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Parliament Government

by Gary J Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 11:25:28 AM EST

I have noticed recently that some Americans were wondering if a Parliamentary system would be better than the Presidential/Congressional system they are used to.

I wonder if they have really understood how a Parliamentary system works.

In general terms, a Prime Minister with a disciplined and loyal majority in Parliament is far more powerful than a US President. The very reason why traditional British commentators, like Walter Bagehot in the nineteenth century, preferred the Parliamentary system was that it united the executive and legislative powers of government.

In a Parliament with no or less disciplined political parties, the executive probably is more responsive to Parliamentary opinion. This may be a good thing, but can lead to the sort of kaleidoscopic changes of Ministry you got during most of the history of the French Third and Fourth Republics.

Another point is that the way a political system works in one country may not be identical to the way the same rules operate in another society.

A United States, which has decided upon enormous institutional change and moved to a Parliamentary system, would probably still be a society with two not entirely satisfactory major parties. Parliamentary systems promote partisanship rather than co-operation between parties. That is because everything in the system is subordinated to the need to obtain and retain a Parliamentary majority. It is winner takes all, for a Parliamentary term. There are no rival centres of power, so the checks and balances are political and electoral rather than institutional and judicial.

What do you think is the ideal system of government?


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I haven't got the energy to get into the "ideal system of government" question here, but I want to note that a key issue in the US is that the "checks and balances" of the current system are quite strongly predicated on various actors, particularly those in Congress being more beholden to local forces than national parties.

Thanks to changes in the social/technological/media/money-in-politics landscape, that assumption is becoming untrue.

As such, the US system is sliding towards becoming more and more parliamentary anyway. That in itself might not be cause for concern per se (the French system is quite a hybrid, for example) BUT the slide towards a parliamentary level of party power in the US poses critical challenges for the "checks and balances" system and that does seem an important and worrying issue.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 03:10:24 PM EST
It was my understanding that the checks and balances had been entirely side-stepped by this administration owning every branch of government. The USSC, the DOJ, the White House, K street and (as good as) both houses.

There isn't a single group who can stop Bush doing anything, there isn't a single body capapble of holding him to account that has any desire to do so. This really is the Imperial Presidency and the US does have its boy-king.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 03:14:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not convinced there is a perfect system of government. Not only do all systems seem to have flaws, but each geenration of politician seems to find a new work-around to subvert the system, so that you only need a few decades before the accumulation of little corruptions leads to something that is entirely dysfuntional as a representative system for the popular will of the people.

Constitutions are all very well, but they can be ignored (eg soviet union) or subjected to judicial assault until the idea of democratic representation becomes a sham (eg US). Far as I can see, all of the european systems have been around for so long that they all have developed systemic flaws. The British government is a farce as a deliberative, legislative or oversight body. The ability to manage change within british society has been entirely abdicated. I'm sure those in the know can make similar complaints about their local systems.

No. what you need is the cceptance that every 50 years there will be a complete non-political examination and appraisal of the aims and methodologies of the system. which will never happen.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 03:11:38 PM EST
Have you cross-posted this (minus the last line) on Daily Kos?

I think the US needs Proportional Representation more than a Parliamentary Government. In fact, realising that both the UK and France have first-past-the-post electoral system goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the current dysfunction in their political systems. France royally screwed itself up, too, by making the Presidential election cycle coincide with the Parliamentary cycle.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 03:15:29 PM EST
Like you, I don't think a parliamentary system would make much difference. It would still be the same people being elected. And whether they're in the opposition or in the majority, they don't seem to be able - or willing - to accomplish much.
Comedian Lewis Black once said that "the Democrats is a party of no ideas, and the Republicans is a party of bad ideas!"

In Finland[1] we have a semi-presidential system, somewhat akin to France, and the power of the presidency is a constant source of debate. Its power has been significantly reduced in recent years, but there are still frequent clashes of jurisdiction between the parliamentary government and the president, particularly in foreign policy, which is the primary field of concern for the president.
(Of course, Finland has proportional representation, with no party even daring to dream winning 30% of the seats, so coalition governments and consensus are a must.)

[1] Yes, I have an amazing ability to reduce absolutely everything to Finnish analogies.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 08:00:44 AM EST
Me too.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 08:10:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess Finns view everything through sisu-colored glasses...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 08:16:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think if there were more than just first past the post elections where pluralities can win, you are correct, I think, to assert that the two current parties are likely to remain in the present duopoly.

However, institute another level of reform, like some form of irv, or multiple round elections designed to maximum (though not necessarily ensure) 50+% victors, or ultimately, some form of representative proporationality, and this would change quite quickly.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 04:16:27 PM EST


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