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Fistfighting in National Legislatures Open Access

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Heated political disagreements and clashes over policy can result in physical violence among legislators. However, legislative fistfighting is a rarely-studied topic requiring a unique approach. Legislative fistfighting is a visible form of political violence that differs greatly from the generally-accepted diplomatic format for policy negotiation. This paper addresses the tendency of politicians in countries outside of the United States to engage in fistfighting. It includes analyses of legislative fistfighting episodes, the bases for these episodes, the political climate of the legislature where the fight occurs, and the outcome. Each country’s political system is examined by analyzing its recent political history and its most popular political parties.To citizens of a developed democracy, legislative fistfighting may appear to be a fundamentally irrational act. Ideally, developed nations foster legislative change through informed discussion and debate, ultimately voting, rather than brawling. However, if legislators are not acting in the best interest of the state itself, they must be acting out of a different set of interests which may be rational from the perspective of individual legislators or their parties. Most countries’ fistfighting correlates with legitimacy crises, especially those occurring close in time to elections or a political succession event. Worsening levels of legitimacy provoke fistfighting among legislators. Some countries fight during a change in political power from one party to another, even without corruption charges or other events affecting political legitimacy. Some countries have a culture of legislative fistfighting, where violence during a legislative session becomes part of routine political discourse. In South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, and possibly Venezuela, legislators have a reputation for fighting and exist within a culture of legislative fistfighting. Some countries’ lawmakers use legislative fistfighting to advance their own interests, and ultimately to gain power. For countries with a culture of fistfighting, such as Ukraine and South Korea, fistfighting appears to be a kind of inter-elite political competition for credibility among members. Fistfighting as policymaking erodes state legitimacy. By its nature, fistfighting in legislature is a use of illegal violence to influence an otherwise legal process. Violence among legislative members is different from violence among average citizens because legislative fistfighting occurs between and among elected members of the parliament. Legislative fistfighting comes from a broad array of causes and brings about implications as diverse and intricate as the collection of nations where fistfighting occurs. Although fistfighting highlights numerous complexities, legitimacy crises have the highest causal relationship with legislative brawls.

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