What are the pitfalls of Indian democracy
Suzanne S. Schüttemeyer
Dipl. Pol., Dr. rer. pol., was professor for government studies and policy research at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg from 2001 to 2018. Since 2003 she has been editor-in-chief of the magazine for parliamentary questions, since 2016 founding director of the Institute for Parliamentary Research (IParl); she is the recipient of the Science Prize of the German Bundestag and a member of the Commission for the History of Parliamentarism and Political Parties. From 2006 to 2009 she was chairwoman of the German Association for Political Science. Her research and work focuses on representation and parliamentarism in theory and practice. Contact: [email protected]
Democracy is based on the citizens who live in it recognizing and supporting it. That does not mean that they have to approve everything that the political institutions and actors do - on the contrary: Democratic systems will only be stable and successful if they remain capable of learning, i.e. if they are able to process criticism of the existing openly and productively. This criticism in detail is just as much the elixir of democracy as the recognition and support of its principles on the part of the citizens. Discomfort, dissatisfaction, and even displeasure with the current performance of parties and politicians are therefore harmless or can even contribute to improvement and progress in politics as long as they do not turn into a fundamental rejection of the values, norms and rules of the game of democracy.
In recent years, however, there have been repeated concerns that this is exactly what is happening to an increasing extent. If you look at the numerous population surveys and their interpretations that can be found in published opinion as well as in political science, the impression easily arises that fundamental doubts about parliamentary democracy and democratic representation have grown. A closer look and a sober analysis of such data, however, reveal that there is no decline - and certainly not a dramatic - in Germany in political trust in democracy as a fundamental form of government.
Agree with democracy, dissatisfied with the achievements of politics
At the beginning of 2019, the results of a survey by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy were quoted in many German newspapers. The headline in ZEIT read: "East Germans trust democracy less than West Germans", in the Tagesspiegel it was almost word for word: "East Germans trust democracy less than West Germans", the Munich Merkur headline: "Doubts about democracy as a form of government" in the FAZ who commissioned the study, Renate Köcher headed her article on January 23, 2019: "East Germans have little trust in the state and democracy".
The representative population survey included the following question: "Do you think the democracy that we have in the Federal Republic is the best form of government, or is there another form of government that is better?" 77 percent of West Germans and 42 percent of East Germans had decided in favor of "the best form of government", that there were "better", said ten percent of West Germans and 23 percent of East Germans; and the latter were 35 percent undecided or did not want to comment.
Similar findings that give cause for concern about democracy in the country have been to be read again and again for years. Significantly less attention is paid to statements that point to the central importance of different question formats such as the need to compare times and come to the conclusion that German citizens have a positive relationship with the idea and practice of democracy. 
Indeed: It makes a big difference whether the question is asked whether the citizens support democracy as an idea or as a basic form of government, whether they support their specific characteristics in the Federal Republic or whether they are satisfied with the concrete achievements of this democracy at a given point in time.  This is shown - in contrast to the interpretations of the Allensbach study - results of other population surveys.
The recently published ALLBUS for the year 2018  shows that just under 87 percent of East Germans and 92.5 percent of West Germans stated that they were fundamentally in favor of the "idea of democracy" (values for the response options "very much in favor") and "pretty much for it").
In the same survey, satisfaction with "democracy as it exists in Germany" was recorded, i.e. it was clearly based on the concrete realization of democracy and satisfaction with it; and a significantly lower proportion of those questioned answered positively: 60 percent of West Germans and just under 36 percent of East Germans were "very satisfied" or "fairly satisfied".
If one adds the question of satisfaction "with the current performance of the federal government", the picture becomes complete with regard to all three of the above-mentioned attitude dimensions: only 22.5 percent in the west and not even 16 percent in the east were very or fairly satisfied .
The decline from 92 to 60 to 22 percent in the old federal states and from 87 to 36 and 16 percent in the new ones at the same time clearly shows that the differently formulated questions address different levels of citizens' views. Even if these cannot be determined with all precision, it should be clear that the Allensbacher data cited above do not allow the East Germans to attest "doubts about democracy as a form of government", because "only" 42 percent "is the democracy that we in of the Federal Republic ", consider it the best form of government. Rather, it can be assumed that answers to such question wording include a good deal of how satisfied or dissatisfied someone is with the concrete performance of the political system.
The 36 percent in the east of the country who were satisfied with democracy "as it exists in Germany" in summer 2018 can rightly be compared with the 42 percent from the Allensbach survey of January 2019 and plausibly determined that the annoyance, which probably arose mainly from the refugee problem in autumn 2015, has meanwhile decreased, the concern about this topic has decreased and the satisfaction with the current performance of the political system has increased again.
There can be no question of a serious crisis of confidence - and that would have existed if the corresponding values had actually more than halved from 87 to 42 percent in East Germany within six months and had fallen from 92 to 77 percent in the West. In any case, trust is a complex construct made up of various attitudes, the characteristics and mix of which are generally not apparent from surveys on trust in institutions and democracy. An exact interpretation is correspondingly difficult.
What exactly does someone mean who replied negatively to the question about their trust in democracy: is they annoyed because the incumbent government does not correspond to their party preference? Or because the Hartz IV rates are too low or too high, he does not like the migration policy or the coal-fired power plants are supposed to be on the grid for too long? So is the lack of trust currently caused by actors or political content? Or is the motive for a negative answer a fundamental mistrust in the mechanisms of democracy and its institutions?
Suzanne S. Schüttemeyer, "Representative Democracy and Political Participation", in: Astrid Lorenz, Christian Pieter Hoffmann and Uwe Hitschfeld (eds.), Participation for all and everything? Pitfalls, limits and possibilities, © Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2019, Chapter 11
- Cf. Oscar W. Gabriel, Representative weaknesses and the second transformation of democracy: Who wants direct democracy in Germany ?, in: ZParl, Vol. 44 (2013), Heft 3, pp. 592 - 612, pp. 600 f.
- On this, see already Suzanne S. Schüttemeyer, Bundestag and Bürger im Spiegel der Demoskopie. A secondary analysis of the perception of parliamentarism in the Federal Republic, Opladen 1986
- GESIS - Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences, General Population Survey of the Social Sciences ALLBUS 2018, GESIS data archive, Cologne 2019. ZA5270 data file version 2.0.0
For a realistic picture of parliamentary democracy as a form of political order, four factors are of decisive importance:
- the demarcation from presidentialism;
- a specific form of separation of powers;
- the weighting of parliamentary functions and
- the tension inherent in parliamentary representation between the willingness of politicians to act in accordance with the interests and attitudes of citizens (responsiveness) and the need to occasionally disregard political decisions in the interests of the common good and to advance them in terms of content (political leadership).
What is the difference between the parliamentary and the presidential system of government?The development of parliaments in Great Britain since the 15th century and in the United States of America since the 18th century forms the basis for the historical differentiation of political system types. After that, institutions emerged in London and Washington, DC, which can be regarded as prime examples of two very different ways of designing a democratic political system: the Westminster model of parliamentarism (named after Westminster Palace, the seat of the two British chambers of parliament in the district of the same name) and presidentialism. This distinction can also be made in a systematic way by defining criteria and providing plausible reasons. These criteria will be examined in more detail in the following sections. Central to the distinction between parliamentarism and presidentialism is the relationship between legislative and executive, i.e. between - in the classic understanding - legislative and executive power.
On the history of a fascinating type of institution
Specifically, they arose from initially often implicit, later mostly also notarized agreements between the estate leaders and a sovereign recognized by them, in which reciprocal rights and obligations were laid down. [...] The sovereign [...] provided for collective protection to the outside world and among one another as well as, according to his possibilities, for the maintenance of the estate order in general; and vice versa, the sovereign could, if necessary, have access to those resources that the estates or their leaders had, beyond his own personnel, material and financial resources, if he worked together successfully with the assembly of his estates. It was therefore advisable, often indispensable, for the sovereign to seek a good way of getting along with the estates; and these in turn were able to gain influence on his political and legislative measures in return for the ruler's service in return for the personnel, material and financial resources made available to him on a case-by-case basis.
As an institutional form of this, corporations emerged in which monarchs or rulers in rank below them worked together with the leaders of the most important estates or with those representatives who were appointed by the estates as representatives who were more or less bound by instructions. At the meetings of the estates they could appear on the one hand as representatives of corporations such as the knighthood or the universities, but on the other hand also as representatives of territories. [...] Otherwise, the assemblies of the estates differed according to whether they could be convened and dismissed on a case-by-case basis or at the monarch's own discretion, or whether they - once convened - enjoyed a kind of guarantee of existence for a certain period of time [...]. Furthermore, it was momentous whether an assembly of estates faced the sovereign as a corporate body, which is referred to in German constitutional history as a "dualistic corporate state", or whether - as in England - the idea prevailed that the monarch and the assembly of estates jointly represented the "body politic" of the country or A rich political system entrusted to common management. From this idea, brought to the formula "king in parliament" in England, the parliamentary system of government could later develop comparatively easily.
In Europe, since the 13th century, the interaction of monarchs or sovereigns with estates became the normal form of political organization. Under the name of estates and diets, of provincial and imperial estates, of estates and general states, not only in the German Empire also under the name of the Reichstag, estates represented bodies shaped the western history of government at least up to the 17th century. [...] Wherever the monarchs succeeded in developing their position of power by developing their own tax sources, establishing an effective central administration and building an army under the monarch's personal control, the political role of the assemblies of the estates could be reduced in this way. In France, the crown managed to dispense with convening a meeting of the estates of the empire from 1614 to 1789. After such a long time, due to public financial difficulties, the chamber of the bourgeoisie declared itself a national assembly and - based on Rousseau’s democratic thinking - withdrew not only the basis of legitimation from the institutional form of class representation, but also from the king in real terms his power. In England, on the other hand, the representation of the "Houses of Parliament" changed rather seamlessly to the now largely democratically legitimized carrier of a parliamentary system of government. However, the military assertion of parliamentary power during the civil war and the Glorious Revolution made a major contribution to this. In Germany, on the other hand, assemblies of the estates existed, for example in the two Mecklenburg duchies, until the revolution of 1918, albeit quite isolated in terms of the concept of order that supported them in the midst of a now democratic parliamentarianism embodied by the Reichstag.
Werner J. Patzelt, "Outline of a Morphology of Parliaments", in: ders. (Ed.), Evolutorischer Institutionalismus, Ergon-Verlag, Würzburg 2007, pp. 483-564, here pp. 483 and 526 f.
In the parliamentary system of government, parliament has the right and the duty to ensure a government that is capable of acting. This responsibility essentially justifies the functioning of this system of government, explains numerous forms of action of its actors and determines its logic. The government is therefore dependent on parliament - and not only for the implementation of its projects, but for its very existence. Without the continued confidence of the parliamentary majority, expressed in their willingness not to remove the incumbent government or to replace it with another, there would be no government in the parliamentary system of government.
The fact that parliament, or more precisely: the parliamentary majority, the prime minister or chancellor and in fact mostly indirectly also his cabinet, creates a special relationship between government (executive) and parliament (legislative). The government must constantly assure itself of the support of "its" parliamentary majority, must not overstrain their willingness to follow suit and should at most occasionally disregard their will if it does not want to jeopardize its own continued existence.
This right of the parliamentary majority goes hand in hand with the task of constantly monitoring the functioning of the government. If this no longer seems to be guaranteed, it is up to the parliamentary majority to replace the executive in whole or in part. It is parliament - and only parliament - that owes its voters direct political accountability - also and especially for the quality of government.
How central this structural principle is becomes particularly clear in the distinction to the presidential system of government. There the executive and legislative branches exist independently of one another. The president does not need the trust of a majority in order to remain in office for a full term of office (unless there is impeachment proceedings for criminal conduct, which, however, does not belong in this context).
As a consequence, in presidentialism, the executive cannot or does not have to rely on a fixed majority; it can or must, on a case-by-case basis, obtain majorities for its projects. Accordingly, the legislature is not responsible for the executive towards the electorate, because it has no power over their term of office.
This existential independence of the two powers from each other is usually reinforced by the fact that the population in presidentialism decides for themselves who should form the executive. The democratic legitimacy of the government arises here through the direct election of the head of state, which is legally regulated or in fact appears to be (such as in the USA, where an electoral body formally elects the president). Parliament can claim just as much legitimacy for itself, because its members are also directly elected by the people.
The fact whether a parliament can recall the government or not sets basic conditions for which actors have what influence and how they deal with each other in everyday political business. The fact that the government can be removed from office by parliament creates the special dependency that exists in the parliamentary system between the executive and legislative branches and, according to the political scientist Winfried Steffani, is the most important criterion for differentiating between parliamentary and presidential systems of government. On the basis of this one overriding criterion, essential characteristics of the political process in a country become immediately clear.
The order of the government
On the other hand, the question of whether parliament can not only remove the executive, particularly the prime minister, but also elect it, becomes less important. There are also presidential systems in which the government is elected by parliament. Switzerland could be mentioned as an example. There, the two chambers of the Federal Parliament, the National Council and the Council of States, elect a seven-member executive for four years according to the so-called magic formula, which ensures the specific Swiss party proportion. This executive consists of several people of equal rank and is therefore referred to as collegial government. It cannot be voted out, so that in Switzerland the logic of presidentialism described above determines the relationship between the legislature and the executive: existential independence from one another, no responsibility for one another. In the case of Switzerland, there are also specific mechanisms of direct democracy.
In the United States, on the other hand, if no presidential candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes in the electoral college, the Constitution stipulates that the House of Representatives will elect a president from the three candidates with the highest number of votes. However, this only happened once (1825).
In the political practice of parliamentary systems of government, in addition to the fact that the government can be recalled, it is often also appointed by parliament. This is done either through a formal election, which usually only refers to the prime minister, or through parliament voting on the prime minister's political program or his government statement. Informal rules can also control the formation of a government and the recruitment and selection of government personnel from parliamentary groups.
The mechanisms of recall and appointment produce two units of action that shape parliamentarism: the government majority and the opposition. The former consists of the parliamentary majority, which can be formed either by a parliamentary group alone or through a coalition of several parliamentary groups, as well as the government it supports, the latter of the parliamentary groups that do not support this government.
The glue that holds the government majority together at heart is the interest in political success - and success here ultimately means: preservation of government power. For this, the majority and their cabinet are indispensably dependent on each other. Because the majority only remains a majority as long as it can win the electorate through convincing performance in solving problems. It employs its management team as the government for these services. This, for its part, can only be successful if it retains the support of the parliamentary majority.
Ultimately, the opposition pursues the same goal, namely government and thus political power. In the classic Westminster model of parliamentarism, it functions as a "fleet in being", as a government in waiting, and works towards becoming the government majority itself in the next election through constant clarification of personal and political alternatives.
Even in places where this competitive relationship is traditionally not so strong, where there is a rather cooperative approach in day-to-day political business and where minority governments often occur, for example in Scandinavia, governments have "their" parties in parliament, and at least one other ( large) party after assuming government responsibility.
The dissolution of parliament
As a countermeasure to parliament's power to recall government, many constitutions of parliamentary systems of government give government the right to dissolve parliament and call new elections. At first glance, this may appear to be a schematic balancing of the powers of the executive and legislative branches. From this perspective alone, it is only logical that under presidentialism the - non-recallable - executive branch cannot dissolve parliament either.
On closer inspection, the government's right to dissolve parliament, above all the consistent continuation of the structural principle, is to hold parliament responsible for the government's ability to act. If it cannot achieve this, i.e. neither mobilize a majority in support of the incumbent government, nor create a majority for a new government, the government must be able to act: the way out of such a crisis is to dissolve parliament and hold new elections to establish an effective government majority.
The end of the first social-liberal government under Chancellor Willy Brandt in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1972 provides a vivid example of this: the coalition of SPD and FDP had gradually lost its majority in the Bundestag as part of its new Ostpolitik. The constructive vote of no confidence with which the opposition leader, the chairman of the Union parliamentary group and CDU party chairman Rainer Barzel wanted to replace Chancellor Brandt, failed extremely narrowly, but the coalition no longer had the necessary votes to pass laws and in particular the budget. In this situation of political incapacity to act, Chancellor Brandt made use of the option provided for in the Basic Law (Art. 68) to use a vote of confidence to dissolve the Bundestag by the Federal President.
The compatibility of office and mandate
The question of whether a member of parliament is allowed to be a member of the government at the same time can be used as a criterion for differentiating between the parliamentary and the presidential system of government. However, just like the appointment of the government by the parliament or the dissolution of the parliament by the government, it designates only a complementary, not an indispensable feature of parliamentarism.
In presidentialism, there is usually the incompatibility of mandate and government office, the so-called incompatibility. In the United States, for example, the president is not allowed to belong to the House of Representatives or the Senate. Conversely, in most parliamentary democracies in Europe, office and mandate are compatible. In the UK, the Prime Minister even has to be a Member of Parliament.
There are, however, exceptions: in France, the Netherlands and Norway, for example, MPs have to resign when they take up a government office. This still reflects the tradition of the classic separation of powers - the dualistic front position of parliament and government ("old dualism").
In contrast, the basic rule of the compatibility of office and mandate in parliamentarism illustrates the structurally intended and functional, close connection between parliamentary majority and government that the parliamentary opposition faces ("new dualism"). If the prime minister or chancellor and minister are "meat of the flesh" of parliament, i.e. if they remain members of the parliamentary group (s) that support them as government, the simultaneity of political cooperation and mutual control is much better guaranteed than in presidentialism.
The criterion of the design of the executive
Another distinction between the types of parliamentary and presidential systems of government arises from the question of whether the executive is "closed" or "double". This distinction is based on two fundamentally different functions of the executive: firstly, it has to fulfill the tasks of (party) political governance, secondly, it should represent the entire state internally and externally. In terms of constitutional law and personnel, this is synonymous with the differentiation between head of government and head of state.
If both functions are performed by a single body (not necessarily by a single person, see the example of the seven-member Federal Council, the government in Switzerland), as is the case with presidentialism, one speaks of a closed executive. For example, the President of the USA is also the head of government and the highest representative of his country.
If, on the other hand, there are two organs that share these tasks, for example a Chancellor and a Federal President as in Germany or a Prime Minister and a Queen as in Great Britain, then it is a double executive. This is typical of parliamentary systems of government that historically emerged from monarchies in which political leadership gradually or through revolutionary acts passed to bourgeois, later democratically legitimized forces.
It is obvious that such a double executive harbors the problem of competition. This is particularly the case when the respective constitution provides the head of state with powers that are difficult to distinguish from the political sphere of government and require interpretation. A current example of this is provided by the political system of France, a historical one by the Weimar Republic.
If the design of the executive is combined as a characteristic with the primary criterion that the government can be removed from office, there are four sub-types to which countries with their political systems and in certain phases of their development can be assigned. With the help of such typologies, it is quickly possible to determine the logic and basic patterns according to which the political actors in a country act and how the interplay between the institutions works there.
Mixed systems of parliamentarism and presidentialism
Semi-presidentialism describes a political system in which the constitution provides that the head of state is directly elected by the people and has considerable powers, while a prime minister who is dependent on parliamentary trust (with his cabinet) has government power. While General Charles de Gaulle's administration suggests that the French system should be viewed as "almost presidential", it became clear with the first appearance of cohabitation in the 1980s, i.e. the meeting of a president and a head of government with different party affiliations The logic of parliamentarism is inherent in the constitutional construction of semi-presidentialism: the ability to act politically cannot be ensured without or against the trust of the parliamentary majority. The emphasis of this ability to act lies in semi-presidentialism - depending on the framework conditions - once more with the president and once more with the prime minister. Therefore, semi-presidentialism is only about the occasional change in (French) parliamentary democracy under the changeable conditions of party majorities.
The Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart combines the criterion of the revocability of the government with the questions of whether it consists of one or more persons and whether their election is made by the legislature or the population. This gives him eight combinations of characteristics, two of which represent the pure forms of parliamentarism and presidentialism and six appear as mixed types. However, he cannot fill three with empirical examples and the other three with only one each.
Other political scientists such as Matthew Soberg Shugart and John M. Carey or Wolfgang Merkel do not determine an either-or criterion that allows a case to be immediately and clearly assigned, but characteristics are combined and constructed into types in different mixing ratios. These cannot necessarily have the same selectivity. In addition, they have the disadvantage that for their application it is not necessary to determine the basic structures of a political system, but rather its specific practice at the respective point in time, if one wants to obtain substantial information about the logic of action of the actors and institutions.
Suzanne S. Schüttemeyer
The importance of separation of powersA "correct" separation of powers prevails in a state when there is a clear separation and comparison between "the legislature" and "the executive" - this is a common misunderstanding about a central principle of constitutional democratic order. In order to be able to understand the mechanisms of parliamentary democracy correctly, the separation of powers must be understood in a much more fundamental and differentiated manner.
Historical approaches to contain the abuse of power
The French political theorist Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, 1689–1755), who is regarded as the "father of the theory of the division of powers", wrote his work "On the Spirit of Laws" in view of absolutism in France in the 18th century. Century.In absolutism, a monarch legitimized by divine right ruled alone, without class or even democratic participation.
Montesquieu's basic idea was therefore aimed at preventing the abuse of (state) power. Since he not only wanted to make a theoretical contribution, but also wanted to have a concrete political effect, he drafted a brief functional theory. According to it, the state should enact laws, ensure their application and - if disputes arise about them or the laws are not obeyed - arrange for arbitration or enforcement. In other words: there must be a legislature, an executive and a judiciary.
However, he did not assign these to the three "powers" mentioned in the state, as has been repeatedly claimed. Instead, he anchored the jurisprudence (judiciary) in a non-permanent body, i.e. a jurisdiction to be set up on a case-by-case basis, the members of which should belong to the same status as the accused or parties to the dispute. Montesquieu assigned the remaining two tasks to three social forces, whose involvement he considered essential in order to give his "reform concept" a chance of realization: the king, the nobility and the bourgeoisie were to share power, with the king alone providing the government (executive) should, while the nobility and bourgeoisie should take over the legislation (legislature) in a bicameral parliament. He made its legislative resolutions subject to a veto right of the monarch, who in turn could not achieve anything without a parliamentary resolution.
Montesquieu's teaching had a formative effect on the US constitutional fathers. The political scientist Richard E. Neustadt summed this up two centuries later to the concise formula: "separated institutions sharing powers" and thus aptly characterized the presidential system of government in the USA.
The power-inhibiting effect of the "new dualism"
Building on Montesquieu's basic concept of preventing the abuse of power, modern political science has developed a differentiated understanding of the separation of powers. Firstly, this allows a number of different forms of distribution of state power to be justified, and secondly, it makes it possible to include the various power-inhibiting aspects of democratic-pluralistic societies, in particular of parties and interest groups, media and the public.
For the development of parliamentary democracy, it was crucial that the historically grown front position between the (monarchically dominated) executive and the legislative power initially won by the nobility and later by the bourgeoisie - the so-called old dualism - was replaced or at least largely overlaid by a "new one." Dualism". This arose in English parliamentarism, which in the course of the 19th century established the government's dependence on the parliamentary majority and the principle of institutionalized opposition. Since then, the parliamentary majority and the government it supports have formed a unit of action in the parliamentary system of government that is opposed to the opposition.
The power-inhibiting effect of this new dualism results firstly from the explicitly recognized position of the opposition and the (control) rights that are specifically guaranteed to it. In the parliamentary democracies of the European continent this is often anchored in the written constitutions, in Great Britain the opposition leadership is a paid office like that of the Prime Minister.
Second, the assumption would ignore the political reality that the parliamentary majority would let the government go unchecked. The above-mentioned agreement of the interests of the majority and the cabinet results from the constant communication between the MPs and their ministers and only leads to the next election victory if one checks each other again and again to see whether the right decisions have been made, the appropriate ones and the electorate accepted measures are taken.
It is obvious that the opposition controls the government in different ways and with different goals than is done by the parliamentary majority. Opposition criticism is aimed at public effectiveness. It is intended to offer voters alternatives to the incumbents and to the factual issues as well as to demonstrate one's own ability to take over government; In principle, its aim is not to provide the government with concrete and topical support.
In contrast, control within the government majority is exercised through internal initiatives. Corrections of details and, if necessary, directional corrections are made as quietly as possible and in camera, in order to avoid the impression of a lack of unity or insufficient capacity to act.
The assertion that there is no separation of powers in parliamentary democracy because there is no separation of office and mandate, because the majority follow their government "slavishly" and the opposition is ultimately lost, falls far too short. An institutionalized opposition between the entire parliament and government is not an indispensable prerequisite for effective political control. This is realized in the new dualism as well as in the old one, in a variety of ways, albeit less obvious and more in need of explanation.
A modern theory of the division of powers
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