Sunday, 24 June 2012

Political Institutions

Capitol Building in Washington D.C. 

I. Introduction

Some countries in the world believe that democracy is the best form of government in which presidential democracy or parliamentary democracy is used to fit with situation of each country. United States is a good example of presidential democracy which the President has strong power to make decision in administration, military action, and also can exert veto power to the legislature. On the other hand, most democratic countries have preferred parliamentary democracy in which a Prime Minister is dependent on the vote of confidence of the Parliament elected by the people. Another interesting case is that some parliamentary democracies have monarchy who acts as head of state such as United Kingdom, Japan, Cambodia, Malaysia, etc. In addition, some countries have mixed system between the two constitutional designs by having the President and the Prime Minister as can be seen in France and other countries. According to changing domestic situations, there are also cases that some countries have switched from parliamentary system to presidential system (i.e. Sri Langka), but we rarely see the reverse case (president to parliament). Both systems have their own pro and con which are under comprehensive discussion and study by some scholars as follows:

II. Issues

Some issues are raised as follows:

-          The importance of political institutions in accounting for the success or failure of democracy.
-          Comparison between presidentialism and parliamentarianism,
-          The relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government,
-         The patterns of dominance and balance of power (majoritarian and consensus models of democracy), and - power-sharing formula and mixed solution.

III. Political Institutions (Arend Lijphart, Juan Linz, and Mathew Shugart and Jonh Carey)

1.      Arend Lijphart
-        Arend Lijphart is a critic of presidential government, but based on different grounds from Juan Linz, and other scholars. Especially, he did not address the rigidity and immobilism produced by presidentialism in the political process, he focused on additional weakness: its strong inclination toward majoritarian democracy (executive dominance) where, instead, a consensual form of democracy (balance between the executive and the legislature) is needed.  His overall conclusion is that presidentialism spells majoritarianism which the concentration of the political power is in the hand of the majority (the president, if he or she is the repository of power).

-        He defined presidential and parliamentary regimes in terms of two crucial differences. First, in parliamentary democracy, the head of government and his or her cabinet are dependent on the legislature’s confidence. In presidential systems, the head of government is elected for a fixed period and cannot be forced by the legislature to resign. The second crucial difference is that presidential head of government are popularly elected either directly or indirectly, and that the prime ministers are selected by the legislatures. Furthermore, he came up to a conclusion that a third essential difference is the majoritarian tendency of presidential democracy.

-      By making a statistical analysis on the cabinet types and durability in 31 parliamentary democracies from 1945-96, he found that minimal winning one-party cabinets have the longest average life span. Minimal winning one-party cabinets and minimal winning coalition last longer than minority and oversized cabinets. Oversized coalitions and one-party minority cabinets actually have very similar durations: oversized cabinets last slightly less long according to the first measure (broad definition of cabinet duration) but slightly longer according to the second (narrow definitions of cabinet duration). Minority coalitions have the shortest life.

Criticism: Based on the concept of separation of power and balance of power, Arend Lijphart found that there are two types of power that president can achieve: partisan powers (France) or constitutional power (US). He did not mention the power of the Prime Minister in the parliamentary democracy, but I think that the prime minister can only have the partisan power. Although he have conducted some study on different levels of executive dominance and the executive-legislative relations, and the types of cabinets and cabinet durability, in 36 countries in the period 1945-96, I think his comparative study has been made by using a big time span (half a century) which can result in misleading comparison as changes of political regimes and political institution in those countries occurred within different time slots. Actually, he did not mention his methodology of his research.  

2.      Juan Linz

-      He was the first scholar who has made a controversial and reviving argument that parliamentarism is more conducive to stable democracy than presidentialism, especially for nations with deep political cleavages and numerous political parties. In another word, parliamentarism generally offers a better hope for preserving democracy. Linz’s argument was seriously criticized by Horowitz on the ground that the former just narrowly focused on the experience of Latin America and overlooked other important powers that the president has. However, Linz and Hororitz was synthesized by Lipset who explained the importance of cultural factor (religions and former British colonies) in determining the stability of democratic regime.

-     Based on the theory of zero-sum game, Juan Linz criticized that presidentialism is problematic because it operates according to the rule of “winner-take-all”, arrangement that tends to make democratic politics a zero-sum game. Combining with the rigidity of the president’ fixed term in office, the danger of zero-sum presidential election is compounded, resulting in tension and polarization of the national society.  

-         Linz argued that presidentialism has rigidity and immobility due to the president’s fixed term in office while the parliamentarism offers adaptability for the regime to move with flexibility. However, as he expected that his argument would be under some criticism by other scholars, he made an advance defense for his argument that due to unavoidable uncertainty, the aim of his essay had been merely to help recovered a debate on the role of the alternative democratic institutions in building democratic polities.

3.      Mathew Shugart and Jonh Carey

-       The two scholars focused on a set of regimes (presidentialism, parliarmentarianism, and hybrid systems such as premier-presidential, and president-parliamentary) that have received little attention from comparativists. Their comprehensive study on presidents and assemblies by focusing on constitutional design and electoral dynamics are exploring the best choices in democratic regime types. Based on efficiency (the ability of elections to serve as a means for voters to chose among the competing government options available to them) and representativeness (the ability of elections to articulate and provide voice in the assembly for diverse interest), they studied the interaction between and electoral consequences of the assemblies and executives.

-       Much of their works is dealing with the systems with elected president. Presidential government (“pure” presidentialism) is defined as: 1) the popular election of the chief executive; 2) the terms of the chief executive and assembly are fixed, and are not contingent on mutual confidence; 3) the elected executive names and directs the composition of the government; and 4) the president has some constitutionally granted lawmaking authority.

-    In this system, the President has constitutional legislative power (veto) and delegated presidential power.  In addition, the two scholars also discussed on the weakness and strength of presidentialism. For weakness, the fundamental deficiency of this system is temporal rigidity, majoritarian tendencies, and dual democratic legitimacy. For the advantage side, presidentialism offers at least four potential advantages over parliamentary democracy such as accountability, identifiability, mutual checks, and arbiter.

-      Criticism: Shugart and Carey made a little discussion on parliamentarianism and focused on the importance of presidentialism. I think that even though they did not say directly that presidentialism is better than parliamentarianism, they did provide the defense for presidentialism and stress the ability of the presidential regime to have both efficiency and representativeness while they indicated that parliamentarianism can only have efficiency and lacks of representativeness. Unlike other scholars, such as Linz and Lijphart who support parliamentarianism, the two scholars did not take stand on presidentialism or parliamentarianism, but they did provide the basic choices in democratic regime types.


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