It's Political Leaders that Choose Electoral Systems in Parliament: A Reassessment of the Relation between Electoral and Parliamentary Reform
27 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 25 May 2013
Date Written: 2013
The literatures on electoral systems and legislatures usually treat the causal relationship between electoral systems and parliamentary rules as unidirectional, with the proportionality of electoral rules determining the centralization of parliamentary powers. This paper argues that such reasoning runs the risk of ‘reading history backward’. A qualitative sequence elaboration of decisions about electoral and parliamentary reform in two pathway cases (the United Kingdom and Germany) reveals that decisions about parliamentary agenda control determine electoral choice. In the United Kingdom, the introduction of the closure in 1882 served as a necessary condition for the turn toward majority rule in the 1885 Redistribution Act and at the same time constituted a sufficient condition for limiting the probability of party system fragmentation. In Germany, the institutionalization of decentralized parliamentary agenda control in the Council of Seniors (in which the SPD as the crucial actor of the 1919 electoral reform participated in an institutionalized fashion by the end of the First World War) served as a sufficient condition for limiting the socialist threat perceived by the center-right parties (which rendered PR acceptable for them). Parliamentary rules hence served as an antecedent (United Kingdom) or intervening factor (Germany) diminishing the existing causal relationship between developments on the party system level and electoral reform.
Keywords: agenda control, electoral reform, sequence elaboration, closure, Redistribution Act, United Kingdom
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