Decree power in parliamentary systems: theory and evidence from India

Madhav Aney, Shubhankar Dam

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Decree powers are common to presidential systems; they are rarely found in parliamentary ones. We analyse decree powers in one such rare setting: India. We show that bicameral minority governments in India systematically use ordinances to circumvent parliament and prosecute their legislative agendas. They promulgate more ordinances, enact fewer legislation, and often re-promulgate lapsed ordinances. These patterns suggest that, with bicameral minority governments, the locus of law-making shifts to the executive branch. While both majority and minority governments invoke ordinances, the latter invokes them systematically to get around their parliamentary deficit. In the hands of minority governments then, the mechanism, effectively, helps to defy the will of the parliamentary majority. This suggests that the ordinance mechanism, originally introduced in the Indian Constitution for limited purposes, has blossomed into a distinct source of – and forum for – parliamentary law-making.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • decree power
  • ordinance
  • Article 123
  • India
  • minority governments
  • parliamentary systems


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