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In parliamentary democracies, there is usually a constitutional mechanism for parliament to be dissolved when it encounters deadlock. The dissolution would trigger a new election with the aim to produce a new parliament that does not have deadlock.

There are mainly two types of dissolution mechanism:

  1. The government (executive branch) has the initiative to trigger the dissolution. Usually at the proposal of the Prime Minister.

  2. The parliament (legislative branch) has the initiative to dissolve itself by a vote.

Both design choices can be observed around the world. But dissolution by executive in particular sounds counterintuitive for a system that puts so much emphasis on parliamentary power.

What are the pros and cons of giving the government (executive branch) the power to unlilaterally dissolve parliament? Is there an explanation as to why this constitutional design choice is so prevalent across the world?

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    I think this can largely be an opinion question as what some would consider a pro of giving that power others would consider a con.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 14:48
  • @JoeW Could there have been some historical document where scholars posit reasons for these design choices? The answer does not have to be based on user's personal opinion, but merely citing past material. Someone must've written extensively about it? Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 14:53
  • There might be some documents that explain why those powers are granted but that would be a different question. Getting an answer saying what the pros and cons of something is different then getting an answer on why someone did something.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 15:00
  • The UK has just reverted to #1, having experimented with #2 for a few years. See this research briefing from the Commons Library for some notes and relevant links on the subject. Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 15:23
  • Also need to remember that how this is viewed will differ depending on the country in question and depending on how the central government is run. If it is more of an authoritarian government it will be seen differently then one that is less of an authoritarian government.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 16:17

1 Answer 1

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"Checks and balances" must be considered in total.

There are about as many ways to balance the powers of the executive, legislative, and judiciary as there are or have been constitutions. One of the necessities of a functioning state is having a budget. Usually the "power of the purse" rests with the parliament, yet once it is passed the budget gets administered by the government. It becomes problematic to govern if the government does not have the majority to get a budget passed, either because it is a presidial system where the government is elected separately from the parliament, or because of members of parliament defecting (solo or as part of a coalition break-up).

Two or three ways to resolve this:

  • Dissolve and re-elect the parliament.
  • Dissolve and re-elect the government.
  • Dissolve and re-elect both.

If the electorate is reasonable and if the electoral system isn't gerrymandered too much, after the election of both the government and parliament they would be politically aligned, so the government should be able to get a budget passed.

If only one can dissolve the other, it isn't guaranteed that the new outcome is more closely aligned. A bit of a gamble for the government to call for parliamentary elections, or vice versa. But then the acting side would have pollsters to advise them if the step helps.

The parliament dissolving itself is a slightly different case. This is often tied to the inability to pass a budget or key legislation. The counterpart of the government dissolving a parliament would be a vote of no confidence by the parliament.

I would say a state has a problem if the government can dissolve parliaments time and again, until it gets one which it finds suitable. There is a better balance if the dissolution of the parliament by the government also triggers a dissolution of the government.

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    In a typical parliamentary state, the government is drawn from members of parliament, and is typically the party (or coalition) which has a majority in parliament. In that light, could you clarify what you mean by "Dissolve and re-elect the government", etc? Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 16:12
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    @SteveMelnikoff It's a move typical for coalition governments: one party decides to leave the coalition, and a new majority involving other parties in parliament is found and elects/approves a new government. A number of western European countries use this pattern, most with the extra step of involving the president/monarch as a mediator: he/she mandates one person to form a new government that has to be confirmed by parliament in a vote of confidence.
    – ccprog
    Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 16:40
  • @SteveMelnikoff, edited, I was thinking not just of parliamentary systems.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 16:51
  • @ccprog Just to be clear, this does not involve an election of any kind. At most you have a vote in parliament. Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 13:42
  • This answer seems based on a situation where the government is elected directly by the population. I.e. not a parliamentary system. Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 13:46

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