Parliamentarism in BARMM: Important Considerations

By Millard O. Lim, M.A.
Part-Time Faculty of Political Science Department, Ateneo de Manila University
November 20, 2019

Article IV, Section 3 of Republic Act No. 11054, otherwise known as the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), states in explicit terms that “the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region shall have a parliamentary form of government.” This is repeated in Article VIII, Section 1 on the appointment of the Wali: “Consistent with a parliamentary form of government, there shall be a Wali who shall serve as the ceremonial head of the Bangsamoro Government.”

The operation of parliamentarism in BARMM beginning in July 2022 will be unprecedented. While the original 1973 Constitution, framed by the 1971 Constitutional Convention and in effect on January 17, 1973, created a parliamentary system, the subsequent amendments thereto, especially in 1976 and 1981, altered the form of government. The pure parliamentarism adopted by the framers was never implemented. From January 1973 to April 1978, only the Transitory Provisions was effectively in operation. From June 1978 to June 1981, following the 1976 Amendments, there was a “hybrid” system wherein President Marcos was both prime minister and president. From June 1981 to February 1986, a semi-presidential form of government was in place, following the 1981 Amendments, modeled after the French Fifth Republic.

This think piece aims to highlight some important considerations on parliamentarism and the actual workings of a parliamentary form of government.

PARLIAMENTARISM: VARIANTS AND ELECTORAL SYSTEMS

Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skach defines “a pure parliamentary regime in a democracy” as a “system of mutual dependence” with two fundamental characteristics:

  1. The chief executive power must be supported by a majority in the legislature and can fall if it receives a vote of no confidence.
  2. The chief executive power has the capacity to dissolve the legislature and call for elections.

Two variants of parliamentarism can be derived from the “majority in the legislature” mentioned in the first characteristic. The majority in the legislature can be held by either a single political party or a multi-party coalition. Parliamentarism with a single party legislative majority is also called majoritarian or “Westminster” parliamentarism. The latter expression is used because the oldest working model of this type of parliamentarism is the British parliamentary system. Parliamentarism with a multi-party coalition forming the legislative majority is usually called coalitional or consensual/consociational parliamentarism and is more commonly found in Continental Western European democracies.

Whether the legislative majority will be a single political party or a multi-party coalition is, to a large extent, shaped and influenced by the electoral system used to select the members of parliament (MPs). It is a generalization in the political science that a single-member plurality (SMP) or “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) electoral system generally results in a legislative majority of one party while a party-list proportional representation (PR) system produces a coalitional majority. This is true because the former electoral system is commonly identified with a two-party system and “exaggerates” the electoral plurality of one of the political parties by allowing it to win a parliamentary majority. In the British electoral experience, a party’s electoral plurality of forty percent can translate to a parliamentary majority of even sixty percent.   Party-list PR, on the other hand, opens up the party system as it allows even small political parties to win parliamentary seats and the opportunity to be part of a governing majority coalition.

PARLIAMENTARISM: CONSEQUENCES

The second characteristic of pure parliamentarism further states that “the chief executive power must be supported by a majority in the legislature.” In parliamentarism, a regular working government is always supported by a legislative majority. In those instances when the chief executive loses legislative majority support, the government becomes vulnerable to a vote of no confidence and is replaced by one that has legislative majority support.

When the chief executive is supported by a majority in the legislature, three consequences may follow. First, the cabinet headed by the chief executive dominates the legislative process. Second, the chief executive comes to have multiple related but distinct roles. Third, the opposition minority would be unable to trigger a vote of no confidence.

Enjoying majority support in the legislature, the chief executive comes to dominate the process of legislation. In the normal everyday business of parliament, Cabinet bills or bills introduced by members of the Cabinet take priority. The chief executive and the Cabinet effectively set and control the legislative agenda. This makes the chief executive extremely powerful as she is then able to hold BOTH executive and legislative powers.

With a legislative majority, the chief executive comes to have three roles. As chief executive, he has executive functions of carrying out laws and policy. But the chief executive is also a member of parliament with legislative roles like the introduction of bills, participation in floor debates, and voting. As leader of the legislative majority, he is responsible for setting and realizing the legislative agenda. Finally, as leader of the party or coalition that controls the legislative majority, the chief executive is responsible for keeping the majority cohesively behind him.

The third role as partisan leader is quite important as executives have stepped down from office, not through an opposition-triggered vote of no confidence, but because his co-partisans decided to elect a new leader. In June 2019, UK Prime Minister Theresa May ostensibly resigned as PM. Actually, she resigned as Conservative Party leader, the majority party in the House of Commons. May’s own co-partisans decided to replace her, thereby forcing her to step down as chief executive. Executives should therefore appreciate and value the importance of co-partisan “back-benchers.” Their continued support effectively inoculates the executive from an opposition minority-triggered vote of no confidence.

With a legislative majority, the only real way the opposition minority can check the chief executive is through the “Question Hour.” Part of the regular business of parliament, it is held every so often in a week and provides the opposition the opportunity to ask the chief executive to answer questions, defend policy and respond to criticisms.

ELECTORAL PERSONALIZATION AND PRESIDENTIALIZATION 

Personality-oriented politics and the impact of mass media on elections have turned parliamentary elections, traditionally and formally for the election of MPs only, into prime ministerial elections as well. On Election Day, voters are supposed to just pick the members of the legislature. Post-election, the MPs then assemble to elect the PM. But mass media has made the “candidates for PM,” who are the leaders of the leading political parties, very well known to the voters during the election period, from the campaigns to Election Day. These PM-candidates are presented by media as actively soliciting votes in different local constituencies as a presidential candidate in presidential elections would in a presidential system. The prominence and mass appeal of the PM-candidates are such that voters can already form and express preferences for PM on Election Day. Thus, when MPs assemble to select the PM, the process becomes a formality as the one selected PM already has a “popular electoral mandate” that is indicated by the legislative seats his/her party has won. Parliamentary elections, formally only to constitute parliament, have effectively become similar to presidential elections in presidentialism.

 


1 Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skach, “Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation: Parliamentarism and Presidentialism,” World Politics 46, No. 1 (October 1993), 3.

2David M. Farrell, Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction (London, Red Globe Press, 2001), 21.


 

Prof. Milliard O. Lim is a faculty member of the Department of Political Science of the Ateneo de Manila University. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Access Bangsamoro, its proponents, or affiliates.