AskDefine | Define unicameral

Dictionary Definition

unicameral adj : composed of one legislative body [ant: bicameral]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of, or having a single legislative chamber.

See also

Extensive Definition

Unicameralism is the practice of having only one legislative or parliamentary chamber. Many countries with unicameral legislatures are often small and homogeneous unitary states and consider an upper house or second chamber unnecessary.


A view in favor of unicameral legislatures is that if an upper house is democratic, it simply mirrors the equally democratic lower house, and is therefore duplicative. A theory in favor of this view is that the functions of a second chamber, such as reviewing or revising legislation, can be performed by parliamentary committees, while further constitutional safeguards can be provided by a written constitution.
In many instances, the governments that now have unicameral legislatures were once bicameral and subsequently eliminated the upper chamber. One reason for such a change is because an elected upper house has overlapped the lower house and obstructed passage of legislation, an example being the case of the Landsting in Denmark (abolished in 1953). Another reason is because an appointed chamber has proven ineffectual, one example being the case of the Legislative Council in New Zealand (abolished in 1951).
Other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have technically bicameral systems that function much as unicameral systems, because one house is largely ceremonial and retains few powers. Thus, in the United Kingdom, control of the House of Commons determines control of the government, and the unelected House of Lords has the power only to delay legislation and to recommend amendments. Although there is widespread agreement that the House of Lords needs to be reformed, there is little support for simply abolishing it. (see Reform of the House of Lords).
Supporters of unicameralism note the need to control government spending and the elimination of redundant work done by both chambers. Critics of unicameralism point out the double checks and balances that a bicameral system affords, forcing a greater level of consensus on legislative issues. A feature of unicameralism is that urban areas with large populations have more influence than sparsely populated rural ones. In many cases the only way to get sparsely populated regions on board a unified government is to implement a bicameral system (such as the early United States). Supporters say this is an advantage, as they see it provides better apportionment while opponents see giving more power to rural regions as a goal in itself.
Unicameral legislatures were and are also common in Communist (like People's Republic of Poland, People's Republic of China and Cuba) and former Communist states (like Ukraine, Moldova and Serbia), since under Socialist point of view the institution of Senate was seen as conservative, elitist and pro-bourgeoise by nature.
Some of the subnational entities with unicameral legislatures include Nebraska, Guam and the Virgin Islands in the United States, the Australian states and territories of Queensland, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, all of the provinces and territories in Canada, all of the German Bundesländer, and all of the Italian Regioni.
Virtually all city legislatures are also unicameral in the sense that the city councils are not divided into two chambers. Until the turn of the 20th century, bicameral city councils were common in the United States.
In a non-binding referendum held on July 10, 2005, voters in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico approved changing its Legislative Assembly to a unicameral body by 456,267 votes in favor (83.7%) versus 88,720 against (16.3%). If both the territory's House of Representatives and Senate approve by a 2/3 vote the specific amendments to the Puerto Rico Constitution that are required for the change to a unicameral legislature, another referendum will be held in the territory to approve such amendments. If those constitutional changes are approved, Puerto Rico will switch to a unicameral legislature as early as 2009.



Unicameralist trends within the States of the United States

Within the individual United States, bicameralism was usually modeled upon that of the United States Federal Government, with the upper house, in analogy to the states, consisting of State Senators who represented geographic areas independent of their population, typically counties.
In 1964, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. Sims voided this arrangement as applied to states. In response to this most states replaced the fixed geographic boundaries with more flexible State Senatorial Districts, which are re-drawn after every decennial census. In such cases the term of office for the upper house will usually be longer and the number of seats lower than for the lower house. Like the districts of the lower house they are now subject to the process of gerrymandering, with boundaries manipulated to favor incumbents of both parties (as in California), or to favor the majority party (as in Maryland and Texas).
Nebraska is currently the only state with a unicameral legislature. Nebraska's state legislature is also unique in the sense that it is the only state legislature that is entirely nonpartisan.
In 1999, Governor Jesse Ventura said that the Minnesota Legislature should adopt a single unicameral chamber. Though debated, the idea was never adopted.

Unicameralist trend in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the process of amending or revising the current constitution and form of government is popularly known as Charter Change. A shift to a unicameral parliament is included in the proposals of the constitutional commission created by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Unlike in the United States, senators in the Philippine Senate are elected not per district and state but nationally; the Philippines is a unitary state. The Philippine government's decision making process, relative to the United States, is more rigid, highly centralized, much slower and susceptible to political "gridlocks." As a result, the trend for unicameralism as well as other political system reforms are more contentious in the Philippines.
unicameral in Catalan: Unicameralitat
unicameral in German: Einkammersystem
unicameral in Spanish: Unicameralidad
unicameral in French: Monocamérisme
unicameral in Korean: 단원제
unicameral in Indonesian: Sistem satu kamar
unicameral in Italian: Monocameralismo
unicameral in Dutch: Eenkamersysteem
unicameral in Japanese: 一院制
unicameral in Polish: Unikameralizm
unicameral in Portuguese: Unicameralismo
unicameral in Romanian: Unicameralism
unicameral in Swedish: Enkammarparlament
unicameral in Thai: ระบบสภาเดี่ยว
unicameral in Turkish: Tek Meclislilik
unicameral in Chinese: 一院制

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1