The April 3 editorial titled “Students should be more political” expressed alarm that Drexel University students are uninterested in politics, as they are more focused on co-op and academics. Seeking to reduce this political apathy, the Editorial Board encouraged students to become civically active by voting, volunteering and campaigning.
However, politics is essentially the same story written by different authors. From local to federal, governments are increasingly complex and bureaucratic, resulting in controversial and divisive politics. Buoyed by unrestricted campaign finance, powerful interest groups actively seek to nominate their favorite candidate, effectively converting elections into auctions.
Once in power, politicians propose various bills, which support the objectives of the interest groups that elected them. Debates among opposition groups intensify and usually collapse into inaction. Rarely, politicians may enjoy unity by enacting legislation that leads to disastrous outcomes, such as endless government spending and diplomatic breakdowns.
By observing politicians’ bizarre and tiresome antics, Drexel students, and citizens in general, become disillusioned with politics.
A direct remedy is to restrict the power of interest groups by strengthening limits on campaign finance. Sadly, this solution only attacks the problem superficially.
The underlying problem is that flawed political systems lead to wasteful elections, inefficient allocation of resources and obstructed progress. A comparative analysis of democratic government systems indicates that the presidential system (also called presidentialism) suffers from these preventable problems.
Under presidentialism, the executive is independent from the legislature. The elected leader of the executive is the president, who serves as both the head of government and head of state. From “checks and balances,” the president cannot dismiss the legislature, and the legislature cannot remove the president under normal circumstances.
Presidentialism originated in the United States before spreading across South America, Africa, Middle East and Asia. By having an independently elected president to control the disorganized legislature, presidentialism seems to be the most effective democracy in the world.
It’s actually the opposite. Most countries with presidential systems are insolvent and susceptible to corruption, warfare and instability. South Korea currently doesn’t have a prime minister, since the predecessor Lee Wan-koo resigned April 27, after two months in office, over accusations of bribery.
Presidentialism fails because the executive is too powerful. Unlike the legislature that contains hundreds of representatives directly elected by the people, the executive is managed entirely by the president, who is often indirectly elected (e.g. the outdated Electoral College).
Larger numbers in the legislature allow for diffusion of responsibilities. Regardless of the political system, all leaders have a personalized cabinet to distribute and simplify tasks. Yet, a presidential cabinet isn’t responsible to the legislature nor can it be readily dismissed under normal circumstances.
Presidents can exercise numerous powers that appear strikingly dictatorial. For instance, presidents can terminate bills with vetoes, which usually can only be overridden by a supermajority vote in the legislature. Presidents can also force additional changes by signing executive orders and negotiate deals with foreign countries without congressional oversight.
Fundamentally, the executive’s objective is to enforce laws enacted by the legislature, so separating the two branches is unnecessary and detrimental. Having two parallel elections wastes money and resources. When the executive and legislature are controlled by opposing parties divided government occurs, resulting in delayed progress and government shutdown.
The parliamentary system, or parliamentarism, is a superior democratic structure that effectively resolves numerous issues suffered by the presidential system. Under parliamentarism, the executive is derived directly from the legislature. The prime minister serves as the head of government, whereas a constitutional monarch or a ceremonial president is the head of state.
Parliamentarism is predominant in Europe, Canada, Australia and Indian subcontinent. Not surprisingly, these regions have minimal corruption, reduce income inequality, enjoy stability and promote excellent quality of life. Moreover, political gridlocks are minimized, legislation is passed efficiently and responsibility is shared evenly among the prime minister, cabinet and legislature.
Juan Linz and Fred Riggs pinpointed that since World War II roughly two-thirds of third world countries that adopted parliamentarism successfully transitioned to democracy. However, third world countries that implemented presidentialism suffered from numerous coups and constitutional crises.
Usually, the prime minister is the leader of the political party (or a coalition of parties) that wins the most seats in the parliament. The indirect election of prime minister is essential to minimize wasteful expenditures in election campaigning, as well as highlighting party issues.
Many parliamentary systems employ proportional representation, allowing numerous political parties to participate in elections and win parliamentary seats. Such multiparty systems produce a diverse and versatile parliament, as seen in Germany and Israel. Even in dominant-party (Japan) and two-party systems (Britain), minor parties can win enough seats and force the winning major party to form a coalition.
Since the prime minister typically has the majority of votes, legislation can be passed and enacted readily. Consequently, the prime minister can be removed effectively by a vote of no confidence if the parliament becomes frustrated with poor leadership. Such measures are necessary in order to select strong and successful leaders to maintain national permanence.
Parliamentarism is also beneficial for nations suffering from debilitating racial and ethnic divisions. Diffusion of responsibility allows parliamentary governments to represent most, if not all, affected groups, and optimal legislation can be enacted to minimize social tensions.
Unlike presidentialism, the veto power in parliamentarism is restricted, and prime ministers cannot strike deals with other nations without parliamentary oversight. Fortunately, opposition leaders carefully monitor the actions of the prime minister and main cabinet and provide different policies to ensure progress and win future elections.
Based on the scope of the executive political power and independence, presidentialism slants towards an autocratic democracy, while parliamentarism favors libertarian democracy. The intermediate political systems combine elements from both democratic structures. Such mixed systems are called semi-presidential systems, whereby the popularly elected president appoints a prime minister and a cabinet.
Semi-presidentialism is a broad term so it is further subdivided into two categories. Under premier-presidentialism (France and Portugal), the prime minister and cabinet are exclusively responsible to the legislature and can be effectively dismissed by a vote of no confidence. In president-parliamentarism (Russia and Taiwan), the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to both the legislature and president.
Sadly, it’s impossible for the United States to adopt parliamentarism because that would require a complete overhaul of the Constitution. Instead, the president’s power must be limited by restraining the casual use of executive orders and agreements, while requiring substantial congressional supervision.
Eliminating the Electoral College will improve voter turnout, as voters can directly influence elections. A nationwide implementation of proportional representation will strengthen minor parties and diversify the legislature, resulting in a wide assortment of productive ideas. These proposals are hardly enough to form a libertarian democracy, but it’s a start.
Badri Karthikeyan is a biology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].