On Elections

How people elect parliaments

Assemblies of the World

 

Overview

National assemblies

These pages includes entries on 186 elected assemblies at national level as at April 2017. Where parliaments are bicameral only the lower house is described.

There are several different categories of electoral system used to elect national assemblies around the world. These system families are illustrated in the maps and explanations on the page just linked.

The major nations not described are the 19 nations – representing 21.2% of the world’s population – that are not electoral democracies. Most of this population consists of the people of China. China has people’s assemblies based on one-party foundations, at best only semi-elected. Vietnam, Laos and North Korea are similar, although the later is particularly non-democratic.

Saudi Arabia and other small middle-east remain absolute monarchies, although in some cases there are advisory councils or quasi-elected assemblies. The remainder of this group are small monarchical nations such as Brunei and Swaziland and some disputed territories.

A very small proportion of the world’s population (around 0.2% of the total) live in the 47 non-state ‘dependent territories’. Almost all of these are island territories, and most have colonial histories. Several of these are directly administered by their national governments, but some have local democratic institutions. The largest in terms of population is the ‘special administrative region’ of Hong Kong; most of the rest have very small populations. The electoral systems for 7 dependent territories – Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Macau, Réunion, Gibraltar, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – appear in the provincial assemblies page.

Around nine territories can be classified as ‘disputed territories’ arising from unresolved past conflicts and having various levels of international recognition. Some of these territories have elected assemblies. The largest case is Taiwan, which has a fully functioning electoral democracy. The Palestinian ‘state’ is another such territory, although the governance pf Palestine is more vexed by circumstances. Other cases include Western Sahara, Northern Cyprus, Kosovo, and various territories on the periphery of the old USSR. The Crimea has been defecto re-incorporated into Russia, but this position is not recognised by the UN nor most nations.

The current ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq is not listed among the ‘disputed territory’ cases; this entity has no international recognition and the situation there is better characterised as a civil war or military insurgency.

What has now been included on the national assemblies page are descriptions of the electoral systems of 183 nations and 3 disputed territories, and on the provincial assemblies page 7 dependent territories, representing a total of 78.2% of the world’s population (5,705 million people). The selected national systems cover:

  • all nations with populations greater than 1 million people which have an effective system of democratic assembly elections
  • nations representing a total of 80% of world GDP, including all but two of the G20 major economic nations (the key omissions being China and Saudi Arabia)

The final 0.6% of the world’s population not specifically presented in these descriptions include a final 16 micro-nations in the Carribbean (8), Atlantic (1) and the Pacific (7), Kosovo in Europe, as well as the remaining 41 dependent territories. Many of these entities have some form of democratic system.

Provincial assemblies

In addition to the national and dependent territory assemblies, information on selected provincial assemblies is included because the political systems of these jurisdictions feature representative assemblies elected by noteworthy electoral systems. (This category overlaps with the dependent territories group mentioned above). These assemblies include selections from the United Kingdom (Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Greater London Authority), Australia (the Australian Capital Territory and the state of Tasmania), France (Réunion) and China (the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau).

Past assemblies

Finally, a limited selection of historic electoral systems no longer in use are (Ed: or soon will be) presented separately because the relevant political systems featured representative assemblies elected by noteworthy electoral systems. These include 19th century Britain, various stages of the French Republics, Weimar Germany 1919-33, and Italy from the 1950s to 1990s, Japan from the 1950s to 1990s, and selected recently changes systems in other nations.

 

Quality of democracy rankings

The democratic and civil rights credentials of the political systems of the world’s nations differ widely. Three prominent independent evaluations of the quality of democratic systems are those of the Economist Intelligence Unit (“EIU”), a consulting business of the Economist magazine, the Washington-Based NGO Freedom House, and the Polity IV Project published by the Centre for System Peace in the United States.

The EIU’s Democracy Index ratings and Freedom House’s Freedom in the World ratings used in this appendix are drawn from the respective 2011 reports of those organisations. Democracy Index ratings are published as a score out of 10, and present gradings of “full democracy” (scores of 8 out of 10 or better), “flawed democracy” (6.0 to 7.99), “hybrid regime” (4.0 to 5.99) and “authoritarian regime” (below 4.0).

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World ratings (against two measures – ‘political rights’ and ‘civil liberties’) are published as a pair of scores out of 7, with lower values representing better ratings. Freedom in the World ratings include “free” (nations with combined scores totalling up to 5 out of 14), “partly free” (6 to 10 out of 14) and “not free” (11 out of 14 or worse). For comparison purposes, the Freedom in the World ratings have been reversed, rescaled and combined to generate a single score out of 10, as follows:

The Polity IV Project gives most nations rankings out of 10 for democracy and for autocracy, the the aggregate ‘polity’ rankings are another widely cited system for ranking the democratic credentials of nations.

Aggregative these three ranking systems (converting each to a ranking out of 10 and averaging the results), as at late 2015 the world’s population of 7.3 billion people can be categorised as living in different democratic conditions as follows:

  • 963 million people (13.2% of the world total) live in nations with scores averaging 9.0 out of 10 or above
  • 2,492 million people (34.1% of the world total) live in nations with scores averaging 7.0 to 8.9 out of 10
  • 1,073 million people (14.7% of the world total) live in nations with scores averaging 5.0 to 6.9 out of 10
  • 684 million people (  9.4% of the world total) live in nations with scores averaging 3.0 to 4.9 out of 10
  • 2,060 million people (28.2% of the world total) live in nations with scores averaging below 3.0 out of 10
  • (for completeness, the remaining 25 million people (0.3% of the world total) live in nations which have not been rated)

 

Systems of executive government

The descriptions given in these pages relating to how each nation provides for the exercise of government power use four categories, each of which features a different balance of power between the independence of an executive government and control by a national assembly. These categories, in decreasing order of parliamentary control, are:

 

Sources

The key sources of information and data include:

  • The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Parline database
  • IDEA (the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an international NGO)
  • The ACE project’s Electoral Knowledge Network (ACE is a collaborative effort between IDEA, EISA, Elections Canada, the National Electoral Institute of Mexico (INE), IFES, The Carter Center, UNDESA, UNDP and the UNEAD)
  • The Election Resources private website
  • Wikipedia entries for nations and for specific elections
  • Mackie and Rose’ (1991) – The International Almanac of Electoral History, Thomas Mackie and Richard Rose, 3rd edition

For each entry, population data is drawn from Wikipedia’s compilation of official statistics at the ‘List of Nations by Population’ page, as at October 2015.

 

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