What Is Filibustering In Politics?

Senators in the US are known to use interested tactics while filibustering.
Senators in the US are known to use interested tactics while filibustering.

Filibustering is a political technique used by members of parliament to delay or utterly avert deciding on a proposed bill or amendment. This tactic can be used by members of parliament or congress, and it is not restricted to one person. The procedure is also known as “talking a bill to death” or “talking out a bill.” It involves talking for an extended period without stopping so that the time set to decide on a bill runs out and thereby preventing voting. As mentioned, a group of members of parliament can team up and decide to give each other turns to speak to prolong the speech. The MPs can talk about anything as seen in 1935 when Huey Long gave a speech about salad recipes and how to fry oysters.

Origins of Filibustering

The word “filibuster” is derived from the Dutch word vrijbuiter which means “freebooter” or pillaging adventurer. The earliest usage of the word in the English language dates back to 1587 where a book from that time described “filibutors” as those who stole from supply convoys and late the word was borrowed from the French word filibustier.

The current usage of the word is borrowed from the Spanish word filibustero in the 1850s. The word referred to the soldiers of fortune who attacked (stirred up rebellions) Spanish territories in Central America. The word was first used in the 1850s in Congress when a debate was prolonged for a long time making one annoyed senator call the delaying senators a team of “filibusteros.” The word later became common in America meaning to hinder progress in a legislative meeting.


One the first practitioner of the procedure is Cato the Younger who was a Roman senator. Cato used to speak ceaselessly until nightfall to prevent decision making on a bill. Speaking until evening was essential because Roman rules required that all Senate business be completed by dusk. His long speeches were therefore very useful. Cato is known to have used filibustering on two occasions to hamper the objectives of Julius Caesar.

Modern Usage

Filibustering is being used in different countries today, but some rules prevent it from being used in some houses. In the US for example, filibusters cannot happen in the House of Representatives because there is a time limit on debates. Filibusters on the federal budget “budget reconciliation” are also not acceptable. Stopping a filibuster is also not easy. The senators have to pass the “cloture” motion which requires a three-fifths vote of the voting senators. Passing the cloture motion also involves another tedious process.

There are many examples of filibusters across the world in places like United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland, and Hong Kong among many others. In Australia, however, both houses have set time limits on speeches, and therefore a filibuster is not as easy.

The tactic is argued to give the minority group a voice and guarantee the right to free speech while others say that it is just a time wasting. The members of the South Korean parliament held the world record for the longest filibuster when they spoke for 192 hours to reject an anti-terror bill. In the US, senators are known to filibuster by reading from the phone book and reading book chapters.


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