Legislatures are ubiquitous: most countries have them; those without them usually find their absence short-lived; and those countries that have never had them may be counted on one hand (Blondel, 1973: 10; Norton, 1990a: 2). In comparative politics, the range of institutional options for democratic states is limited: ‘with one exception (Switzerland), every existing democracy today is either presidential (as in the United States), parliamentary (as in most of western Europe), or a semi-presidential hybrid of the two (as in France and Portugal, where there is a directly elected president and a prime minister who must have a majority in the legislature’ (Stepan with Skach, 2001: 259). Whilst a presidential regime is characterized by a system of mutual independence (whereby the legislative power has a fixed electoral mandate that is its own source of legitimacy and the executive power has a fixed electoral mandate that is its own source of legitimacy), a parliamentary regime is characterized by a system of mutual dependence. In other words, the executive power must be supported by a majority in the Legislature and can fall if it receives a vote of no confidence. The executive power (normally in conjunction with the Head of State) has the capacity to dissolve the Legislature and call for elections.
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