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Decision Making in Political Systems: Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, Multicameralism and Multipartyism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2009


The article compares different political systems with respect to one property: their capacity to produce policy change. I define the basic concept of the article, the ‘veto player’: veto players are individual or collective actors whose agreement (by majority rule for collective actors) is required for a change of the status quo. Two categories of veto players are identified in the article: institutional and partisan. Institutional veto players (president, chambers) exist in presidential systems while partisan veto players (parties) exist at least in parliamentary systems. Westminster systems, dominant party systems and single-party minority governments have only one veto player, while coalitions in parliamentary systems, presidential or federal systems have multiple veto players. The potential for policy change decreases with the number of veto players, the lack of congruence (dissimilarity of policy positions among veto players) and the cohesion (similarity of policy positions among the constituent units of each veto player) of these players. The veto player framework produces results different from existing theories in comparative politics, but congruent with existing empirical studies. In addition, it permits comparisons across different political and party systems. Finally, the veto player framework enables predictions about government instability (in parliamentary systems) or regime instability (in presidential systems); these predictions are supported by available evidence.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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94 Notable differences between the Hammond and Knott model and my approach is that they are interested in the special case when the winset of the status quo is empty (while I am interested in the size of the winset), and they use two dimensions (that can be generalized up to four; see Tsebelis, , ‘The Core, the Uncovered Set and Conference Committees in Bicameral Legislatures’)Google Scholar, while my approach holds for any number of dimensions.

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96 One variable that is missing from this account, and should be included in a comparative study of courts, is who has standing in front of the court. For example, the condition for the increase of importance of the Constitutional Court in France was the introduction of the reform (at the time it was called ‘reformette’ because of lack of understanding of its significance) that the Court could be asked to deliberate by sixty Members of Parliament.

97 For an example of interaction between two players one of which has the power to propose and the other to accept, see Tsebelis, , ‘The Power of the European Parliament as a Conditional Agenda Setter’.Google Scholar