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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

5 - FOUR MAIN TYPES OF CONSTITUTIONS

In the preceding parts I have argued that a legal decision-making system's way of functioning to a large extent depends on its constellation of main actors, which in turn depends on the properties of the political parties. In the following I will furthermore show that some constitutional traits are important determinants of these properties. Thus we will see that it matters how the executive is appointed, and how the legislators are appointed.

There are two main methods for appointing the executive, the one used in parliamentary systems, the other one in presidential systems. According to the parliamentary method the people first elects the legislature, which, in turn, appoints the executive. In a pure parliamentary system the executive, furthermore, can remain in office only as long as it enjoys the support, or confidence, of a majority in the legislature. This requirement is often referred to as the parliamentary principle. According to the presidential method separate popular elections are held for appointing a president and, thereby, the rest of the executive. In a presidential country, there are thus two main types of popular elections, those for electing the executive and those for electing the legislature.

As for methods for appointing the members of the legislature there are, again, essentially two types of methods. First there are the majoritarian methods using single-member constituencies and giving, in each constituency, the mandate to the candidate who, according to some set of rules, gets most votes. Second there are the proportional methods which use multi-member constituencies and distributes the mandates to the parties in proportion to their votes.

Now, by combining the methods for appointing the executive, and the legislators, we get the following four types of constitutions.

This fourfold classification includes the main types of democratic constitutions dealt with in the theory presented here. The classification is thus of fundamental importance, and a few comments on it are in order.

First, the actual distribution of the different types of constitutions exhibits a discernible pattern. The main examples of parliamentary constitutions with proportionalism are found in Western Europe; parliamentarism combined with majoritarianism is characteristic for the United Kingdom and some other countries in the Commonwealth; presidentialism combined with proportionalism is mainly met with in Latin America; and finally, the main example of presidentialism combined with majoritarianism is the US.

Second, the classification is not completely exhaustive. In particular constitutions which simultaneously have elements of presidentialism and parliamentarism, as for example the French constitution, are not represented - although they are gaining popularity. I do however hope, and believe, that the classification is fruitful in spite of this deficiency. The reason is my contention that it is expedient to analyze the simple and clear-cut cases before turning to the more complex, mixed forms.

Third, the fourfold classification of constitutions presented here is not totally absent in the political science literature. It is thus clearly indicated in for example Powell (1982) and Sartori (1994), and it is explicitly emphasized in Lijphart (1991). None of these authors do, however, stress the importance of the classification for the shaping of parties and party systems.

In the following subparts I will deal more extensively with majoritarian elections (part 5.1), proportional elections (part 5.2),  parliamentarism (part 5.3), and, finally, with presidentialism (part 5.4).