Private Member’s Bills in Parliament: a Comparative Study of Finland and Estonia
The percentage of private member’s bills (PMB) in overall legislation in parliamentary systems tends to be small.
As a rule, the executive tends to dominate over the legislative branch in initiating legislation. Regardless of this, members of parliament (MP) tend to be quite active sponsors of legislation. This study analyses 328 such PMBs from the period of 1999–2007 in Estonia and 665 bills from 2003–2007 in Finland. The success rate of these bills was 37.9% and 4.5% in Estonia and Finland respectively. The high number of sponsored bills stands in marked contrast to the low number of passed ones. This raises the question why MPs engage in apparently irrational behaviour of using their limited time to sponsor a large number of bills that will most likely never be passed. The article looks at the sponsoring, substance and the legislative process of these bills. The primary explanatory mechanism focuses on the personal vote notion, which captures the degree to which individualistic behaviour of MPs is rewarded by the electoral system. The results show that the degree of the personal vote explains PMB sponsorship frequency. MPs who operate in a setting that is comparatively more rewarding towards individualistic behaviour sponsor these bills in greater numbers. The substance of the bills and their fate in the legislative process depends however on the coalition or opposition status of the MP and not on the personal vote level of the sponsor. Variance within an electoral system therefore structures behaviour in parliament, but the effects are not strong enough to influence parts of the electoral process that follow the initiation of a bill.