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Government alternation and legislative agenda setting

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Author: Francesco Zucchini

Published: European Journal of Political Research 50(6): 749–774 (2011)

Recent studies of the legislative process have put forward a number of plausible hypotheses regarding the distribution of agenda-setting power. These hypotheses have guided scholars in identifying those conflicts and actors that are crucial to explaining legislative change and the wording of legislation. However, this has not yet led to a better understanding of the choice of specific agenda-setting rules. Why does the cabinet in some parliamentary democracies enjoy an undisputed role, while in others the parliament continues to play the role of co-protagonist? This article attempts to answer this question by looking at some well-known features of party systems. It is argued that in pivotal party systems, with limited government alternation, it is much more difficult to strengthen the government vis-à-vis the parliament. One factor prevents the procedural and institutional predominance of the cabinet under these circumstances: the lack of opportunities for, and expectations of, large and controversial policy change.