Constitutional Role of Opposition Legislators in Parliamentary Democracies: A Normative Account

Constitutions should create a regime of opposition powers, i.e., an institutionalized power possessed by a formally designated party group or by a fraction of legislators or by a formally recognized opposition leader, that encompasses but goes beyond rights of individual legislators to speak and vote against government bills. Regimes of opposition powers have three components. First, they create an opposition team through provisions that encourage the aggregation of, or coordination among, opposition legislators to act collectively. Second, they confer rights exercisable by the opposition team or its recognized leaders that further one or both of the key functions of opposition parties: (a) to scrutinize the conduct of the executive and hold it accountable through powers of oversight; and (b) to provide a government-in-waiting through agenda-setting powers. Third, they contain an enforcement mechanism, consisting of constitutional court referrals and/or speakers of the legislature.

Opposition Rights & Powers: A Conceptual Map

This paper will map the rights and powers available to political opposition parties in contemporary constitutional practice. Triangulating data from a large-N survey of select constitutional codes with a small-n thick contextual analysis of a handful of jurisdictions, the study seeks to understand (i) identify and taxonomise the range of opposition rights and powers that democratic constitutions are trying to protect, and (ii) discover and explain any relationships between the range and types of opposition rights and powers protected in a constitution on the one hand and variables such as regime type (presidential/parliamentary/semi-presidential/semi-parliamentary), age of the constitutional code, status of the protection offered (big-C code, statute, case law, custom), and robustness of the democracy on the other.