Effective Parliament

Does the voting system produce parliaments able to scrutinise and affect the actions and policies of governments?

Effective parliament is widely considered to be one of the major criteria for assessing electoral systems.

As the Report of the [New Zealand] Royal Commission on the Electoral System notes:

"As well as providing a Government, members of the House [of Representatives] have a number of other important parliamentary functions. These include providing a forum for the promotion of alternative Governments and policies, enacting legislation, authorising the raising of taxes and the expenditure of public money, scrutinising the actions and policies of the executive, and supplying a focus for individual and group aspirations and grievances. The voting system should provide a House which is capable of exercising these functions as effectively as possible."

The editors of The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design put it as follows: "Effective governance relies not only on those 'in power' but, almost as much, on those who sit in parliament but are out of government.

The electoral system should help ensure the presence of a viable parliamentary opposition grouping which can critically assess legislation, safeguard minority rights, and represent their constituents effectively. … [If] the [electoral] system itself makes parliamentary opposition impotent, democratic governance is inherently weakened."

It is important to note that the criterion 'Effective parliament' involves a trade-off. As a general rule, if parliaments are stronger and more effective, then governments are likely to be rather weaker and somewhat less effective. In brief, the more parliaments 'flex their muscles', the more 'hamstrung' governments can be.

Each of the voting systems tends to perform on the question of effective parliament in the following ways:

MMP

Parliament is less likely to be dominated by the government. Parliament is more able to scrutinise and affect the actions and policies of government. Cross‐party negotiations are common, and governing parties may need to compromise to pass legislation.

FPP

Parliament is more likely to be dominated by the government. Parliament is less able to scrutinise and affect the actions and policies of government. Cross-party negotiations are uncommon, and governments seldom need to compromise to pass legislation.

PV

Parliament is more likely to be dominated by the government. Parliament is less able to scrutinise and affect the actions and policies of government. Cross-party negotiations are uncommon, and governments seldom need to compromise to pass legislation.

STV

Parliament is normally less likely to be dominated by the government. Parliament is more able to scrutinise and affect the actions and policies of government. Cross-party negotiations are common, and governing parties may need to compromise to pass legislation.

SM

Parliament is normally more likely to be dominated by the government. Parliament is usually less able to scrutinise and affect the actions and policies of government. Cross-party negotiations are likely to be uncommon, and governments will not generally need to compromise to pass legislation.

Last updated: 29 January 2013