A legislature that has two houses or chambers is known as bicameralism. Simply put a legislature that has Upper and Lower Chambers.
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The name such lawmaking chambers are called may vary from country to country. For instance, the U.S law-making body is called the Congress which has two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In Canada, the legislature is referred to as the Parliament with two houses: the Senate and the House of Commons. The UK’s Parliament houses the House of Lords and House of Commons.
Arguments in support of Bicameral Legislature
While there are arguments that a unicameral legislature is better and more effective, some political analysts believe that bicameralism offers some advantages that are absent in a single legislative chamber.
The advantages of bicameral legislature are:
Re-examination of legislation
When one chamber passes a bill into law, there may be a possibility of oversight. This is when the second chamber re-examines the bill that has been passed by the lower chamber to make a more meaningful contribution.
Sometimes, disagreement between the two chambers may force them to take a second look at the bill to make improvements where necessary.
Prevention of ill-conceived bills
There may be a delay in the reading and passage of a bill into law, it may be a blessing in disguise because the second look brings about thoroughness. It prevents ill-conceived bills from being passed.
Contribution to national life
In a country where members of the Senate are appointed based on their wealth of experience e.g Canada, it gives them the privilege to make contributions to national life and gives the country the opportunity to tap from their wealth of knowledge in sectors such as economy, security, and health.
Representation of special groups
Where members of the Senate are appointed, bicameralism gives people from special groups a sense of belonging as they are able to make contributions to national development.
Effective check on the executive
Two chambers ensure that the legislators perform the role of effectively holding the government (headed by the executive) accountable and serve as a check on the actions of the executive, unlike bicameralism where lawmakers may easily give in when the ruling party dominates the chamber.
Equal representation of units
Bicameral legislature promotes the principle of equality irrespective of the size of states that make up the federation.
For instance, the U.S. Constitution prescribes that each of the states is represented by two senators, which is why the U.S. Senate is made up of 100 senators.
In Nigeria where the Senate is made up of 109 Senators, each of the 36 states is represented by 3 senators and one senator representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
If the population of a state were to be used as a condition for representation, the most populous U.S state like California would have dominated the Upper Chamber.
If the same were to be applied in Nigeria, populous states like Kano and Lagos would have had the majority in the Senate, but NO, all states are equally represented in the Senate.
Argument against bicameral system
The above merits of two chambers sounds brilliant, however, there are some defects. Here are some of the disadvantages of bicameral legislative chamber:
It delays the legislation process
It promotes the repetition of the law-making process. What has been worked at the Lower Chamber goes to the Upper Chamber for the same consideration sometimes, with a meaningful contribution.
Bicameralism is wasteful of resources
Sometimes, members of the Upper House have passed the age of usefulness. Some of them are weak and tired.
The cost of maintaining two chambers may be costlier, but it is important to point out that bicameralism still makes meaningful contributions in a country where democracy is working effectively.
Political scientists suggested that if the cost of maintaining two chambers is reviewed and reduced, there would not be the need to scrap the bicameral system.