-confidence every week and keep losing.


Edited by ken_m (12/01/08 12:32 PM)

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#87143 - 12/02/08 12:55 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: ken_m]
TraceyB
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Thanks, ken_m! Between the close Senatorial elections here (including in my own State) and the different ways the states handle them, and the various political things that have gone on in Canada the past few months, I'm learning more about politics than I did in school.

Edited by TraceyB (12/02/08 12:55 PM)

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#87150 - 12/02/08 10:41 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: TraceyB]
essay
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Registered: 08/18/01
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Yes, I found the whole vote of confidence thing somewhat mind-boggling, but deeply interesting. It's yet another example of how we become entrenched in our own way of doing things, without oonsidering that people organize their lives in quite, quite different ways.
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#87160 - 12/03/08 05:32 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: ken_m]
setara
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Registered: 07/28/02
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Loc: Alberta/Canada

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 Originally Posted By: ken_m

I have very little comment to make on this news except YIPPEEE!!!!!


Ken_m,this is far from how I feel. I did not vote conservative in the last election, but I assure you that I would not be voting liberal or NDP in a next election. The timing of this in the middle of an economic crisis is ridiculous. There was not a political crisis here to allow for this mockery of the democratic process.

This is, at the end, just men hungry for power playing games in backrooms. Games that may endanger the notion of democracy itself.

SHAME, SHAME, SHAME is what I feel right now.

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#87161 - 12/03/08 09:10 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: setara]
LaSalleUGirl
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Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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setara, could you explain what kind of political crisis would justify the non-confidence method, in your view? I've been following this thread with great interest, and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the nuances. Thanks!
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#87162 - 12/03/08 10:02 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
ken_m
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setara, I am genuinely baffled by the talk of this situation being in any way a violation of the democratic process. (My opinion of the Harper spin machine screeching that it is a "coup d'etat" cannot be expressed without profanity.) Canadians do not vote for prime ministers or governments. Each member of parliament is elected by a riding to enact a set of policies, as laid out in their parties' respective platform statements. In a minority parliament, that is necessarily limited to a subset of those policies, because minority governments do not have the limited-term dictatorship powers of majorities.

So, here we have a case of the members of the three parties in opposition acting to enact a platform as close as possible to the set of policies on which they ran and were elected. The alternative is for them to hold their noses and vote with a government who is trying to force them to support policies exactly opposed to the platforms on which they were elected. To me, it seems obvious which choice best represents the interest of the people who voted for them.

This coalition, in my opinion, is more democratic, and less ethically questionable, than members of parliament crossing the floor from one party (in which they were elected) to another party (in which they were not elected). Crossing the floor goes clearly against the wishes of one's electors. This coalition is just making the best of a bad situation.

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#87166 - 12/04/08 11:04 AM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: ken_m]
setara
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Registered: 07/28/02
Posts: 471
Loc: Alberta/Canada

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Ken_m I did not call it a violation of the democratic process, but a mockery of the process. That the constitution allows for a coalition government is, in my opinion, an insightful tool for a situation of crisis. What I don’t agree is that there was a crisis at hand here to sanction the use of this tool.

LaSalleUGirl, you asked when I think this could be used? Well, the last time it was used in Canada was during WWI. But we are not in the middle of such a war, we have not been attacked by terrorists, Canada’s financial institutions are not bankrupted, … If there had been any situation here which had brought out great public outcry against the governing party, I would had understand the call for a coalition. But there has been nothing here other than the bickering of the Members of Parliament. When they call crisis what I hear is childish tantrum.

I seem to be in the odd spot of defending the conservatives – a party which I did not support – but this coalition was called before a budged was brought in to a parliament vote. They did win an election! As much as I viscerally dislike them, they had the majority of the votes of any other individual party. Democracy has problems – it is by definition the dictatorship of the majority – but it is to this day the best system we have.

When these parties in this coalition say we together add to the majority, I question it because they have very distinct platforms. I did not vote for a coalition. And I doubt they would unit under one party under the next election. So I become very skeptical of the reasons for this said coalition.

Maybe my reaction to it all comes from my experience growing up and still closely watching politics in Brazil. What happened here shuttered my view of politics in Canada, which I regarded as being much above the opportunism I see in my native country. Yes, my skepticism has deep roots, but I think that it has also made me less naïve of the fact that the people involved in politics don’t leave their egos at home when they are dealing with matters of public interest.

This coalition is the fruit of Mr. Dion’s inability to admit he did not capture to heart and mind of Canadians. Harper is portrait as dictatorial, but Dion is worst. Any man that believes he alone has the answer to a country’s problem is to be feared to no end. And, worst of all, the belief that the end justifies the means is at the root of all great political tragedies since beginning of times.

Then, there is the timing of this. In the middle of the worst economic disaster in 80 years, the only thing that Canada really had was stability. And this coalition did not have the foresight to see it. When they put themselves ahead of the whole, I doubt I want them leading this country through it. Who will be the Prime-minister in 4 months? We don’t even know that.

Among the population in general what I see is disrespect to the fact that a majority did put in power a party with very conservative economic views. The more liberal voters see this coalition as a way to get to power and disregard the opinion of those voters on the way the county should be run. Us, the smart, left-wing, liberal, intellectual can argue that the policies of the Conservative party are sexist, non ecological, small minded, etc… but we should accept – even if personally we don’t agree – that most voters do believe in them more than in us. Again, to think we only have the answers, and that it is permissible to impose our answers through a constitutional mechanism that we are subverting in its core meaning, is very dangerous to the democratic process.

I am sorry this got so lengthy. But I am emotionally very upset with what I see happening.

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#87167 - 12/04/08 12:46 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: setara]
LaSalleUGirl
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Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1895
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Thank you, setara! That definitely helped put things into context and flesh out my (admittedly still fragmentary) understanding of this situation.
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#87176 - 12/05/08 01:32 PM Re: Parliamentary democracy [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
setara
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Registered: 07/28/02
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LaSalleUgirl, here is a link to an article from The Economist. It certantly should explain things better to you than my ramblings.
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