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How do the Federal Republic of Germany, Fifth Republic France and post-war Italy fulfil the criteria of Lijphart’s ‘majoritarian’ and ‘consensus’ models of democracies?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. A single party in a majoritarian democracy.
  3. The situation in Germany.
    1. The drafters of the Fifth Republic constitution.
  4. France and an asymmetrical bicameralism legislature.
  5. Majoritarian democracies.
  6. The French electoral system.
  7. Germany and the territorial organization.
  8. Bibliography.

This essay will attempt to analyse the Federal Republic of Germany, Fifth Republic France and post-war Italy thanks to Lijphart's work Democracy (1984). Lijphart classifies the ?majoritarian' model (or ?Westminster model') and the ?consensual model', in function of specific variables. We will consider eight elements to distinguish a ?majoritarian' democracy from a ?consensual' democracy. A ?majoritarian' system consists in ?concentration of executive power', ?fusion of power and the cabinet dominance', ?asymmetrical bicameralism' (sometimes near to unicameralism), two-party system, one-dimensional party system, majoritarian electoral system, ?unitary and centralised government' and in the end, in a flexible constitution and a weak judicial review. On the other hand, a ?consensual' system consists in ?power sharing', ?separation of power', ?balance bicameralism', ?multiparty system', ?multi-dimensional party system', ?proportional representation', ?territorial and non territorial federalism and decentralisation', and finally in a ?written constitution'. Lijphart suggests that ?majoritarian' democracy works best in homogeneous societies, whereas consensus democracy is more suitable for plural societies. As we will see in this essay, the dichotomy between a ?majoritarian' and a ?consensual' democracy is not absolute in the reality. These are ideal model: there is no political system that satisfies all those criteria.
In a majoritarian democracy a single party forms the government and wields strong executive powers. First, the French Fifth Republic was very majoritarian as it was established to get rid off the political instability that characterised the Fourth Republic. To make the President the keystone of the Fifth Republic the Framers strengthened its authority and opted for the concentration of executive powers. Furthermore, these powers were reinforced with the French Head of State being elected by universal suffrage.

[...] The situation is different in Germany and in Italy where the power is diffused throughout the government and party system.[6] As the Nobel Prize winning economist Sir Lewis pointed out, what these kind of plural ?societies need is a democratic regime that emphasises consensus instead of opposition, that includes rather than excludes, and that tries to maximise the size of the ruling majority instead of being satisfied with a bare majority.'[7] In Germany, the executive power is exercised by the Kanzler who is elected by the Bundestag at the beginning of each legislature. [...]


[...] On the other hand, the President can also dissolve the Parliament if the Chancellor loses his/her majority.[9] However, a strong parliament is vis-à- vis the executive leads to a high rate of government instability and to legislative deadlocks in Italy. Like in every majoritarian system, France has an asymmetrical bicameralism legislature consisting in the Assemblée Nationale (lower house) the Sénat (upper house). The powers of the lower house are more extensive than those of the upper house. The traditional prerogative of the lower chamber is to first examine the budget. [...]

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