Fusion of powers
Fusion of powers is a feature of some parliamentary democracies, especially those following the Westminster system, where the executive and legislative branches of government are intermingled. It is often contrasted with the more strict separation of powers found in most presidential democracies. Fusion of powers exists in many, if not a majority, of contemporary democracies, and does so by design.
The system first arose as a result of political evolution in the United Kingdom over many centuries, as the powers of the monarch became constrained by Parliament. The term fusion of powers itself is believed to have been coined by the British constitutional expert, Walter Bagehot.
Senator Eugene Forsey of Canada remarked that "in Canada, the Government and the House of Commons cannot be at odds for more than a few weeks at a time. If they differ on any matter of importance, then, promptly, there is either a new government or a new House of Commons."
The French Fifth Republic, provides an example of the fusion of powers from a country which does not follow the Westminster system. Rather France follows a model known alternatively as a semi-presidential system or 'mixed presidential-parliamentary' system, which exists somewhere between parliamentary democracies and presidential democracies.
The United Kingdom is generally considered the country with the strongest fusion of powers. Until 2005, the Lord Chancellor was a full fusion of all branches, being speaker in the House of Lords, a government minister heading the Lord Chancellor's Department and head of the judiciary.
The parliamentary system in Sweden has since its new constitution in 1974 instituted a fusion of powers whereby the principle of "popular sovereignty" serves as the guiding light of principle of government and forms the first line of the constitution.
One advantage of a fusion of powers, according to promoters, is that it is easier for the government to take action. There exists virtually no way for there to be a deadlock in the manner that can sometimes occur where the legislature and executive are separated, but see the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis for a counter-example (regarding the dual executive nature of some parliamentary systems).
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The disadvantage with a fusion of powers, paradoxically, is the power it gives to the executive, not the legislative, arm of government. In a fusion of powers, the head of government must have the confidence of a majority in the legislature. If the majority is made up of members of one's own party, the head of government can use these supporters to control the legislature's business, thus protecting the executive from being truly accountable and at the same time passing any laws expedient for the government. A revolt by members of the government's own party (or, if the government is a coalition or minority government, by supporting parties) is possible, but party discipline, along with a tendency by many electorates to vote against unstable governments, makes such a revolt unattractive and therefore rare.
Many states have responded to this by instituting or retaining multicameral legislatures, in which all houses must pass legislation in the same form. The responsible house is usually the most powerful and the only house with the actual power to terminate the government. Other houses, though, can often veto or at least delay controversial bills, perhaps until the government's performance can be judged by the electorate. They also provide additional forums for inquiry into the conduct of the executive. In addition, since the government's future is not at stake in other houses, members of the governing party or coalition in these houses can be freer to oppose particular government policies they disagree with. A second approach to curbing executive power is the election of the responsible house by some form of proportional representation, as in the case of Japan. This often, but not necessarily, leads to coalitions or minority governments. These governments have the support of the legislature when their survival is at stake but less absolute control over its proceedings.
A fusion of powers was specifically rejected by the framers of the American constitution, for fear that it would concentrate a dangerous level of power into one body. However, other countries reject the presidential system for the same reason, arguing it concentrates too much power in the hands of one person, especially if impeachment is difficult.
- Constitutional economics
- Mixed government
- Rule according to higher law
- Responsible government
- Separation of powers
- The Harmonious Constitution