Wednesday, 7 December 2011
WHATS BETTER FOR MALAWI: PRESIDENTIALISM OR PARLIAMENTARISM.
A CRITICAL DISTINCTION OF PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM FROM PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM OF RUNNING GOVERNMENT
In recent years, several states have encouraged the adoption of democratic way of running the respective affairs . This approach of running affairs in a country is believed to be the best way as far as different sectors of development are concerned. As of late, different countries across the globe, including Malawi and other African countries, exist as democratic states. Then, should it be taken seriously that these states operate in democratic manner? The relations among a country’s governing institutions differ depending on whether a country has a presidential or parliamentary political system. In this writing, the paper focuses on these two systems of government which any democratic state adopts, Malawi will be the center of reference according to trends of its political environment after moving from one party system to present’s democratic system. This paper then draws a critical distinction of presidential system of government from the parliamentary system of government from a Malawian perspective. In this sense, there can be a considerate recommendation on a particular type of democratic government that can be adopted by Malawian state.
In every political system, there exist governmental apparatus that operate with the responsibility of making and carrying out law in a state. Malawi as it is at moment is in presidential system of democracy. For this reason, this paper initially conceptualizes on analysis of this type of democratic system and, using local examples, gives a distinction based on political trends that has been observed in the country. Essentially, presidentialism or rather presidential government is a democratic system in which the legislature and the executive exist independently and are elected independently of each other. In this sense, the legislature (Members of Parliament) and the executive (the President and cabinet ministers) are elected by the polity into the herms of power as it is the case in Malawi.
It should be noted at this point that the executive are not forced into the kind of cooperation, but it is the president who is given the mandate to run the affairs of the state with assistance of the appointed ministers. The ministers happen to be the elected Members of Parliament. According to a Malawian perspective, the political party provides “ a glue that allows the parliament and its cabinet to function in intimate cooperation, so, in presidentialism the political party may operate to soften the natural competition between independent executives (the President) and legislatures (Members of Parliament). For instance, the relationship of Malawian democratic presidents and the legislature, after one party era, has been cemented by appointing ministers from within the party in power. This usually encourages a sort of force of unity on the president and the party’s members of parliament. This is believed to advance and allow “a good deal of coordination and cooperation in running state affairs”.
There is no guarantee however, that the party that holds presidency (ruling party, as for Malawi) would also control the legislature (affairs of the parliament). Since the two parts of the governmental apparatus are elected independently, it may happen that one party will have prevailed in the presidential election and the other in parliamentary election. For example, during the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004, United Democratic Front (UDF) succeeded in presidential election while Malawi Congress Party (MCP) prevailed in parliamentary elections. This did not give the president a smooth running of affairs as observed from rejection and negligence in passing some of bills then. The leadership of Bingu Wa Mutharika failed to dominate the honourable house because every bill would be initially considered by committees without political persuasion.
As observed, in presidential system of government, President, who is the head of state has personal mandate from the polity, therefore takes direct charge of policy. Making of laws, the legislative branch in a presidential system habitually puts itself in a passive stance waiting to respond to proposals the executive has to put forward and later sign the bills into laws. The 2009 victory of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as in majority, has led to the passing of bills which are unfavourable in any democratic environment. The bills have caused public outcry by the time of writing this paper. For example, section 46 and injunctions bill will stiffen freedom of press and right to justice respectively.
The policy leadership that is given to the president only in presidentialism gives the powers to the president to appoint a group of cabinet officials who are beholden to presidents personally. The problem with this direct appointment of ministers comes on the criteria followed on the appointments. Often, these ministers come from the positions in which they have had little political exposure and experience. In this case, the appointment might be based on originality. Over the years, ministers in Malawi have included business gurus, college professors, president’s brother and other relatively non political figures. In general, prominent political figures are not included in ministerial positions as some may be members of opposition parties.
After having an overview of presidential system of democracy, it is important now to have the knowledge of the other system of running state affairs, parliamentary system of government. This would give a clear difference between these two systems.
By definition, Parliamentary system of government is the democratic system that is usually headed by a prime minister or a primier, and the head of state is an appointed figurehead with only ceremonial powers. In parliamentary system, the executive arm of government is dependent on the direct or indirect support of the parliament. In this perspective, the legislative power has the mandate to choose the president in the parliamentary house, and the president is usually the Member of Parliament, for example Jacob Zuma of South Africa. The support of the Prime Minister is expressed through the vote of confidence, thus if the Prime Minister is not delivering there are possibilities of removal from office by the legislature.
The Prime Minister heads the executive branch of government and is in charge of state affairs and usually the leader of the leading party or group of parties is appointed to head the cabinet as the Prime Minister. If this would be taken from local angle, in 2004 John Tembo leader of MCP would be appointed as the Prime Minister if Malawi was in parliamentary system since MCP was in majority then. In parliamentary systems, the executive (meaning the Prime Minister and cabinet ) controls the legislative agenda, and individual legislators have little political power to introduce their own legislative initiatives. There are significantly fewer permanent or standing committees with relatively few professional staff to help draft and review legislation. Important policy decisions can and often are made at party caucuses rather than within committees.
In parliamentary system, there is fusion of powers between the executive and the legislative branches. This union serves to facilitate the exercise and coordination of governmental powers and function to formulate desired policies and implement programs of government. The success of this fusion depends largely, though, on the reform of country’s political party and electoral system.
At this point, it is necessary to draw differences which exist in these systems of running state affairs. Several distinctions can be drawn upon considering the operation of the two governmental apparatuses in both systems . Key differences among the two systems include the
extent to which the powers of government are separated functionally between branches, and in the powers one branch does or does not have over another. These include the extent, to which the executive controls the legislative branch, or the extent to which the legislature can control the executive , and the extent to which the legislative branch controls the capacity to legislate. One important area of control and competition is the capacity to introduce and approve legislation, and these vary considerably among the two systems.
In a presidential system, the President, who is the chief executive as well as the symbolic head of government, is chosen by a separate election from that of the legislature. The President then appoints the cabinet of ministers. Ministers usually are simultaneously members of the legislature. Because the senior officials of the executive branch are separately elected or appointed, the presidential political system is characterised by a separation of powers, wherein the executive and legislative branches are independent of one another. Presidents have great control over their cabinet appointees who serve at the President’s pleasure, and who are usually selected for reasons other than the extent of their congressional support (as in parliamentary systems).
Parliamentary systems, unlike presidential systems, are typified by a fusion of powers between the legislative and executive branches. The Prime Minister (who is the chief executive) may be elected to the legislature in the same way that all other members are elected, thus through voting by the polity. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that wins the majority of votes to the legislature, as observed earlier. The Prime Minister appoints cabinet ministers. However, unlike in the presidential systems, these members are typically themselves legislative members from the ruling party or ruling coalition. Thus, in a parliamentary system, the constituency of the executive and legislature are the same. This is different in Malawian perspective where the constituency in which the president belongs has another representative in the parliament. If the ruling party is voted out of the legislature, the executive also changes. Continued co-operation between the executive and legislature is required for the government to survive and to be effective in carrying out its programs.
Another key difference that distinguishes presidential from parliamentary systems lies in the power to remove a chief executive or to dissolve the legislature.
In a presidential system, in line with the notion of a separation of powers, presidents and members of the legislature are separately elected for a given length of time. For instance, in Malawi, President and Members of Parliament are given five year period to be in office. The only difference is that the President is given two terms run state affairs while Members of Parliament have no limit to contest in elections. Presidents have no authority to remove members of the legislature. Premature removal of either legislative members or the President can only be initiated by a vote in the lower legislative chamber and under particular conditions, for example impeachment procedures. Thus, under normal circumstances, even if the political party that the President represents becomes a minority in either or both houses of the legislature, the President remains in position for the full term for which he or she was elected.
In a parliamentary system, the Prime Minister can be removed from office in two ways. The first is through a ‘no-confidence’ motion, which is typically filed by the opposition or a coalition of opposition parties. The no confidence motion calls for a vote in the legislature to demonstrate that the legislature no longer has confidence in the Prime Minister and his cabinet of Ministers. If the vote passes by a majority, the Executive, including the Prime Minister, are forced to step down, as it has been the case with the former Italian Prime Minister. Since the Prime Minister and his cabinet of ministers are members of the legislature, this brings about new legislative elections. The term of the Prime Minister, therefore, is generally linked to that of the rest of the legislature. However, the Prime Minister can be removed by his/her own party members, in a setting outside of the legislature.
Another aspect that differentiate the two systems of government is Party discipline, simply defined, Party discipline refers to the practice of legislators voting with their parties. It is typically stronger in parliamentary systems than in presidential because the "executive" government requires majority party cohesiveness for its own survival.
Parties in presidential systems tend to be less structured than parties in parliamentary systems. Failure to vote with one’s party does not threaten to bring the government down. Therefore, members of the legislature are freer to identify with regional, ethnic, economic or other divisions when considering policy issues. This tendency is likely strengthened in presidential systems. Because they are usually directly elected and identifiable with particular districts or regions, many members see a duty to their constituents (in a district or state) as the first priority, with allegiance to a party and its platform as secondary. While the legislators are under some pressure to vote with their party, particularly on important votes, the consequences of not doing so are not as serious to the individual legislator and to the system. Because legislatures and executives are elected separately and often for different terms, it is not uncommon for them to be controlled by different parties.
Parliamentary systems in developed countries are characterized by parties that are highly structured and tend toward unified action, bloc voting and distinct party platforms. This party discipline is required in parliamentary systems primarily because deviation from the party line could result in bringing down the government. Parliamentary systems require that the executive and legislative members come to agreement upon issues, lest it force the dissolution of the government. In addition, majority parties in parliamentary systems are perceived by voters to have a mandate to run the country. Therefore, each party may develop a system of punishments and rewards. Individual members of the legislature who deviate from a party vote may be punished by exclusion from their party within parliament or may not be nominated by the party in the subsequent election.
In both parliamentary and presidential systems, the legislature is a forum for discussion of political, economic and social issues and is required to legitimize new laws. One of the major differences of these systems lies in the legislature’s power (or lack thereof) to formulate and initiate legislation.
In a presidential system, the legislature sets its own agenda and passes its own bills. The legislature typically formulates and introduces legislation. The legislature can and often does work closely with the executive branch in formulating legislation, particularly when the same party is in power in both branches. The executive can draft laws, but members of the legislature must introduce them on the floor. Some presidential systems, however, limit the legislature’s power to amend the proposed executive budget, and a president may force the legislature to act on legislation within a certain period. This has been observed from how the executive operated during 41st parliamentary session in Malawi, there has been some bills that have been formulated but have ignored by some members of parliament, however have been passed and the President has signed them into law regardless of public outcry.
In parliamentary systems, the executive (meaning the Prime Minister and cabinet ) controls the legislative agenda, and individual legislators have little political power to introduce their own legislative initiatives. The chief executive and the cabinet initiate any piece of legislation affecting the budget or revenue. In other countries, legislatures can only amend legislation on narrow, technical terms. There are significantly fewer permanent or standing committees with relatively few professional staff to help draft and review legislation. Important policy decisions can and often are made at party caucuses rather than within committees.
From this perspective, one can find a stand on the form of government that is suitable as far as political and socio-economic development of any country is concerned. In this case, this paper recommends parliamentary system of government as a democratic system that is suitable according to political environment at present in Malawi. As observed from how the affairs of government are run in presidential system and parliamentary system, this paper makes this recommendation based on accountability and transparency of authorities when running state affairs. In parliamentary system of government, the decisions are critically discussed in the house and unpopular proposals are objectively rejected by members of parliament. This unlikely happens in presidential system of government where direct mandate is given to the president who has legitimate power to make decisions for the state. This usually leads to the tendency of the government to run into authoritarianism. As it is the case with Malawi at present, its leadership seem to be in direction to dictatorship according to local and international observers.
1^ Shively W.P (2008), Power and Choice: An Introduction to Political Science (11th Ed.) New York, McGraw Hill International Edition. pp. 315-316
2^ Linz J. (1992), Parliamentary Versus Presidential Government (5th Ed.) New York, Oxford University Press. p.132
3^ Shively W.P (ibid) pp. 349-450
4^ Shively W.P (ibid) p. 352
5^ Livingston W.S (1976), Britain and America: The Institutionalisation of Accountability, Journal of Politics,vol.25, No.,(November) pp. 870-894.
6^ Chase H.W et al (1980), American Government in Comparative Perspective (Ed.) New York, Franklin Watters Edition. p.28
7^ Schattscheneider E.E (1942), Party Government (2nd Ed.) New York, Winston Publication.
8^ Tsebelis G. (1995), Decision Making in Political System: Veto Players In Presidentialism, Parliamentarism and Multipartyism . British Journal of Political Science,vol.25 No. 3 (Jul.,1995) pp.289-325
9^ Horowitz D.L (1990), Comparing Democratic System, Journal of Democracy, vol.1 No.3 pp.51-69
10^ Mathew S.S and Carey J.M (1992), Presidents and Assemblies (Ed.) New York, Cambridge University Press. p.342
11^ Schattscheneider E.E (ibid) pp. 243-242
12^ Mathew S.S and Carey J.M (ibid) pp.
13^ Lijphart A. (1984) Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries (Ed.) New Haven, Yale University.
14^ Shively W.P (ibid) p. 352
15^ Mathew S.S and Carey J.M (ibid) p.
16^ José Antonio (et al): British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 565-587Cambridge University Press URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4092290 Accessed: 10/11/2011
17^ Laver M.J and Schofield G. (1992), Multiparty Government: The Politics of Coalition in Europe (Ed.) Oxford, Oxford Univer0sity Press.
18^ Mathew S.S and Carey J.M (ibid) p. 21
Ø Chase H.W et al (1980), American Government in Comparative Perspective (Ed.) New York, Franklin Watters Edition.
Ø Horowitz D.L (1990), Comparing Democratic System, Journal of Democracy, vol.1 No.3 pp.51-69
Ø José A. (et al): British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Oct., 2004), pp. 565-587Cambridge University Press URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4092290 Accessed: 10/11/2011
Ø Laver M.J and Schofield G. (1992), Multiparty Government: The Politics of Coalition in Europe (Ed.) Oxford, Oxford Univer0sity Press.
Ø Lijphart A. (1984) Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries (Ed.) New Haven, Yale University.
Ø Linz J. (1992), Parliamentary Versus Presidential Government (5th Ed.) New York, Oxford University Press.
Ø Livingston W.S (1976), Britain and America: The Institutionalisation of Accountability, Journal of Politics,vol.25, No.,(November) pp. 870-894.
Ø Mathew S.S and Carey J.M (1992), Presidents and Assemblies (Ed.) New York, Cambridge University Press.
Ø Schattscheneider E.E (1942), Party Government (2nd Ed.) New York, Winston Publication.
Ø Shively W.P (2008), Power and Choice: An Introduction to Political Science (11th Ed.) New York, McGraw Hill International Edition.
Ø Tsebelis G. (1995), Decision Making in Political System: Veto Players In Presidentialism, Parliamentarism and Multipartyism . British Journal of Political Science,vol.25 No. 3 (Jul.,1995) pp.289-325