Filzmaier, Peter and Fritz Plasser: Congressional elections in the United States 2004: Post-electoral politics or plutocracy?
In the U.S. congressional elections 2004 seat changes between parties were extremely seldom. According to the average of several years 98 per cent of incumbents were re-elected in the House of Representatives and 96 per cent in the Senate. This means that in the House the Republicans have held a majority since 1994 and probably will continue to do so until at least 2006. This is the longest time period without majority changes since the 1930s. The Republican Party has also dominated the Senate for more than a decade now. That is why (1) there are limited political chances for the Democratic Party with the consequence of hardly any serious challenges to the government and (2) there is a lack of competitiveness in most congressional campaigns which leads to post-electoral politics without majority changes. The main cause is the current system of campaign financing. In 2004, almost 1.1 billion dollars were officially spent by candidates and parties plus some hundred millions spent by an unknown number of independent groups. Most donations went to incumbents and candidates for open seats while challengers got little or nothing at all. These disparities in combination with extremely cost-intensive television advertising could lead to a plutocracy in the United States. It is unclear if Congress is willing and able to counteract this trend by passing new regulations directed to restore a fair and balanced access to financial resources. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 243 ff.]
Kolkmann, Michael: The U.S. presidential election of November 2, 2004: A tight victory for Bush – but also a mandate?
The result of the U.S. presidential election of 2004 mirrors almost completely the one of 2000. 47 out of 50 states voted for the candidate of the same party as they had done in 2000 – therefore, allowing President George W. Bush a second term. However, several electoral trends indicate that Bush won both tightly and clearly. He managed, for example, to reach a higher level of distribution concerning members of the Electoral College in states that are mainly republican in the south. He also won votes, in particular, amongst Hispanics, women and Catholics. The 2004 election campaign was dominated more than ever by foreign policy issues. John F. Kerry, the candidate of the Democrats, was unable to profit from his long experience on this matter, while Bush managed to link the deteriorating situation in post-war Iraq with the war on terrorism. Furthermore, Kerry failed to benefit from Bush’s mixed economic record. It is also notable that while the Democrats tried to win swing voters in the political center, the Republicans concentrated on mobilizing their own party base. The latter strategy proved more successful. Whether Bush can push through his ambitious reform agenda in his second term depends largely on his ability to work with Congress. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 259 ff.]
Schultze, Rainer-Olaf and Jörg Broschek: The Canadian General Election of June 28, 2004: Party system transformation from majority to minority regime?
Neither the Liberals nor the newly established Conservatives were able to achieve their goals set for the Canadian general election of June 28, 2004. Prime Minister Paul Martin who had succeeded Jean Chrétien in December 2003 was not capable of gaining a majority of seats in the House of Commons; his government was pushed back into minority status by the electorate. Likewise, despite of the fusion of the former Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives into the Conservative Party of Canada alongside with wide spread discontent about the Liberals’ conduct of governing, the Conservatives were not able to effectively take advantage of this new electoral context either. Winner were instead regional and third parties, primarily the separatist Bloc Québécois and the social democratic NDP. Placing the election into historical context, it can be argued that it will be difficult for both major parties to achieve durable and stable parliamentary majorities in the near future due to the ongoing process of political and societal fragmentation. Thus, after 20 years of alternating majority governments it is likely that Canadian politics will face a new period of subsequent majority and minority governments. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 280 ff.]
Becker, Bernd-Werner: Holding power and shaping the future: Elements of successful strategic policy formation and communication in Britain.
In a media democracy, politicians must campaign permanently. That makes a structured system of strategic policy formation and communication an important part of politics not only while campaigning. Irrespective of the result of the general election of May 5, 2005, the British government of Tony Blair demonstrates the significance of the role of strategic policy formation and communication by No 10 Downing Street in stabilising the government – despite opinion poll losses and the widespread loss of trust in the prime minister since the decision to go to war against Iraq in early 2003. The strategy is based in particular on the centralisation of power, informal policy formation and professional communications. The British example also shows that strategic policy formation and communication is more than a strategy to retain power. If it is based on a clear political vision, it can also be a strategy to shape the future. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 301 ff.]
Steppacher, Burkard: Change of key in Switzerland: The triad of people’s rights, concordance and renewed “magic formula” after the parliamentary elections 2003.
The results of the 2003 parliamentary elections in Switzerland reveal a noticeable polarization on the political fringes with a weakened center. The right-wing national-conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) was the main election winner and henceforth clearly became the strongest party. In the following general renewal by-election of the Swiss Federal Council (Bundesrat), the SVP forcefully – and ultimately successfully – demanded an additional seat in this combined collegial body whose numbers had remained unchanged since 1959. If their demand was not fulfilled, the SVP threatened to go into opposition – thereby ending the traditional balanced concordance system in the Bundesrat. Against the backdrop of the specific constitutional features of the Swiss political system, marked by direct democracy, one can analyze the voting results for both parliamentary chambers (Nationalrat and Ständerat) and wonder about the suitability of the Swiss concordance system in the future. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 311 ff.]
Reetz, Axel: The fourth parliaments in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: Similar prerequisites, different paths.
The Baltic countries are now independent for almost 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. From this similar point of departure, three different political systems have developed which distinguish themselves in particular with regard to party systems. This tendency was verified in recent general elections – 2002 in Latvia, 2003 in Estonia and 2004 in Lithuania. In Lithuania, the dualism of conservatives and post socialists has been replaced step by step by a multiparty system. In contrast, the latter system has characterised Latvia during all elections since 1991 – so far, each election has been won by a party that was founded only shortly before the election and could count on popular leaders. That is why Latvia is one of the most unstable democracies among the post-socialist countries. Estonia differs in general: Although the number of politically important parties is not less than in the other two Baltic countries, neither a post-communist left nor a party proclaiming to represent the interest of the Russian minority has been established there so far. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 326 ff.]
Schnapp, Kai-Uwe and Philipp Harfst: Parliamentary information and control resources in 22 Western democracies.
Parliamentary information and control resources in 22 Western democracies are empirically analysed by comparing parliaments in parliamentary systems as well as the U.S. Congress as a legislature of a presidential system. In detail it is discussed with which means parliaments are equipped to bridge the information gap between parliament (i.e. the government parties, opposition, members of parliaments and committees) and the executive. It becomes clear that (permanent) parliamentary committees with their institutional structure, their membership and their formal powers as well as the staffing of parliaments form two of the most important control resources. Furthermore, parliamentary information resources like question times or academic and library services are also significant. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 348 ff.]
Edinger, Florian: Illicit funds scandal and its consequences. The German Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) on the faulty accounting report of a party – 2 BvR 383/03.
The 1998 account report of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) concealed party assets worth over ten million Euros in Liechtenstein bank accounts. The BverfG decided that this was not a proper account report according to the political parties act. The ruling follows the Basic Law, according to which parties “must publicly account for their assets and for the sources and use of their funds” (art. 21, para 2). Therefore, the decision of the President of the Bundestag was correct to deny the CDU that part of the funding which is calculated by the amount of membership fees and donations and requires a – truthful – account report. The Court emphasized the importance of a free opinion-forming process both in the electorate and within the parties. It also stressed the equal opportunities of parties in the political competition. This principal makes it necessary that parties have to reveal where their money comes from. Since the ruling, the Bundestag amended the political parties act by regulating the sanctions for inaccurate reports in particular: If an account report is false, the party must pay the double of the incorrectly declared amount. Moreover, the forging of an accounting report is now a criminal offence. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 371 ff.]
Jutzi, Siegfried: About the unconstitutionality of the “Three States (Länder) Quorum” in the funding of political parties. The decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court (BverfG) of October 26, 2004 – 2 BvE 1 und 2/02.
In Germany, political parties receive public money out of the national budget partly according to their election result and partly depending on the sum of their membership fees and private donations. An amendment of the law provided that political parties taking part in state elections lose that part of public subsidies which is based on the sum of their membership fees and private donations (i.e. an average of 60 per cent) if they do not achieve an election result of at least 1 per cent of the votes in three of the previous state elections (“Three States Quorum”) or of 5 per cent in one of the previous state elections. The BVerfG ruled that this amendment does not comply with the constitutional principle of equal opportunities. A non-restricted access to the “political market” is one of the essentials of the multi-party system. Since membership fees and private donations form a considerable contribution for new parties in particular, the cut of public subsidies might make their access too difficult. Before the passing of the amendment, the legislator had already disregarded the principle of equal opportunities several times. This fact might be explained by MPs’ membership in established political parties. Therefore, it is likely that in the near future the BVerfG will remain the (sole) guarantee of fair settlements in the funding of political parties. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 375 ff.]
Helms, Ludger: The change of political control in West European parliamentary democracies.
Whereas much of the international comparative politics literature tends to focus on patterns of parliamentary control only, this study sets out to distinguish and discuss four different key ‘ways’ of political control of the government, i.e. electoral control, parliamentary control, judicial control and control by powerful private sector actors. While, prima vista, especially electoral and judicial control would appear to have been strengthened over the past two decades or so, individual private sector actors, such as global firms and private mass media, have been the real winners of the recent structural transformations. This development threatens to undermine the principle of “responsible government”. Therein lies a major challenge for which there does not seem to exist an easy institutional remedy. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 390 ff.]
Macków, Jerzy: Prerequisites of democracy in post-communist system transformation: The Czech Republic, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Most transformation theories argue that democratisation depends mostly on the “institutional design” of post-communist systems. Social factors like the state of nation building and the development of civil society are often neglected. A comparison of Belarus, the Czech Republic and Ukraine reveals, however, the decisive role social factors are playing for successful democratisation of previously totalitarian systems. Crucial differences between these three countries become apparent: Whereas civil society and democratic elites exist in the Czech Republic, in Belarus, e.g., both factors are not well developed. Moreover, it can be shown that the existence of a strong civil society is not absolutely necessary in the early transformation process but becomes significantly important at a later stage. A democracy that is based on democratic elites only is a danger to be captured by antidemocratic and populist forces. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 411 ff.]
Röper, Erich: Bias ruling for second jobs of Members of Parliaments.
It is currently the subject of a discussion dominated by intensity, envy, and a fair amount of schadenfreude that members of parliament have secondary jobs and are paid unspecified amounts of money for unspecified reasons. However, parallel employment is essential for parliamentarians in order to retain their economic independence without which they might try to stay “glued” to their seat and thus being more inclined to submit to party pressure. In this situation, clearly defined boundaries are needed – at its best brought about by a comprehensive set of regulations and full transparency. Article 84 of the Bremen State Constitution contains a triad and tested partiality clause which prohibits members of parliament from arguing and/or voting in their personal and family interest or in the interest of “their” companies. This constitutional article also limits MPs’ earnings from secondary sources. Violation of these rules can result in expulsion from parliament. There is no reason why this regulation should not be extended to the federal as well as the other Land parliaments. [ZParl, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 425 ff.]