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Introduction: The Impact of the 'War on Terror' on Executive-Legislative Relations: A Global Perspective

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In democratic polities, constitutional equilibria or balances of power between the executive and the legislature shift over time. Normative and empirical political theorists have long recognised that war, civil unrest, economic and political crises, terrorist attacks, and other events strengthen the power of the executive, disrupt and threaten constitutional politics, and damage democratic institutions: crises require swift action and executives are thought to be more capable than parliaments and legislatures of taking such actions. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 and the ensuing so-called 'war on terror' declared by President Bush clearly constituted a crisis, not only in the United States but also in other political systems, in part because of the US's hegemonic position in defining and shaping many other states' foreign and domestic policies. Dicey, Schmitt, and Rossiter suggest that critical events and political crises inevitably trigger the concentration of (emergency) powers in the hands of the executive. Aristotle and Machiavelli questioned the inevitability of this process. This article and the articles that follow in this Special Issue utilise empirical evidence, through the use of case studies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia, Israel, Italy and Indonesia, to address this debate. Specifically, the issue explores to what extent the external shock or crisis of 9/11 (and other terrorist attacks) and the ensuing 'war on terror' significantly changed the balance of executive-legislative relations from t (before the crisis) to t+1 (after the crisis) in these political systems, all of which were the targets of actual or foiled terrorist attacks. The most significant findings are that the shock of 9/11 and the 'war on terror' elicited varied responses by national executives and legislatures/parliaments and thus the balance of executive-legislative relations in different political systems; that, therefore, executive-legislative relations are positive rather than zero-sum; and that domestic political contexts conditioned these institutional responses.
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Keywords: 'constitutional dictatorship'; 'war on terror'; constitutional balances of power and conditionality; decline of legislatures; emergency powers; executive-legislative relations and crisis; executives; legislative incapacity; legislatures

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster, London 2: Griffith University, Brisbane

Publication date: 2009-06-01

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