Multicameralism refers to the organization of a legislature into separate, distinct bodies. It is an enactment of the separation of powers; it divides decision-making among different chambers or houses. The assembly can be divided into as many assemblies as necessary – some have two branches while others may have four or even five.
Input: distinct legislative bodies with sovereignty over different aspects of governmental decision-making
Output: a system of chambers that divides power among two or more groups
Some of the oldest examples of multicameral legislatures can be found in various European parliaments. The oldest surviving parliament is the British Parliament, established in Anglo-Saxon times, which had law-making and law-enforcement councils that eventually evolved into the bicameral legislature the Parliament implements today.
A tricameral legislature is traditionally associated with Simon Bolivar’s theory in “which a popularly elected chamber, (the Chamber of Tribunes) would be endowed with the power to regulate finance and foreign affairs, a hereditary chamber (the Senate) would enact law, and a third chamber (the Censors) would have the power to review the lawfulness of the acts of the other two and to protect fundamental rights.” (Passaglia, 2018). This theory, though, remains as such – parliamentary governments were never popularized in the Americas.
Apartheid-era South African government instituted a tricameral system with race-based houses, abolished in 1994. A tetracameral legislature was implemented in Finland until 1906. Most European parliaments presently employ a unicameral or bicameral system.
- Provides checks and balances for legislation, preventing abuse of power and dictatorship
- Can provide representation for individuals on a more accurate level
- Can result in laws that are vetted, better-developed, and overall more beneficial to the public
- May not actually represent population it is supposed to serve
- Can result in deadlock, especially in a bicameral system, and thus waste resources
- Can be manipulated through means like gerrymandering
- May dramatically slow lawmaking process
The UK’s Parliament and the United States Congress are both bicameral democracies – the US Congress has the Senate and House of Representatives while Parliament has the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Other organizational bodies can implement a multicameral legislature as well, such as that proposed for Canadian healthcare advancement by Carson and Nossal (2016); collaboration between an operating board of directors and a policy council would form a bicameral governance structure. Some university governance, like that of Dalhousie University, is bicameral, as University Administration and Board of Governors are divided in their legislative responsibilities; the University of Alberta employs a similar structure.
Principles of Successful Bicameral Governance from Kwantlen Polytechnic University
- Brauninger, T. (2003). When simple voting doesn't work: Multicameral systems for the representation and aggregation of interests in international organizations. British Journal of Political Science, 33, 681-704. doi:http://dx.doi.org.colorado.idm.oclc.org/10.1017/S0007123403000310
- Passaglia, P. (2018). Unicameralism, Bicameralism, Multicameralism: Evolution and Trends in Europe. Perspectives on Federalism, 10(2), 1-29.
- Trakman, L. (2008). Modelling university governance. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(1‐2), 63-83.
- Tsebelis, G. (1995). Decision making in political systems: Veto players in presidentialism, parliamentarism, multicameralism and multipartyism. British journal of political science, 25(3), 289-325.