Parliamentary democracy generally trumps its presidential form

My former colleague and friend of the UN, speaker lexicographer Shashi Tharoor, believes that a presidential system is the cure for India’s struggling democracy. The best antidote to the poison seeping into India’s body politic would be for its party to reinvigorate itself as a credible standby government. This response aside, the fault, dear Shashi, is not in the system but in the politicians who corrupted the institutions.

Shashi laments India’s “unique breed of legislators, largely incompetent to legislate.” Although pluralist democracy is “India’s greatest strength”, the parliamentary system “has forced governments to focus less on governance than on retention, and forced them to meet the lowest common denominator. of their coalitions ”. I wonder, what does he think of President Donald Trump and the Democrats who bow to their respective bases, and the resulting permanent stalemate currently crippling America? As for Parliament serving “as a theater for the demonstration of its power to disrupt,” the US Congress leads the world in frustrating the executive’s ability to govern. The dystopian state of the union will be demonstrated in the coming months with a fierce competition to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Supreme Court.

Familiarity with parliamentary democracy breeds contempt for it, and ignorance of presidential democracy gives it a romantic tinge. A president is supposed to be more effective because he can focus only on the national interest, without the debilitating distractions of special interests. Parliamentary democracy produces political excesses and inconsistencies; the presidential government could restore order in a troubled country, dilute the corruption of the political system, escape the chaotic specter of dissident parties and the stifling of caste politics.

American constitutional continuity is exceptional. Many Latin American presidential regimes have been less fortunate, while some presidents of the Philippines and Indonesia have not been particularly decisive and effective. Conversely, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Canada, Great Britain and most European countries are well-governed parliamentary systems. With authority divided between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, the US president must cultivate the political skills of negotiation, persuasion and manipulation. Because the president and the legislature can invoke electoral legitimacy, there is no democratic way to resolve political differences. This has been particularly acute since 2018, when Democrats reclaimed the House. A president is more likely than a prime minister to confuse executive-legislative clashes with a battle between the president’s national interest and the narrower interests of opposition lawmakers. The change of an executive president is accompanied by a massive replacement of senior officials. It is very disruptive for good policy.

Parliamentary systems ensure greater administrative continuity and stability. A determined and politically qualified head of government has less control over authority, and ministerial governments have legislative majorities to implement political agendas. Another reason for the stability of parliamentary regimes is the separation of the executive (head of government) and ceremonial (head of state) functions. The president is the leader of a particular party and offers a partisan option in public policy. The ceremonial office requires the head of state to play the role of representative of the entire nation and to stand above the fray of party politics: think President Abdul Kalam.

Parliamentary democracy can be a stabilizer in societies torn by deep sectarian divides. It has built-in mechanisms for power sharing in such circumstances, for example through coalition governments. Coalitions can provide effective and continuous representation to a variety of interests that would be excluded from administration in a presidential system. Unlike the president, the collectively responsible cabinet executive can better reflect social and political diversity. Finally, parliamentary systems offer better protection against bad and incompetent heads of government. Fixed terms make presidential systems more rigid. A president can only be removed from office through the uncertain, drastic and confrontational process of impeachment – a partisan effort that has hijacked Trump’s political agenda. Parliamentary systems provide greater flexibility through confidence votes in the House or a challenge to leadership within the ruling party (or opposition).



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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