Partyless democracy


(OPS photo:Trying things on for size)

A reader, Roel M., in this comment, provided some extremely fascinating links. But first, check out this comic strip.

Ah, the links. The first is “The Crisis of Presidentialism in Latin America,” by Arturo Valenzuela. It certainly makes for a fascinating read, in large part because, as the reader pointed out in his comment, we do retain similarities to the Latin American scheme of things.

One extract is particularly relevant to today’s issue at hand:

Impeachment for merely “political” reasons is not legitimate. Although Ernesto Samper of Colombia (1994-98) escaped congressional impeachment, the conviction of several aids for criminal wrongdoing and continued allegations of the president’s own collusion with narco-traffickers, has plunged Colombia into the most serious crisis in fifty years. In sharp contrast, the leadership of the Conservative Party in Britain was able to dismiss a powerful sitting prime-minister simply because she became a political liability to her own party’s fortunes. A crippled president, who cannot be charged with a crime or who fails to be impeached because of the absence of requisite congressional majorities, can drift for years like a hulk that has no rudder yet cannot be sunk.

The paper also tackles the question of “run-off” elections as the solution to the problem of Presidents who lack strong majorities:

In an attempt to remedy this problem of minority presidencies all of the constitutions drafted in the nineteen eighties and early nineties (Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Brazil, except Paraguay) instituted the French system of ballotage, or second round, for presidential races. The objective was to ensure majority support for the president by requiring a run-off between the two candidates who obtain the highest vote shares in the initial balloting.

The paper says, the solution failed:

But the second round does not resolve the problem, for by its very nature the majority that the two candidate runoff produces is shaky and fleeting- more an artifact of the rules than a genuine voter consensus. In theory the two candidates facing each other in the second round are supposed to bargain with supporters of the losing candidates in order to assemble a viable majority coalition; in practice, they usually obtain that support by default without entering into any formal agreement. This was the case in Brazil and Peru, where presidential candidates Fernando Collor de Melo and Alberto Fujimori saw no need to create a formal alliance with the supporters of other candidates because their second-round challengers, Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva and MarioVargas Llosa, were so unacceptable to major segments of the electorate that they provoked massive “lesser of two evils” votes for Collor and Fujimori.

Neither does simply substituting (or restoring) the two-party system for a multiparty system help much:

Complex societies with multiparty or fragmented two party systems need to find reliable ways to elicit cooperation and encourage the formation of governing coalitions. In seeking to solve the problem o the missing majority, presidential systems must put aside the vain hope that simply switching to a two party configuration will provide presidents with the support they need. Military governments in countries as dissimilar as Uruguay, Chile and Brazil attempted to transform the party systems of the past into Anglo-American style party systems– all to no avail. The great preponderance of academic research, moreover, supports the proposition that it is exceedingly difficult to change the basic physiognomy of a party system that has been consolidated over several generations, or to create a particular kind of party system through constitutional engineering. It is also true that party systems last far longer than the particular societal divisions that may have generated them in the first place.

And so, a truly startling solution (which actually harks back to the early American practice of selecting the President and Vice-President from the winner and loser of the presidential contest):

Because runoff elections do nothing to provide minority presidents with majority support in the parliament, reformers might consider having congress select the president from the two or three vote-getters in the first round. As the case of Bolivia illustrates, a president elected by congress is a president who knows the value and importance of compromise with political adversaries and who is keenly aware of the need to maintain viable congressional coalitions. Despite its poor long-term record of constitutional democracy, Bolivia has recently become one of Latin America’s democratic success stories, in part because the election of the president by Congress has encouraged the creation of working majority coalitions. It was the coalition government of the center-right Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and the rightist National Democratic Action (ADN) that implemented in 1985 the successful macroeconomic stabilization program that broke the hyper inflationary spiral in Bolivia. And it was the coalition government of the ADN and the center-left Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), generated by congressional agreement in 1989, which permitted the Paz Zamora government to maintain political stability while making some progress on e economic and social problems. The success of the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1993-1997), after fitful start, in enacting widespread reforms for popular participation and capitalization, are a tribute to the continued vitality of congressionally generated majority coalitions. The contrast between Bolivia and Peru, countries that share many of the same daunting problems, could not be starker. Democratic politics of compromise and conciliation have enabled Bolivia to make difficult decisions without resorting to authoritarian tactics while at the same time consolidating democrataic institutions.

Then there is Bruce Ackerman’s “The New Separation of Powers,” which tries to go beyond the traditional American and British models, and suggests,

My message is different. I reject Westminster as well as Washington as my guide and proffer the model of constrained parliamentarianism as the most promising framework for future development of the separation of
powers. Not only has this model set the terms of the post-war settlement with the Axis powers, but it also characterizes many of the more successful democratic regimes that have emerged from the dissolution of the British Empire. For all their differences, the constitutions of India, Canada, and South Africa fit within the broad contours of the basic model. Moreover, the success of the German Constitution has inspired other countries, most notably Spain, to use it as a reference point in their own transitions from authoritarianism.

This is a more intricate, and difficult, read, but certainly makes for timely and essential, reading.

This has got me thinking that perhaps by instinct, I am in favor of weak parties, period. I do strongly distrust parties, because I retain a fundamental fear of organized, strong parties as they promote tyranny. This may be an irrational bias that I posses. I do seem more comfortable with the idea of plebiscitary democracy (condemned by conservative thinkers like the late Russel Kirk), which may be an expression of an even older idea, partyless democracy espoused by Manuel L. Quezon, who opposed parliamentary government (and denounced at the time as thinly-disguised Fascism); but apparently the idea may have been looted from Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian leaders : an idea still discussed -for example, read this.

Oh, and Von Totanes, aka The Filipino Librarian, has been written-up as a blog addict.

Quick roundup of the punditocracy and mainstream media: Carlos Conde reports on World War II’s aftermath in the Philippines, 60 years after; the Inquirer editorial says the Palace can’t risk going for the weaker complaint; Randy David thinks we’re risking the entire country emerging from the crisis without clean hands; the Standard continues its rampage of terrorist-related headlines.

And as far as the blogosphere is concerned, online columnist Sylvia Mayuga tackles it in her column today; the question of Mike Defensor and his press conference, including Jimmy Sarthou (whom I thought, at first, and it turns out, even Newsstand thought, at first, might be the famous Dickey, but wan’t) who now says he was had, has unleashed quite a bit of commentary. Sassy Lawyer continues to think the tapes are an unproductive thing to focus on; JJ Disini thinks Defensor isn’t being particularly astute; Sef continues his comments on how one-sided media seems to be, and asks, why is it media becomes creative only when the Palace is the object of its ire? Punzi follows up his original set of observations with other legal potentialities that he says might serve as a spoiler to things to come.

The question of impeachment has its own buzz: La Vida Lawyer blogged on how formidable, it turns out, the President’s legal team is; Punzi also blogged on possible legal strategies for the President.

Finally, Ronnel Lim had an entry on caretaker government; and Leon Kilat wonders why Cebu’s gerrymandering is taking place in Manila! Filipino Librarian thinks the movie “The Great Raid” kind of sucks. Banketa Republique (Gari) remains irritated over charter change. And Ina Alleco of My Blog poetically explains why she’s glad the Communist movement is there “to explain the world to me.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

5 thoughts on “Partyless democracy

  1. Oh man! Some of those ideas like plebiscitary or partyless democracy are sure formulas for gridlock, especially in such a divisive society as ours. What we need are leaders who will kick ass. I mean, MLQ could have espoused the most flakey ideas, but bottomline – the man could get things done. From what I’ve read and heard about him, he was imperious and could really kick people’s ass to get his way. He was very much results-oriented, and wasn’t above using guile to make things come around the way he wanted them to be. But someone who could combine a strong personality with integrity is very rare. Much more so, nowadays. We need a system to keep our leaders in line. We cannot afford to gamble with a strong presidential system.

  2. I have a more positive view of political parties. I don’t think a representative democracy would be feasible without parties. As your British friend implied, weak parties mean personality-based politics while stronger parties would shift the focus towards policies and performance. Parties are electoral machines and also machines for the support and implementation of gov’t policy. Policy enactment and implementation would be very difficult if we are faced with a bunch of unorganized, atomized individuals. Stronger , disciplined parties would also enable the electorate to pinpoint responsibility for gov’t policy and performance.

    Stronger parties would fit very well a parliamentary regime. However, under a presidential system, if the president belongs to a different party from that which controls congress and both parties are strong and disciplined, the potential for confrontational gridlock is high. So we might say that a presidential system sometimes requires weak parties in order to function at all.

    That is my (amateur) take on the matter anyway.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.