Monday, April 23, 2012

The Parliamentary System: Debilitating Gridlock

Today the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, tendered the resignation of his coalition government to Queen Beatrice (the Dutch head of state).  Rutte is the leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which has been the largest minority faction of the Dutch parliament since June 2010.  Until now the prime minister had managed to form a coalition government through partnering with the Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Party, forming a majority alliance.

Dutch House of Representatives / "Second Chamber"
The coalition government failed to agree when it was faced with imposing austerity measures to comply with EU standards; last year euro zone leaders agreed that member states should take action to ensure that national deficits do not exceed 3% of respective GDP in 2013.  As the Netherlands is facing a predicted deficit that is 4.3% of GDP, economic measures are necessary to meet EU standards.

The Dutch coalition government dissolved on Saturday when the far-right Freedom Party abandoned negotiations with the VVD and Christian Democratic Party.  The Freedom Party’s leader exited talks on the grounds that such austerity measures would disproportionately harm economically modest citizens, which constitute the majority of his political base.  Unable to form a majority coalition, and thus unable to govern, Prime Minister Rutte has offered his (and his cabinet’s) resignation.

Though the American political system is in “gridlock,” it produces results when it needs to, albeit often at the last moment.  This is largely due to our two-party system.  Imagine a Congress comprised of eleven parties, as is the Dutch parliament – multi-party cooperation is essential to govern, and coalitions easily split.  Gridlock in parliamentary systems certainly makes American gridlock seem much less severe.


  1. I can see your argument despite how much we Americans complain that our governement can't get things done in a timely manner, it must be an absolute nightmare to get a legislative body of 10+ parties to come together and get anything passed at all.

    However, what does intrigue me about their system is that in reaction to not being able to get a consensus, the Prime Minister resigned. If this is a norm, is it possible that this country will just go through many prime ministers in a short time period from several different parties since none of them are able to find some sort of resolution?

    Also I would be intrigued to see if there was data that could help determine historically from which party were the most efficient prime ministers from.

  2. The current state of the coalition government in the Netherlands does show what some could argue as the negatives of the parliamentary system with a more rapid turnover in government compared to a presidential or semi-presidential system. Jordan makes a good point that although we do criticize our government and Congress for gridlock they do produce results when it is necessary compared to collapsing and electing new officials.

    However, there are advantages to the parliamentary system that help alleviate the types of gridlock we sometimes face. A major advantage of the parliamentary system is that it is easier and faster to pass legislation. This is mainly because the executive branch is dependent upon the support of the legislative branch and often even includes members of the legislature. The executive has the same affiliation as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislative branch and is therefore able to pass legislation.

    Clearly, Jordan’s post has shown us that this isn’t always the case and that a parliamentary system has flaws too. I think that it is interesting that the compromise there is that under normal circumstances, gridlock is less likely to halt the process of passing legislation in a parliamentary system.

  3. The main problem I see with the parliamentary system is that legislative progress is not guaranteed, nor is it likely in particularly diverse countries. Take Belgium for example, a country that has severe language and cultural divides - after the June 2010 parliamentary election, it took the elected representatives 540 days (yes, 540) days to form a coalition government. []

    Belgium's interim government was considered a 'caretaker' government, essentially meaning that it could continue to administer state programs, but could not enact new legislation. At the same time as Europe is trying to deal with the euro crisis - and greater global economic crisis - this inactivity seems inexcusable. Belgian citizens agreed, as is demonstrated by their numerous protests and increased political activism. One parliamentary representative even called on her fellow Belgian women to withhold sex from their husbands until politicians formed a coalition. Many criticize these methods as 'ridiculous,' but is the refusal to compromise for the greater good not also ridiculous?