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 that “the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region shall have a parliamentary form of government.” This is repeated in Article VIII, Section 1 on 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.”
Parliamentarism in BARMM beginning in July 2022 is unprecedented. The original 1973 Constitution, framed by the 1971 Constitutional Convention, created a parliamentary system but subsequent amendments, especially in 1976 and 1981, altered the form of government. The pure parliamentarism adopted by the framers never materialized. From January 1973 to April 1978, only the Transitory Provisions were in operation. From June 1978 to June 1981, following the 1976 Amendments, President Ferdinand Marcos was both prime minister and president. From June 1981 to February 1986, semi-presidentialism was in place, following the 1981 Amendments, modeled after the French Fifth Republic.
To prepare for parliamentarism in BARMM, there is a need to highlight some important considerations on the actual workings of parliamentarism.
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; and,
2.) The chief executive power has the capacity to dissolve the legislature and call for elections.
“Majority in the legislature” mentioned in the first characteristic can result in variants in parliamentarism. The majority in the legislature can be either a single political party or a multi-party coalition. Parliamentarism with a single party legislative majority is also called majoritarian or “Westminster” parliamentarism with the British parliamentary system as the oldest working model. Parliamentarism with a multi-party coalition as a legislative majority is usually called coalitional or consociational parliamentarism and is more commonly found in Continental Western European democracies.
Whether the legislative majority is a single political party or a multi-party coalition is, to a large extent, shaped by the electoral system used to select the members of parliament (MPs). 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. SMP/FPTP is commonly identified with a two-party system and “exaggerates” the electoral plurality of the largest political party by allowing it to win a parliamentary majority. In UK elections, a party’s 40% electoral plurality can translate to a 60% parliamentary majority.** Party-list PR, contrariwise, opens up the party system by allowing small political parties to win parliamentary seats and the opportunity to be part of the ruling coalition.
The first characteristic states that “the chief executive power must be supported by a majority in the legislature.” In parliamentarism, the government is always supported by a legislative majority. When it loses majority support, the government becomes vulnerable to a vote of “no confidence” and is replaced by a new government with legislative majority support.
When government is supported by a legislative majority, three consequences follow. First, the cabinet headed by the prime minister (PM) dominates the legislative process. Second, the PM assumes multiple related but distinct roles. Third, the opposition minority cannot trigger a vote of “no confidence.”
Enjoying legislative majority support, the PM comes to dominate law-making. Cabinet bills or bills introduced by members of the Cabinet take priority. Government, led by the PM and Cabinet, effectively sets and controls the legislative agenda. The PM becomes extremely powerful with BOTH executive and legislative functions.
With a legislative majority, the PM comes to have three roles. As chief executive and head of government, he has executive functions and implements laws. He is also a member of parliament (MP) with legislative roles like the introduction of bills, participation in floor debates, and voting. In addition, his legislative majority makes him responsible for setting and realizing the legislative agenda. Finally, as leader of the majority party or coalition, he is responsible for keeping this majority cohesively behind him.
The third role as partisan leader is quite important as PMs have resigned, 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 likewise step down as chief executive and head of government. PMs should therefore appreciate and value the importance of co-partisan “back-benchers” as their continued support effectively inoculates him from an opposition minority-triggered vote of “no confidence.”
With a legislative majority, the only real way the opposition minority can check the government 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 fiscalize and scrutinize the PM and the Cabinet.
* Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skach, “Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation: Parliamentarism and Presidentialism,” World Politics 46, No. 1 (October 1993), 3.
** David M. Farrell, Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction (London, Red Globe Press, 2001), 21.
Millard O. Lim is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University.