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January 2016 Report (PDF, 1.13MB)

This report describes the national Parliaments of Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  It traces the establishment of the current national parliamentary systems and locations of the these Parliaments.  The report also discusses the elections of each Parliament’s members, the members’ terms of office, and the legislative process by which bills are introduced and passed into law.

Additional countries added in February 2017: India; Kenya; Nigeria; Pakistan.

Australia

Australia is characterized as a constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch, represented by the Governor-General, as the head of state.  Australia’s federal Parliament consists of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Members and senators are elected under different preferential or ranked voting systems. 

The legislative powers of the Parliament are set out in the Australian Constitution.  The legislative process includes three main stages of debates and voting in the House, and a similar process in the Senate.  Both houses operate committee systems to examine bills in detail and inquire into other policy matters or government administration.

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Canada

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government.  The Parliament, which is the federal legislature, is made up of three constitutive parts: the Crown, the Senate, and the House of Commons.  Members of the 338-seat House of Commons are elected through a “first past the post” electoral system.  In order for a bill to become law, each house of Parliament engages in a multistage process, which includes three readings of a bill, followed by Royal Assent. 

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China

The National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China is the highest organ of state power under China’s Constitution.  The Constitution grants the NPC and its Standing Committee legislative power, decisional power, supervisory power, and power of appointment and removal. 

The Law Committee deliberates on all bills submitted to the NPC and the NPC Standing Committee; other Special Committees are also responsible for commenting on legislation in their specific policy areas.  In the NPC legislative process, a bill is passed by majority vote.  In the Standing Committee legislative process, bills are generally deliberated three times before being put to a vote.  After a bill is passed in the NPC or NPC Standing Committee, it is signed by the President of the State and promulgated by an Order of the President.

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Finland

Finland is a parliamentary republic.  The Parliament is unicameral, with two hundred members representing thirteen geographic areas and belonging to eight different parties.  Bills are passed by simple majority.  There are special rules for the adoption of the budget bill and amendments to the Constitution.  Bills are initiated by the Government or members of Parliament, and are considered by committees and debated in the Parliament.

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France

France is a unitary republic with a bicameral legislature composed of the National Assembly and the Senate.  The French constitutional system is often described as semipresidential, and is characterized by a structure of interconnecting powers between the legislative and executive branches. 

Members of the National Assembly are called deputies and are elected directly, in contrast with senators, who are chosen by indirect elections.  Both chambers are organized in a similar manner, with a chamber president, a governing bureau, commissions, and formal political groups.  Bills are submitted either by the Prime Minister or by members of either chamber.  A bill must be adopted by both chambers with identical language before it can be signed into law by the President of the Republic.

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Germany

Germany is a federal republic with sixteen states and a parliamentary system.  The German Bundestag (Parliament), the main legislative organ, had its inaugural meeting in 1949.  The first all-German session of Parliament took place after German reunification in December 1990.  The German Bundesrat is the constitutional body through which the states participate in the legislative process.  Elections for the Bundestag take place every four years.  Seats are allocated according to a personalized proportional voting system that combines a personal vote for a particular candidate in a district (first vote) with a party vote (second vote).

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India

India is a federal (or quasi-federal) democratic republic with a parliamentary system of government largely based on the UK model. India’s modern parliamentary institutions originate from the British colonial administration but developed organically as a result of increasing Indian demand for greater representation in government. India’s federal legislative branch consists of the President, the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) as the upper house, and the Lok Sabha (House of the People) as the lower house.

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Japan

The current Diet of Japan was established in 1946 after the Second World War.  Under the postwar Constitution, the Diet, consisting of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, was designated the highest organ of state power and the sole lawmaking organ of the state.  Under Japan’s parliamentary cabinet system, the Prime Minister is the head of the Executive and elected from among Diet members.  Bills are generally submitted to the House of Representatives before being introduced in the House of Councillors.  When both houses pass a bill, the bill is usually enacted into law.

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Kenya

Kenya enacted a new Constitution in 2010 through which it established a system of government akin to a federation, with legislative authority shared between the national Parliament and county legislatures. At the national level, Kenya has a bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate. All members of Parliament are elected for a five-year term. Under the 2010 Constitution, Kenya adopted a presidential system of government in order to achieve a sharper separation of powers between the executive body and the legislature and reduce the influence of the former over the latter. The President and his Cabinet are not members of Parliament.

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Mexico

Mexico is a federal republic formed by 32 sovereign states united in a federation, as provided by the Mexican Constitution.  The Constitution provides an extensive list of powers reserved for Mexico’s Congress.  The Congress was established in 1917 and has two chambers: the Chamber of Representatives and the Chamber of Senators.  The legislative process requires both chambers of Congress to agree on both the general text of a bill and each article of the bill. 

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Nigeria

Nigeria’s federal legislative body, the National Assembly, consists of two houses—the House of Representatives and the Senate. All members of the National Assembly are elected directly every four years. The legislative process in Nigeria involves both houses of the National Assembly and the President. Typically, once a bill (executive, private, or member’s bill) is introduced in the National Assembly, it goes through a rigorous process before it is enacted into law, which includes three readings of the bill, scrutiny by the relevant committee where amendments may be made, and presidential assent. 

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Pakistan

Pakistan is an Islamic federal republic with a multiparty parliamentary system of government largely based on the UK model pursuant to the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. Pakistan’s federal legislative branch consists of the President, the National Assembly as the lower house, and the Senate as the upper house. The National Assembly and Senate constitute Pakistan’s bicameral Parliament.

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South Korea

South Korea is a democratic republic with a presidential system of government.  The National Assembly is unicameral and has 300 members. In addition to its legislative power, the National Assembly decides upon budget bills submitted by the Executive and consents to the conclusion of treaties and declarations of war.  The National Assembly may also recommend the removal of the Prime Minister or a state council member from office, and pass motions for the impeachment of the President and other officials and justices.

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Sweden

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government and unicameral Parliament.  There are 29 electoral districts, and elections are held every four years.  Parties must receive 4% of the national vote to gain seats in the Parliament.

Legislation is initiated by the Government or individual members of Parliament and researched by parliamentary committees; it is often vetted by the Law Council before being brought for a vote.  Bills are generally passed by simple majority, except for changes to the Constitution or the Parliamentary Working Order, which require two separate votes. 

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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s Parliament took centuries to develop into the institution that it is today, and its role continues to evolve.  Created initially as a way to allow the Crown to collect taxes from his or her subjects, the powers of Parliament gradually expanded to supplement and then act on behalf of the Crown in almost all areas.

The electoral process is heavily regulated by legislation, and the “first past the post” system was recently affirmed by a national referendum.  The frequency that Parliament must call elections was also recently affirmed in statute as being every five years.

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Last Updated: 04/13/2017