Cohesion and Discipline of the Party in Government: Parliament vs. Congress

Topics: Parliamentary system, Legislature, Parliament Pages: 12 (4462 words) Published: March 20, 2013
Parties matter in part because they influence the actions of elected officials. But scholars also note that lawmakers from the same party may not vote together. Party cohesion has varied over time - sometimes party members stick together on many key votes, at other times they are no more likely to vote with fellow party members than with the opposition. Parties have various means at their disposal to encourage members to cooperate in achieving a party program. Sometimes these tools are sufficiently compelling that individual members may back the party program at the expense of their constituents' interest. However the case is quite different in European Parliamentary systems of government where party cohesion is essential for the implementing of government policies that the party in power wishes to impose. Although party cohesion in American government has risen because of intraparty heterogeneity and the realignment of the South (Hetherington and Larson), the party discipline and unity is not nearly as cohesive as those found in Parliamentary systems. This is in large part due to the fact that the tools of the party leaders in each system are different. In Parliamentary systems, because the risk of not voting in terms of party could lead to the collapse of the present regime and government system, party leaders tend to have more effective tools at their disposal to use in encouraging party cohesion/discipline. Party discipline or cohesion is the ability of a political party to get its members to support the policies of their party leadership. Party discipline is essential for all systems of government that allow parties to hold political power because it determines the degree to which the governmental organization will be affected by the political processes. Party cohesion is closely related to party discipline (Aldrich). Distinctly, however, it is essentially “coordinated” behavior reflecting the interacting incentives of individual legislators, whereas party discipline is the outcome of a strategic game played within political parties, in which legislators who are party members respond to rewards and punishments determined by some internal party decision-making regime. In political systems other than American presidential democratic system, straying from the party lines can result in the fine and/or expulsion of members such as in the People's Republic of China (Aldrich). Party discipline tends to be extremely strong in Parliamentary systems such as in European countries in which a vote by the legislature against their party is understood to cause the governmental "collapse" of the present regime (Huber). In these situations, it is extremely rare for a member to vote against the wishes of their party. Party leaders in such governments often have the authority to expel members of the party who violate the party line. Weak party discipline is usually more frequent in congressional systems such as the United States Congress where power within in the party is more democratic than the authoritarian system seen in parliamentary governments, with leaders dictating order to the members to follow suit. In these American legislatures, it is routine for members to cross party lines on a given vote, typically following the interests of their region (constituents) or following other members of a borderline group within their party. In America the risk is not that high, with party disagreement just results in the upsetting of the party elites without true damaging costs except for the withdrawal of their support. Party cohesion and party discipline are very distinctive under parliamentary government, where a lack of cohesion and/or indiscipline among parliamentarians belonging to government parties may jeopardize the very existence of the government. Certainly from the perspective of making and breaking governments, levels of party discipline are very high in European parliamentary democracies. There are very few examples indeed of...
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