In recent decades renewed efforts have been made to study and understand the variety of political democracies, but most of those analyses have focused on the patterns of political conflict and more specifically on party systems and coalition formation, in contrast to the attention of many classical writers on the institutional arrangements. With the exception of the large literature on the impact of electoral systems on the shaping of party systems generated by the early writings of Ferdinand Hermens and the classic work by Maurice Duverger, as well as the writings of Douglas Rae and Giovanni Sartori, there has been little attention paid by political scientists to the role of political institutions except in the study of particular countries. Debates about monarchy and republic, parliamentary and presidential regimes, the unitary state and federalism have receded into oblivion and not entered the current debates about the functioning of democratic and political institutions and practices, including their effect on the party systems. At a time when a number of countries initiate the process of writing or rewriting constitutions, some of those issues should regain salience and become part of what Sartori has called “political engineering” in an effort to set the basis of democratic consolidation and stability. Undoubtedly, the constitutional innovations of the post-war period, the German constructive non-confidence vote, and the constitution of the French 5th Republic with its reinforcement of the executive to counter the weaknesses of assemblary parliamentarialism and its semi-presidential regime, have attracted imitators and scholarly attention. But we lack a more systematic and, to some extent, behavioral study of the implications for the political process of different institutions on which to base some of the on-going debates about institutional and constitutional reform. With the notable exception of the book by Kaltefleiter, in which the cases of bipolar executive like the Weimar Republic and the French 5th Republic are analyzed, and the recent paper by Stefano Bartolini on cases of direct election of the head of state in Europe, the differences between parliamentary presidential and semi-presidential regimes have not attracted the attention of political science and receive only limited attention in the two most recent works comparing contemporary democracies, those of Bingham Powell and Arendt Lijphart.
That neglect is largely due to the fact that, with the outstanding exception of the United States*, most of the stable democracies of Europe and the Commonwealth have been parliamentary regimes and a few semi-presidential and semi-parliamentary, while most of the countries with presidential constitutions have been unstable democracies
or authoritarian regimes and therefore not been included in those efforts of comparative study of democracy. Since there were many social, economic, cultural and political factors that appeared central in the analysis of the crisis and breakdown of democracy in those countries, we find practically no mention of the role of institutional factors in those crises. Only in the case of Chile has there been some reference to the conflict between President Allende and the Congress in the analysis of the breakdown of democracy. It might or might not be an accident that so many countries with presidential regimes have encountered such great difficulties in establishing stable democracies. Certainly the relationship between the two main types of democratic political institutions and the political process deserves more attention than it has received.
(* Orion’s note: It is to be noted, that the key factor for the United States’ exceptionalism from the rule of presidential systems being unstable is that the USA is the only presidentialist country to make use of the quasi-Parliamentary Electoral College. The Electoral College follows the same concept as parliamentary democracies in which the indirect election of the chief executive tends to cause greater stability than direct elections which tend to be more volatile and unstable. All other presidential systems, found in Latin America, Africa, and in Asia use direct elections and as such have tended to be unstable and more prone to democratic disruption.)
It would be interesting to examine earlier debates of constitutionalists and intellectuals, particularly in Latin America, about presidentialism and parliamentarism. However, we suspect that they would not be too helpful for our present concerns because they would reflect, on the one hand, the admiration for the great American democratic republic and its presidential government, ignoring to some extent what Woodrow Wilson described as congressional government; and on the other, the bitter criticism of French parliamentarism that was reflected in Latin American legal literature.
In my own work on the breakdown of democratic regimes, at the stage of correcting proofs, I was struck by re-reading O’Donnell’s analysis of the impossible game in post-Peronist Argentina by the extraordinary difficulty to integrate and/or isolate the Peronists, in contrast to the Italian communists, which, in spite of all the strains in Italian democracy, never led to comparable consequences. As a result, I wrote a brief excursus on the political implications of presidentialism and parliamentarism that I have expanded recently and that constitutes the basic theme of this essay. The ideas I intend to develop certainly require further research, using empirical evidence from different countries, particularly in Latin America, but also the Philippines, South Korea, Nigeria and perhaps Lebanon. Further work on the problem would require research on the perceptions of political elites and the public at large of presidents and legislatures in those regimes.
It is striking that most cf the discussion of presidential government in classic works on democratic politics is limited to the United States and a comparison between that country and the United Kingdom with practically no reference to long experience with presidential regimes in Latin America.
This gap in the literature inevitably makes my analysis in this essay debateable. Therefore, it should be taken as a stimulus for further and more systematic thinking and research. Since the peculiar mix between parliamentarism and presidertialism of the Weimar Constitution and that of the French 5th Republic has been the object of more scholarly efforts and not been introduced in Latin America–although in the recent process of redemocratization Portugal has opted for a similar system whose difficulties in recent years would deserve inclusion in the scholarly debates-we shall not refer in detail to those mixed systems.
Parliamentarism and Presidentialism
The basic distinction to which we will refer is naturally based on ideal types, although in the political reality it is far from being neat. In some parliamentary systems, although the government emerges from the political alignments within a body of representatives elected by the people, there is a head of state, a monarch or his representative (the governor general in the Commonwealth countries) or a president with formally limited powers. In certain circumstances these powers have or can play a politically significant role, generally in crisis situations and sometimes creating constitutional crises. In parliamentary systems the only democratically legitimated institution is parliament and the government derives its authority from the confidence of parliament, either from parliamentary majorities or parliamentary tolerance of minority governments, and only for the time that the legislature is willing to support it between elections and sometimes only as long as parliament is not able to produce an alternative government. Although prime ministers are becoming more like presidents with the increasing personalization of party leadership and the voters’ identification with leaders and parties (due to their ability to present an attractive leader), their power ultimately is not derived from the identification of the voters. Additionally, they cannot appeal directly to the people against the representatives supporting them in a legislature or against their own party, except after dissolution and new elections. Conflicts between parliamentary prime ministers and presidents can only emerge in those cases discussed by Bartolini in which a parliamentary government is combined with a direct election of the president by popular vote and those few in which the president has considerable reserve powers. Most presidents in parliamentary systems, like the constitutional monarchs in democratic parliamentary monarchies, have only limited powers and functions. Institutional mechanisms for the elections for such presidents as well as political practices–like in Iceland, Austria and Ireland–have limited the potential conflict between two democratically legitimated offices, those of the president and the prime minister.
Presidential systems are based on the opposite principle. An executive with considerable powers in the constitution, generally in full control of the composition of his cabinet and the administration, is directly elected by the people for a fixed period of time and is not dependent on the formal vote of confidence by the democratically elected representatives in parliament. He is not only the holder of executive power but the symbolic head of state and cannot be dismissed except in the exceptional cases of impeachment between elections. Presidential systems, as the history of the United States shows, might in practice be more or less dependent on the cooperation of the elected representatives in congress. Therefore, the balance between executive and legislative power varies considerably in such systems. It would be most interesting and important to know how that balance has developed in different Latin American countries over periods of time and to what extent the relationships have been cooperative or conflictual between the two powers.
Two features stand out in presidential systems. One is the full claim to democratic legitimacy of the president, often with strong plebiscitarian components, although these are sometimes based on fewer popular votes than many prime ministers in parliamentary systems who, heading minority cabinets, are perceived in contrast, as weakly legitimated by the electorate. To mention just one example: Allende with a 36.2% plurality obtained by a heterogeneous coalition was certainly in a very different position from Adolfo Sugrez with 35.1% of the vote in 1979, as were the opponents Jorge Allesandri with 34.9% and Felipe Gonz~lez with 30.5%, and their less successful contenders Radomiro Tomic with 27.8% and Fraga or Carrillo with 6.1 and 10.8% respectively. A presidential system gives to the incumbent combining the qualities of the head of state representing the nation and the powers of the executive a very different aura and self-image and creates very different popular expectations than those of a prime minister regardless of whatever popularity he might enjoy with the same number of votes.
The most striking fact is that in a presidential system, the legislators, particularly when they represent well organized, disciplined parties that constitute real ideological and political choices for the voters, also enjoy a democratic legitimacy. It is possible that the majority of such a legislature might represent the opposite political choice than that of the voters supporting a president. Under such circumstances, who is on the basis of democratic principles better legitimated to speak in the name of the people? The president, or the congressional majority that opposes his policies? Since both derive their power from the vote of the people in a free competition among well defined alternatives, a conflict is always latent and sometimes likely to erupt dramatically. There is no democratic principle to resolve it and the mechanisms that might exist in the constitution are generally complex, highly technical, legalistic, and, therefore, of doubtful democratic legitimacy for the electorate. Thus, it is no accident that in some of those situations the military intervenes as poder moderador (moderating power). It could be argued that such conflicts are normal in the United States and have not led to serious crises. It would exceed the limits of this essay to explain the uniqueness of American political institutions and practices which have limited the impact of such conflicts, including the very unique characteristics of American political parties which lead many American political scientists to ask for a more responsible, disciplined ideological party system. In our view, the development of modern political parties, particularly in a socially and/or ideologically polarized society, in contrast to the American type of parties, is likely to make those conflicts particularly complex and threatening.
The second institutional characteristic of presidential systems is the fact that presidents are elected for a period of time which under normal circumstances cannot be modified, ,or shortened; and sometimes, due to provisions preventing reelection, cannot be prolonged. The political process therefore becomes broken into discontinuous, rigidly determined periods without possibility for continuous readjustments as political, social and economic events might require. The time of the mandate of a president becomes an essential political factor to which all the actors in the political process have to adjust and this has, as we shall see, many important consequences. One of the more complex is the provision for succession in the case of death or inability of a president, which in some cases is complicated by the fact that the automatic successor is elected separately and can represent a different political option, coalition or party than the president, or has been imposed by the presidential candidate as his running mate without any consideration about his capacity to exercise both executive power and to have plebiscitarian support the president was able to gain at the time of his election. Brazilian history provides us with examples of the first situation, and the succession of Peron by Isabelita of the second. Paradoxically, presidentialism leads to a personalization of power, but the succession between elections might lead to the highest office someone whom neither the voters, the party leaders, nor the political elite would never have, under normal circumstances, entrusted with that office, thanks to legal formal mechanisms rather than a true political process.
Presidential constitutions paradoxically incorporate two opposite principles and assumptions. On the one hand, their purpose is to create a stable powerful executive endowed with popular legitimacy, tending toward plebiscitarian legitimation capable of opposing the particularistic interests represented in Congress on the basis of party, region, local and clientalistic interests, of limited or no legitimacy in a Rousseaunian conception of democracy implicit in the ideal of the people, el pueblo, la ciudadanía, of the democratic rhetoric. Under such circumstances the Anglo-Saxon conception of democracy in which the representation of the variety of interests in society, the pragmatic adjustment between these interests, even the fierce defense of those interests has considerable legitimacy, is a priori de-legitimized and, therefore, is likely to bc moved to arenas other than the political: the sphere of trade union and interest group politics, sometimes the regional and local level in conflict with the central government. On the other hand, those same constitutions are based on a deep suspicion of the personalization of power and on the memories and fear of Caudillismo, going back even further, the fear of an absolute monarch, and therefore introduce many mechanisms to limit that power which might turn out to be arbitrary: foremost, the rule excluding reelection. The number of provisions to control the presidential power–like making certain appointments dependent on congressional approval, different provisions for impeachment and. the whole institutionalization of the Contraloria in Chile or powers granted to the judiciary reflect this suspicion. Sometimes in the political culture a legitimation of exercise of voice by the armed forces as poder moderador is seen as serving that purpose. It would be interesting to explore in depth that contradiction in the constitutional texts and the political practice of Latin American presidential regimes, but any student of Latin American history and politics will be able to point to examples.
It would be useful to explore the way in which that fundamental contradiction between the desire for a strong and stable executive combined with a latent suspicion of that same presidential power affects political decision making, the style of leadership, the political practices and rhetoric of both presidents and their opponents in presidential systems. It certainly introduces a dimension of conflict that cannot be explained simply in terms of social, economic, political or ideological factors. If we were to accept the debateable tendency toward personalismo in the national character and political culture of hispanic society, there can be little doubt that some of those tendencies would be reinforced by the institutional arrangements.
If we had to summarize the basic differences between presidential and parliamentary systems we could say it is the rigidity that presidentialism introduces into the political process and the much greater flexibility of that process in parliamentary systems. This might appear to the proponents of presidentialism an advantage since it reduces some of the uncertainties and unpredictability in principle inherent to parliamentarism where a larger number of actors, parties, their leaders, even the rank-and-file legislators, including those changing loyalties, can at any time between elections make basic changes, see to realignments, and above all, change the head of the government, the Prime Minister. The search for strong power and predictability would seem to favor presidentialism but, paradoxically, unexpected events going from the death of the incumbent to serious errors in judgment, particularly when faced with changing situations, make presidential rule less predictable and often weaker than that of a prime minister who can always reinforce his authority and democratic legitimacy by asking for a vote of confidence.
The uncertainties of a period of regime transition and consolidation no doubt make the rigidities of a presidential constitution more problematic than the possibility of flexible responses to a changing situation in parliamentary systems.
The Political Process in Presidential and Parliamentary Democracies
In the preceding discussion we have focused on the institutional dimensions of our problem. We have referred to some of the legal provisions in presidential constitutions and some of the unwritten rules which differentiate the types of democracies. However, in addition to those aspects we need to focus on the way in which political competition is structured in a system where the president is to be elected directly by the people, the style in the exercise of authority and power, the relations between a president, the political class and the society, and the way in which power is likely to be exercised and conflicts to be resolved. Our assumption is that the institutional characteristics to which we have referred directly or indirectly shape the whole political process and the way of ruling. Once we describe the resulting differences between presidential and parliamentary democratic politics we shall be ready to ask the question which of the two types of democracy provides for greater probabilities of a successful transition, consolidation, and stability of democracy.
Perhaps the most important implication of presidentialism is that it introduce a strong element of zero sum game into democratic politics with rules that tend towards a “winner takes all” outcome. The parliamentary election might produce an absolute majority for a particular party but normally it gives representation to a number of parties, perhaps one with a larger plurality than others among which some negotiations and sharing of power be unnecessary for obtaining majority support for a prime minister or the tolerance of a minority government. This means that the incumbent will be much more aware of the demands of different groups, much more concerned about retaining their support and correspondingly different parties do not lose expectations of exercising a share in power, an ability to control and the opportunity to gain benefits for their supporters.
The feeling of having independent power, a mandate from the people, of independence for the period in office from others who might withdraw support includingthe members of the coalition that elected him, is likely to give a president a sense of power and mission that might contrast with the limited plurality that elected him. This in turn might make the resistance in the political system and in the society he is likely to encounter more frustrating, demoralizing or irritating than for a prime minister who knows from the beginning how dependent he is on the support of his party, other parties, other leaders and the parliament as a body. Unless the prime minister has an absolute majority, the system inevitably includes some of the elements that become institutionalized in what has been called consociational democracy. In this context, it is important to note that when democracy was reestablished in two Latin American countries with a presidential constitution in difficult circumstances, the political leaders of the major parties turned to consociational types of agreements to obviate some of the implications of giving to one party the whole authority associated with the presidency and the zero sum implications for those not gaining that office. I’m referring to the pacto de punto fijo in the case of Venezuela and, more specifically, to the complicated arrangements of the various pacts and the concordancia that accompanied the reestablishment of democracy in Colombia whose main purpose could be described as preventing the zero sum implications of a presidential regime.
The zero sum character of the political game in presidential regimes is reinforced by the fact that winners and losers are defined for the period of the presidential mandate, a number of years in which there is no hope for shifts in alliances, broadening of the base of support by national unity or emergency grand coalitions, crisis situations that might lead to dissolution and new elections, and so on. The losers will have to wait four or five years without any access to executive power, and thereby to a share in the formation of cabinets and access to patronage.
The zero sum game in presidential regimes raises the stakes in a presidential election for winners and losers and inevitably will increase the tension and, as we shall see, the polarization in such elections.
Presidential elections have the advantage that they allow the people to choose directly who shall govern them for a reasonable period of time rather than leave that decision, as in many multi-party systems with parliamentary institutions, to the politicians. Presumably, the president would have a direct mandate from the people. If there are no requirements of a minimum plurality and a number of candidates compete in a single round, the elected might have only a small plurality; the difference between the successful candidate and the runner-up might be quite small and therefore far from justifying the sense of plebiscitarian popular support often attributed to the victor that his supporters and he himself might sincerely feel. To eliminate this element of chance, the electoral laws sometimes provide for a minimum plurality for the victor or some procedure for choosing among those not reaching that minimum. Those procedures might thereby frustrate those having supported the most successful candidate. More frequent is the pattern in which ultimately the election turns into the confrontation of two leading candidates, either in a first or a second round. That is a bipolar choice which under certain conditions is likely to produce considerable polarization. One of the consequences of the confrontation of two viable candidates is that before the elections, broad coalitions are likely to be formed in which extremist parties with some strength cannot be ignored since success might depend on even a small number of votes that these might be able to provide. In a party system in which significant numbers of voters identify strongly with such parties, this gives them disproportionate presence among the supporters of the candidates, making it easy for the opponent to point to the dangerous influence of the extremists and giving them a possible blackmail power over a more moderate candidate. Unless a strong candidate of the center rallies wide support against those who engage in an alliance with more extreme segments of the political spectrum and finds widespread support in the center cutting into the more clearly defined alternatives, a presidential election can encourage centrifugal and polarizing tendencies in the electorate.
It can be argued that in a society where the bulk of the electorate places itself on the center of the political spectrum, shares basically moderate positions, agrees on the exclusion of the extremists and only differs moderately between those leaning toward the left and the right but within a centrist position, potentially negative consequences of presidential competition are excluded. With an electorate of such overwhelmingly moderate centrist leanings, anyone making an alliance or taking positions that seem to lean toward the extremes is unlikely to win an election (as Goldwater and McGovern discovered on election night). However, it seems unlikely that many societies facing serious social and economic problems, divided in their opinions about an authoritarian regime that had at some point significant support, and with parties perceived as extremist with strong organizations and considerable appeal, would fit the model of United States presidential election. In a single-round election, none of the leading candidates in a somewhat polarized society with a volatile electorate can ignore, without taking very great risks of finding himself short of a plurality, those forces with whom he would otherwise not be ready to collaborate. A two-round election with a run-off between leading candidates, who can already point to their own strengths and calculate how much their alliances may contribute to a winning coalition, and where those tending toward the extremes are aware of the limits of their strength, reduces the uncertainties and thereby might help in producing a more rationally calculated outcome, both on the part of the candidate and the voters, that in some ways would come closer to the process of coalition formation in a parliament in search of the prime minister. Let us retain for our analysis the potential for polarization and the difficulty of isolating politically extremist alternatives disliked intensely by significant elites or segments of the electorate.
To illustrate our arguments let us think of Spain in 1977 in the first free election after Franco. First of all, in the absence of a record of the distribution of preferences of the electorate, despite all the information provided by public opinion surveys that politicians obviously would have tended to disregard, the prevailing uncertitude would have made coalition-building difficult. Certainly, the potential front-runners would have been forced to make more than winning coalitions. Assuming that the democratic opposition to Franco would have united behind a single candidate, Felipe Gonzalez, something that would not have been assured at the time, he certainly would not have been able to run independently in the way he did in the parliamentary election given the expectations about the communist strength and the more or less ten percent of the electorate that they actually represented.
A Popular Front image would have dominated the campaign and probably submerged the identity that in most districts–except for some senatorial elections–the different political ‘orces from the extreme left to the Christian Democratic center and the moderate regional parties could maintain.
The problem would have been even more accute for the center right, for those who had supported the reforma and particularly the reforma pactada exit from the authoritarian regime. It is not certain that, in spite of the great popularity he gained during the process evident in the public opinion polls early in 1977, the Prime Minister of the transition, Adolfo Sudrez, could have, and would have, wished to unite all those to the right of the PSOE. At that point, many Christian Democrats, including those who in 1979 ran on the UCD ticket, would have been unwilling to abandon their political friends from the years of opposition to Franco. On the other hand, it would have been difficult for Sudrez to appear with the support of Alianza Popular (AP) that appeared as a continuist alternative with the leaders of seven groups of ex-cabinet members of Franco. Nor does it seem logical that AP would have supported a leader ready to legalize the Communist Party.
Excluding the possibility that the candidate of the right would have been Manuel Fraga, today the accepted leader of the opposition, it still would have been very difficult for Adolfo SuArez to sustain in a presidential campaign his distinctive position as an alternative to any thought of continuity with the Franco regime. In fact, the campaign in 1977 of the UCD was directed as much against AP as against the Socialists, and given the uncertainties about the strength of AP and fears and hostility it generated on the left, much of the ca-paign was centered on Fraga reducing the potential polarization between the longtime democrats “de toda la vida” and the neophites of democracy that constituted such an important part of the UCD elite and supporters. Inevitably the center right and right would have focused their attack on the dangerous supporters of the left democratic candidate, the role of the communists and the peripheral nationalists among his supporters and the compromises he would have made with them. The center left and the left democratic candidate inevitably would have had to bring up the continuity of his opponent with the Franco regime, the importance among his supporters of unreconstructed Francoites and the absence among its coalition partners even of the moderate center democrats, those who after the election and in the years of the constitution-making and the first constitutional government after the 1979 election would play a prominent role in supporting the Suarez governments, for example, the moderate Catalanists.
There can be no question that the presidential election in 1977 would have been much more polarized than the parliamentary election that took place on the 15th of June. Should Prime Minister Suarez have rejected an understanding with AP,or if Fraga, the leader of AP, had rejected an alliance with the Suaristas based on his bloated expectations and his vision of a natural majority of the right and two-party system, the outcome would have been either highly uncertain or more likely a plurality for the left candidate. A president with that popular backing, even with a different outcome of congressional elections, would have felt legitimated to undertake the making of a more partisan constitution and radical changes in the polity and the society. Certainly more than the socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez would undertake in 1932 after having been five years a member of parliament and his party governing municipalities, and after a party congress in which the more utopian left wing was defeated and a campaign in which the main goal was to win votes in the center of the spectrum where previous elections had shown the bulk of the electorate placed itself. In my view, there can be no doubt (and comments by Felipe Gonzalez about what a victory of his party even in 1979 would have meant for it confirm this) that the process of transition and consolidation of democracy in Spain would have been very different and probably more difficult.
Let me caution that some of the negative consequences of polarization implicit in a presidential competition are not inherent to such a system and are not inevitable if there is a massive consensus in the population on moderate center right, center left positions, and when the limited weight of the extremes is quite apparent so that no one is particularly interested in alliances with them. This is likely when there is a consensus to maintain them isolated or when they themselves opt for isolation to run and it is only to make their propaganda and show their presence. But I doubt that these conditions would be found in many societies in the process of democratization and consolidation of democracy.
The Style of Politics in Presidential Regimes
We have been discussing some of the implications of presidentialism for the electoral process and some of the readers might feel one thing is the election and another is what the incumbent will do after being elected with all the powers granted to him by the constitution. Why should he not, after victory, be ready to overcome the polarization of the campaign, heal the wounds generated, offer the defeated an opportunity to collaborate, ignore and isolate the allies on the extremes of the spectrum and become the president of all the people? Obviously, such a policy and style of governing cannot be excluded, but i. will depend on the personality of a leader and his opponents whether such a policy and style will be chosen. Before an election no one can be assured that this will be the choice of the new incumbent and certainly the process of political mobilization in a plebiscitarian-type context is not likely to facilitate such a turn of events. Paradoxically, such a stance might weaken rather than strengthen the new president since he risks alienating the more extremist components of his coalition–still in competition with the dominant more moderate party of the alliance in Congress and other arenas for the support of the electorate–that would claim betrayal, making it difficult for him to ignore their demands. In addition, if such a stance is not reciprocated by those defeated, his position is likely to be weakened and, if the offer has been made publicly, the refusal is likely to le~d him to a more intransigent stand, identifying even the moderate opponents with the least legitimate members of the coalition that supported his opponent, reinforcing the rhetoric generated during the campaign.
Some of the most important consequences of a presidential system for the style of politics are the result of the nature of the office itself: the powers associated with it and the limits imposed on it, particularly those derived from the need for cooperation with the Congress that might be of a different partisan composition than the wining presidential coalition, and above all, the sense of time that an election for a limited number of years with no right to succession often imposes on presidents. The presidential office is by nature two-dimensional and, in a sense, ambiguous. A president is the representation of the whole nation, of the state, and at the same time he is a representative of a clear political option, a partisan option, and of his constituency, sometimes in addition to represent his party within the coalition that brought him to power.
The symbolic and deferential dimension of power, those aspects of authority that Bagehot saw represented in the monarchy and sometimes successfully incarnated by presidents in parliamentary regimes (like recently, Sandro Pertini in Italy, or Theodor Heuss in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany), is difficult to combine with the role of the partisan politician fighting to implement his program. It is not always easy to be at the same time the president of all Chileans and the president of the workers, to be an elegant and well-mannered president in La Moneda (The Chilean “White House”) and the demagogic orator in the mass rallies in a stadium. Many voters and key elites are likely to see the second role as a betrayal of the role of Head of State, somewhat above party and symbol of continuity of the state and the nation that they associate with the presidents. A presidential system, compared to a parliamentary monarchy or republic with a prime minister and a head of state, does not allow such a differentiation.
(Orion’s note: Read Karl Aguilar’s well written piece here)
Perhaps the most important consequence of the direct relationship established between a president and the electorate, the absence of any dependency on politicians (to renew his power once elected by the threat of motions of no confidence and the need for confirmation of confidence) is the sense of being the elected representative of the whole people, identifying obviously the people with his constituency and ignoring those voting for his opponents. The implicit plebiscitarian component of presidential authority is likely to make the opposition and the constraints a president will face immediately in exercising his authority, particularly frustrating. In this context, he is likely to define his policies as reflecting the popular will and those of his opponents as representing narrow interests rejected by the people. This sense of identity between leaders and people that encourages or reinforces a certain populism can be a source of strength and power but also can lead to ignore the limited mandate that even a majority, and to say nothing of a plurality, can give to implement any particular program. It encourages certain neglect, sometimes disrespect, and even hostile relations with the opposition.
A president is not, like a prime minister, normally a member of a parliament who, although sitting on the government benches, is still a member of a larger body where he is forced to interact to some extent as an equal with other politicians and the leaders of the other parties, particularly if he depends on their support as head of a coalition government or as a minority government. A president, in comparison, given his special position as Read of State, is not forced to such interactions since he is free to receive or not his opponents and always in the context of his ceremonial status in the presidential palace. In addition, the defeated opponent and the leaders of the opposition occupy an ambiguous position since, although publicly leaders, by not holding any office and not even being parliamentarian cannot act with respect to the president the same way as the leader of the parliamentary opposition in Westminster.
The absence, in a presidential system, of a king or a president of the Republic who can act symbolically as a moderating power deprives the system of elements of flexibility and mechanisms to restrain the exercise of power. A figure who in some cases exercises moderating influence in a crisis situation, even facilitates a parliamentary rebellion against the prime minister, as a neutral power, and maintains contact with forces ready to question the leadership of the prime minister, particularly the armed forces. Even the presidents of legislative bodies who, in a parliamentary confrontation between parties, can exercise some restraint do not have such a position above presidents as they have above a prime minister who sits on the government bench while they preside over the chamber.
Given the inevitable institutional and structural position of a president,
it is not unlikely that the people, i.e., those who support and identify
with him, should feel that he has more power than he actually has or should have, centering excessive expectations on him and getting ready to express those sentiments if manipulated or mobilized by him against any opposition he might encounter. The interaction between a popular president and the crowd acclaiming him can generate a political climate of tension and fear on the part of his opponents. The same can be said about the direct relationship a conservative president or a president with a military background can establish with the armed forces in the capacity of Commander-in-Chief and the opportunities for contact of a president with army leaders in that capacity unencumbered by the presence of a prime minister or a minister of defense normal in parliamentary monarchies or republics.
The position of ministers in parliamentary governments is quite different from that of ministers or secretaries in presidential regimes. There are certain trends that are likely to lead toward a degree of convergence between in principle different systems. We are thinking of parliamentary systems with highly disciplined parties and a prime minister with an absolute majority in parliament, which follow the model of the Kanzlerdemokratie in which the prime minister is free to select his cabinet without parliamentary approval of the individual ministers. All this together with the tendency to personalize power in modern politics, particularly thanks to the television, has reduced the sense of collective responsibility and collegial nature of cabinet government, as well as the independent responsibility of ministers. However, in parliamentary systems when the prime minister is dependent on party coalitions or heads a minority government with parliamentary approval, his relation to the cabinet is likely to be clearly different from that of a president with his cabinet.
The free choice by a president of his collaborators, the opportunity to dismiss them whenever their advice becomes undesireable, and their incapacity in such a case to return to parliament with the independent power base as representatives to question in party caucuses and in the course of parliamentary business the policies of the prime minister is likely to encourage the absence of strong-minded and independent men or women in a presidential cabinet. A president can shield his ministers from criticism much more than a prime minister whose ministers might have to go to parliament to answer questions, interpellations and censure, whenever the principles of division of powers are carried to their logical conclusion. Once more practices and the relative position of congress and the presidency in the constitutional system and the power relations can modify these implicit patterns as they transform modern prime ministers and their cabinets in a direction that makes them more similar to presidential regimes.
Without going into the complexities of che relationship between the executive and the legislature in different presidential regimes, the relative dangers of predominance of one or the other, and the capacity to veto or stalemate decisions on legislation, there can be no doubt that presidential regimes are based on a dual democratic legitimacy and that no democratic principle can decide who represents the will of the people in principle. In practice, particularly in developing countries with great regional inequalities in modernization, it is likely that the political and social composition and outlook of the legislature will differ from that of supporters of the president. The territorial principles of representation, sometimes reinforced by inequalities in the districting or the existence of a senate in federal republics, tends to give a stronger weight in the legislature to representatives of rural areas and small towns of the provinces rather than the metropolis. And it will be easy to claim that the democratic credentials of the representatives of the backward areas are dubious and that they are local oligarchs elected thanks to their clientelistic influences and their social and economic power. Independently of this being true or not and of the degree to which we would disqualify in a democracy those voters who, rather than being influenced by trade unions, neighborhood associations and party machines, feel their loyalty to local notables, tribal leaders,priests, and even bosses,’there will be a temptation for urban progressive elites to question the representativeness of those elected by them. In such a context, it becomes easy for a president encountering resistance to his program in the legislature to mobilize the people against the oligarchs, to claim true democratic legitimacy, deny it to his opponents and confront them with his capacity to mobilize his supporters in mass demonstrations. It is also conceivable that in some societies the president might represent the more traditional or provincial electorates using that support to question the right of the more urban and modern segments in a minority ready to oppose his policies. In the absence of any logical principle to define who has really democratic legitimacy, it is tempting to use ideological formulations to legitimize the presidential component of the system and deligitimize those opposing him, transforming what is an institutional conflict into serious social and political conflicts. An institutional conflict that in some societies is solved by negotiation or legal mechanisms of independent authority like the courts.
The Problem of Continuity and Discontinuity
One of the advantages of a presidential regime is that it assures the stability of the executive. This has been contrasted with the instability of many parliamentary governments, the frequent crises and changes in the prime ministership, particularly in multi-party European democracies. It would seem that the image of governmental instability in the French Third and Fourth Republic, in Italy today, and more recently in Portugal, has contributed to the negative image of parliamentarism held by many scholars particularly in Latin America, and their preference for presidentialism. Such comparisons often overlook the ability of parliamentary democracies to produce stable governments. Under their apparent instability, the continuity of parties in power, the reshuffling of cabinets, the same coalition under the same premier, and the frequent continuity of the same minister in key ministries in spite of cabinet crises tend to be forgotten. It is also ignored that the parliamentary systems allows for the substitution of the prime minister who has lost control over his party, whose continuation in office might create a serious political crisis, or who is involved in a scandal, etc., might be replaced by his party or by the formation of a new coalition, or the withdrawal of support by parties tolerating the minority government without a major constitutional crisis. Unless the parliamentary alignments make the formation of a democratically-based government impossible, parliament with more or less difficulty and with more or less delay should be able to produce a new minister. In some cases of more serious crisis, there is always the alternative of calling for new elections, although they often do not resolve the problem but, like in Germany in the early 1930s, compound it.
In contrast, presidents are elected for a fixed term in office. The kind of changes that produce government crises and the substitution of one prime minister for another are excluded for that time. But this involves also a rigidity in the political process that makes adjustment to changing situations extremely difficult by not allowing the substitution of a leader who has lost the confidence of his own party or the parties that acquiesced to his election. It does not allow his substitution by someone more able to make a compromise with the opposition when polarization has reached an intensity that threatens violence and an illegal overthrow. The extreme measure of impeachment we find in the constitutional texts is extremely difficult to use compared to a vote of no confidence. An embattled president is tempted and can use his powers in such a way that his opponents might not be willing to wait to oust him to the end of his term. But there are no mechanisms to substitute him without violating the constitution unless he were willing to resign. Even resignation under pressure is likely to generate a much greater political crisis since the segment of the electorate that brought him to the presidential palace might feel cheated of its choice and rally publicly to his support. It is difficult to conceive the issue being resolved among the political leaders without bringing thc people into the debate and without using the threat of non-democratic institutions like the courts and more frequently a political intervention by the armed forces. The intense conflict underlying such crises cannot remain more or less hidden in the corridors and smoke-filled rooms of the legislature.
The same rigidity is apparent when an incumbent dies or becomes incapacitated
while in office. In the latter case, there is a temptation to hide his incapacity until the end of his term, a temptation that incidentally also appears in democracies. In the case of death or resignation for one or another reason, the presidential system presumably assures an automatic succession leaving no vacuum of authority creating no interregnum. However, the succession by the vice president who completes the term, that has worked relatively smoothly in the recent history of the United States, sometimes poses serious problems. It becomes particularly acute in cases where the constitution allows separate candidacies for president and vice president and therefore, rather than a running mate coming from the same party and presumably sharing the same political outlook, the vice president would have been elected by a different party or coalition. In such a case, those who supported the former president might feel the successor does not represent their choice and does not have the popular democratic legitimation required for the office. The alternative, nowadays more likely, that both president and vice president have been nominated in agreement still leaves open the question of the criteria used in such a nomination. There are undoubtedly cases in which the vice president has been nominated to balance the ticket, and therefore represents a discontinuity. Cases in which a weak candidate has been imposed by the incumbent so that the vice president might not represent any potential challenge to his power, and in some cases a highly personal choice, like the wife of the incumbent. Nothing in the presidential system assures that the voters or tue political leadership of the country would have selected the vice president to exercise the powers they were willing to give to the former president. The continuity that automatic succession in presidential systems seems to assure therefore might be more apparent than real. There is obviously the possibility of a caretaker government until new elections take place at the earliest possible date. But it is not sure that the serious crisis that might have provoked the need for succession would be the best moment to hold a new presidential election.
Democracy is by definition a government pro tempore, a government in which the electorate at regular intervals can make those governing accountable and impose a change. The maximum time limit for any government between elections is probably the greatest guarantee against omnipotence and abuse of power, the last hope for those in the minority position. It also has, however, very dysfunctional consequences since no government can be assured the time to implement many promises that require time, to carry through between the two elections major programs of social change, to achieve irreversible changes in the society And all governments, democratic and non-democratic, would like to assure themselves continuity over a long period of time. The concentration of power in a president has led in most presidential regimes to rules attempting to limit it to one or at the most two terms by exluding reelection. Those provisions have been frustrating for ambitious men and legal changes in the rule to assure continuismo tempted political leaders. Even in the absence of such ambitions, the consciousness of having a limited time to carry out a program associated with his name must have an impact on the style of politics in presidential regimes. The fear of discontinuity in policies, the distrust of a potential successor, encourages a sense of urgency of what Albert Hirschman has called “the wish of vouloir conclure,” that might lead to ill-designed policies, rapid implementation, impatience with the opposition, and to expenditures which might otherwise be distributed over a longer period of time or policies that might contribute to political tension and sometimes inefficacy. A president wants to be sure that he can inaugurate his “Brasilia” before leaving office, implement his program of nationalizations, etc. A prime minister who can expect his party or the coalition supporting him to win the next election is not likely to be under that type of pressure. We have seen prime ministers staying in office over the course of several legislatures without any fear this would be a step in the direction of dictatorship because it was believed that their removal would take place anytime, without recourse to unconstitutional means.
The time limit and the principle of no reelection, whose value cannot be questioned, also means that the political system has to produce a capable and popular leader every four years and that the political capital accumulated by a successful leader cannot be used beyond that point.
All political leadership is threatened by the ambitions of second-rank leaders, by their positioning themselves for succession and sometimes by their intrigues. But inevitably, the prospect of a succession at the end of the term of the president is likely to foster those tendencies and the suspicions of the incumbent of such threats. The desire of continuity, on the other hand, leads a president to look for a successor who would not challenge him while he is in office, not necessarily the most capable and attractive leader. The inevitable succession also creates a distinctive type of tension: the one emerging between the ex-president and his successor in office, who will be tempted to assert his independence and his differences with this predecessor although both might belong to the same party, a process that might become quite threatening to the unity of the party. The person who has been the president with all the power, prestige, adulation accompanying that office will always find it difficult to resign himself to not having power and being excluded from the prospect of regaining it in the case of failure of his successor. That frustration might have important political consequences, like the attempt to exercise power behind the scenes, to influence the next presidential succession by supporting a different candidate than the incumbent for the next election, etc. Certainly, similar problems emerge in parliamentary systems when a prominent leader leaves the premiership but finds himself capable and willing to return to power. But probably the need to maintain party unity, the defference with which such a leader is likely to be treated by other leaders of his party and by the incumbent, and the awareness of his successor that he needs the cooperation of the powerful leader not sitting on the government bench, might facilitate an alternation in office of leaders of the same party. Such a leader knows that he might be called back into office anytIne, and his successor also knows that such a possibility exists and therefore increases the awareness that a confrontation between them might be costly to both, a situation that very often leads to a sharing of power.
The time limit associated with presidential systems combined with the zero sum character of presidential elections, the winner-take-all position that excludes those defeated from any chance to share in executive power and in the control of the administration, including patronage, is likely to make choices in a presidential election more dramatic and polarizing than most parliamentary elections. The realignments of political forces that in a parliamentary system might take place between elections within the halls of parliament, have to be made publicly before and at the time of an election to assure a winning coalition when the voter confronts his choices. Time becomes a more imoortant dimension of the political process. The pace of politics is likely to be different in a presidential than in a parliamentary system. Compromises and deals will have to be made in public and presumably will be binding for four years at least, while those made in the day-to-day process of governing in a parliamentary system might be less public and always potentially reversible without implying a betrayal of the voters. In fact, deals, agreements, and compromises that might be necessary but could be seen as unprincipled, opportunistic and a betrayal of principles and ideology, are much more difficult to make when they are the object of scrutiny by an electorate in a forthcoming election. Let us remember the difficulties of President Frondizi in his dealings with the Peronistas before elections compared to Christian Democratic politicians like Andreotti in his dealings with the Communists in Montecitorio. A presidential regime leaves much less room for tacit consensus building, shifting coalitions, pragmatic compromises and deals difficult to defend in public, but which might be necessary.
Certainly, such compromises, negotiations, and power-sharing have been used in redemocratization, using consociational or semi-consociational mechanisms in Colombia and, to some extent, in Venezuela and, more recently, in Brazil. But they appear as a necessary deviation from the rules of the system, a way to limit the choices of the voters as what has been labeled somewhat loosely, and pejoratively, “democradura.” There can be little doubt that sometimes redemocratization requires consociational processes, grand coalitions and a variety of pacts; but the presidential system forces such pacts to be formalized and binding for a period of time without opportunity to revise before. In addition, it forces the electorate to forgo free choice–like in the Colombian case–while in a parliamentary system those agreements could be reached after the electorate has made its choice–like in the Spanish consenso.
If not Presidentialism, Will Parliamentarism Assure Democratic Stability?
Our analysis of the problematic implications of presidentialism for democracy should not be read as implying that no presidential democracy can be stable. It only means that the odds in many societies might be less favorable.
It should not be read either as arguing that parliamentary democracies always assure democratic stability, but certainly that they provide a greater flexibility in the process of transition to any consolidation of democracy. Nor doeo it mean that any type of parliamentary regime would do. In fact, to complete our analysis w- would have to discuss the type of parliamentary regime best suited to facilitate such a process and the particular institutional arrangements, including electoral laws, that could achieve those ends better. Among those institutions we can mention some that could lead to relatively stable governments, a strong prime minister, who could guarantee responsible decision making processes, strengthen the role of parties while assuring opportunities for genuine competition, and limit political fragmentation, to mention just a few desirable characteristics. In different countries, however, there might well be distinctive factors to take into account, like federalism, ethnic or cultural heterogeneity, etc. It should be obvious that no one would argue that parliamentary systems would be free of crises and even breakdown.
Although we already referred to the problems inherent to systems with a dual executive-semi-presidential or semi-parliamentary like the Weimar Republic, the Fifth French Republic, or Portugal today-we want to restate our feelings that such a hybrid is not preferable to either a parliamentary regime or a more purely presidential system, except under special circumstances (which no one can be assured in advance, will be present).
All regimes depend, however, on the willingness of society and all major social forces and institutions to contribute to their stability.
They depend also on the consensus to give legitimacy to authority acquired by democratic processes, at least for the time between elections and within the limits of the Constitution. Ultimately, all regimes depend on the capacity of political leaders to govern, to inspire trust, to have a sense of the limits of their power, and to achieve a minimum of consensus. Our argument has been that these qualities would be even more important in a presidential regime where they might be more difficult to achieve. Such a dependency on the qualities of a political leader, which might be found or not at any particular moment, might involve greater risks. Our aim here has been to bring back a debate on the role of alternative democratic institutions in building stable democracies.
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The late Dr. Juan J. Linz, Sterling Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University was widely known for his contributions to the study of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, political parties and elites, and democratic breakdowns and transitions to democracy. In 1987 he was awarded Spain’s Principe de Asturias ~ in the social sciences.
This old article from 27 April 2006 by Alex Magno emphasizes that Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia and the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore could only emerge from the electoral mechanisms of a Parliamentary System and succeed in transforming their respective countries into the economic powerhouses that both are within the world (Singapore) and within the region (Malaysia) because of the operational features and improved efficiency of said system. Under the Philippine Presidential System the two giants would either never have won – due to their straight-talking abrasively honest style of speaking which would not allow them to win in the popularity-centric system of the Presidential System – or had they won, they would not have succeeded in transforming their societies for the better.
No wonder the Philippines continues to be such a “hopeless” basketcase. We have a system that does not allow such intellectual giants and tireless reformers such as Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia as well as the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore to win. Ours is a flawed system that easily allows famous actors, celebrities, and sons-and-daughters of famous people who are not chosen based on competence to win. Had Malaysia and Singapore had the exact same flawed, problematic, and fouled up presidential system that the Philippines currently has, quite obviously, both societies would have ended up becoming miserably pathetic failures just like the Philippines.
Our neighbors in the region are closely scrutinizing the crazy twists and turns of our politics – sometimes with awe and not always with admiration.
We sometimes forget we live in a fishbowl, with all the world watching the odd things we do. The most parochial among us think we have the sea to ourselves, a sea whose murky waters escape the scrutiny of our friends.
One keen observer of the sometimes bizarre conduct of our national affairs is former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Although retired from government, Mahathir keeps tabs with unfolding events in the region. Revered by his countrymen for the great economic achievements of his period of rule, he keeps office at the penthouse of the Petronas Towers, the highest edifice in the region and probably the world. From there, he observes his bustling capital and contemplates regional developments.
Last week, House Speaker Jose de Venecia called on Mahathir in the course of a five-day visit to Malaysia, swinging across from Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak and Sabah. The visit was primarily intended to conduct consultations with Malaysian foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar on the future of the envisioned ASEAN Community and on de Venecia’s proposal to create an ASEAN Parliamentary Council.
Always forthright in his views, Mahathir was not shy about his opinions on the Philippines, even as he qualified those views with a polite disclaimer about non-interference in our internal affairs.
He bluntly told de Venecia that the “Filipino people need a break.”
In the context of their conversation, that “break” is understood as a respite from the hyper-politicking that has plagued our country of late. That hyper-politicking has gotten in the way of our efforts to improve our economy, raise productivity and build a better future for our people.
Hyper-politicking has produced gridlock, endless bickering and neglect of urgent policy actions. It has undermined investor confidence in our economy and prevented willful leadership from being exercised – the same sort of leadership that Mahathir himself deployed in bringing Malaysia up from backwater economy status to that of an “Asian tiger.”
Mahathir agreed with de Venecia that a parliamentary system of government could work better in the Philippines because it ensures “continuity in policy and the faster pace of approvals of development programs.”
A major factor explaining Malaysia’s success story under Mahathir’s leadership is a responsive government enabled by the fusion of legislative and executive powers in a parliamentary system of government. The dominant role played by the major party UMNO ensured continuity of policy perspectives independent of the fates of individual power-wielders.
When Mahathir retired from politics, there was no uncertainty about the policy architecture that brought Malaysia to tiger-economy status. That policy architecture is not a personal legacy of Mahathir. It is the fighting faith of his party, UMNO, which continues to command the support of the Malaysian people.
If Malaysia had a presidential system of government, Mahathir might have never become its leader. Tough-talking, brutally frank and often abrasive, this man could not win a popularity contest.
Even if, hypothetically, Mahathir was elected president of a Malaysia under a presidential system, the man might not have accomplished what he did in a parliamentary setting. The legislature would have obstructed his most dramatic innovations. His team might have spent precious time and energy attending endless congressional investigations. Other aspirants to the top-post might have constantly conspired to cause his failure or smear him in the public eye as a means to undercut his base of public support.
The phenomenon of a Mahathir and/or a Lee Kuan Yew, for that matter, would be difficult to imagine outside the framework of a parliamentary system of government. That system of government encouraged the full development of political parties that, in turn, built public support for innovative policies. The parliamentary form, along with the strong party system it fosters, ensure the cultivation of an ample supply of prospective leaders ready to take over and provide a consistent and reliable quality of leadership.
After all, the emergence of strong nations and strong economies is a process that requires generations of leaders. It is a process that takes longer than a single political lifetime.
It is, likewise, a process that requires the reliable institutionalization of political commitment to a strategy for progress. A national project of achieving a modern economy is, after all, a task that is too large even for the greatest of leaders to undertake singularly. It is a task that requires the sustained effort that only a committed party can ensure.
Without diminishing the personal qualities of great Asian leaders such as Mahathir or Lee Kuan Yew, it remains that their feats of statesmanship could not have been done without the strong network that only a stable political party could provide. The parliamentary form of government ensures superior conditions for evolving that stable network.
When Lee Kuan Yew, and later, Mahathir Mohamad, reached the point when it was best to withdraw from their leadership roles, the transition was never traumatic. The process was never uncertain. The continuity of the policy architecture was never in doubt.
When Mahathir endorses the parliamentary form for us, he is not offering an opinion from the ivory tower. He is speaking from the vantage point of a successful leadership episode. He is speaking with the richness of experience of what this form of government has made possible for him to accomplish despite the adversities his people had to face.
Great leaders do not fall from the heavens and perform overnight miracles of national development without a stable governmental platform.
At the risk of sounding tautological: great leaders can only emerge from political and institutional conditions that make great leadership possible. The most important characteristic of those conditions is that they do not rely on the mysticism of leadership and do not fall prey to the destructive tide of personal ambitions as well as personal jealousies – both of which are in abundance in our politics today.”
Once upon a time, there was an American Peace Corps volunteer named Sam. Sam was a nice, good-natured 29 year old White Anglo-Saxon American guy who stood tall at 6 ft 7′ and enjoyed playing basketball. Sam also loved riding around in his Mountain Bike, which he christened “The American Way.” In one of his assignments, Sam was made to go to a remote village in the the Philippines, and he was made to stay with one family which had a 6 year old boy named Felipe. Sam never left behind his mountain bike “The American Way”, and he thus brought it along with him. See, “The American Way” was a specially-crafted and customized bike, built specifically for Sam’s huge build and height. It was built with all his preferences into account, so that Sam was practically the only person who could maximize its comfort and features.
Sam was indeed a nice guy. He blended in well with the Filipino family, he learned Tagalog, and he taught them English. He helped out in the chores, and he and Felipe developed a strong friendship. Felipe always referred to Sam as “Uncle”, since his parents taught him to refer to older people as “Tito.” Of course, in English, Felipe used “Uncle…”
To Felipe’s eyes, Sam, was the ideal person. Felipe often told his Tatay and Nanay, “when I grow up, I want to be just like Uncle Sam.”
Sam taught Felipe lots of things. He taught Felipe how to play basketball, and caused Felipe to become so enamored with the sport, despite the fact that excelling in basketball usually favored tall people, not short ones. He also showed Felipe all his mountain bike stunts, and made Felipe want to learn more about riding a bike. Everytime Sam rode the bike, he told Felipe how nice it was to have a mountain bike, and how free one was to go wherever he wanted. Time went by, and Felipe really wanted to try riding the bike named “The American Way.” Well, since Sam needed it in his job, he always brought it along with him. Felipe never got the chance to try it out. Sam somehow sensed it… Sam knew he needed to do something…
After two years of staying with Felipe’s family, Sam was now due to return to the USA. On the day Sam was about to be fetched to be brought to the airport, Sam said that he was leaving behind his mountain bike, “The American Way” as a gift to Felipe. Felipe was overjoyed… Sam hugged Felipe and they both tearfully said their goodbyes.
Felipe was sad to see his “Uncle Sam” go. But yet, he was also happy that he now had this GIFT of the “American Way” for him to ride and enjoy.
8 year old Felipe tried out the huge mountain bike… He could hardly reach the pedals, nor could his hands reach the handlebars… He constantly fell and scratched his knees. “Hmmmm, maybe tomorrow, I’ll try again”, he thought…
Next door neighbors were getting concerned about the short 8 year old Felipe’s attempts to ride the huge mountain bike that was custom-built for a 6 ft 7 White adult. They told him, “Felipe, we think you need to use a smaller bicycle with trainers first…” Stubbornly, Felipe did not heed their advice. He continued on attempting to use “The American Way” mountain bike, and responded to them that “This was a gift my Uncle Sam gave me! I’m going to use it whether you like it or not!”
In the meantime, some neighbors’ children were able to buy cheap second hand, smaller bicycles fitted with trainers, and thus the neighbors’ little kids learned to bike. They had trainers (the pair of little tires at the back used for beginners) and later on, the trainers would be slightly raised, until they learned balance. Felipe took no notice of these little kids who were his peers… After all, the little bicycles they used were all cheap, lousy, locally-made bicycles, while his, “The American Way”, was a special, top-of-the-line, imported, “made in the USA” Mountain Bike which originally cost more than the whole rural village’s entire monthly income combined. (2,500 USD for a rather “specially made” mountain bike… Certainly so much more than the rural village’s monthly income combined…)
Day in, day out, little Felipe continued to fall off the huge mountain bike. It was unfortunately unadjustable due to the fact that it was specifically tailor-made for Sam’s huge build. The farthest that Felipe could go was just a few meters before losing control and then falling on the side… Years passed, and Felipe still continued in the same “move a few meters, wobble, then fall” cycle.
He never learned to bike properly. Even in adolescence, he was never tall enough to properly reach the pedals and sit on the mountain bike comfortably and go anywhere with it. He’d always continue to move a few meters, lose control, fall on the side, and get scratched and bruised.
Young Felipe never learned to bike properly, yet his next door neighbors, the ones who used cheaper, second hand, small bikes with trainers, had all been able to upgrade their bikes as the years went by… As it happened, the little kids who started off with trainer-bikes learned to bike properly, took off the trainers, and they then used their biking skills later on to make money… Some used their biking skills to deliver mail, newspapers, and the like… Those who delivered mail and others, made enough money which they saved to upgrade their bikes…
Young Felipe now saw what was happening… Here he was, the “kid with the most expensive mountain bike in town”, yet he never learned to bike properly, while the other kids with the smaller cheapo-bikes were able to learn properly and later on upgrade…
“The American Way”, the great mountain bike that Felipe’s “Uncle Sam” gave to him as a gift had let him down… It was far too big… It was far too heavy… He couldn’t sit on it properly, as its proportions were made for a 6 foot 7 grown Caucasian, while Felipe was a very short young boy…
His parents, his neighbors, his friends, all told him that using the gargantuan mountain bike that was too big for him wasn’t going to work. Many years passed with the same sad results…
But poor young Felipe, now at 15 years old, still defiantly retorted back to them, “My Uncle Sam gave me this wonderful mountain bike which was christened ‘The American Way…’ I will continue to use it whether you like it or not…”
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This parable was first “published” on June 14, 2001 in the original Get Real Philippines website of Benign0 back when the site was still a freely-hosted Geocities site in the early stages of the author’s close friendship and collaboration with Benign0. Sadly, some disagreements a decade later caused the two to part ways (The author proposed Constitutional Reform as a means of fixing the Philippines since he still has hope that the Philippines can be fixed, while Benign0 felt content to criticize the Philippines from a distance and took pains not to propose solutions to fix it since the latter unfortunately tends to think that the “Philippines is hopeless.”)
The Parable of the Mountain Bike caught the attention of the celebrated blogger-turned-author “Bob Ong” who then contacted the author sometime after its publication and asked permission to feature it in his first book which bears the name “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” The Parable gained a certain popularity among students and was used a lot for school reports by many Filipino kids.
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About the Author
Orion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes the Philippine situation the way he analyzes IT systems: logically and objectively.
Being an Overseas Filipino Worker himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.
Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.
Orion first achieved fame as one of the most remembered and most impressive among the winners of the popular RPN-9 Quiz Show “Battle of the Brains”, and got a piece he wrote – “The Parable of the Mountain Bike” – featured in Bob Ong’s first bestselling compilation of essays “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” He is the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement and spearheads the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.
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Extra reading on the US Federal Government Shutdown:
The recent US Federal Government Shutdown has further proven to everyone around the World that the Presidential System is an extremely unreliable, buggy, flawed, and faulty system of government whose proneness to gridlock has turned it into a major embarrassment. In the Philippines, the proneness to gridlock of the Philippine Presidential System is precisely what spawned the Pork Barrel as a “solution” to avoid gridlock. We all know how that turned out… Isn’t it obvious that the Presidential System sucks?
First of all, the US Presidential System is all about gridlock: Gridlock between the Executive branch versus the Legislative branch, and within the Legislative branch – between the Upper Chamber (Senate) and the Lower Chamber (House of Representatives). This recent Federal Government Shutdown is a prime example of how gridlock happened between the Democrat-led Senate and the Republican-led House. And this gridlock is not about a law not getting passed. It’s about the US federal budget not getting approved. Without a budget and the funding government needs to keep running, the result is The Shutdown.
Everyone with a brain knows that Gridlock is bad. It’s a stalemate that means nothing happens. Some people even call it “deadlock.” Well, many Americans unfortunately tend to think that “gridlock is good.” Hard as it may be to understand, these Americans (and the American-wannabe Pinoys who emulate them) subscribe to the misguided view that gridlock is a positive feature because it was “meant to prevent bad leaders from doing much harm.” Yeah right.
It’s a rather lame idea because the fixation that these proponents of the gridlock-prone Presidential System have is on “preventing bad leaders from doing any harm”, when ultimately, their system also prevents good leaders from doing any good. Not only that, as the recent events have shown, it has resulted in the Shutdown. In a nutshell, the idea behind the defense of gridlock is based on the assumption that all leaders are up to no good. Quite unfortunately, many Americans (and many Filipinos who worship America and its system of government) seem not to have heard about how the Parliamentary System works. Instead of a system whose inherent susceptibility to gridlock is supposed to stifle a “bad leader” from doing harm, the Parliamentary System is premised on preventing bad leaders from emerging in the first place. In fact, the system works such that in the off chance that a bad leader does emerge, the so-called bad leader can be very easily removed and replaced legally without any difficulty whatsoever.
Is it any wonder that the USA is often bested by other First World Countries who use Parliamentary Systems in many performance indices?
Why is the USA never on top at number one?
This is not to say that the USA is not a rich country. It is a rich country. But it could have been richer and better-run. It could have performed way better than it currently performs on many international performance indices like the Economic Freedom Index, Transparency and Resistance to Corruption (Corruption Perceptions Index), GDP per Capita, Property Rights Index, Human Development Index, the Global Competitiveness Index, and many others.
Now let’s not forget what it is that actually helps make the USA rich and have a relatively self-driven population that is out to succeed despite its lousy and flawed gridlock-prone system of government: the USA is the World’s Largest Immigrant Nation.
Yup. That’s right. The USA has the largest immigrant-dominated population in the entire world. Majority of its people are themselves immigrants or at least descended from immigrants, and it continues to attract a lot of first generation new immigrants. And immigrants, particularly voluntary immigrants, are people who made the decision to be self-reliant and self-driven towards achieving economic independence for themselves and for their own families. They made their decision to be self-reliant even before leaving their original home countries to move to the USA.
(Another mitigating factor for why the USA, despite using the faultily-designed Presidential System, is still able to prevent the failures that have characterized Presidential Systems everywhere else is because their presidential system uses the Electoral College which helps to stabilize their electoral processes in lessening the number of contending candidates for the presidency. In countries in Latin America or in the Philippines which do not use the Electoral College, the high number of candidates often destabilizes the election results particularly in countries that do not use run-off elections in order to force the emergence of a majority president. This topic is discussed in “Problems of Presidentialism” by the late Dr. Fred Riggs.)
So even if the USA has a system that was rigged to “sabotage itself” through gridlock and get the least amount of work or “new policies” done, the fact that majority of Americans (who are mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants) are still rather conscious of the need to be self-reliant mitigates the ill-effects of this institutionalized gridlock because the general psyche of voluntary immigrants is to “fend for themselves” anyway.
The Need for Good Governance in Developing Non-Immigrant Societies
On the other hand, in countries that are not immigrant nations, good governance is much more of a necessity. And ensuring that a country gets more-or-less the best kinds of leaders they can have generally means a better direction for them. Parliamentary Systems are meant to promote good governance. Of course they can’t guarantee it, but when compared to Presidential Systems, ceteris paribus, they obviously fare better in producing better-quality leaders. At the very least, the ideal scenario is that in such a society, excellent governance can and will emerge that will educate, train, and enable the people to become much more self-reliant so that ultimately, they’ll fend for themselves, be responsible to themselves as private individuals and not be too reliant on government.
In immigrant societies, voluntary immigrants made a conscious decision to be self-reliant even before setting foot into their intended destinations. They don’t really need to be taught to be self-reliant. Even with a government whose wings are clipped, self-reliant people (which is what immigrants normally are) can still succeed despite having an emasculated government as these people are self-motivated, driven, and out to achieve by themselves and for themselves. (However, it certainly does not harm when immigrant societies like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Singapore do have governments that are run well and are not clipped by gridlock. They certainly wouldn’t have to be sabotaged by a government shutdown like the one that has just recently hit the USA)
In non-immigrant societies, the people need to be molded and trained to become more attuned to the necessity of self-reliance. Why? Because the people there – “the natives” -have been in their home countries ever since. They’re “furniture that came with the house.” They didn’t decide to be there the way immigrants to new lands did. The people in non-immigrant societies need to be led to make the right moves towards success by good leaders. Good government (particularly good government whose ideas are based on Classical Liberal principles) can play this role of teaching the people to rely on themselves through education and creating an environment where hard work is rewarded and laziness is not rewarded. A gridlock-prone system, alas, will not allow this because it was designed to sabotage itself and clip its own wings. It’s very much like having the handbrake on while stepping on the accelerator.
As the Philippines is clearly not an immigrant society, it is quite obvious that our country desperately needs good governance and a system that prevents bad leaders from emerging in the first place, as well as hopefully enables good leaders to step up to the plate and train, mold, and enable a vast majority of the people to become successful, self-reliant, achievement-oriented citizens who can stand on their own economically. This is what a Parliamentary System is more likely to do than a Presidential System since Parliamentary Systems cause competent leaders to emerge, while Presidential Systems are more likely to cause “winnable” and “popular” (but not necessarily competent) leaders to emerge. The absence of gridlock in Parliamentary Systems means that shutdowns like the one hitting the USA are generally absent and leaders are empowered to do what they need to do in order to do the right things and pursue much-needed reforms.
(Australia is the only Parliamentary country to have formally had one and only one shutdown and it was very promptly resolved within a few hours thanks to the flexibility of the parliamentary system. Ironically, the reason why Australia had a shutdown in 1976 is a result of Australia’s decision to copy the USA in creating a relatively powerful elected Senate – emulating the US Senate – which ended up in gridlock against Australia’s slightly more powerful House of Representatives. Unlike Australia which had only one shutdown ever which happened in 1975 and it was only for a few hours, the USA has had a total of 17 government shutdowns, the last one was 17 years ago as of this writing and each of them lasted for days or even weeks! Shutdowns are unfortunately a “feature” of the US System. While the stability of Presidential Systems would be akin to operating systems that crash regularly, Parliamentary Systems are – to IT professionals’ and computer scientists’ eyes – reminiscent of heavy duty fault tolerant and crash resistant operating systems.)
Sadly, with the Philippines using a Presidential System, our country is likely to be forced into two extremes: Either a highly corrupted Pork Barrel-dependent system that uses such funds to prevent Gridlock or an extremely gridlock-prone system (if Pork Barrel is abolished but the Presidential System remains) which is prone to impasses, coups d’etat (like in Latin America) and government shutdowns no different from what the USA is experiencing at the time of this writing.
The choice is clear: The Presidential System must go. The Philippines has had its Pork Barrel scam which is ultimately traceable to the presidential system’s gridlock-prone separation of powers, while the US Federal Government Shutdown shows another ugly side of how gridlock can turn out. Surely, the benefits of shifting over to the Parliamentary System is becoming more and more easy to understand, and the urgency of making such a shift has become very obvious. Americans, your Founding Fathers were not infallible. The Presidential System they came up with is not perfect and how it works is essentially responsible for the gridlock inherent in the US system which in turn caused this US Government Shutdown. If you want to stay on using your gridlock-prone & susceptible to shutdowns system, go ahead and continue using it, but please don’t push it on others.
Orion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes the Philippine situation the way he analyzes IT systems: logically and objectively.
Being an Overseas Filipino Worker himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.
Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.
Orion first achieved fame as one of the most remembered and most impressive among the winners of the popular RPN-9 Quiz Show “Battle of the Brains”, and got a piece he wrote – “The Parable of the Mountain Bike” – featured in Bob Ong’s first bestselling compilation of essays “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” He is the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement and spearheads the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.
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Extra reading on the US Federal Government Shutdown:
There has been some debate among Filipino netizens about what is more important when it comes to fixing the problems of the Philippines. Much of it has been centered on the flawed culture in the Philippines and the need to fix this flawed culture. Some netizens have argued that we need to fix the culture first before fixing the Constitution. Others argue that it is the other way around. So which is it?
The following article explains that culture is built up around systems, and so in order to change the culture it is necessary to change the system first:
So instead of trying to fight corruption alone, we must correct the system that encourages corruption. Instead of just telling people to vote wisely, we must first change the system that encourages people to go for name-recall and vote celebrity politicians instead of voting for competent statesmen based on abilities and platforms.
Essentially, it is all about dealing with root causes. To more efficiently and more permanently fix a problem, one must go to the root cause of the problem, rather than just dealing with symptoms.
Of course, it is possible to change the culture through a dictatorship, but I’d prefer doing it through a much more democratic way. What we need is a system that enforces certain wanted behaviors, and discourages certain unwanted behaviors – and switching to a parliamentary system, rather than a presidential dictatorship, is the way to do it.
Think about the 10 Commandments of the Bible. Sure, it is definitely a good moral code to go by. However, it is not enough just to advise people to not steal. Humans are fallible creatures prone to temptations. All humans have this tendency. Some religious traditions even have concepts to explain this: The Jews have the concept of the Yetzer Hara (The Evil Inclination) that is the source of how people can sometimes be harmful (albeit it is also tied in with the human survival instinct), and Christianity has Original Sin.
When it comes to one of the biggest moral flaws of Philippine society, corruption, it turns out that it is actually an intermediate effect of even deeper systemic root causes. It’s to say that corruption is somewhere in between a symptom and a root cause. Corruption causes other bad things, yes, but something deeper causes corruption to occur and/or exacerbates it.
The truth is that the tendency towards corruption is present in each and every person. It manifests itself as an effect of the human survival instinct which, when unregulated, can mean that one tries to survive at the expense of others. It manifests itself as laziness and the tendency of human beings to want to go with the path of least resistance: i.e., to get something for nothing.
Like I said, all humans have this tendency. Call it Yetzer Hara, Original Sin, Temptations, etc.
What we can do, however, is to come up with systems that will minimize the tendency for such traits to emerge. For instance, when people are needy and desperate, there is often a greater chance that they will resort to corruption in “finding the shortest path to ensure their survival” even if this harms others or goes against the rules or standards of society.
As such, a society where people are at least able to meet their most basic needs comfortably can minimize corruption greatly. If we have an economic system that does not provide enough economic opportunities for people to live comfortably, expect higher incidences of corruption to emerge. Then there’s the fact that if you have “more eyes watching”, it causes people to be more likely to avoid being corrupt.
In short, having systems that dissuade people from being corrupt, having systems that provide economic opportunities for the people at large, having systems that reward transparency and punish corruption can minimize corruption and if done properly, practically eliminate it.
It’s not enough to say, “get rid of corruption” or “thou shall not steal” because the question is: How?!?! Sometimes, even if you try to get rid of corruption without addressing the root causes of why some people risk getting caught while doing corrupt acts in the hope of personal gain, you’ll find that the corruption doesn’t really go down.
It’s like trying to swat flies over and over again, but new flies keep emerging. It’s necessary, thus, to look at the systemic root causes for why there are lots of flies in your area, and often, you’ll realize that it’s the preponderance of uncollected garbage that becomes the breeding ground for maggots and flies. No amount of swatting the flies over and over again does anything because new flies emerge to replace the ones who were downed.
The emergence of corruption is not the root cause… It is the effect or symptom of something else. And that often – at the very core – is poverty and the lack of opportunities. People who have mounting bills to pay because they earn so little or probably don’t have jobs themselves may end up seeing an opportunity to “cheat the system” as being advantageous to them or helpful to their survival. Had they not had to worry about that, they then wouldn’t have resorted to corruption.
We need to look at root causes. In the end, our system in the Philippines is conducive to keeping people poor, and poverty makes corruption come out in full force.
If we CoRRECTed the system so that we have a system that creates more economic opportunities, more prosperity, more chances for people to live decent lives, then there’ll be less tendency for corruption to emerge.
Now where do poverty and lack of opportunities stem from? They generally stem from the economic system and how things work as far as the economy goes. Countries that stifle business and economic activity tend to shoo businesses and entrepreneurs/investors away. Countries that allow free business to happen and allow foreign companies to easily set up shop and create jobs for the local population tend to have better job creation and less poverty as a result.
I also have to mention the case of having “more eyes watching.” Well, that’s why parliamentary systems also tend to be less prone to corruption than presidential systems. Because the way parliamentary systems work involves the opposition sending in representatives to the ministerial meetings of the government so that there is always a witness from the opposition present to watch over ministry meetings. While the majority has a government cabinet led by a prime minister, the minority has an opposition shadow cabinet led by the leader of the opposition. Each minister of the government has a corresponding “shadow minister from the opposition” watching over him and attending the meetings of the minister in his ministry. The Minister of Defense, when conducting meetings for the Ministry of Defense has the Shadow Minister of Defense from the Opposition attending and looking at the proceedings and noting all the decisions.
This is why generally speaking, parliamentary systems outperform presidential systems and parliamentary systems are less prone to corruption: Because there’s someone or many people from the opposition watching.
In the end, in order for corruption to actually get lessened, you cannot just ask people to not be corrupt. You cannot just command them not to steal. You must set up systems that prevent the corrupt-tendencies present in all people from emerging and to suppress people being corrupt with systems where “many are watching over.”
CoRRECT™ is really all about systemic change, not just surface changes. System change hits at the root causes of problems. That’s how we fix things in the long term. That’s how we CoRRECT™ the Philippines – by CoRRECTing the flawed system enshrined in the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines.
It is unfortunate that enlightened debate about the proposed shift in the form of government has been hampered by allegations of hidden motives by Senate leaders and by a public suspicious of an unspoken agenda of certain politicians. The senators fear that the proposal is a means to cut short their political careers. The public, in turn, suspects that the plan has been advanced to secure the political futures of those who hold higher political ambitions, as well as to prolong the careers of those affected by the term limits set by the Constitution.
These reservations are not baseless nor unfair, given the embarrassing way patronage, narrow and self-interested politics have dominated the political way of life of the country. And while President Ramos has openly declared that any consideration of a change in government should not result in an extension of his term of office, his assurances have not prevented influential sectors of society,prominently the media and the business sectors, from calling for the abandonment of the effort.They instead urge more attention to the critical task of economic recovery and development. For a populace tired of the wrangling and positioning of politicians, the call to focus on pressing economic problems is widespread. Unfortunately, the appeal is premised on the erroneous assumption that rebuilding the economy can proceed without reforming political institutions and political markets.
The premise here is that the genuine democracy is founded not only on social and economic conditions, but also on the design of political institutions. The Philippines, or any other country similarly going through a difficult phase of transition, will be unable to cope without effective political institutions.
Strong political institutions make for effective governance. They do not guarantee the best policies,but they do ensure that the government will be able to make policies of some kind and that it will not be mired in endless standoffs. Research on the relationship between economic reform and democracy has shown that the strong political institutions are vital to accomplishing economic reform. While the socio-cultural and economic policy challenges faced by new democracies are important, these challenges cannot be met without strong political institutions.For these reasons, informed debate and research on constitutional reforms is important.The principal question that will be addressed is this: “Why is a parliamentary system a more appropriate framework of government, compared to a presidential system, in improving the capacity of government to function more effectively and in facilitating the consolidation of democracy in the Philippines?”
Three important assumptions in this question ought to be clarified:
First, despite the proliferation of non-governmental development institutions and the insistence of the business sector on a market-determined growth strategy, government will continue to play a central and dominant role in the development of the country.With an underdeveloped legislature, the initiative for policy making will have to emanate from the executive. With a limited manufacturing and industrial base, government will have to provide the infrastructure, the environment, and the push for economic recovery and growth.In our fractured and divided society, government must play a delicate mediating role in forging compromise and peace in the country.
Second, the government will have to function effectively to carry out these crucial roles. In the past,successive governments have been criticized — with good reason-for inefficiency, for lacking both economic an political competency, and, more importantly, for being unable to govern outside narrow political and economic interests.
Effectiveness can refer to a range of competencies. These capabilities will be defined and limited in the context of institutional reforms necessary to strengthen and consolidate our fragile democracy.
Consolidation refers to the process by which democracy becomes so broadly and profoundly legitimate among its citizens that it is unlikely to break down. It involves behavioral and institutional changes that normalize democratic politics and narrow its uncertainty (even to the point of rendering it rather boring). Consolidation involves the development of appropriate institutions so that democratic norms and practices take hold in the country.
Other questions also come to mind about the relationship between government structure and effective governance: Will the change in the system of government instantly bring about the capabilities that will enhance government effectiveness? If not, what other factors or influences will have to be considered?
This chapter has benefited immensely from a growing literature on the impact of institutions on promoting democratic consolidation and in enhancing effective governance. Interest has been focused particularly on the growing debate about the appropriateness of a presidential or a parliamentary system — or a hybrid of either – in new democracies. The writer has studied the experience of Latin American presidential democracies to prove a hypothesis: that the basic deficiencies of the presidential system that are not culture-bound and peculiar to the Philippines are, in fact, inherent in the system of government itself.
These are three reasons for focusing on Latin America first, countries in that region have had a long experience with democratic presidential systems. This is particularly true for those, which obtained their independence from Spain and Portugal early in the nineteenth century. In fact, in Latin America one finds the greatest concentration of US-style presidential democracies.
Finally, and most important, there has been a similar process of debate has taken place in the region about the wisdom of shifting to a parliamentary system or adopting applicable features of it within a semi-presidential framework.
The writer has also looked into the performance of democratic parliamentary regimes in Western Europe, particularly Britain, France, and Germany, where the parliamentary tradition is deeply rooted. To eliminate the possibility that economic growth and development would independently influence political stability, the writer has also looked into the experience of parliamentary systems in certain developing countries in the Caribbean and in Africa.
Before proceeding further, there is a need to briefly establish the debate in the context of the history of constitutional reform in the Philippines.
I. Historical Context of the Debate
Many of the proponents of the presidential system argue as if the system of parliamentary government is totally alien to the process of constitutional formation and the reform in the Philippines. Far from it.
In fact, in past exercises in constitution making — the Constitution of Biak-na-Bato of 1897, the Constitution of Makabulos, the Malolos Constitution, the Commonwealth Constitution of 1935 and the martial law-disrupted Constitutional Convention of 1971 — the issue of a parliamentary versus presidential structure of government has been at the heart of the deliberations.
THE 1898 PHILIPPINE REVOLUTION
At the turn of the century, Filipino revolutionaries were at the point of driving the Spanish colonizers out of the islands and establishing an independent republic. At that stage, the revolutionaries were contemplating the adoption of a constitution that had the main features of a parliamentary form of government. They drew their ideas of government from English and European sources, the Malolos Constitution, the Constitutions of Biak-na-bato and Makabulos, as well as the constitutional plans prepared by Apolinario Mabini and Mariano Ponce. The Revolutionaries envisioned a constitution that made the legislature the dominant department of government, with the executive powers vested in a President elected by a majority of the assembly of representatives.
Along with the revolutionaries’ struggle for genuine independence, this desire for a parliamentary structure of government ended in December 1898 when the Philippines was formally ceded by Spain to the United States. To justify its colonization of the islands, the US government issued the”Proclamation of Benevolent Assimilation” after a bloody “pacification” campaign. This began the process of implanting American political institutions in its new colony.
THE 1935 CONSTITUTION
Even then, until the adoption of the 1935 Constitution, features of parliamentary system were incorporated into a civil government, called the Philippine Commission, which had been established by the US. The Commission exercised both legislative and executive functions, as a result, were also legislators in a unicameral law-making assembly.After the passage of the Philippine Bill of 1902, however, a bicameral legislature was created, with the Commission as the upper chamber and a newly-instituted Philippine Assembly as the lower chamber. The Jones Law of 1916 put an end to this arrangement and vested legislative power in an all-Filipino bicameral legislature with the Senate as the upper chamber and the House of Representatives as the lower chamber. But the members of the legislature continued to be appointed as heads of executive departments and sat in the Cabinet.
The semi-parliamentary features of government persisted until 1935, when, by virtue of the Tydings-McDuffie Law, also called the Philippine Independence Act, a new constitution was adopted. The 1935 Constitution was patterned after the US system and created a powerful executive, the presidency, in which executive power was solely vested. The President served for a fixed term of four years with only one reelection.
THE 1971 CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
The presidential system characterized the system of government until 1972. A year later earlier, in1971, amidst a climate of protest and political instability, an elected Constitutional Convention convened to draw up a new constitution. Once again, a re-examination of governmental structure was in the agenda of the Convention.
On September 21, 1972, however, before the Convention could complete its task, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, assumed extraordinary powers and began 14 years of profligate and repressive dictatorial rule. Despite the tense atmosphere and volatile political situation, the Convention continued with its deliberations.
To circumvent a constitutional ban on a second reelection, Marcos and his followers — employing a combination of bribes, intimidation and arrests – manipulated the Convention to scrap presidential system and replace it with a French-inspired semi-parliamentary government. But it was only in1978 when Marcos was finally able to convene an interim Batasang Pambansa(National Assembly). After the 1984 legislative elections, the Assembly attained regular status. The Assembly was generally perceived as a rubberstamp and a farce, as Marcos continued to exercise legislative powers under Amendment No. 6 of the 1973 Constitution. In fact, during martial rule, Marcos issued more decrees that the Assembly passed laws. Proponents of presidentialism who refer to this anomalous and undemocratic period of governance “as our bad experience in parliamentary government” to discredit the parliamentary system are grossly mistaken.
After a decade-and-a-half of forced rule, Filipinos finally mustered enough collective courage to shout, “Tama Na! Sobra Na!” (“Stop! Enough”) and marched in the millions in a non-violent show of defiance against the Marcos regime.
The People Power Revolution of 1986
The unprecedented People Power Revolution in February 1986 ousted Marcos and installed Corazon C. Aquino in power, it also created another opportunity for constitutional innovations and reforms. On May 1987, President Corazon Aquino convened an appointed Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution to replace her “Freedom Constitution” under which she ruled with an extraordinary powers.
But as the eminent constitutionalist and Commissioner member, Rev. Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J.,observed. “The year 1986, when emotions were high and a major preoccupation was how to ensure in the speediest way possible the restoration of the democratic processes, was not the best time to engage in protracted debates, especially about fundamental government structure.”Seven years after the 1987 Constitution was ratified, formal structures of democracy have been restored and the highly unstable political situation has settled down considerably.
Filipinos have had enough experience with, and learned enough lessons from, the new constitution. For many, it is time to take a second look at the fundamental law of the land. The initiation of debates on the appropriate governmental structure is an important phase of this process.Before comparing the two systems according to their capacity To promote effective governance and to facilitate the consolidation of democracy, a review of the basic characteristics of the two systems is in order.
II. Presidential vs. Parliamentary: Essential Differences
The central difference between a parliamentary and a presidential system lies in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches.
In a presidential or separation of powers system, the chief executive, or the president, is elected fora fixed, constitutionally prescribed term. He or she cannot be forced by the legislature to resign,except for cause through the highly unusual and exceptional process of impeachment.Being directly elected by the people, the president has full claim to democratic legitimacy. The legislature is an assembly of elected representatives similarly enjoying fixed and constitutionally prescribed terms. As such, it cannot be dissolved by the president and possesses as much democratic legitimacy as the executive. Because of this essential characteristics, Linz has described the presidential regime as a system of”Dual democratic legitimacy” to emphasize the autonomy and co -equal position of the executive and legislative branches of government. Similarly, Stepan and Skach have called the presidential regime a system of “mutual independence”.
In a parliamentary system, the head of government, the prime minister, is chosen from within the ranks of the legislature. He or she must, therefore, be supported by, and is dependent upon, the confidence of the legislature. The prime minister can fall and be dismissed from office by the legislature’s vote of no-confidence. On the other hand, he or she (normally in conjunction with the head of state) has the power to dissolve the legislature and call for new elections.Because of the need for close collaboration between the executive and the legislature for their mutual survival, Stepan and Skach have referred to parliamentary democracy as a system of “mutual dependence”.
Other Basic Differences
Apart from this basic difference in the relationship between the executive and the legislature, there are other important differences:
1. In a parliamentary system, the executive is divided into a prime minister, who is the head of government, and a monarch or president , who acts as head of state. Unlike a prime minister, a president or monarch has fewer powers and plays an important role as an “above-politics” leader. He or she also plays a stabilizing and mediating role,especially in times of crisis. In a presidential system, on the other hand, the executive is undivided: the head of the government is also the head of the state.
2. In a parliamentary government, the prime minister appoints the ministers, but because the government is a collegial body, he or she is merely primus inter pares or is regarded as a “first among equals.” In a presidential government, on the other hand, the president is one-person executive. He or she also appoints the heads of departments, but they are his or her subordinates or alter egos.
3. While ministers are drawn from the elected members of the legislature in a parliamentary system, department heads in a presidential system are constitutionally banned from becoming members of the legislature and vice versa.
4. The president, unlike a prime minister, is not responsible to the assembly; instead, he is ultimately responsible to the constitution by the process of impeachment.
5. The legislature, in a presidential government, is ultimately supreme over the other branches of government. It approves the appropriation of government, may impeach the president if the latter behaves unconstitutionally and, in the event of conflict with the judiciary, may assert its will since it has the right to amend the constitution.In a parliamentary system, the government and the assembly cannot dominate each other. The government depends upon the support of the assembly to stay in power,but if the government chooses, it may dissolve the parliament.
6. The presidential executive, being directly elected by the whole body of electors, is directly responsible to the electorate. The parliamentary government, while being directly responsible to the assembly, is only indirectly responsible to the electorate.
7. Finally in a parliamentary system, the focus of power in the political system is the parliament. In a presidential government, there is no focus of power since power is diffused in the three co-equal and coordinate branches of government: the executive,the legislative and the judiciary.
It is important to remember that these basic features are more than categories. They are also defining and constraining conditions within which the vast majority of developing democracies must somehow work out substantial socio-economic reforms and develop their democratic institutions.
Parliamentary vs. Presidential: Comparative Analysis
(1) prevent gridlock and promote consensus in governance,
(2) ensure stability and continuity in governance,
(3) strengthen accountability in governance,
(4) promote cohesive and disciplined political parties, and
(5) promote a broader based and inclusive politics through a multi-party system.
For sure, this is not an exhaustive list of capabilities. Limitations of time and space only permit a selection from a broad range of possible capabilities, which are critical at this stage of the country’s development. Considerable weight is placed on the values and capabilities that Filipinos would like to see characterize their government and which lie at the heart of their dissatisfaction with the presidential system. The most bewailed feature of the presidential system is a good starting point.
1. Capacity to Prevent Gridlock and Promote Consensus
The chronic problem of gridlock that has afflicted the Philippine presidential system with its cumbersome process of checks and balances has earned a bad name for politicians and political institutions. Evidence of this poor credibility is the consistently low ratings that political personalities and institutions, like Congress and political parties, register in surveys. Respondents invariably point to their frustration over the seemingly endless political squabbling among legislators and between government and Congress on almost any major policy issue that comes up for deliberation.
Proponents of the shift to a parliamentary system have repeatedly hammered on this problem of”wasteful and time consuming” stalemates to justify the change. Validly they point out that these crippling standoffs have prevented the country from responding in an efficient and timely manner to the many challenges and opportunities it faces as it struggles to catch up with the rest of the advancing economies in Southeast Asia. The criticism hits an issue that fundamentally distinguishes the parliamentary and the presidential systems: the relationship between the executive and the legislature.
Linz attributes this problem to an inherent structural weakness in a presidential system: the tenure of the president is fixed independent of the legislature and the legislature can survive without fear of the dissolution by the executive. This feature derives from the separate but co-existing democratic legitimacy enjoyed by the executive and the legislative branches, being both directly and popularly elected.
Lijphart goes along with this view, but at the same time holds that this is only part of the explanation. For him, “the real problem is … that everyone — including the president, the public at large, and even political scientists – feels that the president’s claim (to legitimacy) is much stronger than the legislature’s. Consequently, the feeling of superior democratic legitimacy may make the president righteously unwilling and psychologically unable to compromise.”
This problem is aggravated by the inability of presidential democracies to obtain strong congressional cooperation through majority control of the legislature. As a result, the legislature rests in the control of politicians who represent a constituency with a different political choice from rests in the control of politicians who represent a constituency with a different political choice from that of the constituency that supports the president.
Stepan and Skach confirm this propensity of presidential governments to rule with legislative minorities in a study of all non-Organization of Economic Cooperation and development (OECD)countries that qualified as democracies for at least one year during the 1973 -1987 period.
The OECD countries were excluded to neutralize the effect of economic development as an intervening variable that might independently influence political stability. The findings show that in presidential democracies, the executive’s party enjoyed a legislative majority less than half of the time (48% of the democratic years), while in parliamentary democracies – in sharp contrast – the government was in control of the legislature at 83% of the time.” (See Table 1)
The inability of the executive, in a presidential system, to gain congressional control has often led to basic differences in policy positions. These conflicts then degenerate into a prolonged and unproductive impasse. In such a situation, the inevitable question arises: Who, on the basis of democratic principle to resolve this question.
Repeatedly faced with these stalemates and the expectation of their inevitability, presidents have learned to cope with them and have accepted that it is to their interest – and perhaps survival – to adopt “anti-party” practices to secure approval of their policies. In the Philippines, this practice has institutionalized the much detested, yet enduring practice of “pork barrel” politics and the ritual of party-raiding and party-switching that predictably follows every presidential elections.
David Wurfel blames this habitual practice of “turncoatism” to the primary preoccupation of legislators with their re-election. Recognizing the president’s almost absolute discretion in the release and transfer of funds to build schools, bridges, roads and other infrastructures, legislators find various ways – including changing party loyalties – to endear themselves to the president.The case of the 1992 Philippine Congress is no exception. At the time of the proclamation of congressional winners in 1992, the party of the administration, Lakas-NUCD, was a minority in the House of Representatives with only 39 out of 200 seats, or around 20%. The rest of the seats were spread out to seven other parties, with the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the National People’s Coalition (NPC) and the Liberal Party controlling the majority of the seats with 87, 39 and 13 members respectively.
After a year of intensive recruitment by the administration, Lakas-NUCD gained 69 more seats to control the lower house with 108 seats, while the LDP was reduced to less than a third with only 25 seats. The ordinary voter has come to accept the proliferation of “political butterflies” as a justifiable act of political survival in a system that rewards, not party loyalty, but a politician’s ability to ingratiate himself to an all-powerful, spoils-dispensing president.
In a number of developing countries, when the legislature is intransigent and refuses to compromise or bow down to political pressure and a serious crisis threatens to embroil the country,the administration – stalemated, powerless and deeply frustrated – is often left with no other choice but to resort to extra-constitutional measures. Martial law, or rule by decree, becomes an option.The case of Alberto Fujimori in Peru comes to mind. Fujimori, to justify martial rule and ruling by decree on April 1992, blamed the lack of progress in Peru squarely on uncooperative congress. In1972, Marcos used the same excuse for closing down Congress and imposing “constitutional authoritarianism” in the Philippines.
The reverse may also be the case. When an unpopular and discredited president refuses to resign and civilian authorities are unable to resolve the standoff, the military exploits the situation and takes over from the civilian authorities. The two coup attempts in 1992 that ultimately led to the ouster of President Carlos Andrés Váldez of Venezuela prove this point.
In the same manner, in 1986, the attempted coup by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement(RAM) ignited the popular uprising that eventually ousted Marcos. But perhaps nowhere was this more flagrant than in the case of Ecuador. In the period 1931-1988, 13 presidential governments were forced to resign, seven were overthrown, one was impeached, while only 12 completed their terms.
Under the parliamentary system, the powerlessness and deep frustration that generally characterize presidential government is more exception than the rule. The difference lies in the ability of the parliamentary government to muster a majority in the legislature and command support and cooperation from it. More important, the mutual dependency relation in parliamentarism creates effective constitutional devices to break deadlocks or remove inefficient governments. Frustrating, unproductive and long impasses are thus avoided. Thus, as a system that can better avoid deadlocks, discourage coup attempts and promote better cooperation in policymaking, a parliamentary democracy is superior and should be preferred over a presidential system.
2. Capacity to Ensure Stability and Continuity in Governance
In arguing for the stability of the presidential system, critics of parliamentary democracy point tothe frequent crises and changes in the prime ministers in parliamentary democracies, such as the French Third and Fourth Republic, the frequent government turnovers in Italy and India today, and more recently, in Portugal.
While accepting the rigidity that presidentialism introduces into the political process, its proponents view this more as an advantage than a liability. This feature, they contend, reduces the uncertainties inherent in parliamentary democracies, where multiple political players can, at anytime between elections, effect basic changes, bring about realignment of forces and, above all,change the executive, the prime minister. Thus, in the critics’ view, the pinning for stability and predictability that normally accompany periods of transition and uncertainty seem to favor a presidential system.
But again it must be emphasized that presidents are elected for a period of time that, under normal circumstances cannot be modified: not shortened and sometimes, due to ban on reelections, not prolonged. The political process then becomes broken into discontinuous, rigidly determined periods without the possibility of continuous readjustments as political, social and economic events may require.
Thus, unexpected events may intervene, like fundamental flaws in judgment or political process. Does the system adjust better to crises? Most likely not, especially when the president is unyielding.There is the option of voluntary resignation through pressure from party leaders, the media and public opinion. But given the psychology of politicians, resignation is highly unlikely to happen.Moreover, the move will encounter opposition from the constituency that brought the discredited president to power.
Then there is the extreme measure of impeachment, which is difficult and complicated to execute successfully. Apart from the heavy burden of establishing sufficient evidence of misconduct, it also seems implausible that a legislative majority will support these proceedings, since members of the president’s party would have to go along with the impeachment process. Thus, it is almost impracticable to remove even the most corrupt and inefficient president from office.
The cases of Brazilian President Collor’s impeachment in 1992 on charges of widespread corruption in his government of the late U.S. President Richard Nixon’s resignation under threat of impeachment in 1973 in connection with the infamous Watergate wiretapping may defy this assertion, but these are clearly more the exception than the rule.
In sharp contrast, a parliamentary government – because of the mutual dependency between the executive and the legislature inherent in the system – permits flexibility in responding to changing situations and unexpected events. Proponents of presidentialism, in their critique of parliamentarism, overlook the “continuity of parties in power, the reshuffling of cabinet members,the continuation of a coalition under the same premier, and the frequent continuity of ministers in key ministries in spite of cabinet crises.
Moreover, it is also forgotten that the parliamentary system permits the removal of a prime minister who has lost party support or has been discredited and whose continuance in office may lead to serious political conflicts. Without engendering a serious constitutional crisis, the prime minister can be replaced in a variety of ways – by his or her party, by the formation of a new coalition, or by coalition partners withdrawing support of parties tolerating the minority government. Through these means, a new prime minister is bound to surface, perhaps with some difficulty and delay, but definitely with much greater certainty than had the crises taken place in a presidential democracy.
Thus, the problem that arises as a result of the so-called instability of parliamentary democracies are simply “crises of government, not regime.” The availability of deadlock-breaking devices anddecision mechanisms in a parliamentary regime help ensure that issues of government do not deteriorate into crises of the regime.
The absence of these self-correcting devices in the presidential regime leads to a paralyzing stalemate that ensures that nothing substantial gets done until new government is elected to replace the previous one, that is, if the people are patient enough to wait until the next election cycle. In many instances, most notably in Latin America, either the president bypasses the legislature and the rules by decree or a military coup overthrows the government. In both situations, the institutional framework collapses and those who take power rule extraconstitutionally.
The Stepan and Skach study covering 53 non-OECD countries, which they had classified as having been democracies for at least a year between 1973 and 1989, confirm these tendencies. Of the 53countries, 28 were pure parliamentary, 25 were pure presidential and none, surprisingly, were either semi-presidential or mixed. Only five of the 25 presidential democracies, or 20% were democratic for any 10 consecutive years in the 1973-1989 period, but 17 of the 28 parliamentary democracies, or 61% were democratic for a consecutive 10-year span in the same period. (See Table 2)
Clearly, parliamentary democracies, with a rate of survival more than three times higher thanpresidential democracies, demonstrate greater capacity for ensuring continuous democraticgovernance. in the same study, presidential democracies were twice as prone to breaking downthrough military takeover than parliamentary democracies. (See T able 3) This difference points to a greater ability of parliamentary regimes to accommodate conflicts and crises in government without leading to a rejection of the regime.
The same study presents further evidence of the durability of the parliamentary system in a survey of 93 countries that became independent between 1945 and 1979 and that were continuous democracies from 1980 to 1989. Forty-one countries functioned as parliamentary systems in their first year of independence, 36 were presidential systems, three semi-presidential systems and 13 ruling monarchies. During the 10-year period between 1980 and 1989, only 15 countries were able to develop as continuous democracies and all of them were countries that functioned as parliamentary systems in their first year of independence. Not one of the 52 countries that was not a parliamentary government evolved into a continuous democracy. (See Table 4)
Stepan and Skach examined all ministerial appointments during the years of democratic rule in Latin America, Western Europe and the United States between 1950 and 1980. The result was two major findings.
First, the percentage of ministers who serve more than once in their careers, or what they term the “return ratio” of ministers, is almost three times higher in parliamentary than in presidential democracies. The case of the U.S. is most striking, although probably not exceptional in presidential systems. Since 1945 – except in the case of Johnson’s retention of the cabinet after the assassination of Kennedy – only two cabinet members served under different presidents. This results from the almost total revamping of the bureaucracy that normally follows when a new presidential administration takes over.
Second, the average length of service of a minister in any one appointment is almost twice as long in parliamentary systems. The findings hold even if the study was limited to countries with more than 25 years experience in uninterrupted democracy. (See Table 5)
The evident conclusion is that ministers in presidential democracies have far less experience than their counterparts in parliamentary democracies. As a result, every presidential administration brings with it a contingent of “amateurs” with little experience in managing the bureaucracy and in dealing with politicians.This inadequacy is felt most in areas such as foreign policy and macroeconomic policy management, as well as in every weak ties to the legislature, whose support they cannot do without. In addition, the valuable wisdom that the new acquire on the job is not available to their successors.
Such is not the case in a parliamentary system, where a large pool of potential leaders is available. The reasonable chance of becoming prime minister or a key cabinet official among leaders of all major parties, particularly in a multi-party setting, encourages a greater number of aspirants for leadership positions to enter parliament. Moreover, even between elections, unless the government has a tight hold on the media, the parliamentary process – such as debates, motions of censorship, votes of no confidence, and other public actions – provides potential leaders with numerous opportunities to gain visibility and practice.
a. Switzerland and Finland are mixed systems. (Editor’s Note: Finland is now a full-parliamentary system, while Switzerland’s system is a “Council Parliamentary” or “Directorate” system which is still collegial like a parliamentary system)
b. According to Stepan and Skach, Austria, Ireland and Iceland are parliamentary rather than presidential regimes because parliamentary is the political practice. (Editor’s Note: Austria, Ireland, and Iceland are pure Parliamentary Systems as their presidents are purely ceremonial)
c. Traditionally in Kiribati, all candidates for the unicameral legislature – the Maneaba – have fought as independents. In 1985, various Maneaba members who were dissatisfied with the government policies formed a Christian Democratic opposition grouping. The government grouping then is generally known as the National Party although it does not constitute a formal political party.
Even leaders who have lost power do not end up with nothing, unlike in a presidential system. They are practically always assigned seats in the legislature and sometimes have the status of “leader of the loyal opposition.” In presidential elections, defeated candidates, regardless of the number of votes they garnered, are likely to be considered unattractive candidates for the next election and thereby lose their leadership position in the party. If they desire to continue with their political career, they will have to wait for the next cycle of election without any access to executive power and to patronage.
3. Capacity to Strengthen Accountability in Governance
In calling for the retention of the presidential system, respected constitutionalist and Senator Arturo M. T olentino argues that, in a presidential system, accountability is easier to locate. The chief executive, the president, is directly elected by the people and singularly represents the government. The voter is thus in a position to know whom he is voting for and who will govern in case his candidate wins. Moreover, the functions of the government are neatly divided among its three branches: the legislature sets down policy, the executive implements it and the judiciary interprets it. So responsibility is easier to pinpoint.
By implication, in a parliamentary system, presumably the voter electing representatives of a party will, in no way, know who the party will select as prime minister. And in a multi-party system, where the party is not expected to obtain a clear majority, the voter is not in a position to determine which parties will ultimately coalesce to choose the prime minister and to govern the country. Furthermore, since the executive and the legislature are fused in the parliament, the lines of responsibility are blurred and accountability for performance is difficult to locate. While these arguments may, in theory, be correct, reality negates most, if not all, of them. In presidential elections, the candidates do not need and often do not have any prior record as political leaders. This has given rise to the phenomenon of “presidential outsiders,” defined by Linz as candidates not identified with or supported by any political party, sometimes without any governmental or even political experience, and who ran for office simply on the basis of a populist appeal.
To a great extent, former Presidents Aquino and Ramos fall in this category, not having been members of any political party before running for office. Similarly, the two presidential aspirants who figured in a tight race with Ramos, Miriam Santiago, and Eduardo Cojuangco, were, in this sense, also “outsiders”.
Often, presidential candidates are elected on the basis of opinion about them or their promises or about the image that they project. The latter is increasingly true in the age of what Sartori calls the “new politics” of “videoploitics” as a result of which a presidential election is reduced to a video match eminently decided by good looks and “soundbytes” lasting a few seconds. “Outsiders” Fujimori of Peru and Collor of Brazil benefited immensely from the use of video technology in their political campaigns.
The problem with such candidates, according to Linz, is that they have “no support in the congress and no permanent institutionalized continuity (due to the principle of no re-election) and therefore find it difficult to create a party organization. They tend to organize their party around themselves such that when they leave the political scene, so does the party.
On the other hand, leaders in parliamentary democracies have to struggle to take hold of, and retain over many years, leadership over their parties. They, therefore, truly represent Not just themselves but, more importantly, their parties, which precede and survive them, also, the voters in a parliamentary election are well aware that eventual winners will be drawn from the party. Usually, the cabinet members are already established leaders of the party with vast experience in politics and government.
The contention that the voter in a parliamentary election will be hard put to determine who will eventually govern is contradicted by the fact that parties are usually identified with highly visible political leaders. Elections are increasingly focused on the leader aspiring to be prime minister. So a vote for British Conservatives is a vote for Mrs. Thatcher, SAP for Willy Brandt of Germany, PSOE for Felipe Gonzales of Spain, or Labor Party for Gro Brundtland of Norway.
While in this sense, personalization of leadership is not exclusive to presidential politics, the big difference is that leaders of parliamentary governments have to be loyal party members in good standing. It may be argued that such choice may be ignored by the party choosing another leader. This may happen but normally the party will not invest so much to build up the stature of a party leader only to replace him or her subsequently unless the leader has proven ineffective. And even then, the party and its leaders can be ultimately held accountable to the voters for such action.
As to the difficulty in parliamentary systems of determining who will govern in the coalition, again this contention is not generally true. Before the election, parties commit themselves to a coalition and the voter of the parties knows who the chancellor will be. The voter is also aware that unless a party establishes an absolute majority, all the parties in the alliance will have representatives in the government.
In a parliamentary system, government formation takes a short time because of the presence of a well-known shadow cabinet. In a presidential system, the organization of a new government takes longer as the president-elect begins his or her search for, and formation of, a cabinet and key officials only after the elections. And add to this delay the confirmation hearings – which can be protected and humiliating – that all major appointments go through.
Linz summaries the above points aptly: “The identifiability in presidentialism is of one person; in parliamentary government, most of the time it is of a pool of people and often a number of well-known sub-leaders.”
Finally, presidentialists argue that accountability in a presidential system is greatly enhanced by the fact that a president – not the cabinet, not a coalition, and not the leaders of the party – is directly and solely responsible for governance during his tenure in office.
In response, a president who cannot run for reelection will be difficult to hold accountable.
(Generally, in presidential democracies, including the Philippines, presidents cannot run for reelection. He or she no longer fears punishment by election defeat nor looks forward to the reward of reelection for good performance. And because the executive branch is intimately identified with the person of the president, even the party’s new presidential candidate or the party that supported the incumbent cannot be called to account. Even when reelection is allowed, the incumbent can always conveniently pass the blame to congress – regardless as to whether congress is dominated by his or her party or by an opposition majority.)
In a parliamentary democracy, because of strong party discipline and clear lines of responsibility, passing the blame somewhere else or avoiding accountability cannot be done. While accountability is hard to pinpoint in case of unstable governments or frequently shifting alliances, and no party is clearly on top of the coalition formation process, this situation is more the exception than the rule. Even if presidents are not barred from reelection, voters can only wait until his or her term ends before they could demand for an accounting, unlike a prime minister, who at any time, can be made accountable to his or her own party and the parliament by the vote of no confidence.
Finally, the separation of powers among the three branches of government in a presidential system is also the very cause of diffusion of responsibilities that makes it often difficult for voters to identify whom to hold accountable for particular decision or actions. This process has led one political scientist to refer to it as the “institutionalization of buck -passing.”
4. Capacity to Promote Cohesive and Discipline Parties.
Philippine scholar Carl Lande, commenting on the immature state of the Philippine party system, wrote: “The absence of a strong, responsive and responsible party system is o ne of the major flaws of the Philippine democracy.” Indeed, what dominates in the country is a system of loose, fractious, clientelistic or personalistic parties. These formations are in reality political clans, factions, cliques and alliances that are distinguished not by any coherent ideology and program of government, but by political personalities who lead them.
Political representatives often behave not on the basis of any issue-oriented platform but in pursuit of parochial and self-interested objectives. The history of democratization has shown that the development of political parties and their legitimation are necessary for democracy to take root. For in stable democracies, political parties are the viable and meaningful channels that closely link the state and society. This is certainly not the direction to which Philippine political parties are headed.
Those who oppose the shift to a parliamentary system have invariably pointed to this condition as justifiable reason to insist on the status quo. Correctly, they have pointed out that the strength and viability of a parliamentary regime rests on mature and disciplined political parties. Without genuine parties, the parliamentary system will be a sham and will only lead to greater concentration of political power in the hands of the already too powerful political elite, they would add. The logical prescription then is for institutional reformers to postpone any change and to concentrate instead on political and institutional reforms to strengthen the party system. The assumption of this proposition, of course, is that a mature party system can be nurtured within a presidential system of government. But is this possible? Does the framework of government have an important bearing on the quality of the party system?
Linz asserts that more disciplined and cohesive political parties are structurally compatible with the parliamentary systems, but would be in conflict with presidentialism. They are essential in the formation and maintenance of a syetm of independence and cooperation that is the hallmark of parliamentarism. Without this condition, the executive constantly faces a threat from being removed from office.
In Satori’s words: what a parliamentary democracy needs is to be serve by “parliamentary fit parties, that is to say, parties that have been socialized (by failure, duration and appropriate incentives) into being relatively cohesive or disciplined, into behaving, in opposition, as responsible opposition, and into playing, to some extent, a rule-guided fair game.”
According to Weaver and Rockman, “party cohesion in parliamentary systems is no happy accident.” These they attribute to greater mechanisms of control over legislators. In proportional systems, for example, legislators are usually chosen from a party list generated by the central party organizations. T hose who did not tow the party line in crucial votes in the legislature may find themselves removed from the party line-up in the next elections.
In the case of single-member constituency system, legislators usually rely extensive on the central party organization for the ratification and financing of their campaigns. In practically all parliamentary systems, a legislator cannot advance in his political career without the support of his party leaders. So for both his survival and advancement in his career, a legislator depends heavily on his party, in the same manner that his party cannot govern or perform its role in government without his cooperation and support.
In a presidential system, or the system of separation of powers, it is not necessary for the president to prevail in Congress on all critical votes to be able to stay in power. Consequently, control over individual legislators is not as critical, and legislators have more leeway to vote for their own benefits or the interest of their own constituencies.
In addition, Weaver and Rockman found that central party organizations in presidential systems play a weaker role in the recruitment of candidates and in financing their campaigns. Legislators, therefore, have much more leeway to build a “personal vote” for themselves through constituency service and by voting the interest of their district or their economic class over that of the party. The job security and career advancement of legislators (both within the legislature and outside in seeking other offices) also depend much less on cooperation with party leaders. As a result, incentives to cooperate are much less.
As a consequence, even in a situation where the president’s party or coalition has majority control over the legislature, this advantage is no guarantee that the legislature will automatically cooperate to pass administration measures.
In the Philippines, nowhere was this more pronounced than during the term of President Aquino. In 1987, an overwhelming majority of legislators from both chambers of congress ran and won under President Aquino’s coalition, Lakas ng Bayanor Laban! ; in fact, a significant number of them could not have won without Aquino’s personal endorsement. But despite this enormous edge, Aquino drew more opposition than support for her measures in Congress.
Many of her major policy proposals, like the comprehensive agrarian reform; economic liberalization; recognition of and support for NGOs; and the ratification of the Philippines-Us bases treaty, never got past the legislature, and even if some did, they were severely watered down. Frustrated but determined to asserTher leadership, in early 1990, she brought together key leaders from the bureaucracy, local governments, NGOs, churches and business community and organized a political movement called Kabisig as counterforce against Congress.
But before Kabisig could even take off, the more politically sophisticated legislators scuttled it by subtle warnings to Aquino’s advisers that the move would be counter-productive and would only aggravate the already sour relationship between the president and Congress.
The situation is worse when the president has to govern with a legislative minority, As earlier pointed out, this is, in fact, the situation in minority of the times: that presidents usually have to face an opposition legislature. Confronted with an adversarial congress, presidents would see it to their interest to have to deal with weak parties.
And if the parties are stubborn and refuse to cooperate, it is not uncommon for presidents to employ “anti-party” tactics to bend their will. The tactics include distributing or withholding “pork barrel” funds, dispensing political appointments, provoking schisms and factions within parties, or doing openly hostile acts such as outright raiding of party membership. For this reason, Linz has concluded that: “The weakness of parties in many Latin American democracies, therefore, is not unrelated to the presidential regime but, rather, a consequence of the system. In so concluding, he may well have spoken of the party system, too.
Presidentialist asserts that the Philippine political terrain is not totally bereft of relatively more disciplined and cohesive parties, as evidenced by the emergence of parties like the revitalized Liberal Party (LP), the Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas-Laban (PDP-Laban) and the Partido ng Bayan (PnB). These parties posses defined ideological and political programs and positions on social, economic and political issues.
Rejecting the traditional brand of “guns-goons-and gold” politics, they have been key in promoting a “new kind of politics,” one that elevates the level of political debate beyond Vague, populist rhetoric and political praxis away from patronage and opportunism. Unfortunately, the prevailing political culture and institutional environment have worked against their transformative style of politics. As a result, except for the LP, these “alternative” parties have been relegated to the periphery of the political arena.
Beyond a change in political personalities and political thinking, it will take institutional reforms to enable emerging parties to play more substantial roles in Philippine politics. As pointed out, the constraining structures of a presidential system may not provide the environment for this necessary change. The parliamentary system of government has more promise in bringing this about.
5. Capacity to Promote a Multi-party System.
Political stability is key to democratic consolidation. The ability of a political society to achieve this condition rest on the existence of political vehicles that enable significant political forces to be represented in the mainstream of political and economic decision-making. In the formal democratic arena, this means the presence of vibrant political parties. It is difficult to govern democratically unless these forces are recognized and meaningfully represented in the party system.
Peace and stability has eluded the Philippines for close to half a century already because of an exclusionary brand of politics that few elite families fight to maintain. This has effectively shut off the greater part of the population from the political process. With no stake in the system, disenfranchised groups have turned to armed struggle as a means of getting heard and of achieving justice. T hus from the 50′s to the present, a Maoist-inspired communist insurgency movement – the only surviving one is Southeast Asia – has thrived in the countryside.
In the late 60′s, the much neglected and exploited Muslims in southern Philippines, in Mindanao island, also turned to armed confrontation to press for secession. Since formal independence in 1946, the elite controlled and dominated two-party system has effectively closed the door to other social classes in the country. Elections have been reduced to intra-elite competitions. The framers of the 1978 Constitution tried to address this problem by providing, among others, for multipartism within a presidential system. This arrangement similarly exist in most presidential democracies in Latin America. From a cursory observation, it would seem that, based on the outcome of the 1978 congressional and 1992 presidential elections, that multipartism has been successfully instituted in the country.
But a closer look reveals that the change has been more a quantitative increase in the number of parties than a development of real, multi-dimensional and ideologically distinct parties. T rue, more program-oriented and ideologically cohesive parties have emerge in the political arena. But they represent more the exception than the rule. In fact, the Liberal Party, since independence, had been one of two premier parties in the country. But when its party leaders begun to practice seriously its call fro alternative ways of doing politic – principled position on issues and rejection of the politics of “guns-goons-and-gold” – it begun ironically to lose considerable support.
In addition, as has been observed in Latin American presidential democracies, a minority government tends to be the inevitable result of a situation characterized by the presence of weak and undisciplined parties in a multi-party setting within a presidential system.
The case of 1992 presidential elections in the Philippines is a case in point: President Ramos, running against five other major presidential aspirants, won with only 24% of actual votes cast. This means his constituency in the electorate was much less at the time of his victory. Conscious of his narrow political base, he had to devote practically his first year in office to expand his political base of support.
So a question arises: Is a presidential system of government compatible with a multi-party system?
Can it create a political atmosphere conductive to the growth of distinct and genuine political parties?
Studies indicate that the two-party system is congruent with a presidential government, while a multi-party system is more associated with a parliamentary government. This is borne out again in the Stepan and Skach on the relationship of party systems and consolidated democracies. The study covered consolidated democracies in the world between 1979 and 1989, of which there were 34 parliamentary democracies, five presidential and two semi-presidential. The study found that of the 34 parliamentary democracies, 11 has between three and seven effective political parties. None of the presidential democracies had more than 2.6 effective political parties, while both the semi-presidential system had between three and four effective political parties. The absence of any long-standing presidential democracy with three or more effective political parties may explain why continuous presidential democracies are so few. This empirical study confirms the earlier finding that parliamentary democracies are more associated with a large number of parties than presidential democracies.
According to Lijphart, this tendency is due to the “zero-sum, winner-take-all” nature of presidential elections where the presidency is the biggest political prize to be won. Only the largest parties have a chance to win it. This creates an impulse towards a two-party system and away from a multi-party system.
This evidence is not conclusive though. The case of Finland and Chile prove otherwise. But then in both countries, the party system is well-structured and institutionalized. This cannot be said of most Latin American countries and the Philippines where the party system is loose and weak.
Political institutions are critical in strengthening governmental effectiveness, particularly in developing countries like the Philippines. For this reason political institutional reforms cannot be, and should not be taken for granted, but must be made part and parcel of a comprehensive set of social, economic and political reform program.
A strong case can be made that a parliamentary form of government is a more supportive evolutionary framework for developing effectiveness in governance and for consolidating democracy. From both the standpoints of theoretical predictability and empirical evidence, the parliamentary form of government has shown:
(1) Better ability to prevent gridlock and promote a cooperative relationship between the executive and legislature in policy-making
(2) greater capacity to ensure stability and continuity in governance and prevent military coups and extra constitutional action by the executive.
(3) better capacity to ensure accountability in governance;
(4) greater propensity to create a political environment conductive to the growth of coherent, disciplined and strong political parties, and
(5) greater ability to encourage a multi-party setting and promote a more open and plural politics.
While the distinct advantages of the parliamentary over the presidential system have been presented, the writer is inclined to look beyond a pure model of the parliamentary towards what Maurice Duvergere calls “a new political system model: semi-presidential system government.” According to Duvergere, a political regime may be dominated as such if the constitution which establishes it combines three elements: “(1) the president of the republic is popularly and directly elected by the people, (2) he wields substantial power, and (3) there is instituted a dual executive system, where opposite the president there is a prime minister and ministers who exercise executive and government powers and remain in office only with the continuing approval of the parliament.”
The most prominent representative of this model, of course, is France, although the historical precursor of the French system was Germany under the Weimar Republic. Other outstanding examples of this model are Finland, Austria, Iceland and Ireland. (Correction: Austria, Iceland, and Ireland are strictly parliamentary republics with ceremonial, powerless presidents.) More recently, Portugal, inspired by the French model, adopted this system.
In Latin America, while variances of this system have figured seriously in discussions about constitutional reform, no country has so far adopted the model. Should shifts in government structure take place in Latin American presidential democracies. The movement would not be towards a pure parliamentary form but, most likely, towards a semi-presidential model, with a dual executive system.
And the reason will be mainly pragmatic: the long tradition and intense desire of the ordinary voter to elect personally and directly his or her president. Peruvians expressed it best when they called “the principle of popular election of the president… sacred” and the sine qua non of the presidentialist system and the basis for governmental authority… election by the congress (of the president) would divert from the people what they consider their principal form of political participation.
Until the recent 1993 plebiscite in Brazil where people were asked to choose from a presidential, parliamentary or monarchial system, the Brazilian elite did not fully appreciate the importance of this sentiment. In surveys conducted over a three-year period from 1989 to 1991, Brazilian businessmen, labor leaders, journalist, intellectuals, public sector managers, politicians, navy and air force officers voted overwhelmingly (more than 3 to 1) for parliamentarism over presidentialism. Yet in the 1993 national plebiscite, the result was completely the opposite: 55% chose presidentialism while only 23% went for parliamentarism. Analysts widely attribute this result to a perception by the voters. – depicted and encourage aggressively by the presidentialist – that the parliamentary proposal was an attempt to deprive them their basic right to vote directly for the head of state.
Similarly in the Philippines, without the benefit of a survey, a similar preference by the social, economic, and political elites for the parliamentary system is apparent, for the same bases argued in this paper. But for reasons akin to the Brazilian plebiscite experience, the average Filipino voter will most likely opt for the retention of the presidential system.
Another important point to consider is that this chapter focused mainly on the issue of governmental structure, that is presidential versus parliamentary debate. Being the focus of the debate on institutional reform in the Philippines, this issue is a good starting point for further inquiry into more complex, but clearly related influences on governmental performance. For this reason, weaver and Rockman have called the presidential vs. parliamentary debate the “first tier” of the inquiry about the nature and effect of institutions and their impact on effective governance. But Weaver and Rockman also refer to second and third levels or tiers of influence that also impact on governmental capabilities. The second tier refers to variations within parliamentary and presidential systems. They are different ways in the modal pattern of government formation, or regime type, which tends to be durable over time, but is not unchangeable.
A parliamentary regime, for example, may come about through a multi-party coalition, party government or a single-party dominant government. Within each regime, there may be alternation over time among several government types, by which government is formed. This may be through two or more parties governing in minimum winning coalitions (e.g., Germany), or two major parties alternating majority control of government. (e.g.,Britain or the Philippines during the glory days of the Liberal Party and Nacionalista Party), or a dominant party rulling alone or as a dominant coalition partner For prolonged periods (e.g., PRI in Mexico, or the LPD in Japan before its recent breakup) correspondingly. The important point to remember is that both modal regime type and parliamentary type prevailing at any particular period may have substantial influences on a country’s decision-making structures, processes and capabilities.
The third tier or level of influences refers to broader institutional and non-institutional factors. The former pertains to broad framework institutions, such as judicial review, federalism, unicameralism and similar institutions, while the latter relates to factors such as political context and policymaker’s goals, socio-economic and demographic conditions, and past policy choices.
What these three-tiered influences on government capacity imply is that effective institutional reform requires a more comprehensive and complex approach. It necessarily involves a careful matching of a particular country’s priorities, policy problems and the societal conditions that influence how institutions will function, and the institutions themselves.
In this light, the two-step process adopted by the proponents of a French-style parliamentary system(technically, it is called “French-Style Semi-Presidential System”) in the House of Representatives-first, from bicameral, then, from presidential to parliamentary – may be too simplistic a response to a complex situation. That is why the campaign for parliamentarism has been more notable for exposing the deficiencies of the presidential system than for presenting a well-designed and clearly focused parliamentary alternative.
A final point: the route to reform. Constitutional change, in any setting and however beneficial, always invites controversy and enormous problems. Reformers need a strong case to justify any alteration to the fundamental law of the land.
For example, the 1986 People Power Revolution, because of massive failure in the government, enable President Aquino to discard Marcos’ 1973 Constitution and rule under a decreed “Freedom Constitution.” The latter was subsequently replaced by the 1987 Constitution drafted by a Commission of appointed delegates.
The euphoria and sense of urgency that surrounded these exercises in constitutional reform and formation no longer exist. A strong case for a new round of constitutional amendments needs to be presented. Whether the current situation in the Philippines presents such a case is debatable. But proponents of either a parliamentary or semi-presidential system do not have to wait for such a situation to ripen, if, indeed, it does not exist yet. They can begin the process of institutional reforms through legislative initiatives, such as reform of the campaign finance rules, simplification of the election process, institutionalization of the party list system, amendments of party formation and affiliation rules, among other enactments.
Apart from living the institutional foundation for amendments in the constitution, legislative reforms will also address the reservations of those suspicious of the changes. Most important, the reform will demonstrate the will, commitment and sincerity of the reformers.
People often wonder about what determines the success of a society. Is it the culture or is it the system? Quite recently, as the debate on Constitutional Reform progresses and as more and more people realize that the current Philippine System – both economic and political – is dysfunctional and flawed, one opposing view that keeps coming up insists that it is not the system that needs changing, but the culture. While I am an advocate of Constitutional Reform and System Shifting, I have also long since proclaimed the fact that Filipino Culture is deeply dysfunctional, flawed, and needs a major overhaul. The question is: How do we overhaul Filipino Culture?
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Differences in culture
Ever since I was in High School, I have been reading extensively about other countries, observing and finding out about other cultures, and in those observations as well as the research I’ve continued to do just to satisfy my own curiosity, I realized one main thing: That some cultures are more predisposed towards success than others.
I was born and grew up in Metro Manila and despite not being of pure Chinese ethnicity, studied in the Jesuit-run Xavier School (光啓學校) in San Juan which is known to have a predominantly ethnic Chinese or mixed-Chinese descent student population where Mandarin was taught as part of its curriculum. Incidentally, the most recent “immigrant” ancestor I had was my Lebanese great-grandfather, Elias Jureidini – my father’s mother’s father who had married into a Mestizo-Criollo Ilonggo family. On the other hand, all of my other ancestors were either native “Indios” or culturally Hispanicized and assimilated “Mestizos de Sangley” (Chinese-Mestizos – mother’s side) who, despite their unmistakably Chinese facial features, had no identification whatsoever with Chinese culture. During the summer before I got into the 6th grade, my family moved to Cebu (as my father is Cebuano) and I transferred to Xavier’s “Cebu branch” (which also had a predominantly ethnic Chinese or partly-Chinese student population), a school that used to be known as “Sacred Heart School for Boys” (聖心男校) , which later changed its name to “Sacred Heart School – Jesuit” when it accepted girls long after I graduated, and just recently, it has now become known as the “Ateneo de Cebu.” Due to this close contact with Filipino-Chinese friends and classmates, I observed a lot of key behavioral differences that showed just how the ethnic Chinese differ culturally from most fellow Filipinos. These ranged from such things as frugality and handling money, attitude towards studies, attitude towards achievement, self-discipline, and many more. One weekend, I visited a Tsinoy friend and classmate who lived in the Cebu Downtown area with whom I was working together on a joint class project. His home was the typical shop-house where they lived upstairs and their store was downstairs. I was slightly shocked to see him handling the cash-register while his father dealt with customers. I never imagined that his parents would make him work during the weekends. But there it was. He was being given direct training at such a young age on how business worked. If anything, I now saw the secret of his quick math skills. This experience of observing Chinese culture first hand was taken many steps further when I, together with some schoolmates were sent on a Mandarin-language study tour in Taiwan one summer in order to spend a little over a month at the St. Ignatius High School (徐匯高級中學) in the Luzhou district (蘆洲區) of Taipei. We Filipino students (many of whom were Fil-Chi) were a bit shocked at the rather “repressive” environment and hard-driving system that was in place for the Taiwanese Junior-Grade High School students who all had to live on campus. While we visitors had it relatively easy, the Taiwanese students from the first 3 years of High School were essentially living in a Catholic version of the highly disciplinarian Shaolin Monastery with elements taken from Military Academies! Instead of Buddhist Shaolin Masters, the “slave-driving” Shifus (師傅) were mostly Taiwanese Jesuit Priests, Jesuit Brothers and the teachers under them. (It is said by my close Ilonggo Tsinoy friends that a similar Shaolin-Military style system is in place at the Iloilo Central Commercial High School, fondly known as “Hua-Shong” – 華商 , the alma mater of such famous people as singer-businessman José Mari Chan & basketball star & former presidential brother-in-law James Yap.)
At St. Ignatius High School, a sort of reveille would wake all of them up early in the morning, around 6am, got them doing early calisthenics, then breakfast, and then they all had a supervised common study period before they did their everyday flag ceremony where they’d have two anthems play. They would first sing the Kuomintang’s (國民黨) solemn anthem entitled the “Three Principles of the People” – (三民主義– San Min Zhu Yi) and after that, they’d all salute the Kuomintang banner of the Republic of China while a faster, unsung military march called the “National Flag Anthem” (國旗歌 – Guo Qi Ge) was played for the actual flag raising. Only after all those morning rituals would they start their classes for the day at around 8am. Every afternoon, we all couldn’t help but notice that the Taiwanese students all seemed to have P.E. or military training (depending on their year level). Then afterwards, they’d have some free time, dinner, and then right after dinner, they’d have supervised study & do-your-homework periods.
We visitors from the Philippines were shocked once again to see how the Taiwanese students were all literally forced to study their day’s lessons at their classrooms (several such classrooms were close to our dorm rooms) until around 9:45pm, and during those study periods, there were teachers or proctors who made sure no one dozed off. Occasionally, we’d gasp in horror when we’d see some students brought out to the corridors and spanked in the derrière with a ruler by the supervising teacher or proctor for the slightest infraction – usually dozing off. We had it easy. We never had to go through any of that! We also took note of the fact that the Taiwanese school system had classes 6 days a week (they had Saturday afternoons off when they’d return to their families to spend the weekends) and they had six full years of high school. Three years of Junior-Grade High School, and another three years of Senior-Grade High School. After that, they’d have to do two years of full-time military service before ever stepping into University. Whew! My Fil-Chi friends and classmates who were with me at the study tour were so thankful they were all born Filipinos and they’d exclaim in Cebuano almost every single day that they were so lucky their grandparents decided on choosing the Philippines as an immigrant destination to escape the poverty of Fujian Province in the early 1900’s instead of staying in China and then getting forced to flee to Taiwan with the KMT when the Communists won. Indeed, while it was true that the Filipino-Chinese themselves have done extremely well in the Philippines when compared to the relatively complacent and extremely fun-loving native Pinoys, the Taiwanese, who themselves are mostly of the same predominantly Hokkien-Fujianese stock as most Filipino-Chinese, were clearly more driven and hard-driving than the Tsinoys. In fact, in recent years, many Filipino-Chinese have not only gotten so assimilated and Filipinized (not necessarily a bad thing), so that they’ve been losing their heritage, language ability, and even the recognition of the traditional cultural values, some of them have even adopted some of the slothful traits of many “huaná” (番仔), the Hokkien term used to refer to native Filipinos. Having observed the Taiwanese example first hand, I do not at all wonder why Taiwan’s economy is one of the most competitive in the world, and why Taiwan has been responsible for coming up with some of the world’s most successful technology companies such as Acer, Asus, MSI, Trend Micro and many more. That highly disciplined military boot-camp cum Shaolin-style traditional Chinese educational system they all had to go through in Taiwan explains why they ended up with a culture that seems hard-wired for success.
Fast forward to 2004 when I went to Harbin, China to spend a year there, I saw a very similar situation where the academic competition was extreme especially at the Number 3 Middle School of Harbin (哈爾濱市第三中學) where I taught a few classes of English while doing a sabbatical from working in the IT industry to beef up on my Mandarin Chinese skills. Every single one of the students was conscious about how good jobs were scarce and how they all needed to compete against hundreds of millions of other people by the time they got out into the work-force. For them, their only ticket to a good life was to get a good job, and the only way to get a good job was to qualify for a good university (and if possible, get a scholarship abroad), and one of the best ways to qualify for a good university was to finish at number 3 Middle School, which was one of Harbin’s top schools which also figured among one of the top schools in Northern China. For the longest time, among themselves, the Chinese (whichever side of the Taiwan strait they come from) have had an extremely strong sense of Meritocracy, causing José Rizal himself to mention what might seem to be a minor detail about Chinese culture in an excerpt taken from Chapter XIV of Noli Me Tángere, entitled “Tasio, el loco o el filósofo” (or “Tasio, the madman or the philosopher”) which happens to be extremely relevant to these times. In the excerpt, Tasio the Philosopher addresses the visiting Doña Teodora Viña (emphasis is mine):
“Ya sabe usted, Señora, que no soy partidario de la monarquía hereditaria. Por las gotas de sangre china que mi madre me ha dado, pienso un poco como los chinos: honro al padre por el hijo, pero no al hijo por el padre. Que cada uno reciba el premio o el castigo por sus obras, pero no por las de los otros.”
“You already know, Madame, that I am not an advocate of hereditary monarchy. Due to the drops of Chinese blood that my mother has given me, I think a bit like the Chinese: I honor the father because of his son, but not the son because of his father. That each one receive the reward or punishment for his own deeds, but not for those of others.”
As everyone can see, even Rizal himself had made it a point to make explicit mention of the meritocratic culture of the Chinese “Sangley” community who had been distinguishing themselves through hard work as traders and businessmen, many of whom had intermarried with native Filipina women and produced the hybrid, mixed-heritage, assimilated “Mestizo de Sangley” caste of Spanish-speaking Filipinos from whence most business-minded, educated, wealthy, hard-working, knowledgeable, and enlightened Filipinos like Rizal, Mabini, Aguinaldo, and many more came from. (The word “Sangley” is derived from the Cantonese dialectal pronunciation of 生理 “Sang-lei”, pronounced “Seng-li” or “Seng-di” in Hokkien or “Sheng-li” in Mandarin which means “business”) Filipinos may ask what makes a culture strong or success-oriented, and I will say with conviction that it is not a random coincidence that the Chinese are more predisposed towards economic and all other forms of success than most ordinary Filipinos are.
The Filipino-Chinese are much more predisposed towards economic success than most Filipinos because from a young age, many of them are brought up to regard hard work and self-discipline, not luck, talent, hereditary brilliance, or innate ability, as the determinant of success. At an early age, many of them are introduced into their family businesses to help out and learn the ropes during the weekends and summer breaks so that they learn and internalize simple business concepts, improve their mathematical and accounting skills while handling the cashbox, learn the intrinsic values of self-discipline, and recognize that money does not grow on trees. In their homes, their parents or grandparents hang decorative Chinese calligraphy scrolls with proverbs or sayings that extol the virtues of hard work, diligence, perseverance, continuous learning, and many more. Even the families of Filipino-Chinese Taipans Henry Sy and John Gokongwei, to name just two examples, did not spare their children the obligation to earn their allowance by doing work at their stores, rotating them into different parts of their businesses, familiarizing each one with inventory maintenance, merchandizing, delivery management, accounting, etc, with the intention of instilling both a strong work ethic and to train them to turn business management into their second nature while still at a young age. Chinese Culture is much more predisposed towards success because the Chinese have set up formidable child-rearing and positive reinforcement systems that cultivate their young to exhibit the very traits and behavioral patterns necessary in order to be successful in business or whatever field of endeavor they so choose. Many of them set up the right role models of whom to emulate, and they continuously, consistently, and constantly repeat proverbs or sayings that remind themselves of what to strive to become and what to avoid becoming. They set up the appropriate behavioral rewards and reinforcements as well as punishments and disincentives so that as much as possible, their children learn the right values and behaviors and avoid the wrong ones. In short, the “secret” of the Chinese is that they have set up a System of how to bring their children up in order to instill the highly success-oriented aspects of Chinese Culture in them.
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What exactly is Culture?
After years and years of observing different cultures, collective behaviors, collective achievements (or lack thereof), and looking at the systems of up-bringing or cultivation that either gave rise to, further augmented, or dampened the competitiveness of the different people who possess these traits, I’ve realized that cultures do not randomly emerge. More importantly, successful cultures do not arise as a result of historical accident. Successful cultures are cultivated. In fact, if we were to look at the etymology of the word Culture, we find that its original Latin “Cultura” stems from the word “Colere” which means “to cultivate.” Cultures, therefore, emerge partly because they are either unconsciously cultivated by some external force such as the physical environments or climates in which they were spawned, or they can also be consciously cultivated by the very people who comprise or lead the groups in which people belong so that a culture’s development may be cultivated towards a particular direction, either counterbalancing the debilitating tendencies that a particular environment may cause, or by appropriately responding to the challenges that certain environments may exert. When we check the American Heritage Dictionary, we find that Culture is defined as thus:
Culture (kŭl’chər) noun
a. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. b. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
c. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture. d. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.
2. Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.
a. Development of the intellect through training or education. b. Enlightenment resulting from such training or education.
4. A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training. 5. Special training and development: voice culture for singers and actors. 6. The cultivation of soil; tillage. 7. The breeding of animals or growing of plants, especially to produce improved stock. 8. Biology.
a. The growing of microorganisms, tissue cells, or other living matter in a specially prepared nutrient medium. b. Such a growth or colony, as of bacteria.
The very first definition clearly defines “Culture” to be a set or System of behavioral patterns, beliefs, values, priorities, traits, etc.
One of the most instrumental researchers in the development of culture, its ability to be shaped and modified as seen fit, and its relation to behavior, values, and many of the other trappings of what we all call culture, was the founder of Operant Conditioning, the late Dr. Burrhus Frederic Skinner. In Chapter 7 “The Evolution of a Culture” of Beyond Freedom and Dignity, B.F. Skinner states:
“…those who observe cultures do not see ideas or values. They see how people live, how they raise their children, how they gather or cultivate food, what kinds of dwellings they live in, what they wear, what games they play, how they treat each other, how they govern themselves, and so on. These are the customs, the customary behaviors, of a people. To explain them we must turn to the contingencies which generate them.
Some contingencies are part of the physical environment, but they usually work in combination with social contingencies, and the latter are naturally emphasized by those who study cultures. The social contingencies, or the behaviors they generate, are the “ideas” of a culture; the reinforcers that appear in the contingencies are its “values.”
A person is not only exposed to the contingencies that constitute a culture, he helps to maintain them, and to the extent that the contingencies induce him to do so the culture is self-perpetuating…”
Furthermore, he states at the end of Chapter 7:
“The social environment is what is called a culture. It shapes and maintains the behavior of those who live in it. A given culture evolves as new practices arise, possibly for irrelevant reasons, and are selected by their contribution to the strength of the culture as it “competes” with the physical environment and with other cultures. A major step is the emergence of practices which induce members to work for the survival of their culture. Such practices cannot be traced to personal goods, even when used for the good of others, since the survival of a culture beyond the lifetime of the individual cannot serve as a source of conditioned reinforcers. Other people may survive the person they induce to act for their good, and the culture whose survival is at issue is often identified with them or their organizations, but evolution of a culture introduces an additional kind of good or value. A culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its survival is more likely to survive. It is a matter of the good of the culture, not of the individual. Explicit design promotes that good by accelerating the evolutionary process, and since a science and a technology of behavior make for better design, they are important “mutations” in the evolution of a culture. If there is any purpose or direction in the evolution of a culture, it has to do with bringing people under the control of more and more of the consequences of their behavior.”
Moving on to the idea of designing or modifying a particular “culture”, in Chapter 8 “The Design of a Culture” of Beyond Freedom & Dignity, B.F. Skinner goes on to state:
“Many people are engaged in the design and redesign of cultural practices. They make changes in the things they use and the way they use them. They invent better mousetraps and computers and discover better ways of raising children, paying wages, collecting taxes, and helping people with problems…”
He goes on to say:
“A programmed sequence of contingencies may be needed. The technology has been most successful where behavior can be fairly easily specified and where appropriate contingencies can be constructed – for example, in child care, schools, and the management of retardates and institutionalized psychotics. The same principles are being applied, however, in the preparation of instructional materials at all educational levels, in psychotherapy beyond simple management, in rehabilitation, in industrial management, in urban design, and in many other fields of human behavior. There are many varieties of “behavior modification” and many different formulations, but they all agree on the essential point: behavior can be changed by changing the conditions of which it is a function.”
It is extremely important that Filipinos who wish to understand the “culture change versus system change” debate realize that Culture is by itself a System. Culture is a system of mores, values, behavior, and social consequences dependent on behavior. It is a system of thought patterns. It is a system of priorities. It is a system of how things are done. To change the culture of a particular people, it is necessary to change the underlying system or systems that cause the culture in question to be the way it is. Doing so when a system deals with human beings requires that the appropriate rewards (positive reinforcements) versus punishments (aversive consequences) be put in place in order to induce the desired behavior and avoid the unwanted behavior.
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Systems that determine or influence Behavior & Culture
Human behavior and the underlying values, preferences, priorities, and manner of thought – collectively lumped into that system of social norms shared by a group of people known as “culture” – is often the result of several levels of system influences. Rather than stating that an individual person’s behavior is necessarily the result of only one particular system, it is best to recognize how several different systems work together to probabilistically determine or at least highly influence a person’s behavior and subsequently, the culture to which he belongs. Here is a listing of all 5 systems and their attributes:
1. Natural Environment & Eco-System– Affects people collectively – Cannot be changed– Is represented by the influences of Climate, Terrain, Geography, Land Altitude, Land Fertility, Weather, other natural factors peculiar to the location where people live.– (you may superficially and temporarily “alter” climate by using air-conditioning, or do other “superficial changes” but it requires effort, energy, and technology) – (you may migrate to a different territory to get away from the original environment)2. Societal System– Affects people collectively – Can be changed– System of Government, System of Laws, System of Law & Policy Enforcement, System of Education3. Sub-Community Group and Family System– Affects people collectively – Can be changed– Upbringing, Nurture, Family Values, Values of the Small Community4. Personal System– Affects people individually – Can be changed– Personal Beliefs, Personal Values, Personal Principles, Personal Decisions5. Hereditary & Genetic System– Affects people individually at the cellular/DNA level – Cannot be changed within one’s lifetime– Genetic Inheritance, genetic predisposition, behavioral tendencies / Temperament caused by genetic influence, innate abilities / talents
By understanding how these 5 different systems all influence human behavior, we also can better understand at which levels the challenges, advantages, disadvantages, and even dysfunctions are to be found as far as behavior and culture are concerned. It is in this way that it also becomes much easier to determine how to improve the competitiveness and survivability of a particular individual or group of people with respect to inducing the emergence of desired winning behaviors and thus to ultimately establish winning cultures on the collective levels of the wider society, the sub-community group, and the family. It is also necessary to understand that these different systems are all arranged from macro to micro, in order to more easily understand why it is possible for there to be “exceptions to the rule.”
For instance, certain societies within a particular environment may develop a particular predisposition to act in a certain way due to said environment. However, some societies may develop their own societal system that causes the people within that society (or country) to defy the natural tendencies as induced by the environment and thus behave differently. This is best seen within the context of how Singapore, despite being in the tropics where numerous societies within tropical regions are often expected to have national cultures that are usually uncompetitive & slothful, Singapore shines as an exception to the rule due to the manner in which its societal system was set up in order to defy the environmental influences of being in the tropics. Likewise, within a particular society having a collective culture, some sub-groups or families may defy the stereotypes because within their own small groups or family-units, collective systems are set up in such a way as to cause the members of said groups or families to behave differently from the mainstream. This is how the Filipino-Chinese, Mestizo-Sangleys (often known in modern times as “the Filipino Upper Classes”), and Mestizos-Criollos (often called “Tisoys”) do not always conform to national stereotypes due to differences in how these groups raise their children within their family-settings so that they end up exhibiting certain traits and behaviors that are oftentimes advantageous over the mainstream (such as fiscal consciousness, frugality, etc). This also explains how Ilocanos are stereotyped to be extremely frugal, despite the general tendency of most mainstream Filipinos to be spendthrift, even though many Ilocanos have already migrated to other areas and no longer live in the relatively barren and infertile homeland of Ilocandia which was responsible for shaping their frugal nature. Likewise, if and when a person is born into a dysfunctional family where there is chaos and disorder and no proper parental guidance nor family role model to aspire to, this model also explains how it is possible for an individual person to decide to defy his family’s dysfunctional system and still turn out successful due to extreme willpower and a strong, well-developed personal system. More importantly, it should also be recognized that well-developed collective systems (systems at the societal and small group & family level) can even drive people to succeed despite their lack of genetic endowments. As it is, in the Confucian-influenced East Asian cultures of the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, as well as others bearing similar influences, one’s genetic predispositions are – within their cultural paradigms – said to count for little or are often seen as irrelevant, as their paradigm for achieving success rests more with hard work and effort. As such, genetic endowments are seen merely as a bonus in such cultures. Each and every person is expected to work his or her hardest to succeed, despite whatever hereditary background they may have, be they the children of street-cleaners or PhD’s in Physics. For such Confucian cultures, “genius”, which in Mandarin is “Tian Tsai” (天才) – literally Heavenly (天) Gift (才), is not an excuse to slack off and take it easy, and instead, so much more is expected of a genius or extraordinarily-gifted person. (This also has echoes in the Protestant Ethic)
From the perspective of many East Asian cultures’ paradigms, failure is not the result of one’s innate deficiencies but is rather a result of not having worked hard enough. This paradigm is most observed with the kinds of ancient classical proverbs that the Chinese have (which are often hung as decorative calligraphic scrolls) and are often shared with other cultures of the Sinosphere, including Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. Rather than exalting innate abilities or in-born intelligence, ancient Chinese proverbs or key words exalt perseverance (持之以恆), hard work (功夫 – “Kung Fu”, which in the West is thought to mean “Martial Arts”), continuous improvement (改善 – “Gaishan” in Mandarin, “Kaizen” in Japanese), continuous learning (學無正竟), and of course, the all-important virtue of discipline (訓練). It must be realized that culture change by itself can never happen unless a corresponding system change is made. This is simply because of the numerous systems that influence and probabilistically determine human behavior and ultimately, human culture. Before we can change culture, we need to know what the different systems are and how they influence behavior: 1. Natural Environment & Eco-System
The Natural Environment and Eco-System in which a group of people first form their cultural identity has a profound effect on how such people may behave, think, and see the world.
British Historian Arnold J. Toynbee, in his book “A Study of History” explained in his Challenge and Response Theory that human societies are often subjected to various challenges which if responded to properly, can allow the societies to rise above the challenge and succeed. Such challenges, at the environmental level includes such aspects as climate, terrain, quality of land, and others which may pertain to the abundance or scarcity of sources of food or food production ability. Difficult environments such as cold climate or difficult terrain, for instance, pose as challenges to the groups of people living in such environments. Not responding appropriately to such challenges results in extinction or suffering, while responding to the challenges properly results in improved chances of survival. A culture that is competitive and easily able to respond to challenges is termed a “hard culture.” Wherever the environment is easy, chances are very high that the people living in such an environment tend to become lax and complacent. Such a culture is termed a “soft culture.”
In “A Study of History”, Toynbee writes:
“Civilizations come to birth in environments that are unusually difficult and not unusually easy.”
In describing the development of Chinese Civilization, Toynbee adds:
“The Sinic Civilization was nurtured in the north of China, where the climate was severe, and swamps and regular floods made agriculture difficult, and so it became a “hard” society.”
From the Age of Enlightenment came an older, similar idea which emphasized the role of environment & ecosystem, most particularly of the aspect of Climate, on how different cultures tend to behave differently.
Charles de Secondat, le Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, known to the world simply as “Montesquieu” wrote extensively about the role of the Environment & Eco-System, with an apparent emphasis on Climate, in determining the behavior and culture of people. He described colder climates as being more likely to force people to become more frugal, forward-looking, self-disciplined, and less emotional.
On the other hand, he described warmer climates as being more lax and tolerant of mistakes, based on the short term, frivolous/flippant, and emotional.
In one excerpt, Montesquieu writes:
“On a donc plus de vigueur dans les climats froids… Cette force plus grande doit produire bien des effets: par exemple, plus de confiance en soi-même, c’est-à-dire plus de courage; plus de connaissance de sa supériorité, c’est-à-dire moins de désir de la vengeance; plus d’opinion de sa sûreté, c’est-à-dire plus de franchise, moins de soupçons, de politique et de ruses.
J’ai vu les opéras d’Angleterre et d’Italie ; ce sont les mêmes pièces et les mêmes acteurs: mais la même musique produit des effets si différents sur les deux nations, l’une est si calme, et l’autre si transportée, que cela paroît inconcevable.
Vous trouverez dans les climats du nord des peuples qui ont peu de vices, assez de vertus… Approchez des pays du midi vous croirez vous éloigner de la morale même: des passions plus vives multiplieront les crimes ; chacun cherchera à prendre sur les autres tous les avantages qui peuvent favoriser ces mêmes passions.”
“The people have more vigor in cold climates… This superiority of strength must produce various effects: for example, a greater self-confidence, that is to say – more courage; a greater sense of superiority, in other words, less desire for vengeance; a greater sense of security, i.e., more frankness, less suspicion, politicking, and scheming…
I have seen the operas of England and Italy, they are the same pieces and the same performers: and yet the same music produces effects so different upon the two nations; one is so calm, and the other so transported that it seemed inconceivable.
You will find in the climates of the North – people who have few vices, many virtues… If you approach the South you will believe yourselves entirely removed from the verge of morality: the deepest passions cause a multitude of crimes; each one will seek to take advantage of all the others who can promote these same passions.”
The good Baron’s observations regarding the differences that often characterize the Cold versus Warm dichotomy when looking at the fates of different societies continue to be a recurring theme when correlations are made between the richer temperate countries versus the often poorer tropical countries of the world. It is also not surprising that Montesquieu thus observed that societies from colder climates can prosper even with democratic or libertarian systems, while societies from warmer climates need to have strict, disciplinarian, and somewhat coercive systems in place for such societies to prosper.
In “Lee Kuan Yew, the Man and his Ideas”, the Elder Statesman – who also subscribes to Montesquieu’s Climate Theory – mentions his own observations on the differences between some cultures based on their climatic environments:
“On my first visit to Germany in 1956, we had to stop in Frankfurt on our way to London. We had [earlier] stopped in Rome. This languid Italian voice over the loudspeaker said something … And there were Italian workers trundling trolleys at the airport. It was so relaxed, the atmosphere and the pace of work. Then the next stop was Frankfurt. And immediately, the climate was a bit cooler and chillier. And a voice came across the loudspeaker: “Achtung! Achtung!” The chaps were the same, porters, but bigger-sized and trundling away. These were people who were defeated and completely destroyed and they were rebuilding. I could sense the goal, the dynamism.
…I also visited Switzerland when I was a student in ’47, ’48, on holiday. I came down by train from Paris to Geneva. Paris was black bread, dirty, after the war. I arrived at Geneva that morning, sleeping overnight. It was marvelous. Clean, beautiful, swept streets, nice buildings, marvelous white pillowcases and sheets, white bread after dark dirty bread and abundant food and so on. But hardworking, punctilious, the way they did your bed and cleaned up your rooms. It told me something about why some people succeed and some people don’t. Switzerland has a small population. If they didn’t have those qualities, they would have been overrun …”
(Personally, I think that the key difference between Paris and Geneva – both being linguistically and culturally French-speaking is that Paris is predominantly Catholic (as well as agnostic), while Geneva is predominantly Calvinist-Protestant, and is therefore heavily-influenced by the Protestant Ethic.)
Even Lee Kuan Yew wrote that if the system of Singapore were not based on an extremely competitive meritocracy, then the tropical climate would make Singaporeans grow soft and complacent, and in the end, the effects would mean slipping back into “Third Worldism” and mass poverty.
In a speech to a group of Trade Unionists in Adelaide during a visit to Australia, Lee Kuan Yew explained:
“The Chinaman who came out to Southeast Asia was a very hard working, thrifty person. I mean he faced tremendous strides because he faced floods, pestilence, famine…, [but] we are getting soft. You know, all sunshine and bananas growing on trees and coconuts falling down by themselves – this affects people. To a certain extent, you can try and counter it… Up to a point we can strive to lessen the burden… This is a problem all migrants face. You are part of one culture, one civilization and culture. But it is a different climate.”
We can also see how other challenges posed by the Eco-System can cause people to respond in ways that make them more predisposed towards certain types of behavior, hopefully those more conducive to success.
The Ilocanos, for instance, are known to be very frugal and hardworking people and quite often, the somewhat barren or infertile nature of the land in Ilocandia is cited as the reason for this. Incidentally, they are also some of the most orderly of Filipinos. A visit to the Ilocano countryside or to Ilocano cities such as Vigan or Laoag reveals an extremely clean and orderly (almost obsessive-compulsive) environment, eliciting analogies with the Japanese: orderly and always ensuring that their surroundings are very neat.
The Fujianese or “Hokkien” (福建) Chinese are seen to be like the Ilocanos of Southern China (Fujian is barren and hilly) – extremely frugal and hardworking, especially when compared to the Cantonese whose culture is said to have flourished in the lush farmlands and plains of Guangdong (廣東) Province.
The Basques of Spain also have the same rugged and relatively infertile terrain as the Ilocanos and the Fujianese, and it is for this reason that they are considered to be the most hardworking of Spaniards, and among all the immigrants from Spain who went to Latin America, they quickly became the earlier landowners and industrialists and dominated agriculture and early industry. It also comes to no surprise that many of the surnames of some of the richest families in the Philippines such as Abóitiz, Araneta, Ayala, Elizalde, Larrazabal, or Ortigas just to name a few are Basque.
Ultimately, there’s not much we can do about our natural environment other than migrate to another location with a different environment. Or we can temporarily change the temperature and humidity of our enclosed surroundings through air-conditioning, but that’s just about it. We thus just have to work on what we can change: our collective social systems and personal systems.
2. Societal System
The same thinker from the Age of Enlightenment who talked about Climate and the Eco-System’s effects on human behavior, Montesquieu, also mentioned that the manner in which a society is run (its “System of Governance”) also helps to shape culture. More importantly, Montesquieu did not dismiss the possibility of people from warmer countries becoming disciplined, frugal, forward-looking, and more logical, because as long as the societal system (including the system of government) is carefully-designed to constantly provide the right incentives to promote the desired behaviors to emerge among the people as well as appropriate disincentives that would prevent the emergence of undesirable ones, then the people from such warmer countries can learn to exhibit the same or similar “winning culture” that has often been observed among civilizations from colder climates.
As it turns out, while the Baron de Montesquieu did in fact observe that the Eco-System – climate, geography, and other aspects of the environment – affect the temperaments and customs of a group of people, he did not believe in rigid determinism. As such, he did not believe that the effects of the environment and the resulting cultural inclinations (especially the dysfunctional ones) could not be resisted and mitigated.
For him, it was necessary that the laws put in place, the policies pursued, the manner in which they were implemented and enforced, and even the form of government adopted and set up by the people would have to take careful account of all these different factors. Thus, as an example, instead of copying the form of government that was specifically set up for another society having an extremely different set of cultural and historical circumstances, Montesquieu advocated taking careful stock of the cultural and behavioral inclinations as well as the environmental influences on society in order to accommodate whatever positive traits proved useful, and actively and ruthlessly counteracting all the cultural and behavioral dysfunctions of the people as well as the negative effects the environment influenced upon the people.
In talking about the need to ruthlessly counteract the effects of the environment on people’s behavior, in his magnus opus “De l’esprit des lois” (The Spirit of Laws), the Baron of Montesquieu writes that sometimes, if the country’s environment causes people to be too lazy or unwilling to work, there is no choice but to use coercion just to get things done:
“Il y a des pays où la chaleur énerve le corps, et affoiblit si fort le courage, que les hommes ne sont portés à un devoir pénible que par la crainte du châtiment: l’esclavage y choque donc moins la raison…
“There are some countries where the heat irritates the body, and weakens one’s drive so strongly, such that men can only be made to perform hard work only by the fear of punishment: slavery thus becomes less shocking to one’s reason…”
Lee Kuan Yew himself also saw this and realized that tropical Singapore needed “behavioral modification” and “social-engineering” systems that were a clever mix of proper incentives and disincentives which practically bordered on “coercion” in order to motivate people to work hard. As such, despite huge monetary reserves, Singapore never went on the same type of dole-out distribution spree that characterized many prosperous Western countries who believed in socialistic welfarism.
Moreover, instead of a Ponzi-scheme social security system, he set up the Central Provident Fund which operated like a high-interest bank account, where employees would be deducted a particular percentage of their income each month, to be matched by their employer. Upon reaching retirement age, retirees are not exactly going to be drawing from an inexhaustible pool of retirement pension payments. They would be dispensed cash against their own CPF accounts which they had built up over their years of working. The Central Provident Fund was also the instrument used to fund the home-ownership drive of Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, where instead of coming up with a “free housing” scheme, Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party preferred that people pay for their houses in order to give them a real sense of achievement and value. (Consistent with Singapore’s “no dole-out” policy)
On the other hand, the low income-tax rates which were computed only after CPF contributions were deducted ensured that Singaporeans would see most of the fruits of their own labor going to themselves and not to some “black hole.” This way, earning was not unduly penalized. This system effectively fostered frugality and gave more motivation for people to earn more. In a tropical environment of abundance lacking the urgencies of deadlines and seasonal changes in temperate climates, it made sense to set up a system of rewards and penalties that would encourage people to earn and save more in order to counteract the tropical tendency to be spendthrift and hedonistic. Moreover, he needed to use such techniques of reward & punishment and caning & fines (“$ingapore is a fine city”) in order to reform Singaporeans to become more orderly and hygienic and abandon such previously common but abominable traits such as spitting just anywhere including indoors as well as urinating inside elevators!
3. Sub-community Group and Family System
It is important for people to realize that the reason why the Jewish Diaspora, Overseas Chinese, the Lebanese diaspora, the Armenian diaspora, the Sindhi diaspora, and many others are hugely successful ethnicities is not because their cultures emerged as having the right traits of success by chance. Instead, the real fact is that many of these successful groups ended up with their “Winning Cultures” often as the result of their sub-community systems and strong and effective systems of family upbringing which molded their behaviors while they were still young.
Lee Kuan Yew, for instance, wrote that he learned that part of the reason for the dominance of Jews in many fields of endeavor, such as the sciences, arts, business, etc is that their culture was shaped by how they were brought up strictly to strive for excellence (especially in numerous intellectual fields) by disciplinarian parents within their family setting. In the book “Lee Kuan Yew, the Man and his Ideas”, Minister Mentor Lee writes:
“From the 10th to 11th century in Europe, among the Ashkenazim, the practice developed of the rabbi becoming the most desirable son-in-law because he is usually the brightest of the flock. …So he becomes the richest and wealthiest. He marries young, is successful, probably bright. He has large numbers of children and the brightest of the children will become the rabbi and so it goes on.”
To become a rabbi, one had to go through intense study. There was the study of Hebrew, Aramaic (some texts such as the Targums are in Aramaic, not in Hebrew), and yes, the texts of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the Talmud, and many more. They had to study Jewish jurisprudence and learn to be superior at logic and many more. Every single family wanted their sons to become rabbis. Since all their boys needed to study certain religious texts for their Bar Mitzvah anyway, everyone was encouraged to at least aim to study to become a rabbi. And the best among them would indeed become rabbis. Those who did not become rabbis still benefitted from the intense focus and discipline they underwent in their religious instruction so that as merchants, bankers, physicians, and other experts, they had the necessary traits to prosper. Even those who did not study to become rabbis all looked up to rabbis and got their children to aspire accordingly. The pattern got repeated over and over again.
With the Chinese, just replace the word “Rabbi” with “Mandarin Magistrate.” And replace “study the Torah, Bible, and other texts” with “study the Analects of Confucius, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, The Three Kingdoms, and all the other Chinese classics.”
Practically every Chinese family (except those barred such as sons of actors and prostitutes) hoped to have a son become a Mandarin Magistrate. It was their ticket to the big-time. As much as they could, they pushed their sons to study hard so that when they were ready, they could take the Imperial Civil Service exams that would turn them into mandarins. Rich merchants (most often failed Mandarin-wannabes who became traders) presented their daughters to newly-minted mandarins (and back then, they also had polygamy) for marriage. In short, almost everyone wanted to become a mandarin, and even those who didn’t make it actually benefited in their new trades from the training, discipline, and intense study they had gone through.
Lee Kuan Yew figures once again as he also showed how a certain culture of “eugenics” emerged due to the competitive nature of old Chinese society:
“…You read Hóng Lóu Mèng(紅樓夢), A Dream of the Red Chamber, or you read Jīn Píng Méi (金瓶梅 – The Plum in the Golden Vase), and you’ll find Chinese society in the 16th, 17th century described. So the successful merchant or the mandarin, he gets the pick of all the rich men’s daughters and the prettiest village girls and has probably five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten different wives and concubines and many children. And the poor labourer who’s dumb and slow, he’s neutered. It’s like the lion or the stag that’s outside the flock. He has no harems, so he does not pass his genes down. So, in that way, a smarter population emerges.
“If you have a culture that doesn’t place much value in learning and scholarship and thrift and hard work and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain, the going will be much slower.”
For the case of the Lebanese, and the Lebanese Diaspora(the Lebanese are ultimately the surviving heirs of the ancient Phoenician-Punic maritime civilization who invented the original alphabet which influenced the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic scripts), many of them are Christians (Latin America is dominated by Lebanese Christian émigrés – like Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico, listed as Forbes’ richest man in the world – surpassing Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and internationally, there are other famous names like Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Renault, former CEO of Ford Jacques Nasser, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb) and for a very long time, the culture was similar to the Jewish one. (In fact, the Syriac-based names of the months in the Lebanese Christian calendar are not too different from the Hebrew names of the months in the Jewish calendar.)
Most Lebanese were traditionally brought up in very strict family environments by disciplinarian fathers, and instead of rabbis, the Lebanese Christians had priests (Maronite Catholic, Orthodox, etc). Because of the unique ancient eastern traditions of the Lebanese Christians, even those Christian groups under Roman Catholic jurisdiction such as the Maronites, Melkite Greek Catholics, and several other groups, married men are permitted to become priests. (The only real restriction is that marriage must happen before Holy Orders. Moreover to become a bishop, one must be celibate, so those who have plans to move up the ranks must stay celibate, or in the case of the Orthodox, an ecclesiastically-sanctioned divorce is obtained permit a married priest’s promotion to the episcopacy.)
In short, in the pre-modern days, many Lebanese Christians were brought up in a competitive religious educational environment not too different from the Jewish rabbinical tradition of scholarship and many of them were expected to give prestige to their families by joining the priesthood. If they planned to raise their own families, they had the option to delay taking up Holy Orders in order to get married before going through the Sacrament that would turn them into priests. Being a priest was not only well respected, it was something that almost every male aspired to become or at least emulate because there was no strict “celibacy trade-off.” Such a tradition of high aspirations and high collective expectations permeated throughout Lebanese society, resulting in the relatively high success rates of many Lebanese émigrés and their descendants.
We also see how some groups of people, undergo collective “spiritual conversions” or changes in their belief systems. Max Weber, in his extremely famous work “Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), explained that the belief-systems and value-systems of many Protestants, particularly Calvinists, were ultimately responsible for their relative economic success. By simply going through a major paradigm shift that made them think of work not as a chore or “necessary evil”, but rather as a “means to praise, honor, and glorify God“, and that “wealth is not evil, but a sign of God’s grace“, Calvinists and most other Protestants on the average ended up more prosperous than Catholics because they did not disdain work nor wealth.
Such conversion required a constant “reminding” of the value system that was adopted. Thus, a system of reminders or “rituals” or “practices” (such as regular worship services) needed to be put in place so that the individual members of the group do not forget nor lose sight of the newer paradigm they have adopted. In that manner, new converts do not regress back to their pre-conversion state.
This level is referred to as the “Sub-Community Group” and “Family” level because in addition to raising children within the family setting, there is also the fact that minority groups, often as immigrants, tend to congregate within a small common group of fellow immigrants from the same ethnic community. In such a setting, they may reinforce each other and their children to retain whatever good traits their ethnic background may have. When groups of families regularly congregate around certain cultural or religious centers that help maintain a specific identity, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or other centers, common collective behaviors and customs and traits emerge which may be reinforced or enhanced by the religious systems and discipline espoused by their groups.
One peculiar example that stands out in the Philippine setting is that the Philippine classical music scene’s choral and operatic sector is currently dominated by highly-talented and extremely sought-after Filipino opera singers and choral conductors who happen to come from mainline Protestant backgrounds. (“Mainline” includes UCCP, Baptists, Methodists/IEMELIF, Episcopalians/Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.) At the very least, the relatively large number of mainline Protestants who enjoy some of the most respected reputations within Philippine classical music’s voice category is clearly disproportionate to their small overall share of the total Philippine population which continues to have an overwhelmingly Catholic majority.
Case in point: World class and internationally-acclaimed Filipino opera stars like soprano María Rachelle Gerodías, baritone Andrew Fernando, tenor Lemuel de la Cruz(all three of them also happen to be products of UST’s Conservatory of Music), internationally-acclaimed Filipino choral maestro, math genius and music professor Dr. Joel Navarro, and famous counter-tenor, choral conductor, and keyboard virtuoso Eudenice Palaruan(who used to direct the now-defunct San Miguel Chorale and whose choral arrangement of the Capiznon folksong “Pasigin” and a few other Filipino songs are extremely popular among most serious choral groups including choirs in Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia) all come from mainline Protestant backgrounds. Continuing the list are the celebrated late baritone Gamaliel Viray, the famous “Dequadin Tenor” Nolyn Cabahug and his sister soprano Lisa Cabahug, soprano Ailene Cura, mezzo-soprano and choral conductor Jai Sabas-Aracama, pianist & choir conductor Fidel Calalang, Jr., pianist & choir director Carminda Regala, and the late baritone and choral conductor Elmo Makil.
(The late Prof. Makil is also famous for his arrangement of the Itneg War Chant “Iddem dem Mallida” which like Eudy Palaruan’s arrangement of “Pasigin” is another favorite choral piece within the Singapore choral community, even being used by Singapore’s Anderson Junior College Choir as a choral competition piece in Italy).
Incidentally, Rachelle Gerodías – who has also made her name as the soprano “gold standard” in both the Singapore and Malaysia opera scene – confirmed that the same situation applies to South Korea as most if not all the Korean opera singers she has met also come from Protestant backgrounds. Rachelle also added that aside from the emphasis on polyphonic choral music as used for Sunday worship services dating back to the time of the devout Protestant Baroque composers Johann Sebastian Bach (famous among both Catholics and Protestants for the hymn “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”) and George Frederic Händel (famous for “Joy to the World” and the Messiah Oratorio), she also clearly hints at what Max Weber calls the Protestant Ethic when she says:
“…I think what really made a big difference between Catholic and Protestant musicians and singers is the discipline and the religious or spiritual practice. Most singers in Protestant churches are encouraged to join the choir and sing every Sunday. If you are gifted with a beautiful voice, it is recognized as a talent from God that you must use and develop because that is the will of God.”
Based on the famous diva’s words, it appears that the overall “system” or paradigm of mainline Protestant spiritual belief and religious practice actively supports the development of highly talented classical singers. The spiritual belief motivates those with talents in music to further develop such talents, while the religious practice of Sunday worship molds many of them towards the direction of classical singing.
In contrast to the emphasis on classical-style choral singing that is integral to the Sunday worship services of mainline Protestant churches in the Philippines, post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism as practiced in the Philippines had unfortunately drastically reduced or even practically eliminated the traditional emphasis on polyphonic classical-style choral singing or even unison Gregorian chants and switched to a significantly less elaborate form of musical expression for the newer “Novus Ordo Missae.” (“New Order of the Mass”)
Hopefully, with a lot of the positive examples provided on how certain minorities – ethnic or religious – are able to outperform other groups, mainstream Filipino families and groups can pick up a tip or two on how to make the next generation of Filipinos become much more competitive, achievement-oriented, and successful.
Moving on to how Filipino migrant communities in other countries fare, we unfortunately find that among many small Filipino communities abroad, Pinoy migrants who hold get-togethers with fellow Pinoys often congregate around a television set that has The Filipino Channel (TFC) in order to watch Wowowee (back when it was around) and get their kids learning to dance to the Ocho-ocho, Spaghetti Song, and other sexually-explicit and unfit-for-public-broadcast crass embarrassments to Filipino identity that very often get criticized by non-Filipinos. Those immigrant Filipino communities are just small microcosms of what goes on in the teeming squatter colonies and shanty-towns all throughout the country, where birthday parties of little girls aged 5, 6, 7, or older are celebrated with the same sexually-explicit songs and dances popularized on the noontime shows. Worse, from noontime, the go-go dancers have even been migrated to prime time.
With a “system of entertainment” that encourages sexually-explicit dance moves at such a young age and rewards those who fit the go-go dancer mold with fame & fortune (the rumor circulating is that the go-go dancers on the various noontime and primetime variety shows earn good money and are given their own cars), it is not surprising at all that from being known as a nation of domestic helpers, the Philippines has now overtaken Thailand to be a major source of prostitutes and “hospitality-providers” to Singapore & Malaysia. Those at the top of the pyramid of the go-go dancing “industry” get accepted into the TV variety shows and earn big bucks and get free cars. Those who don’t make it capitalize on the “go-go dancing skills” they picked up while aspiring to get into the TV variety shows by becoming go-go dancers in girlie-bars or progress into “modeling” (notice the quotes) and “escort services” or outright prostitution.
It would have been preferable if what got retained were the good Filipino values and the ugly & embarrassing garbage, discarded.
Personally, while I accept that the CBCP has the right to teach Catholics the official Vatican line, it does not have the right to impose Catholic-only dogma on the secular government. The issue is that instead of denouncing the go-go dancing phenomenon promoted on Filipino TV variety shows, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines continues to waste its time on a losing battle by imposing specifically Catholic-only anti-contraception dogma on the secular government which happens to represent the rights of non-Catholics (Protestants, Muslims, and others) who have no opposition to modern contraceptive methods. The CBCP clearly needs to refocus away from attacking the Responsible Parenthood Bill, and instead put more effort on actively denouncing the extremely sexually-suggestive (and even explicit!) noontime and primetime variety show go-go dancer phenomenon, otherwise, the Philippines will continue on its downward spiral towards a totally failed state.
(An American friend and his family in Singapore have a Filipina maid who requested for a subscription to The Filipino Channel. He told me not long ago that when he came home for lunch one day, he was horrified to find his little kids watching a bunch of go-go dancers gyrating on a noontime TV show as the maid was having her daily dose of Wowowee using the common living room TV set! Immediately afterwards, he had a small TV installed in the tiny maid’s room and got the cable company to deactivate The Filipino Channel from the living room’s set top box and activated TFC only for the maid’s room. What a major embarrassment for the Philippines!)
4. Personal System
Some people are more hard-working than others even if they are in a group or family of sloths. Some people do 180 degree turns in how they manage their lives, despite the people around them. These behavioral and mindset shifts are often the results of the personal system that a single individual may set up for him/herself. No doubt, such changes at the personal system involve whole lot of self-discipline and self-control.
Does a person reward himself after he does well on an exam by treating himself to ice-cream? Or does he treat himself to ice-cream regardless of whether he does well, passes, or fails? Does he deny himself certain indulgences like playing video games if he hasn’t accomplished his work yet? Or does he play video games regardless of whether he has accomplished his work or not? Does he reward himself with a brand new luxury car (or two) if, as CEO of the company he just recently took charge of, was able to turn it around for the better? Or does he buy it/them anyway, never mind that he hasn’t done anything at all to deserve such a reward?
One’s personal system is ultimately what determines a person’s behavior as it is the final arbiter of whether a person is likely to be open or closed to outside influences that may be advantageous or disadvantageous. It is the Personal System that is targeted by authors of self-help and motivational books that often aim to change the world “one person at a time.”
The key challenge is usually that while a person may decide that he wants to improve himself, he may encounter difficulties if the other collective systems that influence him are not too cooperative. A drug-addict who wishes to go clean will find it almost impossible to do if his own family is dysfunctional and are themselves drug addicts, unless he leaves his home to escape the dysfunctional family system.
While extremely self-motivated individuals can improve themselves on their own without requiring a support group to help them out, such people are extremely rare. Most human beings need other human beings to remind them and point out their faults or achievements. That is also why human beings often need other people to serve as their teachers and mentors, rather than going purely along the “self-taught” route. This too, is why support-groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous often work better than having single individuals try to solve their own alcoholism or addiction problems because people need other people to tell each other what they refuse to see or remind each other or things they may forget or ignore.
It is for this reason that most of the time, for real profound change to happen in an individual’s personal system, a change needs to happen in the collective systems that influence people as well. That means that change is most effective when it is done collectively, hitting not just a single individual’s personal system, but also the sub-community systems, family systems as well as the entire societal system at the very top. That’s because it is easier for people to remind each other of what values they must hold themselves to, what behaviors they must exhibit, as well as praise and reward good behavior or castigate and punish bad behavior, as it is not always practical for a single person to reward or punish himself.
5. Hereditary & Genetic System
People’s behavior tends to be influenced by genetics. Studies on identical twins separated at birth and raised by different families has revealed the extreme similarities in temperament and personality of such twins so that psychologists have confirmed that nature does have a profound influence on a person’s behavioral or personality tendencies.
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about our genes. We are what we are born with. All we can do, however, is to try our best to take advantage of whatever good traits our genes have given us, and work as hard as we can to fight against our unfortunately genetically-embedded negative tendencies.
Since I would prefer to delve more on the importance of culture and culture-change, making mention of the genetic level and how the hereditary system influences behavior helps for us to know what our inherent strengths and weaknesses are in order that we may modify our behaviors to take advantage of such strengths and avoid or suppress the weaknesses.
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How the different Systems determine Culture & ultimately Destiny
Now that the different systems have been discussed, it is important to note that only three out of the five systems can easily be altered and modified through human means by way of policy-changes and proper enforcement of said policies. These are the Societal System, the Sub-Community & Family System, and the Personal System. Due to the collective nature of both the Societal System and the Sub-community & Family System, they are best lumped together under the description “Collective System.” Through this, we can see how the systems work in order to change not just human behavior on the individual or collective scale, but also how these can become more embedded to become individual Characters or collective Cultures. Personal Systems clearly induce specific individuals to behave in a particular way through the priorities and value-systems that individuals set for themselves. If they adhere to a particular belief-system or paradigm, they are likely to encourage themselves to behave in a certain way and avoid other types of behavior. A person who personally believes that mediocrity is acceptable and that there is no need to stress himself out by working hard will clearly act it out: he will be mediocre and he will not work hard. Either he coasts along barely passing, or ends up failing in many of his endeavors.
Others who, for instance, may personally adhere to Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic that working hard is a means to “glorify God” and believe strongly that their purpose in life is to “glorify God” have a higher likelihood of working hard and succeeding. In similar fashion, people who adhere to the Confucian Ethic of hard work and self-discipline have been observed by eminent socio-political analyst, author, and CNN host Dr. Fareed Zakaria to exhibit the same success-oriented traits that Max Weber described to be present in the Protestant Ethic. In addition to setting up a personal philosophy or personal belief-system, more disciplined and self-directed people are likely to even set up strict consequences of reward and punishment for themselves, denying certain pleasures unless tasks that they set for themselves are accomplished, and rewarding themselves only when they achieve success. As they continue to follow their own personal system of pursuing certain behaviors and avoiding others and continue to reinforce these through a combination of self-reward versus self-denial, they may cause those behaviors that they continue to do to become habits. With much more repetition, the habits become more ingrained and embedded, becoming part of one’s character. If the character that one develops for himself is one that is more predisposed towards success, then chances are higher that he would become successful. Sadly, it is easier to mold human behavior at the personal level when young and when under the appropriate tutelage of parents. Once grown-up, people oftentimes have habits and personal paradigms that die hard and sometimes, even if they change their paradigms, their habits are so ingrained and their characters so fixed that changing their own characters by themselves is next to impossible. Since it is far easier for human beings to check on others, shaping behavior collectively is actually much easier. Collective systems, like societal systems such as a political system or a system of governance, or a specific educational system developed at the state level, or religious systems propagated within particular religious communities through their church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, as well as systems of family upbringing can mold behavior at a much more sustainable and much higher level of effectiveness. Collective Systems, through the effective balance of consequences, tend to induce behavior more easily because people follow others whom they observe to be “winning” and avoid emulating those whom they observe to be “losing.” In other words, it is not always necessary for a person to be punished in order to discourage undesired behavior or rewarded to encourage good behavior, because in collective contexts, this can be done vicariously. One merely needs to observe that another person whose behavior has been undesirable is promptly punished in order for one to conclude that such behavior must be avoided. Setting up examples of model behavior and praising them as well as presenting examples of unwanted behavior and shaming or punishing them thus tends to work more effectively because of the influence of peer pressure in addition to the actual use of enforcement. As groups of people continue to behave desirably through constant reinforcement, that collective behavior becomes a custom. As that custom and the underlying value behind the custom get more embedded in the group’s collective consciousness, they become a part of the group’s collective Culture. And when a group’s collective Culture causes them to succeed in one or more areas of endeavor, then the collective destiny as determined by that culture is one of Success.
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What behaviors should be emulated vs. avoided?
It is necessary to note that what is considered “desirable” versus “undesirable” behavior often varies across groups. Filipino Society has been described by many foreigners and Filipino academics alike to be extremely anti-Intellectual, so that people who tend to be more intellectual than others either get ostracized or invite jealousy, rather than praise and adulation. There may also be some groups where cheating is tolerated and worse, tolerating or even assisting in cheating is seen as a sign of camaraderie. In such cases, the peer pressure system works so that the one who does not cheat nor allows others to cheat is deemed an outcast. (And this is clearly an example where the peer pressure undermines the competitiveness of the group) How then do we determine what types of behavior should be considered desirable or undesirable? Montesquieu did mention that colder countries do tend to produce more frank and honest people. Why is frankness and honesty more likely to develop in colder areas?
Here’s the answer: The Natural Environment as well as the Climate are tyrannical, unforgiving, and inflexible task masters. They set definite deadlines which cannot be stretched. A community of people living in the cold temperate zone have no choice but to be honest with each other regarding task assignments or simple things like food supply levels. If the leader asks one of the members of the community to handle the supplies of food, any dishonesty on the part of the member will translate into suffering or death for one or more members of the community. Worst case, dishonesty results in the death of the entire community, including the dishonest member. If a community leader assigns a member to start planting crops on a particular day, if that member procrastinates and doesn’t start planting on the day he’s told to, he can’t fudge and cover it up by saying “yes” when asked “have you started planting the crops I told you to plant?” He has no choice but to be honest because dishonesty will result in the entire community’s suffering. Transparency, honesty, integrity, punctuality, frankness, and self-discipline are oftentimes naturally-developed in temperate zones because of Winter. If you are late in planting by a day or two and are at least honest about the lapse, crisis may still be easily averted by immediate corrective action. But doing cover-ups and making excuses, on the other hand, results in pain, suffering, and perhaps death by the coming Winter. The cold climate can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It is a ruthless taskmaster. This largely explains the difference in timeliness and punctuality as well as openness, frankness, and honesty, and self-discipline that contrasts cultures from colder versus warmer climates. We should definitely rank countries based on all the competitive indices available, including GDP per capita, Human Development, lower incidences of corruption, etc and take a good look at the kinds of traits and behaviors that are exhibited by their people. The problem with the Philippines is that as a tropical country, our climate and general environment are rather tolerant of mediocrity. Failure does not necessarily result in annihilation, unlike in countries with much harsher, colder climates. Our climate and environment unfortunately do not give us direct feedback on whether what we do or do not do is wrong.
However, we can see just how mediocre the Philippines is whenever we compare ourselves against other countries in terms of per-capita economic output, our level of human development, and even simply at how we are regarded by other people around the world. The way forward, therefore, is to emulate the winning traits, winning behaviors, and winning cultural inclinations of the people from the most successful countries in the world. We also need to sift out whatever behaviors some of them may already be exhibiting due to success, as some First World countries whose people used to be extremely hard-working and self-disciplined have, due to their societies’ wealth, comfort, and First World status, have started to become less hard-working and have grown “soft.” We especially need to learn from Singapore, which – though tropical just like us – has adopted a Societal System that seeks to induce Singaporeans and all the people living in Singapore to behave, act, and think competitively and competently like the people from the most advanced countries in the World which are mostly found in temperate climates. Since tropical environments do not by default induce people living in such climates to save, Singapore set up a collective system that would cause people to save: a forced savings scheme (the Central Provident Fund) as well as many other schemes that would actively reward and encourage it. Ultimately, the Philippines needs to set up effective Societal Systems, ranging from an appropriate System of Government, appropriate laws and policies, appropriate rewards and punishments, an appropriate state-prescribed Educational System that increases our overall economic competitiveness, as well setting up other appropriate systems at the societal level that all seek to induce Filipinos to collectively stop behaving like children and force us to mature and learn to be more responsible. Moreover, these societal systems must be set up to further encourage sub-communities (like churches, religious groups, etc) and families to further improve their sub-community systems and family systems to cause Filipinos to get our collective acts together. Simply telling people to “shape up” will not work. Systems must explicitly be set up in order to actively enforce behavioral and cultural reform (or overhaul) at the collective level. Obviously, this effort of reforming the Filipino should start at the highest level if this is going to be a wide-scale collective effort. That highest level is at the System of Government as it is at this highest societal level from which everything else emanates: far-reaching policies on education, economic management, finance, commerce, environmental management, infrastructure, law enforcement, etc are all dependent on the Government.
If the System of Government continues to allow unqualified and incompetent people to reach the top and call the shots simply because the system is set up to favor popularity, name-recall, winnability, and celebrity status, then we can all expect that the quality of everything else will suffer. But if a better system of government were set up so that only the best, most analytical, most brilliant, most capable minds, most competent, most hard-working, and most action-oriented are able to emerge on top, then such a system of government would also induce the entire populace to behave accordingly: a competent, intelligent, and hardworking leader assigns only other competent, intelligent, and hardworking people to work in his team. Because of such a system of meritocracy, people will aspire to be the best, most brilliant, and most capable in order to achieve success. It is therefore important for everyone to note that the quest to reform and improve Filipino Behavior and Culture requires reforming the System of Government. To reject efforts and calls to reform the system of government by stating that culture must first be reformed is to miss the point: Massive cultural reform requires system reform, and the highest level for implementing this lies in reforming the System of Government.
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System of Government must be appropriate to the Culture & Environment
Lee Kuan Yew commented on how the Philippines was erroneously approaching its developmental problems by blindly and mindlessly adopting wholesale a concept of governance which Montesquieu himself wrote to be more suited to cold countries (where the people are more likely to be more self-disciplined and more calm and less rambunctious) than to warm countries, in his book “From Third World to First”, he wrote:
“At dinner, Mrs. Aquino seated the chairman of the constitutional commission, Chief Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, next to me. I asked the learned lady what lessons her commission had learned from the experience of the last 40 years since independence in 1946 would guide her in drafting the constitution. She answered without hesitation,“We will not have any reservations or limitations on our democracy. We must make sure that no dictator can ever emerge to subvert the constitution.”
One of the main points that most Filipino leaders and ordinary citizens missed (and still continue to miss!) is the fact that the US Presidential System and its Paradigm of revolving around “Freedom and Liberty” was originally designed with the rugged, self-disciplined, self-directed, self-motivated, independent-minded immigrant (or son of immigrants), and predominantly Protestant Anglo-Saxon (therefore “Northern European”) Frontiersman who had rebelled against his former mother country of Britain clearly in mind. It was a system that had been designed not for the predominantly Catholic, supposed to be docile & obedient, Hispanic-influenced indigenous and non-immigrant Austronesian that is the Filipino. This problem is analogous to having a short Filipino boy riding a mountain bike that was custom-built for a huge 6 ft 7 inch tall white American adult. (This is a point that journalist and historian Stanley Karnow often repeats in his book “In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines.”) Alas, as Filipinos were far too enamored by the form of the American System, little real thinking was put into analyzing the substance of how to best adopt a system suited to the Philippines. Instead of studying the systems of other predominantly Catholic countries as the drafters of the Malolos Constitution had done (where they patterned it after the Constitution of Spain and several other predominantly Catholic countries, thus adopting a Spanish-style Parliamentary form of Government), the guiding principle for designing the 1987 system of government was for the Philippine System to “out-do”, “out-democratize”, or “out-Americanize” the United States of America.
(Digression: Incidentally, the structure of the modern-day Italian system closely resembles the proposed form of government prescribed by the Malolos Constitution. The Head of State of the First Philippine Republic was the largely ceremonial “Presidente de la República.” In Italy, their ceremonial Head of State is the “Presidente della Repubblica.” The more actively-governing prime minister of the Malolos Republic’s title in Spanish was “Presidente del Consejo de Ministros.” In present-day Italy, the Italian prime minister’s title is “Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri.”)
Instead of making use of an Electoral College through which the USA enforces the “republican ideals” of representative government which the majority of the US Founding Fathers preferred as opposed to Thomas Jefferson’s deviant ideals of “direct democracy”, the Philippine Presidential System of 1987 became one which prescribed nationwide voting-at-large for the President, separate from the Vice-President, as well as Senators. Had Montesquieu been alive today, he would be cursing at Filipinos for the blasphemy which we had decided upon in 1987, which many Filipinos – including some people who should know better – have continually refused to correct. As the good Baron would have predicted, funny little surprises did occur. Thanks to the stubborn “Democratism” that Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ and majority of his fellow members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission had insisted upon, the presidential elections of 1992 turned out to be a near-disaster at the Presidential level, as they forgot to insert a provision requiring a run-off election which would ideally pit the top two candidates from the first round in case the electoral contest with more than 2 candidates did not yield a majority winner. The president who emerged, Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, won only 23.58% of the entire vote, while his closest opponent, Miriam Defensor-Santiago got 19.72%. There were a total of 7 major candidates, and the emerging winner had less than 25% of the entire vote. In another country like France, Mrs. Santiago and Mr. Ramos would have been forced to slug it out in a second round, thereby forcing the emergence of a president with Majority Mandate, as all the other supporters of the remaining candidates would have had to choose between the top two. Why had they not even seen something as simple as this when so many other countries in Latin America or France that have multi-party Presidential systems featured run-off second rounds? Moreover, why had they not learned from the USA which had at least fused the selection of President and Vice-President, so that ballots do not feature separate individual candidacies, and instead force voters to choose a tandem? In other words, in the USA, you cannot mix and match. You either vote for Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin. You cannot choose Obama-Palin because US ballots feature tandem-pairs. On the Vice-Presidential level, it was a real disaster. Competent candidates like the late former Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan or former Cebu Governor Lito Osmeña were electorally no match for veteran action star and “heart-throb” Joseph Estrada. Moreover, at the Senatorial level which was a nationwide contest just like the Presidential and Vice-Presidential races, the top scorer was none other than Eat Bulaga host and slapstick comedy actor Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. The “funny little surprises” were all too easy to spot.
Fr. Bernas, SJ and the people who designed the 1987 Constitution unfortunately did not take into consideration the happy-go-lucky, flippant, frivolous, childish, undisciplined, rambunctious, personality-oriented, popularity-centric and what Montesquieu would have called “warm-climate” tendencies of Filipinos. They blindly and mindlessly assumed that if the Philippines adopted the Freedom-and-Liberty paradigm that was originally designed for the predominantly Protestant Anglo-Saxon and Northern European immigrants (from cold countries!) who had rebelled against Britain, then the Philippines would automatically enjoy the same prosperity and success that was present in the USA. By further tweaking it in order to “out-democratize” the USA and thus “be more American than the Americans”, Bernas and his companions sealed the fate of the Philippines as a chaotic, unstable, coup-prone, rambunctious and anarchic failed state. These people had failed to analyze the fact that the higher level of education and political consciousness of Americans in looking more at issues and not mere personalities, the superior economic performance of the American economy – thus enabling Americans to more easily live fulfilling lives, as well as its specific cultural context allowed the American Presidential System – though obviously containing many flaws – to work adequately for Americans. In fact, these people simply failed to realize that certain key features of the American system such as the use of the Electoral College as well as the practice of both main parties (Republicans and Democrats) to practice strict party discipline through intra-party caucuses and primaries prevented the same problems that are present in the Philippines from emerging in the USA. Moreover, the leaders who do emerge from the US presidential elections have a minimum level of qualifications and competence and American voters often choose on the basis of relevant issues such as platform and programs of government. In the Philippines, on the other hand, presidential elections are purely popularity and name-recall contests so that the emerging winners are not necessarily the most suitable candidates for the job of leading the country. As early as the 1990’s, fearless crusaders like Mrs. Carmen Pedrosa, Dr. Pepe Abueva, and even Butch Abad were already mentioning that the 1987 Constitution was inherently flawed and its corresponding presidential system of government prone to gridlock, prone to higher levels of corruption, and much slower to get things done. Still, blindness, stubbornness, mindlessness, emotionalism, small-mindedness, irrationality, and the refusal to do the appropriate research and analysis continued to prevent the much needed changes from happening as uninformed members of media, politicians who did not care to study and analyze issues carefully, as well as many uninformed members of the public chose to reject what was an honest call for reforms. They misguidedly (and some, maliciously) kept branding the call for reforms as an underhanded means to cause the incumbent to stay in power.
For the longest time, it was almost as if Fr. Bernas and his colleagues – through their insistence on using an “extra-democratized” form of the American Presidential System (originally designed for a predominantly Protestant country with a predominantly Northern European-descended population in a temperate climate) – had been forcing Filipinos to wear fur coats originally designed for use during cold Minnesota winters in the sweltering heat and humidity of the Philippines. Bernas and company unfortunately took the text of the American System, but not the full American context. Talk about inappropriate. The only real hope for the Philippines is for Filipinos to realize that we unfortunately do not belong to the same context as the Americans, and to use the “text” and system of government that was designed for a people with a different historical context, different cultural inclinations, a very different personality and work ethic, and a different level of economic and intellectual development is totally disastrous. By adopting a form of government and system of governance that is much more flexible and appropriate to the Philippine context, Filipinos will find that self-government need not be too much of a burden. Should we really continue to use a system that does not work for us? It’s high time we made the change.
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Conclusion & Recommendations:
This rather lengthy “quasi-dissertation” has clearly covered many points and has sought to carefully explain, beyond reasonable doubt, the causal relationship between system and culture. It is thus important to present a few solid feasible recommendations to the readers at the various levels of fixable systems involved: Societal System:
There is no doubt that Constitutional Reform must be pursued in order to set up a more flexible, stable, accountable, platform-centric, and supremely more appropriate system that would support a more meritocratic framework of allowing the more competent and deserving members of society to rise to the top of the leadership hierarchy. Instead of promoting pure popularity and winnability, shifting to a parliamentary system which better promotes platforms, programs, competence, intelligence, and achievement as opposed to the winnability-focus found in the flawed Philippine presidential system will send an extremely strong signal to the entire Filipino populace that the country’s priorities have changed and improved and people will respond accordingly through the appropriate behavior.
It is also necessary that in choosing the model of such system, care is taken to ensure that the model of governance adopted is one which is more likely to be consistent and cognizant of the cultural context of the Filipino People. An extremely flawed and distorted version of the American-style Presidential System has continually been tried and it has clearly failed Filipinos. It is high time to reject it and replace it with something better and more appropriate to our context.
Moreover, at the societal system, the leadership structure – once such system reform takes place -should definitely seek to set up a system of education that molds Filipinos to become highly-disciplined, focused, hardworking, analytical, studious, logical, rational, highly-informed, inquisitive, and intellectually-precocious. Perhaps a lax and liberal atmosphere patterned after the mainstream liberal American educational system may not be the best one given that the Philippine tropical environment is not conducive to molding a highly-competitive citizenry. Numerous European countries (despite being temperate and cold) and Asian countries (take a good look at the Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Singaporean educational systems!) have systems that are highly competitive and disciplinarian, which is then reflected in their superior international academic rankings.
At every level and every area in society, the government should strongly promote merit-based competition. Even “Conditional Cash Transfers” should not end up like simple dole-outs to beggars and instead should best be implemented with competitive requirements such as, perhaps, turning the CCT into an incentive scheme for poor families to promote scholastic excellence among their children: only families who produce honor students among their children are eligible to receive CCT’s. In fact, an even better scheme might involve giving much higher CCT allotments to families whose children graduate as class valedictorian, salutatorian, honorable places, and other special graduation distinctions.
In short, government should use every single opportunity to promote excellence in any given field as a prerequisite to receiving any “favors” orfinancial assistance. A society that creates such a system where “there is no such thing as a free lunch” can easily find itself almost instantly changing the priorities and cultural preferences of the people. Through such a major shift in philosophy and practice, mendicancy will automatically get drastically reduced and everyone will learn to recognize the value of everything.
Sub-Community & Family System:
Small communities like church groups, parishes, Islamic Majlis councils, civic groups, community clubs, village associations, barangay groups, and the like need to organize themselves around actively motivating their members and the families that comprise them to become successful and competent members of the wider society.
(I also emphasize greatly that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference should definitely shift its attention away from their losing stance on the Responsible Parenthood Bill, formerly known as the RH Bill – which unfortunately erodes the CBCP’s support base and credibility – and instead focus more on denouncing the go-go dancer phenomenon found in noontime and primetime TV variety shows which invariably promote prostitution as a “viable occupation.” That is the greater social cancer that afflicts the Philippines.)
Singapore has successfully made use of this paradigm of organizing the various ethnic groups’ associations, clan associations, old-country home-town groups, religious groups (church, mosque, temple, gurdwara, etc), small political constituencies, town halls, and more that comprise Singapore in order to promote policies that lead towards the direction of excellence and real economic and societal progress. These initiatives range from simple educational-support, actively giving due public praise and recognition to scholastic, intellectual, musical, athletic, and other achievements to students who excel, organizing review-groups, as well as providing tutorial and assistance to those encountering difficulty. Awards are even given at these small-community levels to parents whose children excel in school, thus giving incentives for parents to ensure that their children study hard. Moreover, adult members of communities themselves receive recognition for their own career excellence.
Because of the strong culture of meritocracy and achievement fostered at the wider societal system through the Government’s active promotion of excellence which permeates down to the Sub-community system via the small community groups, Singapore’s family systems are likewise geared towards excellence. Parents from all ethnic and religious communities actively discipline and encourage their own children to study hard, excel in whatever they do, and cultivate their talents in different fields of endeavor.
“We have focused on basics in Singapore. We used the family to push economic growth, factoring the ambitions of a person and his family into our planning. We have tried, for example, to improve the lot of children through education.
The government can create a setting in which people can live happily and succeed and express themselves, but finally it is what people do with their lives that determines economic success or failure. Again, we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop, the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty in the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.”
Truth be told, the collective solidarity that exists within the traditional setting of the Filipino family is a good starting point which connects us with our Asian neighbors as well as our related Mediterranean (Latin/Hispanic) adoptive siblings and cousins.
Granted, thrift might not be a strong point of some Filipino families – not yet at least, but filial piety, loyalty in the extended family? These are intrinsic values in Filipino Culture just as much as they are among the Chinese, Malays, and Indians of Singapore. If enlightened Filipino leaders are able to properly harness the natural family-orientation of Filipinos in order to bring about much needed reforms in society the same way Singapore did, there is no reason that the Philippines cannot achieve similar results. (Now that also requires that the political system allows competent and enlightened Filipino leaders to emerge at the top in the first place, which is why “system of government” is important!)
Unfortunately, the Filipino Family System cannot be improved unless parents are in the Philippines together with their children. If one or two parents are forced to work abroad because they are unable to find decent-paying local job opportunities, the Family System weakens and the children suffer. Instead of sending Filipinos to work in foreign companies in foreign countries as OFW’s, causing them to be unable to provide effective parental guidance to their children, and often indulging them by sending undeserved gifts in order to make up for their absence, we need to bring the foreign companies to the Philippines to give local jobs to locally-based Filipinos.
Therefore, part and parcel of the need to improve the Family System is to bring about Constitutional Reform with the ultimate aim of creating massive local employment opportunities by removing the misguided protectionist provisions which have discouraged foreign investors from creating jobs for Filipinos.
Thanks to the emphasis on excellence and meritocracy at all wider collective spheres, people will have no choice but to adopt the emphasis on excellence and meritocracy as part of their own personal systems and philosophies. Under such a paradigm, sloppiness and laziness will cause them to become the outcasts.
Currently, Filipino society is unfortunately wired in such a way so that people who wish to excel need to have extremely strong personal systems with “deviant” tendencies or strong personalities who do not care about what others think of them in order to defy the general tendency of Philippine society towards laxity, mediocrity, moral turpitude, and anti-intellectualism. The strong crab-mentality and “pakikisama” tendency causes many Filipinos, especially many Filipino males, to merely seek to fit in with the mediocre crowd rather than excel and stand-out due to the risk of ostracism. This peer pressure culture of pakikisama in the Philippine context of the urban & rural poor may even be such that young little girls who are exposed to the sexually-suggestive music of Lito Camo and the sexually-explicit gyrating dance-moves of the Sexbomb Dancers are forced to fit in with the rest of their young peers and join in the dancing or risk ostracism. Those young little girls who know better not to join in such dancing end up becoming social outcasts among the peers they grow up with within their communities.
This problem of pakikisama and peer pressure towards all the wrong things is unfortunately why many of Philippine Society’s most competent and most excellent members are often forced to put up façades of ordinariness just to blend in with the wider crowd. It’s either that, or those who really do excel in certain fields that are not considered “mainstream” start out as deviants in one way or another, not caring about how others see them.
As it is, focusing on the personal system as a means to achieve societal change is important. But personal systems of different individuals often respond to stimuli formed within the collective context of their own families, communities, and the wider society as determined by those at the top of it. If the collective systems in the wider context of Philippine society continue to promote mediocrity and incompetence, then people whose personal systems incline towards achievement and excellence risk social alienation.
How can we create a successful society if being excellent and successful means risking social alienation?
How can we create an intellectually-precocious society if being intellectually-precocious is seen as weird?
How can we create a meritocratic and hard-working society if our systems reward popularity, not merit?
It is for this reason that reforming all the Collective Systems at the Societal, Sub-Community, and Family level are extremely important. The rewards or punishments provided at the collective levels, no doubt influence or even determine the kind of Personal Systems that most individuals maintain. Ultimately, we must realize that if our aim is to come up with a society that is competent and excellence-based – one that can get out of our unfortunate failed state of Third Worldism and transform ourselves into a prosperous and well-run society, then we cannot simply hope to change the Philippines one Filipino at a time. It has been proven that other societies can leapfrog their mediocrities and states of economic stagnation to change their societies collectivelythrough effective top-down reform caused through the pursuit of correct and appropriate government policies that permeate downwards to other societal levels, smaller communities, down to families, and down to the individual personal level. Do we really want to improve our culture collectively so that instead of mediocrity, we all fight for excellence and a better life? If yes, then that entails changing our collective culture, not just our individual characters, changing our collective customs, not just our individual habits, and ultimately changing our behavior, both collective & individual. Luckily, we now know how all that can be done:
To change our collective culture, we must change all our systems.
(originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21st November 2012)
by Peter Wallace
Let me give you a few points to ponder when considering whether or not we need to open up the economy by amending the Constitution. Because now is the time to discuss it. If we do, we can vote upon it in 2013.
In 1935, there was rudimentary AM radio, negligible commercial air travel, cars that could reach 100 kph if they struggled hard enough. TV was unheard of. The only household appliances were a simple refrigerator and toaster.
Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have cell phones; today, we can’t leave the house without them. Imagine if the Constitution had banned mobile communications in the name of protecting national security. Today, I can turn on the TV and CNN is right there in my living room. It doesn’t need a transmitter here, or even an office, so why not let it have one if it wants?
Technology has removed borders. Satellite communications, fiber optic cables, digital technology were all unheard of in 1935 and perhaps a rarity in 1987. They are a part of our lives today, so we may as well let the foreigners in as they’re already in.
The dream of many Filipinos is to gain a foreign education to add to what they’ve learnt here. They dream of going to Harvard, but the cost is prohibitive. Why not bring Harvard here? What it will have to charge will, alone, be enough to make it no threat to local colleges. Anyway, do we want to protect colleges or open up opportunities for students? Foreign colleges can bring research and new technologies to the Philippines, too, an area where we have been weak. Indonesia recently passed a law (it does not need constitutional change) to allow foreign ownership of educational establishments.
Maybe a 75-year lease on land seems enough, but would you want to be able to only lease the land for your house? No, you’d want to own it, passionately so. Well, foreigners don’t think in some strange foreign way; they want to own, too. Filipinos can, and do, own land in America and almost everywhere else, so why not here, at the very least on a reciprocal basis? For “own use” would be fair enough. The agrarian reform law has destroyed the ability to own agricultural land, so farmers are under no “threat.” And if limited to own use for house or factory, the amount of land taken would be infinitesimal.
I’m willing to bet many of those who are against foreign ownership of land have relatives who own land in other countries. So, apart from anything else, it would be only fair to have reciprocity. But that’s not so much the point. What is the point is that if we want to achieve more rapid growth, allowing foreigners to own land at least for their own house or factory will help achieve that. As it is now, that inability to own land is seen as a major deterrent to attracting investment.
The ideal way to review the Constitution is through a constitutional convention. The argument that it costs more and takes more time is true, but we are talking about the Constitution, the fundamental document of the nation. You don’t consider the cost, which is small on the national scale of things, anyway.
But the more practical way, given political realities, is for Congress as a constituent assembly to do the review, with both chambers voting separately before it goes to a plebiscite of the people. There’s also concern that the review would not be restricted to the economic provisions but would shift to the political arena as well, and end up extending the terms of politicians. Maybe, but it may also lead to a serious re-think of the whole system—something that I think is needed. For instance, a parliamentary system would better suit Philippine culture. Having come from one, I think it’s a better system, anyway. I don’t like the dictatorial power a president holds even in a democratic system, particularly in a country where hierarchy is a given. You don’t question, or disagree with, the boss, just because he’s the boss. Well, I disagree with that. Rising to the top through a political process does not make you a greater expert than everyone else. The fact that you need the president’s support if constitutional change is to be effected is a perfect example of this fundamental weakness in a presidential system, Philippine-style. Think about it: Why should you need (as in this system you do) the President’s—one man’s—support for something to succeed?
The problem with the presidential system is that it panders to the hierarchical nature of the Philippines. There’s a reverence for the boss (I like that) at a level not common elsewhere. A Philippine president is almost royalty. A parliamentary system somewhat levels the field. A prime minister is a first amongst equals, and may be taken out by a simple vote of confidence if he doesn’t perform.
In a parliamentary system, the majority decides, the prime minister can’t override it. That’s as it should be. So I wouldn’t object if the style of government were included in the review.
Everyone says, “Not now,” it’s too open to risk of political machination (to just extend terms, for example). But if not now, when? With a President disinterested in a continuance in power—something that’s unlikely to be ever repeated—this seems an ideal time. If a full review were to be agreed to, then a constitutional convention is the only way.
Whichever is agreed to—a full review, or just the economic sections—let’s do it now.
We’ll never have a more favorable time.
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Peter Wallace has been described as the most prominent foreign businessman in the Philippines, and an important voice for business within government. Peter has been conducting political, economic and business analysis for over two decades, advising multinationals, major Filipino companies, embassies and international agencies. Having covered 4 presidencies, 2 revolutions and some 8 attempted coups d ‘etats, Peter provides a balanced assessment of conditions and forecasts of what can be expected. Peter’s links into government, senior business groups, the academe and various political factions ensure some of the best insights available.
This is a draft for the text published as “Conceptual Homogenization of a Heterogeneous Field: Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective,” in Mattei Dogan and Ali Kazancigil, eds. Comparing Nations: Concepts, Strategies, Substance. Blackwell, 1994. pp. 72-152.
The American constitutional system based on the separation of powers was modeled on a transitional stage in the evolution of democracy as experienced in 18th century England. With Kings struggling to retain power against insurgent parliamentary forces, a precarious imbalance of power existed which the Founding Fathers copied in America, but sought to stabilize by an ingenious though precarious system of checks and balances. When other countries imitated this plan — as in virtually all of Latin America and some countries in Africa, Asia, and the post-Soviet arena — they typically experienced break-downs followed by despotism. By contrast, in the United States, despite severe crises such as a major Civil War and the Depression, the system has survived until today, a truly exceptional experience that calls for explanations, as proposed here.
Meanwhile, all the other industrial democracies, on the basis of 19th century developments in the UK, have adopted a significantly different constitutional design based on an the accountability of Cabinet Government to Parliamentary controls that evolved in England half a century after the American Revolution. Although no constitutional plan can guarantee success for any country, the likelihood that parliamentary regimes will survive is far greater than the prospects for those based on the separation-of-powers. Even the best recipe can be spoiled by a bad cook, but all cooks are more likely to succeed following better rather than worse recipes.
The “transitional stage” in the evolution of Democracy as mentioned by the late Dr. Riggs was also mentioned in the article “Senator Pangilinan & the Parliamentary System” where a diagram was presented describing the evolution of democratic systems from the original Absolute Monarchy in Feudal England all the way down to the Post-Victorian Parliamentary System (often within the framework of a ceremonial Constitutional Monarchy) that exists in today’s modern United Kingdom and several post-19th century former British colonies such as Canada, Australia, NZ, Bahamas, Barbados, Malaysia, Singapore, and others.
The diagram is shown below:
What we refer to as the US-derived Presidential System actually coincides with the system of a Powerful Semi-Absolute Monarchy which is merely one iteration away from an Absolute Monarchy. Most Presidential Systems are realistically just one step away from being Dictatorships. Parliamentary Systems are the most evolved systems.
The frequent collapse of presidentialist regimes in about 30 third world countries that have attempted to establish constitutions based on the principle of “separation of powers” suggests that this political formula is seriously flawed. By comparison, only some 13 of over 40 third world regimes (3l%) established on parliamentary principles had experienced breakdowns by coup d’etat or revolution as of 1985 (Riggs 1993a) (1)..
This empirical data substantiates Juan Linz’s argument that parliamentarism “is more conducive to stable democracy…” than presidentialism (Linz 1990, 53). While Linz admits that a presidentialist regime may be stable, as the American case shows, he does not try to explain this exception. Here I shall speculate about some of the practices found in the United States which seem to have helped perpetuate an inherently fragile scheme of government. These speculations need to be tested by systematic comparisons with the experience of the presidentialist regimes that have broken down. Pending such analysis, however, I will offer some impressionistic evidence to support the hypotheses presented below.
The discussion that follows is divided into three parts. –
First: the institutional features found by definition in all presidentialist regimes;
Second some critical problems inherent in any constitution based on “presidentialist” principles
Third: American practices or traditions–frequently “undemocratic” in character–whose absence has apparently contributed to the collapse of presidentialism elsewhere.
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PRESIDENTIALISM: WHAT IS IT?
Traditional institutional analysis antedated World War II and, unavoidably, focused attention on the well established polities of North America and Europe. Because all the stable industrial democracies (except the U.S.) adopted parliamentary forms of government and the other presidentialist systems were so unstable, however, the comparative analysis of presidentialism languished. Generalizations were based on a universe that included only one “viable” presidentialist regime and a good many parliamentary systems. Perhaps unavoidably, in this context, comparativists often assumed that the unique properties of governance in the U.S. could be attributed to environmental factors (i.e., geography, history, culture, economy, social structure, etc.) rather than its institutional design.
After World War II, Comparative Government experienced a radical re-evaluation of its fundamental premises in the light of the entry into the world system of over 100 new -third world- states. Many of them adopted constitutions that were quickly repudiated when military groups seized power in a coup d’etat, and it became apparent that formally instituted structures of government, typically based on Western models, did not or could not work as they were expected to. New approaches to comparative politics stressed functionalism or socio-economic determinism, and emphasized the crucial importance of external forces generated by the world capitalist system and international “dependency.” Political anthropologists emphasized the continuing vitality of traditional cultures and the comparative study of institutions languished. –
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The Institutional Framework
In this context, formal institutions of governance were down- played as having secondary, if not trivial, importance. The fact that virtually all presidentialist regimes except that of the United States experienced authoritarianism and military coups was attributed to cultural, environmental or ecological forces rather than any inherent problems in this constitutional formula. Comparative presidentialism was neglected because it was considered useless to take “unsuccessful” cases seriously: how could failures teach us anything about the workings of a political system?
Moreover, since there was only one “successful” case, it could scarcely prove anything about the requisites for success in a presidentialist regime. It never occurred to anyone to think that the failures of presidentialism outside the U.S. were due to deep structural problems with the institutional design rather than with ecological pressures caused by the world system, poverty, Hispanic culture, religion, geographic constraints, demographic forces, etc. Nor did anyone imagine that constitutional failures could be used to test hypotheses about why American presidentialism had survived, or to learn more about the risks involved in this kind of system.
A counter-intuitive hypothesis might explain why presidentialism in the third world has been so unsuccessful. The newer presidentialist regimes may have rejected, as -undemocratic,- some practices that, perhaps unintentionally, have helped American presidentialism to survive. If so, these regimes were unconsciously caught in a double bind: to be more -democratic- involved taking risks that could lead to dictatorship, whereas to perpetuate representative government meant accepting some patently undemocratic rules. Unfortunately, I believe, our ignorance of the regime-maintaining requisites of presidentialism blinds us to the negative impact of progressive reforms on the survival of this type of democracy.
In the U.S. itself, debates about proposed “reforms” fail to consider their likely impact on the viability of the constitutional system. An old example involves the use of “primaries” to select candidates for election to public office, a nominally “democratic” innovation that has weakened its political parties. The current debate about limiting the terms of legislators in order to enhance democratic values fails to consider how it might affect the capacity of Congress to maintain the precarious legislative/executive balance of power that is so crucial for the survival of presidentialism.
A recent critic of President George Bush’s proposal for a constitutional amendment to limit Congressional terms to 12 years points out that it would increase the number of legislative ‘lame ducks,’ reduce the incentives for ‘men [and women] of potential public excellence’ to compete for elective office, increase the dependence of neophyte legislators on their professional staff and on bureaucrats and lobbyists, and diminish the scope of effective electoral choice open to voters. The same author, who directs political and social studies at the conservative Hudson Institute, argues that other solutions can be found to overcome the unfair advantages — mainly financial — that incumbents have when seeking re-election, without incurring the grave defects of the limited term option. I agree with all of these arguments, but they do not consider how the proposed change would affect the vitality and viability of presidentialism in America (Blitz, 1990). My guess is that electoral primaries have already weakened our constitutional system, and term limits, if adopted, would also have a negative systemic effect — but these are points to be discussed below at greater length.
Meanwhile, without rejecting any of the important findings of functional, ecological and world systems analysis, I suggest that we should also view all institutions as fragile human creations vulnerable to erosion or collapse? In addition to asking how a constitution actually works and how democratic and effective it may be, we need to consider its viability: what are its prospects for survival in a dangerous and highly interdependent world?
As ‘comparative politics’ evolved since the Second World War, it focused on intra-regional comparisons — that is, within the ‘First,” “Second” and ‘Third” Worlds. Such a geographically and economically determined framework has impeded institutional modes of analysis that require a global approach, including a North-South perspective that compares the effects of fundamental (constitutional) designs regardless of their geographic location or economic status.
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The Environmental Context.
An institutional framework does not preclude environmental considerations. Economic level, class conflict, ethnic heterogeneity, geographic inequalities in the distribution of resources and population densities, religious, linguistic and cultural variety and so on, are ll significant and affect the destiny of states, as do such external forces as imperialism, foreign interventions, wars, migrations, and trade. Every regime confronts such -environmental – problems, some much more acutely than others.
Since both environmental pressures and regime types vary significantly, we must eventually try to link the two kinds of considerations. However, the impact of institutional variables is much easier to isolate and compare. It is perhaps easier, also, to compare the capacity of similar regimes to handle tough environmental challenges. To reverse this approach poses an extremely complex problem: it is extraordinarily difficult to reach safe conclusions about how any environmental variable affects the survival of democracy. Moreover, if our goal involves helping presidentialist regimes cope with tough environmental challenges, it is much easier to propose legal or constitutional reforms that might help instead of trying to change the environment–e.g., by promoting economic or cultural transformations, religious movements, and the rest.
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Comparison of political institutions should begin with basic regime types, the constitutional principles that determine how a government is organized. No doubt every government has unique features, but it is easy enough to classify them into a few broad categories. Ideally speaking, the new (non-Western) states ought to devise indigenous institutions well adapted to their own needs and circumstances. So far, however, to cope with the problems of the modern world, they have relied for the most part on a few options borrowed from abroad, based mainly on the experience of presidentialist and parliamentary governments–or single-party authoritarianisms.
When these regimes fail, they typically give way to a military dictatorship and personal rule based on the seizure of power by public officials (mainly military officers) carrying out a successful oup d’etat Here I shall confine my analysis to a single regime type, one that has been widely emulated with disastrous results in some 30 countries of the third world, i.e., “presidentialism.”
The word, presidentialism (for reasons to be explained below) is used here to designate a type of -representative- government based, in principle, on the -separation of powers- between executive and legislative institutions, i.e.,. the President and the Congress. The meaning of “representative government,” or of “democracy,” will not be discussed here, but it presupposes the existence of a viable assembly (Congress or Parliament) whose members are elected from competing candidates by the citizens of a state. The separation of powers is a complex goal that cannot sustain itself simply because of a constitutional prescription. Rather, it results from adherence to a fundamental rule, namely that the head of -government- must have a -fixed term of office,- i.e., not be subject to dismissal by a no confidence vote of Congress: this does not preclude the power of impeachment for criminal conduct. The presidentialist separation of powers is viewed as a -result- of a single rule–the fixed term of the President. My definition of presidentialism, therefore, specifies this rule as its cause, rather than the separation of powers that is its consequence. The definition, of course, presupposes the existence of a viable legislative assembly without which any head of government may easily become a dictator.
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The Defining Criterion
The definition of presidentialism offered here involves a sharp distinction between two key roles found in representative governments: that of head of -state- and head of -government.- This distinction is basic because non-presidentialist systems often have elected “presidents” who are heads of state but not heads of government. In parliamentary systems the two roles are easily distinguishable: the head of government is a prime minister, while the head of state is either a constitutional monarch or an elected -president.- Such “presidents” usually also serve for a fixed term and cannot be discharged by a parliamentary vote of no confidence, but this does not make their regimes “presidentialist.” The term president is often used also for the head of state in single-party and even military authoritarian regimes, but they are not therefore “presidentialist.”
In presidentialist regimes the elected head of government always serves concurrently as head of state. However, we must avoid defining a presidentialist system as one in which the head of -state- (president) is elected to office, a criterion that includes many non-presidentialist systems. A regime is presidentialist only if the effective head of -government- (President) is elected for a fixed term: the mode of election may be direct or indirect. To be “effective,” a head of government cannot be dominated by a single ruling party or a military junta, and the “fixed term” rule precludes discharge by a legislative no-confidence vote. (2)..
To repeat, by presidentialism I mean only those -representative governments in which the head – -of government is elected for a fixed term of office-, i.e., he/she cannot be discharged by a no- confidence vote of Congress. Note that this definition is -onomantic- rather than -semantic-: I am not reporting what the word, presidentialist already means. Rather, I am explaining a fundamental political concept and proposing a term to name it. Of course, presidential can be used to name this kind of system, but since this word is also used for other regime types– notably parliamentary systems with an elected head of state–there is less risk of ambiguity if we use an unfamiliar word, like presidentialist for the specific concept intended here. (3)..
Admittedly, this usage is not yet established. Many writers will say presidential when they mean presidentialis However, generalizations about “presidential” regimes are often invalid because they lump together some non-presidentialist with presidentialist polities. In this essay it is always necessary to know whether one is talking about the specific properties of a presidentialist system–as defined here–or using a loose concept that can also include parliamentary systems. These are different institutional forms of democracy and they have radically different properties that we need to understand. (4)
Scales of Variation The distinction between presidentialism and parliamentarism should be viewed as logical -contraries,- not -contradictories.- They are ideal types at opposite ends of a scale: in other words, representative government is not necessarily either presidentialist or parliamentary. There are intermediate possibilities, “semi-presidential” and “semi- parliamentary” in character.
Consider, for example, the French Fifth Republic, that Maurice Duverger has characterized as semi-presidential (1980). Although the head of -state- (president) is indeed elected for a fixed term of office, the head of -government- (premier) must command a parliamentary majority. So long as the president’s party has such a majority, the president may choose a premier of his own party, thereby permitting him to rule as the de facto head of government. Otherwise, the head of government (premier) may come from an opposition party in order to gain parliamentary support, as happened between 1986 and 1988 when President Francois Mitterand had to name an opposition leader, Jacques Chirac, as premier (Suleiman 1989, 11-15). At such times, the president is not a President. Juan Linz refers to the Fifth Republic as a “hybrid” (1990, 52). Scott Mainwaring also identifies Chile (1891-1924) and Brazil (1961-1963) as semi- presidentialist, even though their constitutional rules differed from those of the French Fifth Republic (1989, 159). Luis E. Gonzalez uses the terms, semi and neo-parliamentary to characterize the changing Uruguayan constitutions. The 1934 and 1942 charters, for example, had neo-parliamentary features insofar as the President had the authority to dissolve the legislature, and the legislature could censure the ministers, compelling the President to resign– but these powers were never tested (Gonzalez 1989, 3-4). The 1967 Uruguayan constitution retained the President’s right to dissolve Congress and hold new elections after a minister had been censured, but he would not, then, be required to resign (Gillespie 1989, 12-13). Giovanni Sartori proposes a four-type scale running from pure “presidential” [i.e., presidentialist] to pure parliamentary regimes. (5) This typology presupposes the maintenance of representative government. We need, however, to consider a second dimension of variation that runs from truly representative government to open authoritarianism or personal rule. Presidentialist forms may be retained even though their essential functions are lost.
Quasi-presidentiaist refers to a degenerated presidentialist system. Sometimes, regimes that were originally presidentialist become modified in practice when the principle of separation of powers is breached even though it remains nominally in effect. This has usually occurred when Presidential powers were expanded at the expense of the legislature that became a pliant legitimizing body, ratifying without resistance the decisions of the President. Although such regimes are presidentialist de jure, de facto they are not. We might put President in quotation marks to signify a role that appears to follow presidentialist rules but, in fact, violates them. It is often said that a weak legislature combined with “Presidential” domination is endemic in Latin America–countries like Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay provide the exceptions. Quasi-presidentialism may mask the dominant position of a hegemonic political party but it occurs more often, I believe, because an autocratic “President” or a dominant family or clique gains control of the Presidential office. Sometimes, also, unseen military “bosses” determine key policies while the formal office-holders, including the “President,” become their “puppets.” One may argue that most Latin American regimes are only “quasi-presidential”.
Whereas quasi-presidentialism results when an authentic presidentialist regime disintegrates, -pseudo-presidentialism- arises when a presidentialist charter is promulgated as a facade to cover some form of authoritarianism. For example, a military dictator establishing personal rule (Jackson and Rosberg 1982, 10) may adopt the title of “president” and sponsor a charter that copies the presidentialist formula: its elected assembly is politically impotent and the outcome of its presidential elections is predetermined.
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When a presidentialist regime experiences serious crises, one might assume (or hope?) that its political leaders would recognize the need for fundamental reforms and adopt constitutional amendments or new constitutions that move in the parliamentary direction. Instead, what usually happens is a regime breakdown that moves toward authoritarianism, whether formalistically through quasi-presidentialism or more overtly, after a coup d’etat, into pseudo-presidentialism.
Authoritarianism, whether in the form of quasi- or pseudo-presidentialism, is no more stable than pure presidentialism. Ultimately, all forms of dictatorship (including single-party and military authoritarianism) may be overthrown and replaced by constitutional regimes and representative government. Whenever this happens, serious attention is usually given to the design of a new constitution that might overcome the liabilities of earlier schemes.
In such episodes of re-democratization, parliamentary or semi-parliamentary options are often seriously debated, as happened recently in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. However, it seems to be true that almost all ex-presidentialist regimes opt again for a new form of presidentialism. Under these circumstances, it is truly important to understand the survival problems inherent in the presidentialist formula. The practices that have enabled presidentialism to last in the United States might, perhaps, be institutionalized in other countries. However, I believe that most reformers would consider these practices (not presidentialism as such) so essentially undemocratic that they would reject them. When they recognize the costs involved in perpetuating presidentialism, they may be more willing to embrace options that move in the direction of parliamentarism. Until then, they are more likely, unwittingly, to approve presidentialism in a form that also involves quite democratic practices that, unfortunately, undermine the viability of the regime.
Presidentialism, per se, may be neither more nor less “democratic” than parliamentarism, although the American “founding fathers” explicitly prescribed a “republican” formula that they thought would avoid the dangers of populist “democracy.” However, even if one were to grant, provisionally, that presidentialism creates a more open and democratic regime than parliamentarism, one would have to balance this argument against the claim that, if presidentialism is likely to collapse into authoritarianism, then we ought to embrace a less democratic option that has better prospects of survival. Please understand: I do not claim that presidentialism is less democratic than parliamentarism. I only argue that if presidentialism is to survive as a regime type, heavy costs must be born, and some of these costs involve accepting undesirable (undemocratic?) practices.
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THE TROUBLES OF PRESIDENTIALISM
In order to maintain the constitutionally prescribed separation of powers based on the election of a head of government for a fixed term of office, several fundamental and typical problems have to be solved in every presidentialist regime. Even though some of them may be solved in a given polity, failure to handle others can lead to deterioration or breakdown. Each major presidentialist problem is a kind of handicap: by itself it may not cause a breakdown but it becomes part of a cumulative and mutually reinforcing set of ruinous forces.
An executive/legislative relationship based on the fixed term of office set for the head of government constitutes the core problem: it generates other difficulties, however, each of which might precipitate a breakdown. Thus the separation vs. fusion of powers issue is not the only critical issue. In addition, each institutional feature of presidentialism–including the Presidential role, the Congress, the political party and electoral system, and the bureaucracy, as they relate to each other–needs to be examined. Questions involving a powerful third branch, the judicial system, are also relevant, but space limitations prevent discussion of this complex subject here. Might it be true, for example, that even a strong Supreme Court could not rescue a presidentialist regime about to collapse, or that a weak judicial system would not undermine such a regime if it had found other ways to cope with its major intrinsic problems? Such doubts reinforce my decision to ignore this important question here, but some tentative thoughts on it can be found in Riggs (1988c, 255 & 269-272).
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The Presidential Establishment
Although the presidentialist formula only requires, by definition, the election for a fixed term of office of the head of -government,- Presidents also always serve as the head of -state-. In addition, the President is typically also the commander-in- chief and sometimes heads a leading party (or coalition of parties). These overlapping roles create vast expectations . The power vested in the office eems overwhelming, and regime tabilit appears to be assured. Since presidentialist regimes are vulnerable to collapse, however, this is an illusion. No doubt, so long as the regime persists, the fixed term of a President’s office assures more continuity of leadership–despite possible cabinet reorganizations–than can be found in a multi-party parliamentary system vulnerable to frequent cabinet crises. In practice, nevertheless, Presidents are severely hampered in their leadership roles, and their inability to fulfill popular expectations often leads to crises and regime breakdowns. These limitations may be viewed from several perspectives.
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Fusion of Roles.
As head of -government- every President has to make controversial policy decisions that unavoidably alienate substantial portions of the population. Even when a Government’s policies are widely supported, failures and injustices in their implementation are often blamed on the President. Yet Presidents, in their capacity as heads of -state,- are expected to symbolize and attract everyone’s loyalty, providing a common focus of patriotism for all citizens. Clearly, the requirements of the first role often clash with those of the second.
In parliamentary regimes, where loyalty to the head of state (“king” or “ceremonial president”) can easily be dissociated from support/opposition to the head of government (prime minister in cabinet), citizens can more easily sustain their patriotic loyalty to the State while opposing the policies of the Government. When the two roles are linked, however, citizens easily confuse their dissatisfaction with Government with disloyalty to the State. As a result, opposition to the current Administration may produce discontent with the Constitution and provide support for coups and revolutionary movements: opposition to Government easily becomes treason to the State; dissent becomes revolution. The absence of a separate head of state may also deprive the regime of an important moderating force to help conciliate opposing political movements or tendencies in times of emergency.
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Fixed Term of Office.
The fixed term poses a double liability. In the case of effective Presidents it forces them out of office prematurely: one example may be that of Nobel prize winning President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica–his four-year term expired in 1990 and he could not be reelected. The more usual cost, however, is that paid for an ineffectual President who, nevertheless, cannot be constitutionally discharged from office (except for criminal conduct as determined by impeachment). Ironically, one of the reasons for such ineffectiveness is precisely the fixed term: ambitious politicians, even in the President’s own party, often feel that they can best advance their own careers by distancing themselves from the President, building an independent (oppositional) base for future political campaigns, and establishing themselves as opponents of the current regime. This -lame duck- phenomenon occurs in the U.S. near the end of every President’s second term in office, but in many other countries we might even speak of a -dead duck- syndrome that afflicts new Presidents shortly after they assume office. In part this is due to constitutional barriers to any re-election of a President: in the American case, the possibility of at least one re- election (two or more until the enactment of Amendment 22 in 1951) enables a President to postpone the lame duck syndrome.
A dead duck President is not only gravely handicapped, but the growth of political opposition and popular discontent may well bolster the ambitions of a military cabal conspiring to seize power. A coup d’etat is the functional equivalent, under presidentialism, of a removal effort that, in parliamentary regimes, can be achieved by a no-confidence vote. Since coups involve suspending the constitution, Congress is also dissolved, whether or not its resistance contributed to the failures of the Presidency.
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Veto Groups vs Opposition.
A President’s role as head of government is also severely limited by the pervasiveness of -veto groups- such as the legislature, the courts, and the bureaucracy, plus a fractionalized party system. Although these diverse bodies can block executive action, they cannot formulate the coherent alternatives that the political opposition can often produce in parliamentary regimes. Such an opposition may also compel Government to modify policies in a consociational direction (Lijphart 1989, 8), something that presidential veto groups normally fail to do. The possibility that an opposition can replace them means that cabinets must take their views seriously, whereas Presidents are tempted to view their opponents merely as hostile forces to be subdued.
Mainwaring tells us that in the Latin American presidentialist democracies, Presidents have often been able to initiate policies but unable to win support for their implementation (1989, 162). Thus veto groups can block action but they are powerless to bring alternative (opposition) parties to power. Since all Presidents, despite growing opposition and political impotence, must cling to office until they meet their scheduled deadlines, a kind of self-induced nemesis drives them into the dead end of their “lame duck” terms.
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The “Winner-take-all” Syndrome.
In parliamentary systems, the election of a ceremonial president means relatively little, while the election of party members to Parliament means a great deal–especially to party supporters. Even small parties may “win” to the degree that some of their candidates become Members of Parliament and may even join the Government.
By contrast, in presidentialist systems the electoral stakes are much higher and more concentrated because so much hinges on the selection of a governing President–often, indeed, it is more of a personal than a partisan victory. Presidentialism, writes Juan Linz, “is ineluctably problematic because it operates according to the rule of ‘winner-take-all’–an arrangement that tends to make democratic politics a zero-sum game, with all the potential for conflict such games portend” (1990, 56). There are many losers under presidentialism. Not only defeated parties but even members of a winning party–especially rival candidates for nomination–may feel that they have lost everything when a President is elected, leading to great discontent, alienation and the “dead duck” syndrome, as noted above.
To the degree that patronage prevails–and it is pervasive in all presidentialist regimes–a host of public officials may feel that their continuation in office depends on victory for the ruling party, and private interests supported by the Government also have a large stake in its survival. Consequently, a Presidential victory is a triumph for supporters of the winning candidate and a great loss for opponents (Linz 1990, 56). Understandably, their frustrations easily translate into popular resistance to the Regime rather than loyal opposition to the Government.
In pathological cases, the stakes seem so high that Presidents resort to unconstitutional means to maintain their power, including corruption, violence, and sponsoring proteges (relatives and cronies) so as to perpetuate a “family” dynasty, or even to compel constitutional changes that permit their own reelection. Corruption and violence at the polls often occur as a likely consequence of the high stakes winner-take-all contest.
Such contentiousness may be amplified by the electoral rules. In Peru, for example, until 1979, a President could be elected by a one-third plurality, and Congress could name the President when no candidate won a third of the votes. In Peru’s 1962 election, the leftist (APRA) party’s leader, Haya de la Torre, “beat Balaunde [of the centrist Accion Popular party] by less than one percentage point, 32.9% to 32.l%, with Odria third at 28%.” Since this threw the final choice to Congress, Haya sought first to make an alliance with Balaunde who rejected him, calling instead for new elections (APRA had been charged with electoral irregularities). Haya then turned to his arch rival, Odria, of the right wing PPC. “The specter of a government led by the presidential candidate who had finished third, in an ideologically disparate coalition between two parties that had been enemies for decades, may have been the last straw for the military. The coup came within two days” (McClintock 1989, 28-9). Thus the high-stakes winner-take-all game may even lead the losers to support the desperate expedient of a military coup.
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A Fragile Political/Administrative Base.
The institutional foundations of a President’s rule are inherently fragile. We may analyze this problem separately at the political (partisan) and the administrative (bureaucratic) levels, although in fact the two are closely interlocked.
At the political level, the contrast with parliamentary systems is instructive. The dependence of cabinets on parliamentary support means both that party discipline is necessary and that a government without parliamentary support must resign. The resulting fusion of powers often enables parliamentary governments to act decisively. By contrast, no such interdependence occurs under the presidentialist separation of powers where a persistent stalemate can block executive action.
Ideally, perhaps, a President’s authority ought to rest on a party system that mobilizes voters to support candidates for election to public offices so that a winning party can ensure Congressional support for Presidential policies. In fact, however, this rarely occurs. Presidentialist party systems vary widely in their capacity to mobilize political support for a President. Some are highly disciplined and others extremely loose, two equally dysfunctional extremes. Disciplined parties, as found in Chile, have prevented the President from getting necessary
Congressional support whenever he lacked a majority. Alternatively, as in Brazil, where party members freely vote their personal preferences, Presidents have responded by flagrantly overriding or flouting the parties that had formally supported their candidacy (Mainwaring, 1990b, 21). Even in the United States, as at present, the majority party in Congress need not be the President’s party, setting the stage for persistent conflict and deadlocks.
In multi-party systems, the President is likely to win only a plurality of popular votes, even though a technical majority may be formed in second round run-off elections or Congressional voting. Such majorities are ad hoc coalitions that soon fall apart, denying the President genuine legislative support for his/her policies: according to Mainwaring, “The combination of presidentialism and a fractionalized multiparty system is especially unfavorable to democracy. (Mainwaring 1990b, 25). See also (Valenzuela 1989, 33).
Even when, in a two-party system, the President’s party has a Congressional majority, the fact that the President cannot be discharged by a majority vote of no confidence may mean that members of the President’s party have little to lose by not supporting a Government bill they do not like. Moreover, party factionalism can also mean that many members of the ruling party consistently vote against the chief executive’s policies and leadership. No doubt, when party discipline is strong, as it has been in Argentina, a Congressional majority will assure support for Presidential policies. Nevertheless, even though the separation of powers may serve its original purpose of preventing arbitrary government, it often fails to provide the political support Presidents require in order to govern effectively.
The inability of Presidents to implement policy is compounded at the administrative level, as illustrated pointedly by the precarious dynamics of “cabinet” formation. A President needs the help of a highly qualified top echelon of department heads and bureaucrats who can administer public policies effectively and also secure Congressional and legal support for Administration policies. However, Presidents jeopardize the separation of powers if they rely either on members of Congress or on career officials to head their departments and form a cabinet. Accordingly, they seek to enhance Congressional support by naming party activists from outside Congress, or they recruit personal followers (even relatives) from the private sector to fill these posts, and to staff the Presidential apparatus, by-passing both elected politicians and experienced public administrators. Consequently, a highly personal style, inter-departmental conflicts and lack of institutionalization at the top levels of Presidential administration typically hampers the processes of governance in presidentialist regimes.
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The Legislative/Executive Chasm.
Consider the case of Ecuador, which has experienced frequent regime breakdowns, but has restored democratic procedures since 1979. Nevertheless, acute tensions between President and Congress persist, according to Catherine Conaghan, who tells us that shortly after the elections of 1984, “Congressional activity came to a stand still after sessions were marred by tear-gas bombings, fisticuffs on the floor of the assembly, and walk-outs by legislators on both sides. Meanwhile, [President] Febres Cordero had decided to physically bar the new appointees [named by Congress to the Supreme Court] from using their offices and banned the publication of the appointments…” (Conaghan 1989, 20). In 1987, the President was kidnaped by Air Force paratroopers who released him only after he had agreed to confirm the amnesty granted by Congress to two leading opponents of the administration (23-4).
“From 1979 through 1988, Ecuador staggered through a succession of executive-legislative confrontations that created a near permanent crisis atmosphere in the polity” (Conaghan 1989, 25). “Even when Presidents enjoyed a pro-government majority in Congress, the majority could easily erode under the pressures of interest groups and electoral calculations. Congressional opposition was a standard feature in the interruption of Presidential terms with interest groups and the armed forces joining in the fray” (Ibid., 8).
When a President is “…incapable of pursuing a coherent course of action because of congressional opposition… in many cases, a coup appears to be the only means of getting rid of an incompetent or unpopular president..” (Mainwaring 1989, 165). A similar argument can be found in Linz (1990, 53). Stalemate is even more unavoidable when–as noted above–the President’s party has only a minority in the Congress.
To overcome such impasses, Presidents frequently strive to dominate the assembly, a tendency that, in effect, vitiates the principle of separation of powers, leading to quasi-presidentialism and the erosion (or destruction) of presidentialist legitimacy. Embattled Presidents are often tempted to resort to desperate and even unconstitutional measures in order to bypass Congress and achieve their goals (Mainwaring 1989, 168-9). Sometimes, as in the Philippines in 1972, the President suspends Congress and rules by martial law and executive orders.
More often, as in Brazil, according to Mainwaring, all its democratic Presidents sought “…to bypass Congress by implementing policy through executive agencies and decree-laws… the practice of creating new agencies and circumventing congress for major programs…” has grave costs (1990b, 15). “When Quadros and Goulart were frustrated with Congress…they appealed to popular mobilization–with disastrous results in both cases… This strategy was catastrophic, as it further alienated major institutional actors, including the armed forces…” (1990b, 16).
Military interventions are not often explicitly due to an overt impasse between the President and Congress, but rather are attributed to habitual executive abuse or misuse of power provoked by a long-festering history of such conflict. The absence of a coherent opposition that could replace the Government–as noted above–often tempts a President to persist in unwise projects that undermine popular support. No cabinet officer or legislator is powerful enough to compel the President to make serious policy revisions. The frequent replacement of cabinet members not only reflects Presidential weakness but, reciprocally, generates sycophantism and intimidates those who might be able to correct a misguided President.
Since impeachment cannot replace the Government by an opposition party, even fierce opponents may oppose a procedure that will merely replace the President with an even more objectionable vice president. Consequently, the fixed electoral cycle of presidentialism creates structural rigidities that are readily overcome in the alternative parliamentary model by the threat of a cabinet crisis and/or new elections whenever the current leadership is seriously discredited. Is it, therefore, surprising that in such an environment a cabal of officials, mainly military officers, should seize power and overthrow the presidentialist regime?
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Since the presidentialist formula requires that members of Congress as well as the President be elected for a fixed term of office, it is apparent that every effective Congress will have to cope with a vast and inherently unmanageable agenda. By contrast, in any Parliament, members mainly need only to agree or disagree with Government policies. Even members of a Government party who disagree with its policies will usually support them in order to avoid the likelihood of a new election in which they might lose their seats.
In all contemporary polities the number of complex issues calling for attention is so vast and controversial that it is really impossible for any body of legislators to study and reach collective agreements on all of them. The danger, then, is that an overloaded Congress will fail to act or find itself deadlocked in major controversies. If it is too compliant with Presidential policy demands, it becomes a mere rubber stamp, or it may simply refuse to consider many of the issues that might have been placed on its agenda. If, however, it habitually rejects Government proposals, or offers alternatives that the President will only veto, it can bring the processes of governance to a halt.
Moreover, members of Congress face competing demands that must be terribly frustrating. They are pressured by clients seeking patronage appointments, by local constituencies seeking funds for “pork barrel” projects, and they must mobilize support for re-election campaigns. Essentially, every Congress is placed in a kind of “no-win” situation from which it vainly struggles to extricate itself. Ultimately, it must share with the President a heavy burden of criticism that, all too often, generates military intervention and the breakdown of the regime.
* * *
The Party System
Since a presidentialist regime is, by definition, a form of representative government, it needs to have an open party system: i.e., it needs electoral competition between two or more effective parties. I believe this is true because the maintenance of genuine legislative power is impossible whenever one party regularly dominates the elected assembly. A one-party system (as in Communist regimes) leads to complete party control of the elected assembly. Even a hegemonic party, in a polity that permits genuine opposition parties, nearly suffocates the Congress. Mexico provides a classic case. There, all the advantages resulting from electoral success belong repeatedly to the PRI and the Congress becomes a pliant legitimizing instrument. The separation of powers required, by definition, in a presidentialist regime is, therefore, incompatible with hegemonic or one-party rule–what I shall refer to as a closed party system. By definition, opposition parties may be permitted to run candidates in free elections, but if they have no real chance of winning power, then the party system is really “closed.”
An open party system, by contrast, is one in which two or more parties have real possibilities of winning power. We cannot use multi-party for this concept because a two-party system is also “open.” No doubt the distinction between two and multi-party systems is significant–as is the distinction between single and hegemonic party systems. However, I see them as sub-types of a more fundamental distinction, i.e., between open and closed party systems. Moreover, among open party systems there is a more fundamental difference based on the dynamics of inter-party competition that we need to consider here.
* * *
Dynamics of Centrifugalism.
Among open party systems, the most fundamental distinction, I believe, involves the degree to which power is centrifugalized (polarizing) or centripetalized (centering). In the context of this distinction, we can better understand the two- party/multi-party contrast. (6) I believe that the survival of presidentialism is promoted by an open centripetal party system and undermined by one that is centrifugal or closed.
Centripetal forces arise when different parties compete mainly for center votes, i.e., the support of regular, mainstream voters who think of themselves as “independents,” willing to support candidates of any party or even to split their tickets, as current interests, policy issues or political personalities suggest. By contrast, centrifugal forces prevail when more extreme positions are taken by parties seeking to attract the support of non-voters. This typically involves proposing dramatic, populist, costly and controversial policies likely to win the support of apathetic or alienated citizens who normally cannot or will not vote. Unfortunately, most presidentialist regimes have developed centrifugal party systems, thereby creating self- destructive spirals based on circular causation.
* * *
A voting system that rewards small parties offers strong incentives for marginal groups to become organized and present extremist platforms that can mobilize special interest groups of many kinds, be they street sleepers, religious sects, or ethnic communities or social classes. Such pressures produce multi-party systems that undoubtedly create grave problems for parliamentary systems but they need not destroy them. No doubt each party represented in a coalition cabinet can exercise a veto power by threatening to withdraw, but it also needs the support of other coalition members to achieve any of its goals, often leading even extremists to support consociational accommodations.
By contrast, a centrifugal multi-party system surely undermines any presidentialist regime because its polarized parties lack pressure points vis a vis a fixed-term head of government. Although presidential candidates may temporarily seek the support of extremist parties, as when forming pre-election coalitions, the withdrawal of partisan support will have little influence on Presidents in office. Small parties lack bargaining power and Presidents have no built-in structures to counteract the polarizing tendencies of a centrifugal party system. Indeed, any President who seeks to meet the demands of extremists in Congress soon antagonizes the main-line parties and loses the support needed for policies of more general interest.
Multi-party systems usually lead to minority governments, in two senses. First, a plurality government is one in which a President has won office with a plurality vote, but no absolute majority of the popular vote and, second, a divided government is one where the President continuously faces an antagonistic majority in Congress (where the same party prevails in both branches we may speak of party government). Minority government in both senses is almost unavoidable because of the centrifugal dynamics inherent in multi-party systems : plurality Presidents lack the popular mandate needed to lead effectively, and minority governments cannot gain Congressional support for their policies.
In most of Latin America, sad to say, multi-party systems prevail. Among them, the most successful was probably Chile, “… the only case in the world of a multiparty presidential[ist] democracy that endured for 25 or more consecutive years” (Mainwaring 1989, 168). In Chile, Congress was called upon to make the final choice of a President but, in this situation, a temporary coalition of highly disciplined parties, formed to support the winning candidate, usually soon fell apart (Valenzuela 1989, 32). Thus, “…there was an inadequate fit between the country’s highly polarized and competitive party system, which was incapable of generating majorities, and a presidential[ist] system of centralized authority… As minority Presidents…Chilean chief executives enjoyed weak legislative support or outright congressional opposition. And since they could not seek reelection, there was little incentive for parties, including the President’s own, to support him beyond mid-term” (Valenzuela 1988, 33-4). The resulting sense of “permanent crisis” culminated in 1974 in the Pinochet coup and dictatorship.
A different kind of multi-party presidentialism is found in Brazil where “…Presidents could not even count on the support of their own parties, much less that of the other parties that had helped elect them. Brazilian parties in the two democratic periods have been notoriously undisciplined and incapable of providing consistent block support for presidents” (Mainwaring 1990b, 5). They have tried to cope with the deadlock of congressional opposition based on an extremely fragmented and fluid party system by developing an “anti-party discourse” and have “engaged in anti-party actions.” Often they were “recruited from outside or above party channels…” They usually avoided strong links with any party in order to enhance their political appeal to a broad range of public opinion (Mainwaring 1990b, 9-10).
Whether the individual parties are disciplined or not is certainly important, but I believe that a more important consideration is the centrifugal dynamism of all multi-party systems. Although these dynamics may even invigorate parliamentary systems, they ultimately destroy presidentialist regimes, producing both plurality and divided governments.
* * *
It is widely thought that two-party systems are generated by presidentialism and conducive to their survival. Actually, multi-partyism is more common in presidentialist regimes, and two-partyism by no means assures their survival. According to Mainwaring, “Two party systems are the exception rather than the rule in Latin America, but among the regions’s more enduring democracies, they are the rule rather than the exception”– including Colombia, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Venezuela (Mainwaring 1990b, 25).
However, a two-party system is not necessarily a permanent feature of any presidentialist regime, and by no means assures its survival. Since the 1984 election, Uruguay may no longer be classed as a “two-party system” and Venezuela has been a two-party system only during the last 20 years or so. In Asia, two-partyism prevailed in the Philippines from 1946 to 1972, after which President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law, suspended Congress, and created his closed system dominated by the New Society Movement (KBL) (De Guzman and Reforma 1988, 87-95). Actually, it is very difficult to maintain a viable two-party system: it may evolve into a multi-party or hegemonic party system.
Ideally, a two-party system will enable Presidents to secure a majority vote and a popular mandate to rule, with the support of a party majority in Congress. This premise is based on the familiar parliamentary model and fails to appreciate the basic fact that, because of the fixed term, presidentialist regimes lack the basic motor of parliamentarism that promotes party discipline. Even when the President’s party has a Congressional majority, there is no way to guarantee support for the President’s program.
To understand the acknowledged linkage between two-partyism and presidentialism we must first recognize that a two-party system may be centrifugal or centripetal: overcoming executive/ legislative conflicts is much easier with a centripetal two-party system than it is when that system is centrifugalized. To visualize the dynamics of a centrifugal two-party system, consider the situation in Uruguay, often mentioned as a leading example of successful two-party democracy. There, the Colorado party actually held power from 1865-1973–except for a brief interim (1958-62) of control by the opposition Blanco party–suggesting a de facto hegemonic party situation. A military group seized power in 1973, and democracy was not restored until 1985.
Centrifugalization in this “two-party system” was driven by party factionalization and high voter turnouts, leading to deep cleavages between the President and Congress (Gillespie 1989, 15; Gonzalez 1989, 14). The main explanation can be found in Uruguay’s exceptional scheme of proportional representation that permits party factions to present separate lists. This system, known as the “Double Simultaneous Vote,” has produced highly contentious intra-party factions (Gillespie 1989, 15). Even though each list goes under the label of a major party, the candidates on each faction’s list compete with each other just as they would in a multi-party system, and they also provoke wide-spread electoral participation. Consequently, Presidents typically face strong resistance within their own party–in addition to the opposition party.
Thus, when Oscar Diego Gestido was elected in 1967, his faction controlled only a fraction of the Colorado deputies. The resulting standoff, complicated by some quasi-parliamentary features of the constitution, resulted in no “…real control over the Executive but a permanent hindrance of its functioning which ironically increases the tendency toward coups.” In 1973 a military group seized power and dissolved Congress, although Juan Maria Bordaberry was allowed to remain as nominal “President” (Gillespie 1989, 15-17; Gonzalez 1989, 7-8).
A similar rule permits party factions to run separate electoral lists in Colombia and helps to explain the complexity of this country’s highly factionalized and centrifugal “two-party” system. “Factionalization forced each President to create and recreate an effective governing coalition within Congress, making the National Front period resemble a multi-party system” (Hartlyn 1989, 16). Although leading factions of the two main parties supported the Government, other factions of each party went into opposition. Immobilism and deadlock resulted. For further details see Hartlyn (1989, 15-20).
Since multi-party systems are necessarily centrifugal, only a two-party system is compatible, in the long run, with presidentialism. However, this is possible only if the system is centripetal, and as Uruguay and Colombia demonstrate, two-party systems may be highly centrifugal. We will clarify the problem, therefore, if we say that a centripetal open party system is needed. If, as I have argued, multi-party systems are necessarily centrifugal, this means that it must be a two-party system, but having only two parties is not sufficient.
* * *
When our focus is on the centripetal/centrifugal distinction among open party systems, we can easily see that the electoral system provides the most important explanation. In general, a wide variety of multi-member-district proportional representation– i.e., PR–systems produce centrifugalized party configurations (normally, but not always, with more than two parties). The attempt to secure a popular majority for the President by means of a second-round run-off election cannot nullify the effects of PR in the first round. Moreover, when congressional elections coincide with the first round balloting for President, as may often be the case, it becomes most “unlikely that a President will enjoy a clear-cut majority in Congress.” This proved to be the case in Ecuador where many parties have proliferated (Conaghan 1989, 12-3).
The rhetoric of two- and multi-party systems lulls us into our preoccupation with the number of parties in a polity and distracts attention from an equally necessary factor, i.e., the internal distribution of power in a party. I believe the survival of presidentialism is as much affected by party-structure as it is by party-system. Yet we cannot easily discuss this dimension because our vocabulary is inadequate. We tend to make a simplified dichotomy between “disciplined” par ties, such as we normally find in parliamentary systems, and the “catch-all” parties found in the United States and, for example, in Brazil. We may also assume that PR leads to disciplined parties and SMD voting to loose parties–generalizing from U.S./European comparisons.
The comparative study of presidentialist regimes will show us, however, that such notions conceal a far more complicated reality in which, assuredly, electoral systems play a role, in combination with regime type. I believe we need to distinguish between at least three dimensions of power distribution found in all political parties: geographic, functional, and relational. We can use centralized/localized to talk about the geographic dimension; concentrated/dispersed for the functional dimension; and integrated/isolated to discuss relations between political parties and other social organizations based on religion, ethnicity, class, occupation, etc. Here I shall focus on the first two, leaving the third for later comment.
I shall use centered to characterize a political party where power is both centralized and concentrated; and fluid for a pattern in which power is both localized and dispersed. Discipline is properly used for the willingness of all legislators belonging to a given party to vote as instructed by their leaders. Clearly the more centered a party, the greater the likelihood that its parliamentary members will be disciplined. By contrast, members of a fluid party are likely to be undisciplined, often refusing to follow their party’s line. We need to retain this distinction between the internal power structure of a party and the voting behavior of its members in an elected assembly.
A party in which power is both centralized and dispersed is factionalized, as illustrated by the Uruguayan and Colombian parties. This pattern is produced, I believe, by an unusual form of PR (the “double simultaneous vote”) that produces a centrifugalized two-party system. Legislative voting will be disciplined (within the factions) and undisciplined (in an all-party sense). A neologism may be required to talk clearly about such cases: we might speak of dia- discipline in the case of factionalized parties.
Party power may be both localized and concentrated in the form of urban machines, such as Tammany Hall and many other political clubs typical of an earlier period in U.S. history. Rather awkwardly, we might speak of such a party as machined or machinist, but I use these words here only to illustrate our need for better terms. Legislative voting in such parties might also be dia-disciplined, but with members following orders from local machine bosses rather than from national faction leaders.
More importantly, however, we need to see that normally PR in a presidentialist regime produces a multi-party system in which the power distribution in individual parties can vary between centered and fluid. Fluid parties are found in Brazil, producing a chaotic Congressional arena where Presidents have to bargain with many individualistic members in order to secure clientelistic support for their policies, often by means of patronage and local (pork barrel) projects. “The extremely loose nature of Brazilian parties has added to the problems caused by the permanent minority situation of Presidents’ parties. Presidents could not even count on the support of their own parties, much less that of the other parties that had helped elect them” (Mainwaring 1990b, 5).
Similarly, in Ecuador, “…politicians of every stripe appear to be afflicted with a significant amount of distaste and disdain for the party system in which they operate.” “Rather than using presidential resources to build up his own party, Febres Cordero [as other Presidents had done] preferred to by-pass parties altogether and create a clientelist network…” (Conaghan 1989, 30) Thus, the efforts of Presidents and other politicians to undermine party solidarity often stimulates, by circular causation, the disruptive effects of fluid parties on legislative performance and the growing frustrations of the chief executive. Conaghan remarks that “What is striking in Ecuadorean political culture and style is the extent to which it has been permeated by an anti-party mentality…” (29). Alternatively, as I propose, one might see the extreme fluidity (localization and dispersal) of such parties as a normal feature of presidentialist regimes that use PR electoral systems.
It is equally normal, however, for such systems to produce highly centered parties, and they are equally dysfunctional for the maintenance of presidentialist regimes. The best example can be found in Chile where well disciplined (ideological) parties often combine to produce a solid opposition front whenever a President cannot sustain the majority coalition in Congress that brought him to power (Valenzuela 1989, 32-3).
In parliamentary systems, of course, PR also leads to centered parties–the dynamics of parliamentarism simply renders a fluid party non-viable. Moreover, centered parties are functional for the maintenance of parliamentary accountability because they produce discipline. Of course, reciprocally, the need for discipline has a feed-back effect which encourages electoral rules that generate centered parties. In presidentialist systems, by contrast, PR can produce parties that are fluid, centered, or factionalized: always in a centrifugalized party system and always dysfunctional for the maintenance of presidentialism. Moreover, neither President nor Congress seems to have any systemic means to counteract these party dynamisms.
Fortunately, between the polar extremes identified above some intermediate intra-party power distributions are also possible. Here our vocabulary is, again, quite inadequate. Provisionally, I shall use responsive to characterize an intra-party distribution of power that combines local autonomy with headquarters guidance, and permits intra-party groups to organize informally but not to become oppressively prominent. On the two basic power dimensions, responsiveness falls between centered and localized, and between concentrated and dispersed. In the section, Predictable Enigma, I argue that the survival of presidentialism in the United States hinges, among various factors, on the responsiveness of its political parties and the semi-disciplined voting patterns that this engenders. The causes are no doubt complex, but they surely include reliance on a single-member-district (SMD) plurality system for the election of legislators, plus the freedom to abstain from voting and a variety of other factors that will be explained below, under Centripetal Party System.
[figure 1 may be inserted here]
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The urgent need of any chief executive to be surrounded by competent and loyal officials capable of managing and coordinating the administration of government directs attention to a major problem that is easily overlooked by analysts predisposed to focus on the “political” aspects of governance at the expense of its “administrative” dimensions. Yet failure to administer well has dire political consequences. Public confidence declines and discontents soar, producing the kinds of unrest that lead, so often, to revolutionary movements and coups.
Moreover, many activities that are nominally administrative in character actually have strong political implications–for example, appointments to public office and administrative reorganizations, including the establishment of new agencies, can vitally affect a President’s power position, and influence the disposition of members of Congress to support or oppose a President’s policies. Perhaps, above all, bureaucratic power often expands to such a degree that public (especially military) officials become major actors in the political arena–sometimes even seizing power by a coup d’etat. Because the political implications of bureaucratic dilemmas are so often misunderstood, we need to take a closer look at these problems as they occur in presidentialist regimes.
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The Power of Modern Bureaucracy.
The main instrument for administering any modern government is typically a bureaucracy whose members–military as well as civil–depend largely on their salaries to support themselves and their dependents. This feature of modern bureaucracy contrasts with the situation found in traditional bureaucracies where modest official stipends were normally supplemented by various kinds of legal but non-official income (Riggs 1991, 2-6). (7)
The significance of this fact becomes apparent when we remind ourselves that officials, like all other people, have their own interests to defend. However, their control over public offices and resources gives them weapons of power (especially in the armed forces) not available to most citizens. Unless their incomes are secure and their conduct is well monitored, guided and supervised by constitutional organs and popular forces, bureaucrats are easily able to exploit public office for personal advantage, as by widespread corruption and sinecurism. When they really feel threatened, they can also, under military leadership, seize power by a coup d’etat.(8)
The Need for Patronage. The public interest in contemporary societies requires that many bureaucrats, especially those in leadership and technocratic positions, be experienced and highly qualified to perform difficult tasks. The necessary qualifications are best assured by the establishment of a “merit” system designed to recruit well trained persons whose continuing (tenured) experience in government service enables them to perform effectively.
In parliamentary democracies–and even under single-party domination and in traditional monarchies–the development of experienced cadres of public officials is usually possible, and ruling elites or cabinets are able to rely, for the most part, on career bureaucrats to staff and implement their politically-driven policies in ways that are essentially technocratic and professional.
By contrast, in presidentialist regimes, the structurally precarious position of Presidents–for reasons discussed above–would be seriously jeopardized were they to depend on career officials to staff the highest bureaucratic offices, including cabinet positions. Moreover, Presidents cannot recruit sitting members of Congress to serve as cabinet members without endangering the autonomy and power of the executive office, nor is it possible for non-elective cabinet members to hold seats in the assembly without jeopardizing the balance of power. In this necessarily precarious position, Presidents have no option but to recruit a large number of leading officials, starting at the cabinet level, from outside the government service: they cannot be either career officials or elected politicians.
Consequently, heavy reliance on patronage appointments (clientelism, cronyism and spoils) is a prevalent and necessary feature of all presidentialist systems. It entails fateful political and administrative costs. The most apparent is a lack of experience, qualifications, and dependability–Presidents must, on very short notice, try to assemble a “team” of personal supporters to manage the Government and direct a host of subordinates whose interests and obligations often conflict with those of the President.
Members of Congress also have a compelling interest in patronage. They typically seek posts for their supporters (clients) in order to maintain the political support without which they could not be elected. This gives them a powerful incentive and basis for bargaining with a beleaguered President: they can trade votes for favors. This is no trivial matter since their own power base may be seriously undermined if they cannot secure appointments for their proteges. Consequently, the indispensable minimum of political appointees needed to staff a presidentialist regime’s top posts is vastly inflated because both the President and the Congress need patronage to maintain the system.
Presidents typically need patronage to gain legislative support for their policies. Hartlyn reports that in Colombia a “…President had massive appointive powers, whose significance was augmented by the importance of spoils and patronage to the clientelist and brokerage oriented parties and by the absence of any meaningful civil service legislation. Presidents could appoint cabinet ministers without congressional approval” (1989, 13). The effect of the growing power of the President was “…to marginalize Congress further from major decisions, reducing its functions to ones of patronage, brokerage and management of limited pork barrel funds” (21).
Mainwaring reports that, in Brazil, “The only glue (and it is a powerful one at times) that holds the President’s support together is patronage–and this helps explain the pervasive use of patronage politics” (1990b, 7). “Both Vargas and Kubitschek pressed for reforms that would strengthen the merit system and protect state agencies from clientelistic pressures, but they were defeated by a Congress unwilling to relinquish patronage privileges” (6).
Here we find a classic double bind: the President needs patronage to secure congressional support and members of Congress cannot abandon clientelism without undermining their own political support base. Only a judicious use of patronage can sustain the separation of power needed for presidentialism to survive. Thus, although both President and Congress need a non- partisan career system in the bureaucracy in order to implement their policies effectively,
neither can afford to embrace a merit system without undermining their own precarious power base and threatening the presidentialist balance of power.
* * *
The Tenacity of Retainers.
In every polity bureaucratic self-interest produces additional problems that involve officials in office. Most conspicuously, in presidentialist regimes, this concerns the retention/rotation dilemma. In all non-presidentialist regimes, as noted above, almost all appointed officials are recruited and retained on a career basis. In presidentialist systems, by contrast, powerful forces lead to patronage appointments under a succession of elected officials, including both the President and members of Congress. What happens to these appointees when new elections bring new personalities and political parties into power? Will they be able to keep their jobs, or will they be discharged?
It is much easier to hire than to fire, and those in office fight to keep their jobs: no doubt they are more interested and powerful than are candidates seeking new posts. We need to recognize a large class of political appointees who are able to retain their positions–I refer to them as retainers. Although they remain in office, they are often down-graded and humiliated (siberianized) when new political appointees replace them in higher office. Only their dependence on salaries and their eagerness to protect their personal security and fringe benefits lead them to put up with many humiliations. Predictably, however, demoralized and underpaid officials do unsatisfactory work and lower the quality of public administration.
Moreover, because bureaucratic retainers work on a salary basis and depend on government for their income and security, they will often (when their livelihood is threatened) support a coup. Its military leaders are not only enraged by the policy failures of a regime but they want to safeguard the interests of all public employees, not just themselves. In all bureaucratic revolts, military officers play the dominant role because they control the means of violence, but they need the support of civil servants in order to run the government successfully. This is why I use bureaucratic polity for the resultant dictatorships, rather than the superficial term, “military authoritarianism.”
Merit-based careerism will surely help any regime cope with the serious crises that might lead to a coup simply by improving the quality of public administration. However, it is extremely difficult to establish such a system, not only because of short-term Presidential and Congressional resistance, but also because retainers see it as a threat that must be fiercely resisted. In order to pave the way for careerists to replace retainers, rotation in office must first be accepted. A government must be able to discharge incumbents in order to create the vacancies that a new class of careerists can fill. Yet attempts by any presidentialist regime to enforce a rotation policy generate fierce resistance and usually compel Governments to compromise with incumbents rather than risk the serious costs of mass lay-offs, including a possible coup d’etat.
A costly alternative to rotationism was developed in Chile where civil servants could retire “…with fifteen years service and a relatively good pension. Agency heads, however, would retire with what was known as la perseguidora–a pension that kept pace with the salary of the current occupant of the post retired from…. Agency heads were thus appointed as a culmination of their careers and could be persuaded to retire to allow a new President to make new appointments” (Valenzuela 1984, 262). Another common bureaucratic practice in Chile deprived officials of significant functions while respecting their job security: “The haustoria (or common grave), a series of offices for individuals with no official responsibilities… became a feature of many agencies” (ibid., 264). Moreover, “…new agencies…that could carry forth new program initiatives of the new administration were brought into existence without having to abolish older ones. Even the conservative and austerity-minded Jorge Alessandri added 35,000 new employees to the public sector during his tenure in office” (ibid., 263). This practice enables a President to make patronage appointments without discharging incumbent officials.
In Brazil, similarly, Presidents often expanded the apparatus of government by creating new state agencies in order to enhance their power and overcome Congressional resistance (Mainwaring l989, 169). By such means, some of the short-term political benefits of rotationism have been achieved, but only at immense cost. Most importantly, by thwarting the establishment of merit-based career systems, they have perpetuated a deep flaw that helps us explain the collapse of most presidentialist regimes.
* * *
A second fundamental problem for all presidentialist bureaucracies involves the need of bureaucrats to be responsive concurrently to the separate authority of the President, Congress and the Courts. This results, as David Rosenbloom has pointed out, in three sets of criteria governing bureaucratic performance that frequently clash with each other, generating bureaucratic poly-normativism. Presidential authority can lead to emphasis on the managerial values of efficiency and effectiveness; Congressional demands may generate insistence on political responsibility and responsiveness; and Judicial decisions often give priority to standards of legality and the protection of citizens’ rights versus bureaucratic abuse of power (Rosenbloom 1983). A fourth criterion, suggested by the discussion of patronage, involves partisan pressures. Indeed, it may be true that in all political systems partisanship can play an important role in public bureaucracies. This is especially true of presidentialist regimes, however, where it has disastrous consequences.
Even where a “non-partisan” merit system has been established, as it was in the Philippines because of American influence, career officials are often openly partisan. Carino reports that “…a third of middle-level bureaucrats in a survey mentioned helping in an electoral campaign– against civil service rules. Another third acknowledged nurturing political ambitions…” “Civil servants also sometimes played off the executive against Congress, claiming the ability to get appropriations despite the absence of the President’s support” (1989, 12, 14). In addition to the career officials, of course, in the Philippines, as in all presidentialist polities, there were always a good many overtly partisan Presidentially appointed “…agency heads and such aides as could be justified as ‘policy determining, highly technical or primarily confidential'” (1989, 10).
This was the “normal” pattern of bureaucratic politics in the Philippines, always involving substantial Congressional intervention, before the advent in 1972 of the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. He sought to institutionalize an intermediate, highly politicized and well paid, layer of political appointees, the “Career Executive Service,” to become vehicles of his authoritarian regime and to help him perform functions of the dissolved Congress. Since the advent of President Corazon Aquino in 1986 and the attempt to re-establish a democratic presidentialist regime, there have been sweeping bureaucratic replacements, purges of many officials, and tumultuous reorganization schemes. The partisanship involved in this highly traumatic and often unsuccessful effort to “de-Marcosify” the bureaucracy are summarized by Carino (1989) and described in more detail in her monograph (1988).
In Chile a partisan type of merit system evolved. According to Valenzuela, “The Chilean civil service was recruited and promoted through a Chilean version of the spoils system: party recommendations, and legislative support, in addition to formal credentials, were important in gaining entry and crucial in rising to higher office. The civil service was fragmented… by strong partisan loyalties that prevented the development of institutional loyalties” (1984, 271).
In practice, therefore, public officials in presidentialist regimes are typically cross-pressured from four main sources: the President, Congress, Courts, and Political Parties. Although comparable cross-pressures can no doubt be found in non-presidentialist regimes, they are less disruptive of administrative performance in them than they are in presidentialist systems where, I believe, they augment the forces contributing to the collapse of these regimes mentioned above. Further details on this subject can be found in Riggs (1993b).
* * * THE SURVIVAL OF PRESIDENTIALISM IN AMERICA
All of the resulting from the presidentialist design that have been enumerated above compel us to conclude, I believe, that it would be amazing if any country could maintain such a regime for any length of time. The likelihood of catastrophe is simply too great. Any one of these major problems could lead to disaster, but normally, we may assume, adverse results are due to the cumulative and mutually reinforcing consequences of many unsolved problems. No one of them by itself can be blamed for the collapse of a presidentialist regime but, cumulatively, they generate insoluble difficulties that lead to catastrophe.
Moreover, disasters typically occur in stages. The economy may stagnate and civil strife break out, provoking foreign interventions, even though the formalities of presidentialism are maintained. Sometimes, a frustrated and angered President will then usurp power and by-pass Congress, leading to quasi-presidentialism. Power may become concentrated in the hands of an authoritarian “President” or, more often, in behind-the-scenes military, family, or social elites and factions. Eventually, revolution, military or foreign intervention may occur, accompanied by complete suspension of the constitution.
It is, perhaps, comforting to note that military bureaucratic and autocratic regimes are themselves unstable. They provoke growing resistance and even external pressures that often lead to their collapse and, possibly, to the restoration of constitutional government. At such times it is important to understand the prospects and costs of presidentialism by contrast with its parliamentary alternatives. An explanation of the survival of presidentialism in the U.S. by contrast with its fate elsewhere will, surely, contribute immensely to such an understanding.
* * *
In the light of the problems identified in Part II, we need not be astonished at the fate of the thirty or so polities that adopted the American presidentialist scheme, by contrast with the greater ability of parliamentary regimes to survive. No doubt, some contextual variables help to account for the striking U.S. exception: for example, are North Americans more “practical,” “tolerant,” or “problem oriented” than the citizens of Latin America, as some analysts assert? Have geographic, economic, cultural, historical, or social advantages of various kinds facilitated the perpetuation of presidentialism in America? Such claims are often made to explain the apparent viability of American presidentialism.
I feel helpless to evaluate these claims. Moreover, insofar as we may be interested in the possibility that other states–especially the new Republics in the East–will want to emulate the American model, we need to consider the proposition that, if environmental conditions are the determining factors, they cannot be replicated in other countries; but if rules and practices that can be changed by political decisions are decisive, their adoption by others might enable them to establish or perpetuate presidentialist regimes.
To the degree that important political practices found in the United States are not found in other presidentialist regimes, their absence may have explanatory significance. We do need comparative data to reach any persuasive conclusions. The single American case cannot provide conclusive evidence to support any important causal explanations, but it can suggest hypotheses that may be tested by the comparative study of presidentialist regimes. If practices that seem to be associated with the survival of American presidentialism are missing in countries where presidentialism has failed, then this evidence provides empirical support for the hypotheses. We must not reject comparisons between the U.S. and other presidentialist regimes because of the failures of the latter–rather, they provide the information we need in order to explain the relative success of the United States.
I say “relative success” because some observers now wonder whether or not American presidentialism can continue to survive in the face of growing world complexity and interdependency. For example, Philip Cerny has recently offered an English political scientist’s opinion that “The Madisonian formula of checks and balances–federalism and the separation of powers–provided a resilient and flexible means during the nineteenth century…” By contrast, he argues, at the present time “…the capacity of the United States to play an effective role in an increasingly interpenetrated world has frequently been undermined in significant ways by the workings of the system. …as other countries adapt more effectively than the United States to contemporary conditions, the American system of government both exacerbates crises and stalls solutions. Such counterproductive propensities threaten continually to turn an otherwise manageable hegemonic decline into a steep and slippery slope” (1989, 47-48). “The effects of Madisonian entropy are already reaching a critical point, seriously compromising the capacity of the United States to respond coherently to the challenges of the future” (Ibid., 55). Although federalism may well be a liability in presidentialist regimes, it may also be an asset, in my opinion, for reasons explained at Role of Federalism. –see also note 19.
No doubt, increasingly, foreign friends will become more aware than Americans of the serious limitations of presidentialism. Fortunately, however, there are a few American political scientists who are seriously studying the problems inherent in the American presidentialist system and proposing significant constitutional reforms. In 1963 Quentin Quade argued that “American government is inadequate for the responsibilities confronting it…” and that we need “…a fundamental alteration of our political institutions” (Quade 1963, 73). A collection of documents offering diagnoses of the problem and proposed reforms is contained in Robinson (1985). This work reflects the efforts of the Committee on the Constitutional System–under the leadership of Nancy Landon Kassebaum, Lloyd N. Cutler and C. Douglas Dillon–to pro mote serious inquiry into the need for and possibility of some basic reforms in the American constitution (cf. also Hardin 1974 and 1989; Robinson 1985 and 1989; and Sundquist 1986).
* * *
The Fruits of Comparison.
So far, unfortunately, these analyses pay scant attention to comparisons with other presidentialist regimes. Instead, they focus on parliamentary democracies and on the strategic considerations that might block or support proposed reforms. To view the American case in a broader perspective, consider the sad Argentinian experience. By the 1920’s, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal cited with approval by N. Guillermo Molinelli, Argentina was “one of the world’s richest countries, had a democratically elected government, an elaborate university system, a literacy rate close to 90%, one of the best credit ratings in the world, and its per capita output of goods and services in 1929 was four times higher than Japan’s” (1988, C6-7).
Since then, starting with the first of six military coups in 1930, political instability has prevailed, and “Argentinians have suffered an increasing economic downward trend, characterized by more and more inflation and less and less growth. Today, most Argentinians know that theirs is the only underdeveloping country of the world, ‘going back from the First World to the Third in a generation'” (loc. cit.). The explanation of this huge disaster, I believe, is primarily political (and institutional) rather than ecological. Carlos Waisman offers a somewhat different but relevant explanation (1989, 160-2). Argentina’s fate can, assuredly, happen to any other country, including the U.S., that strives to govern itself by the antiquated and increasingly non-viable 18th century presidentialist model: past successes provide no assurances for the future.
The Argentine case illustrates another point: although we often assume that economic conditions determine political systems–as when we compare “industrialized democracies” and relegate comparisons among “third world” countries to a separate category–we may also want to consider the possibility that political institutions affect, though they do not determine, the nature and extent of economic growth or “development.” Put differently, political systems may provoke economic decline, as the ex-Communist countries have now discovered.
Finally, and ironically, democratizing reforms in some Latin American countries undermined the stability of presidentialist regimes that had previously seemed to work rather well. Many of the traditions that seem to explain the survival of American presidentialism appear to have “undemocratic” implications. Not surprisingly, they have often been rejected elsewhere in favor of rules or practices that seemed to be more “democratic.” Actually, some American traditions are currently under severe attack in the U.S. precisely because of their undemocratic implications and, if my conjectures are correct, reforming them may undermine the continuing viability of the U.S. system. In this connection, see the last paragraph under Constitutional Transformations.
The analysis offered here includes points routinely made in constitutional studies by American political scientists. However, several differences should be pointed out. Most importantly, the usual premise of these analyses is that the separation of powers not only safeguards democratic freedoms but it poses no serious problems for system survival. When constitutional issues have been debated in the U.S., according to James Sundquist, they have focused on such details as the length of presidential and congressional tenure, links between the cabinet and Congress, the direct election of senators, the amendment process, approval of treaties, the war power, and (in a limited academic environment) questions of leadership and accountability growing out of the divided (executive/legislative) powers (1986, 41-74). Sundquist also notes, “…no amendment that would contravene the separation of powers principle has ever been debated on the floor of either house of Congress, and few have even been proposed…. When structural amendments have been debated in the halls of Congress, proponents have been at pains to insist…that their proposed changes would certainly not weaken, or would even reinforce, the constitutional structure of checks and balances” (Sundquist 1986, 40-41).
No doubt, some American political scientists have questioned the long-term viability and utility of presidentialism, but their ideas have not provoked much general interest or debate. For example, almost half a century ago Charles McIlwain wrote that, “For this dissipation of governmental power [i.e., the separation of powers inherent in presidentialism] with its consequent irresponsibility I can find no good precedents in the constitutional history of the past. The system has worked disaster ever since it was adopted, and it is not the outcome of earlier political experience… It is a figment of the imagination of eighteenth century doctrinaires who found it in our earlier history only because they were ignorant of the true nature of that history” (1947, 143).
Had McIlwain’s warnings been seriously heeded, we would long since have undertaken a serious popular debate on presidentialism and the high costs of preserving the archaic American constitutional system. Today, in the light of comparative analysis based on the experience of countries that have emulated the American model, it is even more urgent to engage in such a debate, not only for the sake of the U.S. itself, but also for the future of other countries–notably the newly independent Republics of the USSR and Eastern Europe–that are today seriously considering the possibility of new constitutional frameworks for representative government and democracy.
In the discussion that follows, I shall try to identify some of the important practices–para- constitutional in character (Riggs 1988c)–that appear to play a significant role in enabling the American presidentialist system to survive. I do not argue that any one of them is a necessary condition for the persistence of presidentialism, and certainly no one is a sufficient condition. Taken as a whole, however, we need to ask ourselves how the presence, or absence, of these practices affects the survival of presidentialism. I shall now discuss each of the major problems identified in Part II (omitting the need for a powerful judicial system only because this question is too complex for the kind of brief treatment that might be possible here), starting with the role of a head of government (President) elected for a fixed term of office.
The American Presidency.
No good solution has been found to overcome the essential limitations on the Presidency dictated by the separation of powers and its precondition, a fixed term of office. In presidentialist regimes the role of President has been called a “winner-take- all” competition, leaving many powerful and frustrated losers whose bitterness in defeat undermines the viability of the new government (Juan Linz 1990, 55-8). However, in the United States, the stakes appear to be considerably lower than they are in other countries with the same rules for choosing the head of government–resulting in fewer embittered losers, and hence less antagonism against the President.
* * *
A number of significant features of the American political system reduce the weight of the Presidential sweepstakes. Similar features are found in some but not most other presidentialist systems.
Because of federalism, real power in the United States is distributed by constitutional mandate among the fifty sovereign “states.” Much of the decision-making power that affects the average citizen, the success or failure of most politicians and the fate of office-seekers is determined at the local level–not only in the sovereign states, but also in cities, counties, towns, and other jurisdictions having delegated authority. Although Presidential power rises above that of all sub-national politicians, it is nevertheless shared with a host of elected officials. Because of the “responsive” two-party system (see last paragraph under Business of Capitalism ) the President cannot command the loyalty nor control the actions of innumerable locally powerful politicians–including members of his own party–with whom his/her power is shared.
By contrast, to a large degree, power is much more centralized in most presidentialist systems, even when the system is formally “federal.” Although Venezuela is a “federal republic,” the governors of its states are appointed by the President; in the Philippines power is highly centralized despite changing constitutional and legal provisions for local self-government. The Mexican federal constitution authorizes each member state to have its own constitution and elect its governor, but in practice only candidates of the President’s party, the PRI, win these elections and power is highly centralized. Argentina has a federal constitution that authorizes the provinces to elect their own governors and legislatures, but in practice the central government exercises overwhelming power.
Brazil has long been a genuine federation, but since 1930, under the domination of President Getulio Vargas, central power has increasingly prevailed over state power. According to Abdo Baaklini, “Vargas’ reforms and programs transformed the federal government’s role in the socioeconomic realm… The role of state governments was irrevocably diminished… The federal system of government and its decentralization that Brazil enjoyed until 1930, gave way to a more centralized system… The governor’s role as a counter balance that the governor had vis a vis the president during the old republic was undermined. From then on the presidency became the undisputed power center of the entire political system.” The period prior to 1930 represented “…the highest degree of institutional stability that Brazil has attained” (2). Its subsequent history has been highly unstable (1991, 2 and 4).
The separation of powers in the Federal government, of course, also means that Presidential power is shared with Congress and an extremely powerful judicial system. In addition, there are many autonomous governmental bodies, like the Federal Reserve Board, whose powers are not subject to Presidential control. Because of the vigorous independence of the private sector in the United States, including not only capitalist profit-making corporations but also a vibrant non-profit (third) sector, the range of Presidential decision-making is also significantly restricted. Except in times of grave national emergency, as during an economic depression or war, when central controls over the economy multiply, it may not make much difference who occupies the Oval Office. By contrast, in other presidentialist systems, despite the existence of capitalism and free market institutions, governmental powers are often more extensive than in the United States, especially where corporatism prevails.
Within the Federal bureaucracy, the overwhelming majority of bureaucratic offices are now filled on a non-partisan career basis. Because career advancement occurs primarily within specific programs and government agencies are strongly oriented to legislative committees, Congressional influence over career officials is very strong by contrast with the relative weakness of Presidential control. This means that extremely powerful structures within the bureaucracy exercise considerable autonomy–in collaboration with private interest groups and legislative committees (i.e., the “iron triangles”)–again limiting the real power of the President. By contrast, in other presidentialist regimes, the number of people whose jobs hinge on the outcome of a Presidential election is terrifyingly great, magnifying the stakes of the game.
Finally, the moderate, compromising platforms offered in the context of a centripetal two-party system means that the actual programs of the government are never radically transformed, regardless of who wins the Presidential elections. By contrast, in most presidentialist regimes a new head of government is more likely to initiate far-reaching changes with important consequences for large sectors of the population.
Insofar as a crisis atmosphere created by the winner-take-all character of Presidential elections prevails in most presidentialist systems, we can understand why it contributes so much to the instability of these regimes. By contrast, the relatively low stakes involved in the American Presidential sweepstakes contributes to the capacity of this system to survive.
* * *
Surrogates for the Head of State.
No doubt, a dampened role as elected head of government permits American Presidents to serve better as head of state. Nevertheless, because Presidents must still take sides in many controversies, their actions as head of government are necessarily more salient than their ceremonial role as head of state. To compensate for the inherent weakness of the President as head of state, impersonal symbols play an exceptionally important role in America, contributing to a sense of national unity or patriotism that the President, in person, cannot sustain.
Americans pledge allegiance to the flag (consider the recent outrage about flag burning and calls for a constitutional amendment to ban such protests), sing the national anthem, visit patriotic monuments and the Statue of Liberty: above all, they honor the constitution and take oaths to support it, even though they often know little about its real meaning. Thus the American “Constitution” is reified, a glamorized myth, more or less loosely based on the written charter. Eric Black tells us that “..the Constitution that binds us is the one we have in our heads. That mythic Constitution performs functions no 200-year-old parchment ever could. It functions as the bible of our national civic religion” (Black 1988, 173).
No doubt other presidentialist regimes also have some functionally equivalent symbols, though I cannot comment on their potency. However, I believe it would be rare to find a presidentialist Constitution that commands so much unquestioned patriotism as does the 200-year old American prototype. As the recent flurry of constitution drafting in ex-presidentialist countries reveals, there is a widespread willingness to question and reassess pre-existing constitutions, even though in every case the new version has been some form of presidentialist charter. In most presidentialist regimes, I suspect, the Constitution is viewed as a product of expediency, a more or less useful set of rules for the conduct of government, but far from a sacred symbol of national identity.
* * *
Considerable variation exists among presidentialist regimes concerning the powers constitutionally assigned to the office, ranging from extensive authority, especially in emergencies, to carefully limited powers. May we assume that both extremes are dysfunctional, leading to imbalances in the executive/legislative relationships. The intermediate powers assigned to the American President are probably conducive to system survival, but this is not a question about which I feel able to say anything more concrete. Certainly, however, it deserves careful study.
It is also clear that historical and personal factors affect the vigor with which different Presidents exercise whatever powers they hold by constitutional fiat. Energetic leaders, during emergencies, such as war or depression, exercise more power than weaker persons in ordinary times. A weak President during a great crisis may be faulted for the collapse of a regime, but because of the low stakes discussed above, even a relatively ineffective American President is not likely to cause a breakdown of the system. Variations in Presidential leadership style and capabilities naturally interest historians–especially those who focus on one country in a non-comparativist mode–and may help explain a particular constitutional debacle. However, they have little bearing on the questions studied here.
One restriction, however, has important implications that need to be mentioned here: namely term limits that produce the lame duck phenomenon, a drastic reduction of Presidential powers during a final term in office. American presidents were not truly vulnerable to this phenomenon until 1951, when the twenty-second Constitutional amendment (to limit American Presidents to two terms in office) was adopted. Even now, during the President’s first term, the lame duck syndrome is avoided.
By contrast, in many if not most Latin American countries, Presidents are limited to one term. This restriction was often imposed as a democratic safeguard against serious abuses caused by incumbent presidents who used unconstitutional means to enable them to repeat their terms in office. However, such term limitations seriously hamper many presidents who find that, almost as soon as they have been sworn in, rival and defeated candidates begin to organize campaigns against them and to undermine their efforts to govern effectively. This is a good example of a democratic reform that undermines the viability of presidentialism.
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The Legislative-Executive Balance.
All modern representative governments require the concurrent exercise of authority by a dynamic leader (or small group) and a restraining/ legitimizing representative body (9) The relationship between the two countervailing centers of political legitimacy are never easy to manage, but the parliamentary principle works more smoothly than the presidentialist one. When a cabinet can be ousted at any time by a parliamentary no-confidence vote, the leadership can act vigorously so long as it retains a majority, and yet it can be held strictly accountable. By contrast, a fixed term of office for the head of government sets up a built-in opposition (“separation of powers”) between President and Congress in every presidentialist regime. Presidents must often choose between abuse of their powers in order to accomplish much-needed policy objectives or a supine posture of doing only what Congress mandates.
The formula invented by the American founding fathers was designed to prevent the abuse of power by safeguarding the interests of minorities (especially propertied minorities). It has worked well to accomplish this goal, but it could not anticipate the growing need of modern governments to provide effective policy leadership and implementation over a wide range of extremely complex issues. Moreover, a formula that can, indeed, safeguard civil rights and human freedoms offers small comfort for democracy when it collapses in the face of problems it cannot solve, only to be replaced by dictatorships. Juan Linz, commenting on the dangers of imbalance in the legislative/executive relations of presidentialist regimes points out that presidentialism is based on “…dual democratic legitimacy: no democratic principle exists to resolve disputes between the executive and legislature about which of the two actually represents the will of the people” (1990, 63).
To illustrate this problem, consider the Argentine experience where, according to Guillermo Molinelli, executive/legislative relations have evolved in such a way as to enhance Presidential powers at the expense of Congress. One result has been the erosion of the authority of the regime and the “probable role of this low level [of authority] in a general loss of political legitimacy as a concurring factor for coups d’etat” (1988, 22). This long term trend has been reinforced by the norms promulgated by authoritarian rulers during Argentina’s six periods of “de facto” (military) rule, between 1930 and 1983. Each time, when democratic government was restored, these decisions might have been revoked by the new President, “but it seems unrealistic to expect such generous behavior: power is power is power.” Although Congress would have good reason to revoke new norms that typically curtailed legislative authority, any such law would be “…subject to Presidential veto, which can only be overridden with 2/3 of the votes in each chamber… It is a sort of Catch-22 situation” (1988, 31). (10)
* * *
The Party Line.
A critical element affecting the legislative/executive relationship in presidentialist regimes involves the role of political parties. In the American case, exceptionally, a centripetal open party system prevails, and the distribution of power within each of the main parties is responsive — see discussion under Electoral Foundations No doubt it has often happened, in America, that the President’s party also held a majority in Congress. Between 1796 and 1945 the same party dominated both the Presidency and Congress three-quarters of the time–the ratio fell to less than half since 1945 and less that one-third since 1968 (Robinson 1989, 43). Thus the phenomenon of divided government has been increasing in the U.S. while its opposite, party government, has declined. However, we must not exaggerate its importance. Having an undivided government by no means assures Presidents of Congressional support for their policies, though it surely helps. Our habit of comparing presidentialism with parliamentary systems leads us to assume that the solution involves party discipline and, somehow, finding a way to give Presidents a partisan majority in Congress.
In fact, however, American Presidents who lack a partisan majority in Congress–a continuing recent phenomenon–have, nevertheless, been able to secure legislative support for many of their main policies and, because of the veto power, they can abort laws that they seriously oppose. Consequently, despite continuous tension between President and Congress in the U.S., it has been possible to reach sufficient accord on fundamental issues for the two institutions to coexist. We need to learn why this has been possible–and how the main problems due to the separation of powers can be overcome.
The grave disadvantages for a President of fluid parties are well illustrated by the Brazilian situation where the extreme individualism or fluidity of Congressional voting puts every bill at risk and compels the President to bargain separately with every member in order to secure a winning package. “Brazilian catch-all parties,” writes Mainwaring, “make the U.S. parties appear to be the paragon of well disciplined, cohesive parties” (1989, 167). By contrast, however, in a few countries, e.g., Chile and Venezuela, discipline in its centered parties is exceptionally strong. When the President lacks a Congressional majority, as was typically the case in Chile before 1974 when Maj. Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power, the President also experienced grave difficulties in maintaining Congressional support.
These examples suggest that the legislative/executive relationship may be impaired by excesses of partisan discipline/indiscipline. Both the domination exercised by party leaders over the votes of their members in centered parties, and the complete absence of such control found in fluid parties are equally dysfunctional for presidentialism, whereas party domination over the votes of legislators is both necessary for, and produced by, the dynamics of parliamentarism.
* * *
A Predictable Enigma.
In the American case, exceptionally, an intermediate degree of partisan responsiveness grounds Congressional support of Presidential policies, while always making the outcome of Congressional votes indeterminate. Enough party discipline exists so that American Presidents can normally count on the support of a substantial number of members of their own party, and they also know that a significant proportion of opposition party members will predictably oppose their initiatives. Consequently, they can focus their energies on efforts to sway enough opposition party members to secure a majority–and also, of course, to dissuade those members of the government party most likely to defect. No doubt “responsiveness” is not a constant: at different times members of the U.S. Congress have been more or less responsive to their party’s leadership, but they have not, I believe, ever gone to the extremes of party domination or extreme fluidity.
American Presidents who are sufficiently determined and adroit can often influence enough of the wavering party members to create a voting majority. Moreover, the President can usually count on the support of at least a third of the members of Congress, thereby permitting his/her veto of a measure to be sustained. Knowledge of an imminent veto can also influence waverers to compromise with the President so that at least some of their legislative goals will be accomplished. This means that preliminary negotiations in which staff members and even the President personally take part play a fundamental, though behind-the-scenes role–in ameliorating clashes. These practices by no means assure legislative/executive congruence in the U.S. but they do permit some agreements to be reached and help to prevent the bitter stalemates so often found in other presidentialist regimes. For American Presidents, Congress is a “predictable enigma”: the available options present solvable puzzles.
To explain the responsiveness of American political parties we need to understand the Centripetal two-party system as discussed below. This appears to be truly exceptional among presidentialist regimes. Its significance is reinforced by the dynamics of a vast Congressional agenda.
* * *
An Immense Congressional Agenda
The separation of powers scheme can only be effective if Congress can make its own decisions on a vast agenda. This seems to be an impossible task, especially when compared with the modest burdens imposed on a Parliament that needs only to accept or reject its Government’s bills. Despite the growing attacks on Congress that we now hear, I believe the American Congress handles its responsibilities exceptionally well–in large measure because of the effectiveness of its innumerable sub- committees–and this helps to explain its contribution to the viability of this presidentialist regime. I suspect, though I have no clear evidence, that the failures of other presidentialist regimes may be due in part to the inability of their Congresses to accept or process comparably large agendas. The American achievement, however, may be possible only because some important democratic values are sacrificed. We can evaluate them by examining the influence of senioritism, lobbyism, and bureaucratic functionism.
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According to the seniority rule, members of the majority party who have been on a committee for the longest time usually chair it. Moreover, in the absence of rules against re-election, incumbents are usually returned to office. These practices reinforce each other: members win the real rewards of office only after several terms, a consideration that motivates voters to return incumbents and incumbents to seek reelection, with the help of affluent contributors who tend, also, to support incumbents. I refer to both the seniority rule and the re-election of incumbents as senioritism.
Senioritism contributes to the power, prestige and subject-field expertise of long-term members of Congress. This enables them to build organizational networks and alliances while learning the complex rules and practices that govern legislative action. Seniority may also strengthen committee chairs because their leadership does not depend on popularity: where the members elect their chairs, they will presumably choose more congenial or less domineering personalities. Although seniority can, assuredly, produce ineffective and rigid leaders, it also favors capable and experienced persons, those most able to secure re-election and willing to provide strong leadership. Senioritism also enables legislators and committees to retain competent staffers whereas rapid turn-over of members, because of patronage, would reduce the professional expertise available to them.
In most presidentialist systems, by contrast, there is a widespread aversion to senioritism as essentially undemocratic. Committee chairs are often filled on a non-seniority basis, incumbency in Congress is limited by rules against reelection, and restrictions are placed on the length of time that members may chair or remain in a single committee. Such rules, which vary greatly between countries, are usually supported because they enhance the representativeness of elected assemblies by favoring citizen “amateurs,” impede the growth of a professional class of “elitist” politicians, and hamper the accumulation of power by old-timers and political insiders.
For evidence, consider the situation in Brazil where the rapid turn-over of legislators and lack of senioritism greatly limits the effectiveness of the Congress (Baaklini 1989, 17, 32). “For ambitious politicians, serving in the legislature is a means to an end–executive positions–rather than an end in itself” (Mainwaring 1990b, 23). Because executive branch positions–President, governors, mayors–offer much more power and prestige, ambitious politicians treat legislative seats as a short-term step in their careers, resulting in rapid rotation and a relatively low level of competence, both in policy areas and in knowing how to make a legislature work effectively.
The penalty for term limitations is that less experienced members of Congress will be more vulnerable, as “lame ducks,” to outside pressures, especially from special interest groups, local elites and, of course, public officials. Moreover, anti-senioritism rules mean that able and ambitious politicians are less likely to view legislative careers as an attractive vocation: at best they may think of it as a mere stepping stone to other more interesting political roles. In the contemporary American debate about this important issue, we hear much about the short-term advantages of term limitations for “democracy,” but the long-term implications of this important rule for the survival of presidentialism in America is never discussed. (11)
Instead, the frequent re-election of Congressional incumbents is deplored by American reformers who, quite rightly, regard it as a violation of democratic norms. However, from the point of view of system survival, the practice seems quite functional–it enables members to acquire relatively high levels of expertise, especially in the subject fields of the committees where they hold office for a long time, and their large bureaucratic and interest group networks substantially enhance the power of Congress in relation to the President.
* * *
Lobbying includes the efforts of special interests to promote advantageous legislation in Congress–no doubt lobbying occurs in every democracy, parliamentary as well as presidentialist. In the U.S., lobbying is grounded in the institutionalization and legitimization of mutually advantageous long-term relationships between committee members in Congress and private organizations representing powerful constituencies. The agents of these constituencies enhance the informational, financial and political resources needed by their Congressional collaborators without, I think, thereby gaining the upper hand in this relationship. A term is needed for this broader framework, which I call lobbyism. Lobbyism benefits from senioritism and, reciprocally, senioritism is strengthened by lobbyism, but both need to be limited in appropriate ways. To control lobbyism presents issues as complex as those involved in the effort to restrict senioritism.
In some presidentialist regimes, lobbyism is strictly limited as an undemocratic practice that rewards the rich and better educated citizens at the expense of the masses. Unfortunately, I suspect, anti-lobbyist policies, especially if combined with term limitations, have unintended consequences. In place of legally registered and controlled lobbyists, inexperienced legislators are easily influenced and manipulated by outside private interests that include rich and prestigious families, large landowners, merchants, industrialists, and foreign corporations, working in a highly individualistic and invisible way. The bulk of the population lacks the resources needed to influence legislators and anti-lobbyist rules hamper their efforts to become mobilized in mass-based public interest organizations. As with party discipline, presidentialism requires a balance between too much and too little power in the hands of lobbyists.
* * *
The American pattern of recruitment and promotion for career officials normally places them, throughout their professional lives, in the service of a particular government program. This pattern, which I call functionism, differs from the normal practice in parliamentary systems where officials often rotate between different departments — note that functionism differs from functionalism. As a result of the interactive linkages between bureaucratic functionism, senioritism and lobbyism there has emerged in the United States a complex set of interest networks (“iron triangles,” “subgovernments”) which, in large measure, determine policy and its implementation in a host of specialized fields of public policy.
By yielding authority in these fields to its subcommittees, the American Congress is able to process a gigantic agenda, in close liaison with interested components of the federal bureaucracy and the constituencies most directly affected. Consequently, a vast “infrastructure” of public business has become so self-governing and autonomous that it maintains itself regardless of political party and policy changes at the highest Presidential and Congressional levels.
When combined with the power of federalism, capitalism and a vast non-profit “third sector,” interest networks offer most Americans enough of a stake in the status quo so that they are not easily stirred to support wide-spread protest or revolutionary movements–including movements to make any fundamental changes in the presidentialist constitution. In most presidentialist regimes, by contrast, political substructures like the “iron triangles” are weaker–not because of any specific opposition to them but because the fundamental practices that lead to them are discouraged as anti-democratic. Unfortunately, this means that vast populations have little reason to support the status quo.
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Dispersal and Decentralization of Power.
Sad to say, however, the process of legislation by delegated authority, rooted in interest networks, carries heavy costs. It means that a few committee members (both in Congress and in state legislatures) allied with bureaucratic counterpart agencies and private constituency organizations can create mighty oligarchies. Public decision-making becomes so compartmentalized, as a result, that it replaces, for the most part, decisions by the whole Congress, to say nothing of “all the people.” The resulting dispersal of power (not only within Congress, but also in the bureaucracy) poses a tremendous challenge for Congressional and Presidential leadership: how to coordinate programs that often contradict and clash with each other. Much of the business of governing proceeds independently of the President’s preferences or the “will of the people” as a whole. (12)
* * *
A Centripetal Open Party System.
Under the Dynamics of Centrifugalism I suggested that the prevalence of centrifugal party systems (whether two- or multi-party in structure) is dysfunctional for the survival of presidentialism. Although less common, a hegemonic (closed) party system, such as we find in Mexico, is equally dysfunctional. By contrast, perhaps alone among presidentialist regimes, the U.S. has an open centripetal party system. We need to understand the practices or forces that have created and maintained this system, and how it has contributed to the development of responsive parties, as discussed above under Predictable Enigma. I shall first discuss party-system centripetalism and then the problematics of an open party system.
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The Maintenance of Centripetalism.
The clearest evidence of centripetalism in the U.S. can be found in the campaign strategies of its two major parties: each aims primarily to win the support of independent voters. To attract their votes, both parties adopt compromise platforms that are only marginally different from each other. This provokes the scorn of non-voters who believe they have little to gain from the victory of either party. A wide range of lower class, ethnic and minority constituencies do not vote, thinking they have little to gain from either party. For many of the poor and less educated, assuredly, the costs of voting outweigh the likely benefits. Most non-voters are bored by elections or view them with hostility as a no-win exercise, preferring to spend their spare time and effort on family, sports, religion, or entertainments that promise immediate rewards. (13)
Each of the two U.S. parties counts both on the abstention of non-voters and on the support of innumerable party regulars. It pays them, therefore, to target the independent voters: they do vote and whatever ideology they embrace (whether “conservative” or “liberal”) it generates ambivalence toward both of the major parties. What is “moderate” in the U.S. is typically “right of center” in parliamentary systems. The point is that they are not party regulars and can, therefore, be swayed to vote either way, or to split their votes.
The limitations of our vocabulary lead us to think of American political parties as “loose” or unstructured. Clearly they are not fluid in the sense of having an extremely localized and dispersed power structure, nor are they centered (centralized and concentrated) as are most parties in parliamentary regimes. Instead, I believe they are responsive (centralized/localized and concentrated/dispersed), and their members in Congress vote in a semi-disciplined way. This structure is often criticized by those who view centered and responsible parties as more “modern” and preferable. (14) However, the responsiveness of American parties and politicians also permits American Presidents and Congress to make bargains, organize strong committees, and find practical solutions to many of the crucial problems of presidentialism.
Two basic practices appear to be the main causes for the maintenance of centripetalism in the American party system: first, the SMD pluralist electoral system and second, the right of citizens to abstain from voting. I shall discuss them next, reserving the problematics of an open party system for later treatment.
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SMD Plurality Voting.
Concerning American electoral systems, Leon Weaver reports that “The numbers of PR and SPR [semi-proportional representation] systems constitute a very small proportion when compared with the total number of electoral systems in the United States, most of which are of the SMD variety (all national, virtually all state, and many local legislative seats), or in the AL [at-large] category, which are found mostly at the local level” (1984, 195).
Many critics condemn this situation, arguing that PR is a requisite for genuine democracy. J. F. H. Wright, for example, claims that “The basic failure of any single-member-district system to provide for the representation of a large proportion of voters is sufficient to disqualify such systems for use in countries claiming to be democratic” (1984, 127). Similarly, George G. Hallett, Jr. states, for the American case, that “Millions of voters across the country are regularly left with ‘representatives’ whom they voted against because they were outvoted in the district where they resided. Though they are all sorts of people, they form together a major class of unrepresented citizens just as surely as if they had been denied ‘the free exercises of the franchise'” (1984, 114).
Even if we accept this argument, viewing SMD majoritarianism as anti-democratic, we might also consider that it is a price that has to be paid for the survival of presidentialism. Interestingly, Arend Lijphart, who argues in favor of parliamentary-PR systems as the most democratic and effective kind of voting system, now says that “…the Latin American model of presidentialism combined with PR legislative elections remains a particularly unattractive option” (Lijphart 199la, 77). (15) Charles Gillespie remarks: “…very little thought has been given to the implications of Latin American democracies’ peculiar combination of presidentialism with PR as the basis for legislative elections” (1989, 2). It is clear, nevertheless, that PR systems are widespread in Latin America, and they encourage the proliferation of centrifugal party systems.
By contrast, advocates of SMD plurality contend that it produces non-ideological and loose “people’s parties,” appealing to a wide range of voter interests. Ferdinand Hermens writes that “Such parties do have different tendencies within them, but if these tendencies are organized (which, as a rule, they are not), their influence is limited and the entire line-up is characterized by fluidity and flexibility. The upshot is pragmatism and practicality in government” (1984, 22). As Hermens has also pointed out, the essence of a two-party majoritarian system is not the absence of third parties or the possibility of winning by a mere plurality, but rather the likelihood that a single party will command a parliamentary (i.e., Congressional) majority, and will gain a majority mandate for the President (1990, 6). Consider that local, class, ethnic, racial, religious and linguistic interests that could easily, under PR rules, generate viable political parties, find in the American SMD context that their best hopes for political representation arise in the context of a major party since only one candidate can win in each district. To organize a “third” (small) party is virtually to ensure defeat.
Whatever its costs for representative democracy, the rejection of PR strikes me as crucial to the survival of presidentialism in the U.S.–and reliance on PR as fatal for its survival in Latin America. Moreover, I accept Hermens’ argument that SMD majoritarianism is not totally undemocratic: each of the major parties recognizes that, to enhance its electoral prospects, it must offer hospitality, intra-party representation and participation in electoral tickets to any significant minority willing to support its candidates–especially when this minority commands a local majority. The impetus to win an electoral majority also leads both American parties to accept minority group planks that, they believe, would enhance their chances of winning. No doubt, groups joining a major party must also pay a price, sacrificing part of their special interests in the hope of winning some influence through the victory of a loosely structured but responsive political party.
SMD voting accounts for some basic differences between the responsive U.S. political parties and the factionalized parties found in Uruguay: both are “two-party systems,” but they are very different. No doubt American parties are highly sectionalized and localized, lacking in discipline and sharply focused goals. They focus attention on candidates, their personalities and opinions, their weaknesses and strengths, at the expense of party or faction loyalties and ideological commitments. They produce “tendencies” rather than “factions”. (16) They are also isolative–as I shall show. Those who prefer the centered and integrated parties produced in parliamentary PR regimes will easily find fault with the American parties. However, those committed to the perpetuation of American presidentialism may see that SMD plurality voting generates a type of party system that promotes its survival.
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The Right to Abstain.
By itself the electoral system is not enough to assure the development of responsive parties in a centripetal party system. In addition, the right to abstain is necessary. When the American constitution was adopted, state voting limitations were perpetuated. These typically required property qualifications that seriously restricted mass voting–and, of course, women could not vote and slaves were automatically excluded. Other kinds of restrictions can also impede the formation of new parties, thereby protecting the privileged position of the established parties. In the United States, recently, such “anti- democratic” restrictions have increased so much in states like Florida, California, Oklahoma, Maryland, North Carolina, and Massachusetts that it is almost impossible now for a third party to collect enough signatures, within the required time and cost limits, to put their candidates on the ballots (Harris 1990. 548-9). Over the years the right of all citizens to vote has been greatly expanded, but the duty to vote has never become institutionalized: indeed, the right not to vote, to abstain, has been viewed as a basic right. Quite unconsciously, this “right” may contribute significantly to the survival of presidentialism in America.
Many writers condemn the low turnout in U.S. elections as a very regrettable undemocratic phenomenon. Such an analysis is offered by Richard Pious who points to a 53.2% turnout in the U.S. in 1984 by contrast with from 72.6 to 91.4% in the European democracies (1986, 139- 40). Edward Greenberg offers comparable data and points to a continuing decline in voter turnout in the U.S.: e.g., from 65% to 54% in Presidential years, and from 47% to 37% in off- year congressional elections, between 1960 and 1978 (1980, 230). A similar assessment can be found in Rodgers and Harrington (1985, 129-134).
Unfortunately, none of these authors note the connection between these data and their constitutional significance. Wherever PR systems prevail, the interests of those who would not otherwise vote can be espoused by political parties or factions that can attract their support. According to the prevalent myth of democracy, universal suffrage is not only a right of all citizens, but its exercise provides the basis for legitimizing representative government. Unfortunately, however, the high turnout levels PR systems produce are system-destroying for presidentialism because they generate strongly centrifugal political pressures that make it increasingly difficult for a President and a Congress to reach agreements on important policies.
In some presidentialist regimes concern for non-voters has led to compulsory voting. Politicians striving to capture the support of the new voters produced thereby have unintentionally centrifugalized party systems that might previously have been centripetal with SMD voting rules. In Argentina, for example, compulsory voting was mandated in 1912, trebling the voter turnout in the next (and succeeding) elections. As a result, the Radical and Peronist parties, at different times, came to power, permanently displacing the conservative parties that had hitherto monopolized power. Carlos Nino reports that there was “…considerable political stability in Argentina prior to 1916 (from the enactment of the Constitution in 1853/60) and extreme instability afterwards. Obviously, those displaced by the results of massive voting sought other ways of acceding to power” (Nino 1988, 19).
In Brazil, “When popular participation was still quite limited, ideological consensus…was reasonably strong, making it possible to form moderately stable, informal coalitions. Between 1945 and 1964 [the year of a coup] there was an explosion of popular participation in politics, with a significant impact on the parties. Politics ceased being an elite game and elite consensus eroded, and along with it so did the facility of forming these broad coalitions” (Mainwaring 1990b, 12).
Chile’s vigorous and ideological multi-party presidentialist system, rooted in PR, has generated high voter turnouts and centrifugal pressures. In its 1970 election, this turnout (83.7%) gave Marxist candidate Salvador Allende a plurality of 36.3% (Lijphart 1989, 10). The tragic denouement was the breakdown of 1973 and the Pinochet military dictatorship. Two opposing coalition parties, Popular Unity and the Democratic Confederation, were formed during Chile’s 1973 congressional elections, but, as Arturo Valenzuela notes, “Rather than moderating the political spectrum, the two party configuration came to embody the ultimate in polarization [centrifugalization], a U-shaped curve with a total absence of any center force. …under such circumstances the moderate forces within each coalition are pressured heavily by the extremes, reducing further any centripetal tendencies in the political system” (1989, 31). Apparently, even a two-party system with a large voter turnout and PR voting rules becomes centrifugalized. (17)
Non-voting in the U.S., by contrast, supports the viability of a centripetal party system. If the focus of a centripetal party system has to be on securing the support of independent voters, then it follows that centripetalism requires the right to abstain–compulsory voting assures centrifugalism in the party system regardless of whether it has two or more than two parties. PR always generates centrifugalized party systems, and SMD by itself does not assure a centripetal party system: it needs to be coupled with the right to abstain. Even an SMD-based two-party system will, I believe, become centrifugalized when voting is made compulsory.
Low turnout, then, is neither a property of presidentialism nor of geographic exceptionalism (as comparisons of the U.S. with European parliamentary polities alone suggest). Rather, either PR or compulsory voting will produce centrifugalized party systems and high levels of voter participation–as they typically have in Latin America. By contrast, party system centripetalism (as in the U.S. deviant case) is associated with SMD voting, the right to abstain, and widespread voter apathy or alienation. Of course, this pattern is reinforced by circular causation: the inability of elected politicians to deliver on their campaign promises because of the inherent problems in presidentialism fortifies the tendency of many citizens to abstain from voting.
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A Terrible Paradox.
These considerations generate a terrible paradox: the more “undemocratic” a presidentialist system (with low turnout), the more viable it will be! The more “democratic” a presidentialist regime (with high turnout), the more likely it is to be overthrown and replaced by authoritarianism. The only way to achieve high turnout levels and safeguard democracy will be to abandon the presidentialist “fixed term” formula and move toward executive accountability to the legislature, i.e., toward parliamentarism. A few pro- democracy rule changes unaccompanied by constitutional reform in the United States, –notably the introduction of PR in multi-member districts, compulsory voting, and the elimination of barriers that prevent third parties from placing candidates on the ballot–would soon centrifugalize the party system and prevent any President from securing a popular majority. This would throw the final choice of the President into the hands of Congress where a temporary coalition (Chilean style) would select the chief executive but deny him/her continuing support, thereby ensuring devastating stalemates between the President and Congress and enhancing the likelihood that a military group would seize power.
Unfortunately, even an SMD electoral system and the right to abstain, by themselves, cannot guarantee the maintenance of an open party system in a presidentialist regime. A comparison between multi-party and two-party systems indicates that the former are quite stable, even surviving periods of suppression under military dictatorships, but the latter are fragile and vulnerable to erosion. In particular, a two-party system easily slides into a hegemonic closed party system, although continuation of SMD election rules will keep it from becoming a centrifugal multi-party system. To explain the persistence of an open two-party system, therefore, we need to introduce some additional factors among which, I believe, the most important involve federalism and capitalism.
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The Role of Federalism.
Even if we suppose that SMD pluralities and a low voting turnout assure centripetalism in an open party system, we cannot assume that, somehow, one party will not become overwhelmingly successful at the expense of the other, engendering a type of hegemonic party situation. It is quite conceivable that, in every district, the same party will win
and will be able, by various means, to prevent the opposition party from gaining power. Since each party acts in its own interests rather than that of the whole system of which it is a part, we cannot assume that idealism will lead a dominant party to help its rivals succeed.
Such a scenario can be found in some American states where a single dominant party has long held power at the expense of an impotent opposition party. e.g., in the long-standing Democratic domination of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama–and Hawaii–and in the Republican control of New Hampshire and Vermont. (18) Because these state governments exist within the framework of the American federal system, their hegemonic parties cannot monopolize power but must share it with national and local authorities, often of a different party.
In a sovereign centralized state, however, the inability of an opposition party to win elections could well become a self-reinforcing vicious circle. The defeated party would have difficulty raising money or finding volunteers interested in jobs that are unlikely to materialize. Affluent contributors will support incumbents in preference to their opponents. Leaders of the opposition party naturally become discouraged and some, succumbing to the “bandwagon effect,” defect to the ruling party. Others, in frustration, abandon politics or try to form more dynamic “third” parties, covering a wide ideological spectrum, thereby dooming themselves to defeat so long as the SMD rule prevails. Only a unified opposition party can hope to defeat an entrenched hegemonic party under these rules.
One reason why, despite these inherent dynamisms, centripetal two-partyism persists in the U.S., involves the framework of American federalism. Consider the fact that because the governors of each state, its legislators, mayors and city councils all stand for election, there are many opportunities for a defeated national party to win local victories on the strength of local issues and personalities. This is only possible, of course, because of the “responsive” though not utterly localized structure of American parties.
In the two major American parties, local organizations nominate candidates and control their campaigns, including those for members of Congress. So long as each of these parties can dominate local politics in a substantial number of states, the members of Congress will represent both parties, and the majority in Congress will be independent of the ruling party in the White House, even when it has the same name. Moreover, inasmuch as having party competition in a legislature sustains that body’s power position, members of both parties in Congress may, perhaps, unite in support of measures that help them maintain the strength of the legislature and, consequently, their own power and prestige, simply by safeguarding the openness of the party system (Riggs 1973).
If the President’s party apparatus could control a permanent majority in Congress, the effectiveness of that body would collapse, as it has in other countries with hegemonic or single- party regimes. Although divided government unavoidably hampers the ability of a presidentialist regime to make and implement policy effectively, it also contributes to the maintenance of an open party system. Such a contribution may well be a necessity if democratic presidentialist government is to survive.
Remember that the national party is only a coalition of local parties designed to conduct presidential campaigns and has no authority over the conduct of the local parties. Because local party organizations in a centripetalized party system cannot have strong ideological commitments, but would love to place their own candidate in the White House, they will form a coalition with kindred party organizations in other states for the sole purpose of sponsoring a Presidential candidate. The continuing local power of party organizations affiliated with a defeated national party surely helps to explain the survival of an open party system in the U.S.
To say that federalism supports the maintenance of an open centripetal party system in the U.S. clearly is not to imply that federalism will always have this effect. Indeed, a centrifugalized multi-party system may well be weakened by federalism. If its parties are centered–as in Chile, for example–they would view federalism as a threat. To maintain centralized control in each party, a unitary state is functional.
In a multi-party system with fluid parties, we may expect federalism to aggravate the localization and dispersal of power so as to undermine the capacity of Congress to perform in any coherent way. In the Brazilian case, an unusual electoral system that combines PR with open lists that permit voters to choose among rivals in the same party (a kind of quasi-primary system) augments the weight of locally-sponsored political appointments in the state bureaucracy. Combined, these factors undermine all sense of party solidarity by favoring individualistic local clientelism (Mainwaring 1990a, 26, 28-9). (19) By holding its primaries before an election, the American national party organization, although weakened, can still generate a moderate sense of responsiveness, and not all of its local party organizations are victims of the primary system.
The Uruguayan system might be viewed as a refutation because, there, a two-party system has survived despite a centralized system of government. However, the unique form of PR used in Uruguay supports the formation of powerful intra-party factions that, in effect, operate much like the centered parties in a multi-party system.
My conclusion, therefore, is only that federalism enhances the prospects for survival of an open party system, provided SMD plurality voting and the freedom to abstain from voting combine to make it a centripetal system. Such a system, I now think, may be a sine qua non for the long-term survival of a presidentialist regime.
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The Business of Capitalism.
By itself, however, even the momentum of federalism might not be strong enough to perpetuate an open party system in the U.S. Additional reinforcement may be attributed to the requirements of campaign financing in the context of a dominant capitalist economic system. Wealthy and powerful individuals, corporations and associations recognize, I believe, the advantages they enjoy as a result of the open party system. By direct contributions and through “Political Action Committees,” they support individual candidates and campaign committees in both parties, enabling them to conduct costly primary and electoral campaigns. (20)
During the heyday of the spoils system, volunteers hoping for political appointments powered the American party system. Since expansion of the career system (see American Bureaucacy ), however, and the development of modern media campaigning, plus the burdens of extensive pre-electoral primaries, the costs of political campaigning have radically escalated. The result, of course, has been a vast expansion of the importance of corporations and wealthy contributors in the political process. The direct primary was introduced in order to bring the people into the process of candidate selection and to by-pass the inner circle nominating process formerly dominated by local party bosses at national conventions.
Its critics claim that primaries have actually weakened democracy in America. For example, Edward Greenberg writes, “With the coming of the direct primary, prospective candidates could bypass the party organization, thus weakening it as an important entry to politics. It soon became apparent that the people best able to conduct direct primary campaigns were those with ready access to money… and to a favorable press, persons who were rarely a threat to dominant groups” (1980, 222). Rodgers and Harrington also show how primaries have gravely weakened the political parties (1985, 325-328). Primaries have also enhanced the salience of the President’s personal preferences and political appointees, bringing them daily into the living rooms of most Americans. These effects have increased the influence of wealthy contributors who support political party activities. Not only do they enhance the electoral prospects of pro- capitalist candidates, but winners are reluctant to betray those who finance them by supporting social programs that appear to curtail the scope of a free market system.
Here, however, we have to raise a different question: how does this system affect the viability of American presidentialism, and more specifically, does it safeguard the survival of an open party system? To answer this question, do we not need to re-think the relations between bourgeois capitalism and the American system of government. They have usually been assessed in the context of theories which hold that property holders have contrived (plotted?) to design and maintain a regime that protects their interests. Little attention has been given, I believe, to a different hypothesis, namely that the maintenance of an open party system depends on capitalist support for candidates of both parties.
The survival of capitalism is, we may assume, a basic goal in all capitalist systems. Because of its own “contradictions,” to use a Marxist term, it is vulnerable to self-destructive tendencies currently manifested in the U.S. savings and loan crisis, junk bonds and insider trading, bankruptcies produced by monopolistic competition among giant firms, etc. To overcome such risks, capitalism requires regulation by a state that is not just its pawn. The point is that this is not an “either/or” situation–either socialism or rampant capitalism. There are many degrees of regulation and control over free market institutions, and some of them are, indeed, prerequisites for the survival of capitalism.
However, a state dominated by a hegemonic party can easily be seen as a threat to capitalism. Once securely in control of the state apparatus, the leaders of a dominant party are free to impose oppressive regulations that undermine private property and the market system. At least, property holders may reasonable fear such domination and feel helplessly threatened whenever an open party system is crushed.
Without further discussion of this admittedly controversial hypothesis, we may use it to ground a corollary, namely that shrewd capitalists will use their resources to perpetuate an open party regime within which they may feel their prospects for enhancing their more specific interests are also enhanced. To accomplish this goal, they will want to see both parties succeed and the collapse of either party will be viewed as a threat. They understand that their interests lie with the system rather than with either political party. By supporting candidates in both parties whose views support capitalism, even though tinged with enough commitment to social justice to ameliorate the most flagrant causes of unrest, contributors help to maintain the system. So long as the party system remains centripetal, politicians know that they need not commit themselves to policies that will mobilize a mass electorate. Plenty of issues remain to attract the attention of independent habitual voters and to swing the election to one side or the other. I have to admit that this argument is speculative, but it seems reasonable enough to deserve study.
Moreover, it can be tested by the comparative study of party systems in other presidentialist countries. These dynamics do not apply in parliamentary systems, however. In them mass- based popular parties have a good chance of winning power because of the PR electoral system and the dynamics of cabinet government. The commitment of their members also greatly reduces the dependence of parliamentary parties on generous financial support. Consequently, it is much easier for social democratic or labor parties to gain power and they can regulate capitalism quite strictly while ensuring its survival.
In most presidentialist regimes, however, capitalist interests are much weaker than they are in the United States, and they are also vulnerable to external pressures. They may not understand how an open centripetal party system would help them, nor how it could be created. Moreover, if PR electoral systems and compulsory voting have already been established, they may feel helpless to promote the general interest and compelled to concentrate on their own short-term personal problems. In the context of an established multi-party system, they will tend to sponsor a party committed to their specific interests, as will their various class and ethnic opponents. The option of supporting coalitional catch-all parties such as those produced by a centripetal two-party system is simply not available to them.
To conclude, it seems to me that capitalism–in conjunction with federalism–helps to perpetuate an open party system in the U.S., even though it could not create such a system. This effect occurs only because the party system is centripetal, a fact that may be attributed to the prevalence of SMD plurality voting and the right to abstain. Finally, it is the responsiveness (not the discipline) of party members that enables Presidents to bargain with and reach accommodation with Congress, even when confronted with an opposition party majority. Such accommodations are no doubt easier to reach when the President’s party has a majority in Congress–but the lack of party discipline means that even then such agreements are not guaranteed. This is fortunate for the survival of American presidentialism because it sustains the independent power of Congress, and probably also helps perpetuate the openness of the party system.
* * *
An ubiquitous patronage system and poly-normativism are inescapable consequences of the separation of powers (see Bureaucratic Dilemmas They hamper public administration and promote corruption in such a way as to undermine support for any regime, providing a basis for all kinds of popular complaints, military coups, and protest or revolutionary movements. Although we habitually take public administration for granted as a non-political function of government, clearly the effective administration of public policies is a sine qua non for the success of any political regime and bad administration can lead to the overthrow of representative government, especially when bureaucrats themselves feel threatened by the status quo and, under the leadership of military officers, take measures to discharge elected officials and appropriate their functions. The reasons why the risk of such a catastrophe are significantly greater under presidentialism than they are in other types of constitutional system are also discussed in Bureaucratic Dilemmas.
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A Unique Experience.
To explain the deviant American case–why it alone has never experienced the type of breakdown that other presidentialist regimes have suffered–we need to pay attention to the structure and role of bureaucracy in the United States. The topic is so important and complex that it deserves separate treatment and I have, therefore, written another paper that explores the subject in some detail (Riggs 1993b). An earlier discussion of related problems can be found in Riggs (1988a). Here I shall only summarize the argument.
Two decisive reforms ameliorated the effects of patronage and poly-normativism and limited their negative impact in the U.S.–though, of course, they never eliminated them. These involved the establishment of large-scale non-partisan merit-based career services rooted in the principle of functionism. The reforms that led to this development have deep historic roots that need to be understood: they involved the development of a spoils system based on the principle of rotation in office–as I shall explain below.
However, other factors also need to be taken into account. Admittedly, the relative efficacy of the political superstructure (President, Congress, Courts, and Party System) meant that the temptation for public officials (especially military officers) to seize power was probably never as great in the U.S. as it has been in many other presidentialist regimes. Some commentators argue that the indoctrination of American military officers to accept civilian rule may be the most important variable. I accept this argument as part of the explanation. Perhaps, historically, it can be attributed to the small and intermittent character of the armed forces during the early days of the Republic, and the relative importance of state militias by contrast with small and weak Federal forces. By the time national forces had become permanently institutionalized, their political subordination had become well established and culturally reinforced. Even so, as Dwight Eisenhower warned, the “military-industrial complex” has become an extremely powerful actor in American politics and, despite lip-service to civilian rule, I suspect that in a time of major political crisis it would be as able and willing to seize power as any other military establishment.
Another important factor is the federalist configuration of the American government: more officials serve in state and local government than in the federal government. Consequently, no unified “national” bureaucracy has ever existed and the kind of coordinated action among dissidents that is possible in unitary polities would not be possible in the U.S. Moreover, insofar as the “winner-take-all” game applies also to U.S. presidentialism, its effects are greatly ameliorated by the distribution of patronage powers among a great many jurisdictions: the President controls only a small part of the total pie to be divided among the winners of political power.
Moreover, a powerful capitalist market system and innumerable private associations in the U.S. offer many job opportunities that, for most people, are highly prized and often more attractive than public office. By contrast, in most presidentialist systems the demand for government jobs is disproportionately large because of the relative weakness of the private sector. This point affects all third world countries, regardless of the degree to which they have market economies. It may well be one of the environmental variables that most powerfully affects the survival of American presidentialism. Indeed, it may now also be true that the President’s need to appoint officials who are not only loyal but also well qualified has changed the dynamics of political patronage. Although the supply of applicants is undiminished, those who are most wanted are often reluctant to serve. Accordingly the stakes in the Presidential winner-take-all game are reduced.
Because of its strong capitalist (free enterprise) influence (see Business of Capitalism ) the U.S. offers fewer social benefits–health, social security, welfare–than other democracies (mainly parliamentary) that have universalized such services. This relatively “undemocratic” feature of the U.S. system greatly reduces the number of government positions. Moreover, the tendency to “privatize” many operations that elsewhere would be handled by government agencies curtails the number of officials in the state bureaucracy. By contrast, I believe most presidentialist regimes employ a larger percentage of the population as bureaucrats, thereby increasing the opportunities for patronage (and for resulting corruption and mismanagement of these functions).
Perhaps above all the successful introduction of non-partisan merit-based careerism has radically reduced the pressure for making a large number of patronage appointments. Americans now take this development for granted, but comparative analysis shows how truly exceptional it is for presidentialist systems. How can we explain this exception?
* * *
Non-partisan Merit-based Careerism.
Different kinds of careerism are well established in most presidentialist regimes, but they are typically partisan and based on favoritism. Indeed, this was the way the American public service started: according to Leonard White, “The Federalists took for granted permanence of tenure and were sensitive to the claims of officeholders except where they proved untrustworthy.” By the end of the 1790’s, “…the rule of continuing tenure had become established.” (White 1948, 514, 180).
Despite the important political changes that occurred at the century’s end when Jeffersonian Republicans succeeded the Federalists, public administration remained under the control of “gentlemen,” to whom, Thomas Jefferson wrote, he “would wish to give office, because they would add respect and strength to the administration” (White 1951, 550). In fact, without any contracts or examinations, a conservative upper class of retainers (see Tenacity of Retainers ) dominated the public administration for 40 years, from 1789 to 1829.
The rotation system in America was established during the Jacksonian period when, as White explains, President Andrew Jackson (1829-37) “did not introduce the spoils system,” but he did “introduce rotation into the federal system…” (1954, 4-5). Although we normally associate the Jacksonian era with the rise of the “spoils” system, the introduction of rotation was historically more critical. It opened the doors of public office to ordinary people (not just “gentlemen”) and it also enabled succeeding Presidents to discharge many (though not all) officials in large numbers. Thereby, it not only created vacancies to be filled by patronage but it also dampened the natural growth that occurred in other patronage-based retainer bureaucracies. In such bureaucracies, as top officials retain their salaries while being downgraded and replaced (siberianized), the costs of government rise and the quality of public administration declines.
The rotation principle made government more “popular” in the sense that, by opening the doors of public office to those of humble background, it made bureaucracy more “representative.” At the same time, public administration became more formal as, increasingly, rules and regulations replaced the idiosyncratic habits and traditions that had been established by the long-term gentlemen retainers of the first forty years (Crenson 1975, l3l-39).
If we assume that the tendency of public officials to cling tenaciously to their posts and their perquisites is even stronger than the zest with which applicants seek new appointments, we may understand how persistently the retainer tradition has maintained itself in most other presidentialist regimes. In a comparative perspective, the Jacksonian achievement was truly remarkable and paved the way for a new type of merit-based nonpartisan careerism that was to emerge fifty years later.
Had the patronage-based retainer bureaucracy established by the founders been permitted to continue, it would assuredly have become an incubus on the body politic, encouraging corruption and oppression while encumbering the public administration. A good example can be found in Brazil where, according to Scott Mainwaring, “The political class has been acutely aware of the overshadowing of the legislature by the bureaucracy and has responded by expanding their influence within the bureaucracy… [with] deleterious consequences upon the efficacy of the state apparatus” (1990a 20).
In the American case, by contrast, Jacksonian rotationism and spoils generated a new set of problems and opportunities that paved the way for the successful movement to establish the merit-based career services. First, the spoils system, by itself, created so much abuse of office and incompetence in administration that it spawned a growingly powerful middle-class reform movement that, ultimately, succeeded in launching a new kind of nonpartisan and merit-based careerism–for details see Van Riper (1958, 60-95) and Hoogenboom (1961).
Although the spoils system generated powerful incentives for reform, it also created opportunities that have been little noticed. Any well-entrenched class of retainers in public office is experienced enough to administer better than inexperienced spoilsmen. At the same time, they clearly have good reason to resist the introduction of a merit-based system that might bring bet ter qualified new-comers into office and, eventually, undermine their own security. By contrast, a host of American ex-spoilsmen, having some experience in public office, may have joined forces with reformers in the expectation that they could qualify themselves for re-employment on a permanent career basis. After the merit system was introduced, many patronage appointees were actually “blanketed” into the career services: facing discharge because of continuing rotationism, they may have supported the extension of the career-based reforms.
Finally, it must be emphasized that the new careerists were emphatically nonpartisan. It was clearly in their interest, in order to avoid being rotated out of office when a new party came to power, to emphasize their own nonpartisanship. The myth of a dichotomy between “politics” and “administration” served as a powerful argument to support the reforms and, thereby, helped to preserve the American constitution. At the time, politics clearly meant partisanship. As “politics” came to be used for a much broader concept that includes non-partisan policy- oriented and organizational competition (in the Lasswellian sense), it informed a growing disjunction in the study of government that separated the academic disciplines of Political Science and Public Administration, with adverse consequences for both.
The success of the reform movement was also affected, I believe, by the subsequent emergence of “lobbyism” as a powerful force in American politics (see Lobbyism). In many countries, parliamentary as well as presidentialist, political parties have closely associated themselves with religious and social movements–thus one party may bring together conservative Catholic farmers and another radical Protestant workers, and a third liberal anti-clerical intellectuals. Many professional, class, religious, and policy-oriented movements become identified with a single integrative political party, one whose “ideology” includes a variety of explicit policy commitments.
By contrast, the isolative American political parties reduced their linkages with a wide range of interest groups and embraced bland essentially non-ideological party platforms. The rhetoric of bureaucratic politics has been shaped by this difference: transient appointees are oriented to party politics and hence “partisan,” whereas careerists are associated with policy politics and interest group lobbies on a “non-partisan” basis. In countries where integrative parties prevail, such a dichotomy is scarcely viable: bureaucrats necessarily link party loyalties with interest group policies. The American solution required, however, not only a disjunction between political appointees and careerists, but also a separation of career-ladders on a programmatic or policy-oriented basis, that may be discussed under the heading of functionism.
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The Significance of Functionism.
The success of the merit system in the U.S. may well hinge on its adoption of the principle of functionism, whereby candidates are admitted to a program-oriented career service (based on functionally specific examinations) that produces a host of functionaries (rather than mandarins). An important obstacle to the formal adoption of a career system in America involved resistance to the British model of the Administrative Class that produces a powerful “mandarinate” of generalists who rotate between different government departments. Paul Van Riper explains that the American functionist adaptation was due to the rejection of youthful recruitment (by permitting entrance at all levels) and academic criteria (in favor of practical tests) (1958, 100-1). He also tells us that the Congressional debate thoroughly explored “the likely effects of the proposed legislation upon the constitutional position of the President and Congress, upon the party system…” but it appears that the main issue involved the constitutionality of Congressional action to restrict the President’s power of appointment, in view of his unrestricted removal powers (1984, 97). More practically, Congress insisted on a quota system that would assure recruitment of personnel from all the states, a safeguard against its loss of patronage, but also a barrier to the rise of an elitist bureaucracy recruited from the most prestigious universities–the American counterparts to Oxbridge.
Perhaps unconsciously–though I have no positive evidence–members of Congress might have sensed that careerists, rooted in functionism, would be more responsive to legislative committees and more dependable as political allies than an elite core of bureaucratic generalists (mandarins) shaped according to the typical parliamentary mode (Riggs 1988a, 363- 5, and 376, note 40). In fact, this adaptation of the British model has surely fostered the survival of American presidentialism. Had the British system (itself derived from the Chinese Confucian prototype, via the Indian Civil Service) prevailed, an elite class of career generalists would have become so powerful that it could, I believe, have unbalanced the separation of powers principle, first by undermining the power position of the Presidency, and ultimately by subordinating the Congress itself. As it turned out, career functionaries became closely attached to Congressional committees and their programmatic goals. Through evolving interest networks, career bureaucrats became ambivalently interdependent with members of Congress and thereby augmented the power of the legislative branch. (22)
Some reformers apparently hoped, eventually, to replace all patronage appointees by merit- based careerists. Their efforts were reinforced by the teachings of the newly-emergent academic field or discipline of Public Administration that, borrowing from business management theory, tended to see the President as a kind of chief executive officer (CEO) of a gigantic corporation in which norms of efficiency and effectiveness prevail over political and legal norms. Had their efforts succeeded, however, the independence of the Presidency would surely have given way to the growing power of an “Imperial Congress.” Some alarmists think this has already happened, as Charles Kesler explains: “…the principal beneficiary of the growth of the executive bureaucracy has been Congress, not the president…” (1988, 23).
Confirming the image of American bureaucrats continuously caught in a cross-fire between the three branches of government that David Rosenbloom (1983) has given us, John Rohr writes that “…American Public Administration… is necessarily and appropriately caught in the perennial cross fire involving a Congress, a president, and courts–all fiercely independent of one another” (1986, 89). However, in Rohr’s view, career officers should “…become active participants rather than feckless pawns in the constitutional struggle for control of the Public Administration.” By deciding for themselves which “…branch to favor and for how long…” they could preserve “…a certain autonomy within the framework of the Constitution and would thereby capture the professionalism that was at the heart of the reforms [Woodrow] Wilson and [Frank J.] Goodnow had in mind” (loc. cit). In short, “The Public Administration” has a responsibility to help “Run the Constitution” and, thereby to preserve the balance of power between its constitutional branches that undergirds the American presidentialist regime.
If only careerists were employed in the Federal Government, however, I suspect they would dangerously unbalance the separation of powers. To maintain the balance it is necessary to retain the President’s patronage powers, although it was not until the Presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt that those powers became well entrenched in the continuously expanding apparatus of the White House and the Office of the President. These powers have proven increasingly effective both in helping the President to influence the outcome of Congressional votes and also (hopefully) to coordinate the mutually competitive, not to say antagonistic, branches of the functionist career bureaucracy. Although the balance between (non-partisan) careerists and (partisan) transients in the federal bureaucracy remains, at best, conflicted and hazy, it has to be coped with as one of the costs of survival of a presidentialist regime (Durant 1990).
The manifest purpose of the merit system reform was administrative rather than political: it provided a growing body of experienced officials whose institutional memory and personal competence enabled them to implement public policies with some consistency and efficiency despite changes in the Presidency. However, these improved administrative capabilities had important political consequences that strengthened both the Congress and the Presidency. Through the creation of stable interest networks (“iron triangles” or “subgovernments”), the State bureaucracy directly enhanced Congressional power.
Moreover, since authorized public policies could, as a result, be implemented with minimal intervention from the White House, the President’s work-load was greatly reduced (Riggs 1988a, 363-5), and Presidents could also become more selective in choosing their patronage appointees, singling out those who could really help them achieve their major political goals (Newland 1987). Simultaneously, they could claim credit for the continuous implementation of a vast array of public programs that were uninterruptedly administered by experienced career officials whose work required no direct intervention by the President. Concurrently, better public administration reduces popular discontent and also helps the regime survive.
Paradoxically, the American Presidency, as a result of these changes, has become both more institutionalized and more personalistic. The stability of interest networks involving career officials, members of Congress and professional lobbyists has institutionalized governance in the U.S. to such an extent that it proceeds “autonomously” regardless of who occupies the White House. However, the growing importance of television, the primaries, and the resultant loosening of party organization throws a spotlight on the personalities of the President and key political appointees, giving each administration an idiosyncratic flavor that sets it apart from its predecessors and challenges American political historians and journalists to focus public attention on every eccentricity in the kaleidoscopic White House scene. Confusingly, it occurs to me that this public theater, by distracting attention from more basic problems, may also contribute to the survival of this complicated and precarious political system.
I cannot prove that the absence of nonpartisan, merit-based functionist bureaucracies or the ubiquity of patronage (cronyism, spoils, clientelism) in other presidentialist regimes has contributed to their collapse, but I believe it is an important possibility that deserves careful study. Put differently, I think the presence of nonpartisan merit-based and functionist careerists in the American government has contributed significantly to its survival in the twentieth century at a time when the challenges facing all contemporary governments have escalated.
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THE OUTLOOK FOR PRESIDENTIALISM
A comprehensive explanation of the survival of presidentialism in the U.S. should, admittedly, include an assessment of the environmental conditions that have favored it. These might include the Common Law system, inherited from Britain, that may have helped the Courts exercise their powers of judicial review and maintain the system of federalism. The Puritan tradition in church organization may have paved the way for widespread acceptance of collegial decision-making through elected assemblies. The historical sequences that permitted the thorough institutionalization of representative institutions prior to the development of a modern administrative state were surely important. The availability of jobs in the private sector facilitated the establishment of the rotation principle in the public bureaucracy and the existence of a vast frontier that could easily be seized from its indigenous inhabitants provided opportunities that alleviated socio-political pressures.
Many other environmental conditions could be mentioned–their significance for comparative analysis would require that we evaluate the effects of their presence or absence in other presidentialist systems of government. I cannot do that here. Moreover, insofar as there may be some interest in discovering the conditions that might enable other presidentialist regimes to survive after their recovery from bouts of authoritarian dictatorship, it is surely relevant to focus on practices rooted in constitutional prescriptions and laws that can be adopted by political choice–after all, environmental conditions based on culture, geography, history, and socio- economic circumstances are more difficult to manipulate and defy transfer from one country to another.
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Comparing Presidentialist Regimes
The structural dynamics of presidentialism as a whole system of government, moreover, seems to have received precious little attention. Only by comparing the operations and fate of different presidentialist regimes–including those that broke down as well as those that persisted for varying lengths of time–can we gain an understanding of the inherent problems of this system and how they mighty be solved. This essay highlights some of the dangers inherent in the presidentialist design, and points to some of the practices that have helped the system survive in the United States, including federalism, SMD plurality voting, the right to abstain, senioritism, lobbyism, rotationism, functionist careerism, and capitalism.
The strength of these practices (traditions) should not be taken for granted. Many them have been attacked as “undemocratic” by reformers. Because we have not studied presidentialism comparatively we were unable to see how some proposed reforms (e.g., proportional representation) might undermine the viability of representative government in the U.S.
In this context, widespread support for the fundamental reforms required to overcome the essential constraints of the presidentialist formula will not arise until the country has experienced deeper crises than any so far encountered. Moreover, the Constitutional myth based on the separation of powers principle is itself so necessary as a supplement (if not replacement) for the compromised role of the President as head of state that we cannot seriously challenge it without undermining the viability of the regime and gaining a sinister reputation for ourselves.
The Committee on the Constitutional System (see A Procedure) has struggled heroically to mobilize interest in fundamental reform and has no doubt provoked some academic interest (see Hardin 1974 and 1989, Sundquist 1986, and Robinson 1985 and 1989). Unfortunately, however, the comparisons made by Committee members usually involve only parliamentary systems–the index to Robinson (1989), for example, lists about 15 parliamentary democracies with which some comparisons are made, but the only presidentialist polities mentioned are Nicaragua and El Salvador, where the text only takes up U.S. foreign policy issues. Until specific comparisons are made with other presidentialist regimes, I believe we cannot really understand the deeper problems inherent in the presidentialist design. Such an understanding, moreover, will enable us to attract the interest of a large constituency composed of many kinds of frustrated reformers who will discover that, until the regime itself is transformed, they will continue to be frustrated for reasons they cannot understand.
It is surely important and feasible for us now to engage in a serious analysis of the political/ administrative implications of presidentialism, and to re-evaluate the American experience in a comparative framework that takes into account the ordeals suffered by other countries following the American model. Such an analysis will help us understand the plight of other presidentialist regimes, why presidentialism has survived in the U.S., and what other countries must do if they want their presidentialist constitutions to succeed. We will also, I hope, become very wary about recommending presidentialist constitutions to any of the new republics that are now emerging from long periods of single-party domination.
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Elsewhere I have characterized the fundamental traditions, rules and practices that seem to help maintain the American presidentialist system, despite its great inherent problems, as para-constitutional (Riggs 1988c). These would include rules that favor the reelection of members of Congress, reward seniority in committee assignments and delegate great power to their subcommittees, recognize lobbies that represent affluent and well organized constituencies while permitting them to subsidize the re-election of incumbents. They must tolerate the frequent rotation in office of political appointees who have to work in antagonistic cooperation with career officials, and they embrace the formation of stable interest networks, including the notorious “iron triangles.” They must put up with an electoral system based on federalism, special interest funding, the right to abstain, and SMD plurality voting.
No doubt, even compliance with all these para-constitutional practices might not assure the survival of a presidentialist regime–especially if environmental conditions were not also auspicious. Of course, the lack of any one or more of these practices may not, by itself, precipitate the collapse of a presidentialist regime–it is their cumulative effect that is important. However, I believe that each of them does contribute significantly to the survival of such a regime and its absence acts like a handicap that, cumulatively, jeopardizes its continued existence.
I do not have systematic data on all presidentialist regimes, but my impression is that most of them abhor many of these practices and, in fact, have adopted more “democratic” rules that, tragically, have the paradoxical effect of undermining any presidentialist regime and leading to military, personalist or hegemonic-party authoritarianism. Any constitution-makers who are unwilling to pay the price needed to enhance the prospects for survival of presidentialist governance ought to consider seriously the alternative designs that are based on executive accountability to an elected assembly. Whenever the head of government can be succeeded, in a crisis, by a responsible political opposition rather than a military junta or a personal dictator, the prospects for the survival of representative government will, I believe, be enhanced and the viability of various democratic practices and public policies will also be increased.
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1. Between 1946 and 1984 Bolivia had experienced 12 coups, Argentina 8, Ecuador 7, Brazil, Venezuela and South Vietnam 6, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru 5, Panama 4, Dominican Republic 3, Colombia and South Korea 2, Chile, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Uruguay 1. The Philippines fell under presidential authoritarianism in 1972. Although Costa Rica and Mexico did not experience coups during this period, Mexico, after a stormy political history, came under the domination of a hegemonic party, the PRI; and Costa Rica experienced uprisings in 1917 and 1948, but since promulgation of the Constitution of 1949 has had the most stable presidentialist regime, after the United States. All but forgotten are the abortive Chinese (1913) and Philippine (1898, Malolos) republics and the unfortunate Liberian case. Most of the surviving parliamentary regimes are mini-states, but they also include gargantuan India, plus Jamaica, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago. Fiji had not experienced a coup before 1984, but succumbed to one in 1987. These data are unavoidably rough because complex historical events defy simple coding.
2. By contrast, Giovanni Sartori suggests that a polity should be defined as presidential only if 1) the head of state is popularly elected, ii) during his preestablished tenure cannot be displaced or removed by a parliamentary vote, and iii) is both head of government and head of state (Sartori 1990, 1). The first criterion conflates presidentialist with parliamentary systems, many of which have elected heads of state (presidents), and they may be elected indirectly (see note (4)). My single criterion covers the essential points in all three of Sartori’s stipulations while excluding those that are not necessary.
3. Additional distinctions are made here: I shall refer to the elected assembly in any presidentialist system as a Congress and in a parliamentary system as a Parliament, while using legislature as a generic term for both. Since presidential often refers to the office of a President as well as a system of governance, I shall use either Presidential (capitalized) or President’s to characterize properties of the office in presidentialist systems only.
4. The approach used here distinguishes between the defining, accidental and redundant characteristics of a concept. A defining (essential) characteristic is one that is always found in members of a defined class. When only some members of that class have a characteristic, it is called accidental (accompanying) and if non-members also have it, it is redundant (superfluous).
These distinctions are often ignored in definitions of presidential systems. For example, since some Presidents may be re-elected but others may not, this is an accidental property. Similarly, the head of government is normally just one person, but a small group (board or commission) may also exercise Presidential functions, as happened in Uruguay from 1917-33 and 1951-67. Consequently, to specify that the President is one person is to identify an accidental rather than a defining characteristic of presidentialism–though most Presidents, assuredly, are individuals. All Presidents, as heads of government, serve concurrently as heads of state. However, since presidents are also elected in such parliamentary regimes as Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, and Ireland, it is redundant to define Presidents as elected heads of state.
Although Presidents are usually elected by a direct popular vote, this is not true by definition. The American Constitution provides for the indirect election of Presidents by an Electoral College–a rule that is still formally observed. The final choice may actually be made in Congress, as it has been in Bolivia and Chile and even in the U. S. where the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to choose the President when no candidate secures a majority in the Electoral College. Exceptionally, this happened in 1801 when the House chose Jefferson over Burr to break an Electoral College tie, and in 1824 when it selected Adams, although Jackson had a plurality. Since most Presidents are, indeed, popularly elected, this is an important accidental, but not a defining, feature. Moreover, since presidents are also directly elected in some non-presidentialist (parliamentary) regimes–e.g., Austria, Iceland, Ireland, Finland–the direct election of the President is also a redundant characteristic in any definition of presidentialism.
5. Sartori’s scale recognizes semi-presidential and semi-parliamentary forms of government that intervene between the pure presidentialist (primus solus) and the pure parliamentary (primus inter pares) models. His preference is clearly for the two “semi-” types: semi- presidential illustrated by France and Finland, and semi-parliamentary illustrated by Great Britain and West Germany (1989, 6). I shall not discuss the parliamentary alternatives in this paper, but we could usefully examine the experiences of several Latin American countries that have experimented with semi-presidentialist features. Some proposed fundamental reforms of the American constitution also go in the direction of semi-presidentialism rather than full parliamentarism.
6. The dangers of “polarized pluralism” have been lucidly explained by Sartori (1976, 131-145). However, his treatment focuses on parliamentary multi-party systems (except for Chile) and he draws a basic line between “moderate” and “polarized” pluralism, using five or six parties as the dividing line. My analysis supplements his by emphasizing the parliamentary/presidentialist context and by arguing that even a two-party system can be highly polarized (centrifugal) by PR- based factionalism, as in Uruguay and Colombia.
7. Because much if not most of the income of traditional officials was secured from extra- governmental sources, bureaucrats lacked the incentives found in modern polities for seizing power and we find no examples of a real coup d’etat in these societies, with the possible exception of the Mamlukes in Egypt (Riggs 1991, 7-8).
8. The historical reasons for this phenomenon are elaborated in Riggs (1991 and 1993a). Most importantly, the new states have inherited well entrenched modern bureaucracies whereas the institutions of representative government required to control them were established, usually, only as independence approached. Not surprisingly, when and if these new-born institutions failed to handle serious problems, especially those involving public finance, threatened officials were willing to support a coup that promised to stabilize their own incomes.
9. No elected assembly can, by itself, govern effectively–it always falls into disarray and deep cleavages. According to Douglas Verney, “Convention government, the domination of a political system by the Assembly, has generally been unsuccessful” (1959, 57). Until the development of both the presidentialist and parliamentary models in the 19th century, political theorists tended to think that the only option for governing a society involved a choice between the rule of one (as in monarchy) or the rule of an assembly (as in classical Greek democracy). Monarchic absolutism remains as a political fossil in a dozen or so countries (mainly in the oil-rich Arabian peninsula) but convention government has been severely discredited ever since the disaster of the French Convention of 1792-5.
10. What determines the capacity of a legislature to sustain its power position in the face of Presidential pressures is a complex and important problem that I shall not address here. However, in an earlier essay, I offered some reflections on the need for party competition as a basis for legislative power, pointing out that legislatures in countries with a single-party or hegemonic party system are reduced to political powerlessness (Riggs 1973).
11. A strong political campaign is now under way in the United States to restrict senioritism by setting limits to the time legislators may remain in office. This campaign appears to be partly motivated by the hope of Republicans that, thereby, they might regain “parity in Congress and in most of the legislatures of America” (Cannon, 1990). California has recently adopted, by referendum, a rule that limits members of its state Assembly to six years in office. Since some 96% of its members who sought reelection during the last decade were returned to office, this will force a mass turn-over by 1996. Meanwhile, many state legislators, “…concerned about their political and economic futures [will] seek other offices or leave government altogether” (Cannon 1990). By contrast, the state of Washington, in November 1991, rejected a proposition that would also have set term limits–mainly because of a desire to retain their own long-term member of Congress, Speaker Tom Foley.
12. This situation has generated an interesting academic debate–the classical preference of American political theory for democratic values rooted in liberal notions of the importance of majority rule has been largely replaced by theories rooted in pluralism, the idea that it is in the general interest to permit many special interests to compete freely for their share of the public patrimony, the sum of these claims adding up, supposedly, to the general interest. As Trudi Miller has noted, the prevalence of a pluralist orientation among American intellectuals welcomes special interest politics as desirable. She calls for a revival of 18th century liberal theory in a modernized form. Such a theory, rooted in the notions of individualism, rationality, and majoritarianism, is attributed, among others, to James Madison who wrote in The Federalist, no.10, “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote” (1989, 80).
13. Juan Linz argues that “In countries [e.g., the U.S.] where the preponderance of voters is centrist… and expects both rightist and leftist candidates to differ only within a larger, moderate consensus, the divisiveness latent in presidential[ist] competition is not a serious problem. With an overwhelmingly moderate electorate, anyone who makes alliances or takes positions that seem to incline him to the extremes is unlikely to win…” (Linz 1990, 57). By contrast, my analysis of the American party system attributes its ability to sustain a centripetal dynamic to the reluctance or inability of most poor and uneducated citizens to vote, rather than to any consensus that can be ascribed to moderate “independent” voters. Indeed, I believe that there are as many potential voters with extremist views in the U.S. as in any other country. The big difference is that they see no reason to vote. Perhaps charismatic candidates, like Jesse Jackson on the left or David Duke on the right, could mobilize many apathetic non-voters, but only at the cost of centrifugalizing the party system, encouraging candidates to espouse extreme positions that would appeal to white racist non-voters as well as impoverished and disaffected ethnic minorities–a good example can be found in the defeat of David Duke for governor of Louisiana in November 1991, where an unprecedentedly large turnout of black voters was generated in reaction to Duke’s racist history.
14. Linz, for example, writes about “…the diffuse character of American political parties– which, ironically, exasperates many American political scientists and leads them to call for responsible, ideologically disciplined parties…” He notes, however, that the American case is exceptional by contrast with the “development of modern political parties…” elsewhere (1990, 53). From a different perspective, Edward Greenberg attacks the American party system as too loose, uncommitted, and elitist (1980, 229-234) and argues that, although “Elections play an important function in the overall maintenance of the American system, and of the capitalist order at its base,” they “…do so even though–indeed precisely because–they perform largely ceremonial and symbolic functions” (229). Greenberg fails to see that the kind of parliamentary (ideological) party that he prefers as more inherently democratic would centrifugalize the party system and jeopardize the survival of presidentialism in America.
15. By contrast, PR is clearly compatible with parliamentarism where small minorities can actually participate in coalition governments. PR may even be compatible with two-party parliamentary systems, but this combination is unusual. Maurice Duverger, while advocating PR systems in general, has pointed out that “…it can happen that PR does not prevent the formation of a two-party system, as in Austria and the German Federal Republic. But these cases are exceptions and depend on special circumstances” (1984, 37). In view of the rejoinders to Lijphart (1991a) by Lardeyret (1991) and Quade (1991) I am not persuaded that PR necessarily improves the performance of parliamentary regimes but, on the basis of Lijphart’s response (1991b), I agree it might be better than plurality systems. My argument here is simply that, by promoting centrifugalism, PR undermines the viability of presidentialism.
16. Faction is often used loosely, especially when describing local party organization in the U.S.(Henry 1984, 83-85). In fact, however, local intra-party groups rarely combine to form coherent national “factions.” A lucid explanation of the difference between factions (well organized intra-party groups) and tendencies (loosely patterned attitudes) is contained in Sartori (1976, 75-82). He classes both as fractions. A good example of an American party “tendency” would be the “Boll Weevils” in the Democratic Party who helped President Ronald Reagan gain Congressional support for some of his key programs. A counterpart Republican group, the “Gypsy Moths,” frequently defected from their party’s position. How Reagan and his followers managed to secure the support of Boll Weevils and prevent defection by the Gypsy Moths is explained in colorful detail by Hedrick Smith (1988, 471-7). Although one may well deplore this amorphous pattern of “tendencies” in American political parties and its affinity for elitist “back room” wheeling and dealing, it seems to be conducive to the survival of presidentialism in America.
17. Under presidentialism, it is almost impossible for a centrist governing coalition to form when a centrifugalized party system prevails. A possible exception might have been Chile, but even in this case, as Valenzuela explains, “…centrist movements only minimally represented a viable centrist tendency and were in fact primarily reflections of the erosion of the two extreme poles… The instability of centrist movements…contributed to the difficulties in building common public policies because centrist consensus at the decision making level was so fragile. The erosion of centrist consensus accelerated dramatically during the Allende years and contributed to the crisis culminating in regime breakdown” (1989, 14).
Linz also recognizes this problem when he writes: “One of the possible consequences of two-candidate races in multiparty systems is that broad coalitions are likely to be formed (whether in run-offs or in pre-election maneuvering) in which extremist parties gain undue influence.” Consequently, “…a Presidential election can fragment and polarize the electorate.” He sees the American system as exceptional because, there, “the preponderance of voters is centrist, agrees on the exclusion of extremists, and expects both rightist and leftist candidates to differ only within a larger, moderate consensus…” thereby overcoming “the divisiveness latent in presidential competition…” (1990, 57).
However, Linz ignores the possibility that the American exception is not so much due to a “centrist consensus” as it is to the centripetalism of a party system based on SMD voting and the right to abstain that, together, enhance the weight of a relatively small number of independent voters while dampening participation by peripheralized people. The point is that we may better understand the attitudes of American voters and non-voters if we view them, structurally, as a consequence of the centripetalized party system. My guess is that any presidentialist polity would generate popular responses similar to the American if it were to develop a centripetalized rather than a centrifugalized party system. However, to do that, it would have to sacrifice important democratic values, e.g., by relying on SMD plurality electoral systems and accepting the right of citizens to abstain from voting. Under these conditions, no doubt, the behavior of voters might create the illusion of a centrist consensus as the cause of political moderation, rather than the consequence of electoral rules and widespread non-voting.
18. For a summary of one party domination in the states and the shifts that have occurred, together with analysis of the reasons for these changes and their significance, see Henry (1984, 98-106).
19. Mainwaring argues that the “…combination of presidentialism and a multiparty system is further complicated by the strong federalist bases of Brazilian politics” (1990a, 23-4) I would argue, instead, that Brazil’s fluid multi-party system is primarily caused by its open-list PR electoral system, which is simply reinforced by its federalism. Mainwaring also points out that the extreme fluidity of party identification in Brazil leads “…clientelistic politicians to join the party in power, regardless of what it is” (1990a, 24). There is a similar tendency in the U.S., before elections, but party responsiveness dampens the tendency and, once elected, legislators will be strongly sanctioned by their local supporters if they try to jump to the other party.
20. Elsewhere, I have argued that presidentialist regimes have to be conservative in order to survive whereas parliamentary regimes may well move much further in the direction of social democracy and the regulation of capitalist enterprises (Riggs 1990, 230-232). However, in that context I failed to appreciate the importance of an open centripetal party system as the linkage mechanism that both enables capitalism to dominate the regime while compelling the regime to protect and regulate capitalism in order to assure its own survival.
21. A pioneer exposition of the class basis of the American Constitution was offered in Beard (1913). The founding fathers counted on the indirect election of both the President and the Senate, plus the prevalence of property qualifications in the state laws governing elections to the House of Representatives to assure support for the minority interests of property-holders (augmented by the obstacles to be overcome by decision-makers subjected to the severe constraints of an institutional design based on the separation of powers). Subsequent constitutional changes have eliminated these electoral safeguards, rendering all three of these basic institutions subject to popular elections (despite the anachronistic survival of the Electoral College). Contemporary radical explanations of the American government rely, more explicitly, on the Marxist view that bourgeois capitalism is an autonomously powerful socio-economic actor capable of imposing its preferences on a government subject to its domination. Greenberg, for example, writes that “…the building blocks of a general understanding of the political economy appear in that body of work known as Marxist social theory.” In that context, Greenberg sees “Government…as the institutional expression of the needs and interests of those who own property, and not as a popular tool for the redress of grievances,” and views “…what we might call normal politics (elections, representation, petition, and the like) only from within the more general framework of capitalism as a whole” (l980, 13-14).
By contrast with the position I am offering here, Greenberg views capitalism in a unilinear perspective as accountable for the performance of both government and the party system, while dismissing the relation of the party system to government as unimportant or purely symbolic. By ignoring the properties both of parliamentary government and of other presidentialist regimes, his interpretation is essentially non-comparative (parochial).
More conventional authors often ignore the linkages between presidentialism and the capitalist system. Comparisons with other presidentialist (and parliamentary) regimes, however, should enable us to formulate a more adequate understanding of the interdependence of capitalism and presidentialism in a context of circular causation, via the party system. Here my focus is more specifically on the linkages between capitalism and the maintenance of an open party system.
22. American specialists on Public Administration normally use the term program-oriented in contrast with career-oriented, a juxtaposition that emphasizes positions rather than rank as a focal concept. This distinction also separates the American from the British practice, but here I need to emphasize a different dichotomy: the specialist (departmental or functionist) by contrast with the generalist (class) criterion. Functionaries are career specialists, by contrast with transient generalists (the political appointees)–they constitute the two main divisions of the American bureaucracy. In the British, as in most parliamentary systems, elitist mandarins are career generalists by contrast with lower level functionaries (career specialists).
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The late Senator Claro M. Recto, president of the 1934 Constitutional Convention which drafted the 1935 charter, describes the Philippine political system this way:
“Our Constitution was frankly an imitation of the American charter. Many of the delegates were products of an American system of education and consequently were obsessed with the sincere belief that Democracy can be defined only in American terms. Necessarily, therefore, the Philippine presidency became a copy of the American presidency, with its vast concentration of powers and only periodical accountability to the people. Like the man in the White House, the man in Malacañang is now safe from immediate responsibility. And like the men on Capitol Hill, the men on Taft and Lepanto (the old Congress) do not have to render accounts for the fixed limits of their terms. A bad President and a bad Congress may not, in Lincoln’s phrase, fool all the people all of the time. But they can make fools of the people – they can make fools of themselves – for at least four years.
Only God and impeachment can remove the President from high office, no matter how incompetent or dangerous he may have proved himself to be in the eyes of the majority of the electorate. He may quarrel with his Congress. Congress may rebel against him and systematically obstruct his administration. But the issue must remain unresolved for the duration of their arbitrary terms. Neither the President nor the Congress may be changed although those two active powers of government may be stifling the Nation in a stubborn and unbreakable deadlock.
Under the Constitution the Presidency is potentially more powerful. I do not believe it an exaggeration to state that the President of the Philippines could easily convert himself into an actual dictator within the framework of the Charter. With his control of local governments and all that it signifies in terms of elections, with huge sums and unlimited sinecures to distribute, with emergency powers to rule by executive decrees as a last resort, he is restrained only by his own conscience from perpetuating himself or his party in power.
I do not recall any considerable discussion in the Constitutional Convention on this ancient and persistent problem of governmental responsibility. I believe we were too deeply under the spell of the American system to give much thought to any alternative. But now that we have presumably been freed by the declaration of our independence… the Filipino people may soberly consider (another) system… to harness the power of government to the will of the people.”
(Note: Recto was commenting on the 1935 System which was better than the 1987 System. What would C.M. Recto say if he were talking about the 1987 System which is a much more degenerated and defective system than the 1935 one?)
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Here are some useful articles on the Parliamentary versus Presidential Systems:
Part of the reluctance of Filipinos to try something different has often had to do with the primordial fear of the unknown. Once Filipinos are used to one way of doing things, shifting over to a better paradigm or system which presents the better way of doing things is seen negatively. This kind of mentality used to kick in among a huge number of Filipinos whenever the subject of shifting from the dominant sport of Basketball to the more Filipino height-friendly sport of Football would come about. Excuses about Filipinos already being used to it or excuses like the so-called “cost of shifting from Basketball to Football would greatly exceed the returns” would be mentioned. This too is exactly the same type of knee-jerk thinking (or lack thereof) that kicks in every time a discussion pops up regarding the need to shift away from the extremely flawed and problematic Philippine Presidential System to the much more efficient, cost-effective, accountable, and stable Parliamentary System.
Thanks to the Philippine Football Team (fondly called “The Azkals” – a stylized slang term for “street dogs”) and their spectacular coming-from-behind performance from underdog to serious semi-finals contender, Filipinos are finally seeing the light! After years of seeing the Philippine Football Team continue to be the underdogs due to lack of support from the Filipino public and the dearth of financial sponsorship from companies, Filipinos now see hope in shining internationally with Football. This especially comes in the midst of many years of embarrassing international defeats in basketball despite “shooting hoops” being the Philippines’ national obsession. The “Azkals” have rightfully given Filipinos something to aspire to.
Filipino Excellence in Football is not new
The truth is that excelling in Football isn’t really new to Filipinos to begin with. The “Azkals” are simply reclaiming the history of excellence in Football that Filipinos have actually enjoyed at one point in our history. Unknown to many Filipinos, the greatest football striker in the history of the famous Spanish team FC Barcelona, fondly called “Barça” was a Filipino: Paulino Alcántara.
Born in 1896 in Iloilo to a Spanish father and an Ilongga mother, Paulino Alcántara y Riestrá was raised in the Philippines until he was between the age of 13 and 14 and moved to Barcelona where he was discovered and given the chance to join the professional FC Barcelona team where he became known as “El Romperedes” – the “net breaker”, as he is known to have broken nets due to the sheer strength of his kicks.
To this day, Paulino Alcántara remains Barça’s record holder with a total of 357 goals having appeared with FC Barcelona 357 times, and no one has come close to beating his record as a phenomenal striker. He is most remembered for a game against France in 1922, here he scored a powerful goal from 30 yards away, with the French goalkeeper having been totally unable to prevent it from coming through.
He had a little hiatus away from Barcelona when his family returned to the Philippines in 1916 where the young Paulino likewise played for the Philippine Football Team, bringing it to 2nd place against Japan in the Far East Championship Games in 1917. While in the Philippines, he also excelled in international table tennis!
In the meantime, with Paulino away from Barça, his old team wasn’t doing very well, since he was their star striker and there was no one else who could fill in his shoes. He later returned to Barcelona after his old team kept begging him to return and the team found itself winning once again. But lest we all think sports (football and table tennis) defined “El Romperedes”, it actually turns out that in the midst of his very successful professional football career, he was also studying to become a doctor. When in 1920, Paulino was scheduled to take academic examinations for his medical studies, he turned down the chance to play for the Spanish National Team as he needed to concentrate on studying for his exams.
The Legend of Paulino Alcántara, a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines who also had the chance to represent the Philippines in both Football and Table Tennis – is solid proof that Filipinos have excelled in football and that the Beautiful Game is not some new undertaking in which we have no experience.
Filipino Excellence in the Parliamentary System is not new either
While it is clear thanks to the example of Paulino Alcántara that Filipinos have it in us to succeed in Football and that the Azkals’ recent performance is really just all about reclaiming our glory in a sport more suited to us, there actually also exists a solid example of the ability of Filipinos to perform well within the parliamentary system. While we’ve had a Filipino figure prominently in Football as FC Barcelona’s all time highest goal-scorer, we’ve also had a Filipino excel within Spain’s own Parliamentary System by becoming a three-time Prime Minister of Spain!
Born in Manila in 1832 to a Basque Spanish father (a general, later turned bookseller) and a mestiza-Bicolana mother from Albay, Marcelo de Azcárraga y Palmero – just like Paulino Alcántara – was raised in the Philippines, and studied law at the Universidad de Santo Tomás in Manila (“UST”) before moving on to the Nautical School and then transferred to Spain to attend a military academy. Thanks to a distinguished military career where he rose to become a general in the Army, upon retirement from his military carreer, Azcárraga shifted to Spanish politics and became a leading member of the pro-Monarchy Conservative Party. From being a Senator, he later became the top-ranking Minister of War in the Conservative Party’s cabinet and succeeded on to become the interim Prime Minister of Spain after his party’s leader, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, was assassinated in 1897. He again went on to become Prime Minister in two separate incidents.
Respected and remembered in Spain, where he was given the Golden Fleece award for defending the Spanish Monarchy and is the highest possible award that any person can be awarded in Spain, Azcárraga was originally honored in Manila with a long avenue that was named after his illustrious family. That avenue, originally called Calle Azcárraga, is now known simply as “Recto” after a series of name-changes were pushed in 1961. Nevertheless, numerous Tondo and Manila natives still refer to Recto as “Azcárraga” just as practically everyone in Metro Manila still calls “Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue” by its original name “Buendía.”
Born and raised in the Philippines, excelled in Spain
The existence of both prime examples of Filipino excellence in both Spanish Football and the Spanish Parliamentary System not only prove that Filipinos have had past experience in both fields of endeavor, it also confirms that Spain has also never had any real issues with allowing Philippine-born Filipinos to meritocratically rise up to the top of the food chain in “la Madre Patria.” (Spain)
It will be recalled that during the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, the famous Filipino painter Juan Luna won three gold medals for his famous masterpiece “Spoliarium” and was accompanied by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s silver medal. Would these Philippine-born Filipinos who were not European creoles been awarded and showered with accolades had the Spaniards been the “racist chauvinists” certain historians with flawed pseudo-nationalist political agendas make them out to be?
The 1884 awards for Fine Arts were not going to be the one and only time when Spanish egalitarian attitudes towards Filipinos would become evident, as this was followed up with half-Pinoy and Manila-born (and raised) Marcelo de Azcárraga’s ascent to Prime Minister in Spain’s Cortes in 1897, half-Pinoy and Iloilo-born (and raised) Paulino Alcántara’s cult-following as FC Barcelona’s (and the Spanish Football Team’s) star striker, and in more recent history with Manila-born (and raised) Isabel Preysler’s emergence as Spain’s most famous media celebrity to consistently grace the pages of Spain’s glossy magazines.
(Tip: Any showbiz, fashion, or glossy lifestyle magazine randomly taken off a stand in any major Spanish city is 100% sure to have at least one picture of Isabel Preysler found within its pages.)
Incidentally, Isabel Preysler – who in 1991, 2002, and 2006, was voted “most elegant and best-dressed woman in Spain” – is the ex-wife of ex-footballer and singing sensation Julio Iglesias and the mother of world famous half-Spanish, half-Filipino singing sensation Enrique Iglesias.
Basketball and the deeply-flawed Philippine Presidential System are two examples of colossal failures for Filipinos which were bequeathed to us by the United States of America. Far too many misguided Filipinos have continued to defend such an infatuation with everything American, using the tired old argument that since the USA is currently the world’s largest economy and world’s foremost superpower, whatever the USA does is “the best.”
This needs to be seriously re-evaluated as the performance of the USA itself in Basketball has proven to be an even greater colossal failure on the world stage as US Basketball Teams, in all categories – youth, adult, and even professional – continue to consistently get clobbered by so many other teams primarily from Europe and even Latin America. Ever since the year 2000, European-style basketball, whose general playing philosophy is heavily rooted in Football’s heritage of heavy ball-passing, strong-defense, and an almost extreme emphasis on cooperation and teamwork, has on the average reigned supreme over America’s Basketball players’ superstar attitudes and egotism.
(Luckily, many Americans do tend to be self-critical enough to admit when something needs to be changed, and thus articles do get written which focus on highlighting the problem in order to get everyone realizing the need to solve it.)
Be it a basketball game pitting the Philippines against Kazakhstan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Lebanon, or others, all of whom are primarily Football-centric countries, the result is the same: The Philippines loses to them in Basketball!
Clearly, this consistent barrage of slaps-on-our-faces should serve as a wake-up call to our continued unthinking infatuation with the American way of doing things as our failure in Basketball is not only a result of our obvious lack of height in a game that mandates it as a minimum requirement, but it is also clearly the result of our collective refusal to look at and learn from other paradigms coming from other societies (such as European or other societies) which may actually be better-fits with our inherent cultural tendencies or inclinations.
The American Primadonna Paradigm has always been one that exalts personal glory and individual achievement above all else. Not only does this extend to the American Political System and American Sports, this also extends to American Pop Music, where solo artists abound in America whereas the British are a lot more into bands.
By itself, an emphasis on Individualism is not bad. However, it tends to spell total disaster in team sports where cooperation is supposed to reign supreme over ego and personal glory. Furthermore, Filipinos are actually much more predisposed towards collective undertakings as evidenced by our tendency to do things as a group (something which we actually share with fellow Asians and even with Southern Europeans/Latins), as exemplified by the oft-touted Bayanihan spirit. The heavy emphasis on rugged American individualism is again, by itself, not bad, but it actually does come in direct conflict with our natural tendencies and therefore contributes to a certain level of confusion.
On the one hand, our models for sports – based on the individualistic nature of American Basketball as seen in the NBA – confuses us to go against our own inherent group-based tendencies, and this too is very much evident in our model for governance which is also based on the American Presidential System, itself a highly individualistic, primadonna-based, and personality-heavy system that exalts one individual (the Presidential Candidate) over and above the team (the Political Party).
On the political system front, the US Presidential System is itself under intense fire from among America’s very own intellectuals. Leading intellectuals from the USA such as Dr. Arend Lijphart, Dr. Juan Linz, and even CNN’s and Time’s Dr. Fareed Zakaria all point to the US Presidential System as being fundamentally-flawed and in fact serve to hobble the US from reaching its full potential.
“People often note that America’s political system is broken. Perhaps the truth is more awkward: America needs radical change, and it has an 18th century system determined to check and balance the absolute power of a monarchy. It is designed for gridlock at a moment when quick and large-scale action is our only hope.”
Another political and policy commentator from the USA, Craig Ruff, has also criticized the US Presidential System and clearly points out the superiority of the Parliamentary System. In his article “Parliament Works Better”, Ruff states:
“America’s love affair with separate powers assumes strange things: a) a leader cannot be both a maker and implementer of policy; b) it is wicked to entrust the well-being of people to a coherent political party, as opposed to special interests piecemealing public policies; c) one party’s good showing at one election breeds irreversible despotism; d) cults of personality are healthier to democracy than intelligible reasoning and a coherent, guiding philosophy; and e) a bedsheet ballot of nondescript individuals defines the public will.
In stark contrast, consider a parliamentary system that produces: a) robust and seasoned thinkers who understand the making and execution of law; b) accountable leaders of parties, as opposed to unaccountable associations and lobbyists; c) elections whenever a leader loses the public’s and party’s faith and trust; d) ennobling philosophical disputes instead of du jourflaming; and e) unified but reversible law making.”
“The United States is not about to up and rewrite its constitution to create a parliamentary system.
But if it were up to Gerring and Thacker, it certainly should. As Gerring put it, “There’s very little to defend the current system.” Thacker, meanwhile, noted that for a country with our level of economic development, the United States doesn’t do nearly as well as we might be expected to do across a broad range of human development outcomes. “For a rich country, we should be doing better,” he said.
Still, constitutional reform is a live issue in many countries around the world, as well as for those who think about nation-building. And the lessons from Gerring and Thacker do seem clear: Parliamentary systems that institutionalize coordination and compromise consistently produce better outcomes than presidential systems that institutionalize conflict and confrontation.”
Quite clearly, there is an ever-increasing number of US-based intellectuals who have decided to look squarely at reality and determine what exactly it is that has enabled the USA to succeed. As a result, more and more Americans are in fact realizing that America’s success happened despite (not because of) its use of the Presidential System. Truth be told, America’s success is directly a result of being the World’s Largest Immigrant Nation, where an overwhelming majority of today’s Americans are themselves first-generation immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants, or people who can easily trace themselves as being 5th or 6th-generation immigrants, and thus are still quite conscious of the need to excel and live up to the hard-working immigrant ethos of their immigrant ancestors.
Evidently, two of America’s “gifts” to the Philippines – Basketball and the US Presidential System – have unfortunately bombed when transplanted to our shores and worse, are likewise areas where the USA is itself having major challenges as US Basketball Teams continue to keep losing against teams from countries steeped in more cooperative and team-based traditions of Football (Soccer) as their primary sport, and where the United States’ own Presidential System is now increasingly coming under fire from within the entire US Political Science Academia and Intelligentsia for its unwieldy and gridlock-prone structural set-up.
Instead of looking only to the US for inspiration, it may actually serve us well to derive inspiration from numerous other societies and more importantly re-embrace our Spanish heritage. After all, Spain is both a Football-centric country and uses a Parliamentary System and we share a much deeper set of commonalities with Spain than with the USA.
Spain is a better model for Filipinos to emulate than the USA
Filipinos have much to learn by simply looking further back to our history and looking past the over-hyped American influences in both Basketball and the Presidential System.
First off, we need to remember that the Azkals are not the first group of Filipinos to do well in the sport of Football. We’ve had a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines – who rose to become a football hero in Spain, and holds the distinction of being F.C. Barcelona’s all-time highest goal-scorer in all of the club’s history and a committed doctor of medicine: Dr. Paulino Alcántara y Riestrá.
Secondly, we’ve had a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines – who excelled in Spain’s Parliamentary System. This Filipino started off in a military career, became a high-ranking general, rose to become a high-ranking Minister in Spain’s cabinet and even went on to become a three-time Prime Minister of Spain: Marcelo Azcárraga y Palmero.
Two questions need to be asked regarding our infatuation with all things American:
(1) Have we ever had a Filipino basketball player get into the NBA?
(2) Has a person of Filipino descent ever become President of the USA or at least become a high-ranking US cabinet secretary?
Between the two former colonizers, Spain has proven to be the country that has treated Filipinos – regardless of racial background – as true equals, granting all Filipinos with full Spanish citizenship and giving equal opportunities for Filipinos to excel and reach the top as exemplified by high honors presented to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo in the arts and the rise of Philippine-born Filipinos (who at the time were full Spanish citizens) such as Azcárraga and Alcántara to the top of their fields. With these facts, it thus comes as no surprise that José Rizal and many of his friends and fellow Filipino expats in Spain and Europe such as Antonio Luna were said to have staunchly advocated integration into Spain rather than outright independence: It was clear to them that better political integration and assimilation with Peninsular Spain would have allowed competent Filipinos to easily rise to the top.
(In fact, Antonio Luna remained a pro-Spain loyalist – like Rizal – until after the Spaniards surrendered to the Americans in 1898 and it became clear that the Americans were planning to take over the Philippines. It was at that point when officers and soldiers of the Spanish Army, along with other Spanish loyalists joined forces with Aguinaldo’s Katipunan forces to repel the Anglo-Saxon invaders just as Filipinos and Spanish authorities had done much earlier when another Anglo-Saxon invader – the British – tried to take over the Philippines.)
It’s high time we Filipinos acknowledged that not only do we have much more in common with Spain – in terms of culture and heritage – than with the USA, but also that we Filipinos have had the opportunity to excel in two things that are more associated with Spain than the USA, and are more appropriate to our situation: Football and the Parliamentary System.
Orion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes systems the way they should be: logically and objectively.
Being an Overseas Filipino Worker himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.
Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.
Orion first achieved fame as one of the most remembered and most impressive among the winners of the popular RPN-9 Quiz Show “Battle of the Brains”, and got a piece he wrote – “The Parable of the Mountain Bike” – featured in Bob Ong’s first bestselling compilation of essays “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” He is the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement and spearheads the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.
Among the “occupational hazards” of being an advocate for the Philippines’ eventual adoption of the parliamentary system is to be on the receiving end of irrational and unfounded charges that the Philippines is “unfit” to use such a system because – according to the detractors – it is “incompatible” with who we are as a people. Countless times has this issue cropped up with different people bringing up our almost 50 year colonial “tutelage under the Americans” as being a major reason for us to have to stick to what – at first glance – appears to be a carbon-copy of the U.S. Presidential System.
Needless to say, consistent with the observations made by Stanley Karnow in his book “In Our Image”, I have very often responded that the extent to which the Filipino is “Americanized” is largely superficial, limited mostly to Hollywood, Disney Cartoons, American Pop Music & Pop Culture, and other American cultural icons. Moreover, I also mentioned that most of the more relatively thorough cultural “Americanization” was often limited to members of the middle, upper-middle, and upper classes who almost exclusively speak English at home.
If anything, I’ve had to point out that the vast majority of Filipinos, particularly those who are classified as members of lowland Christian Filipino ethno-linguistic groups, are essentially indigenous Malayo-Polynesian (at the sub-stratum level), Hispanic (at the cultural super-stratum), and were predominantly raised as Catholics. In other words, the DNA that a majority of Filipinos have is mostly of Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian origins, similar to the DNA of the Malays and other indigenous “Bumiputras” of Malaysia, the “Pribumi” Indonesians, the diverse Gaoshan “aboriginal” hill-tribes of Taiwan, Chamorros of Guam, Samoans, Tongans, and even the Maoris of New Zealand, and most grew up in a culture that was essentially formed under centuries of Spanish influence and direct Catholic tutelage.
But are we American to the core? Obviously we are not. We are especially lacking of that inner “ethos” that defines what “typical American” was supposed to define for a very long time. In fact, even among the small minority of predominantly English-speaking privileged classes, their culture is not exactly “American” to the core. If we looked at the external manifestations of taste, perhaps yes. If we looked at the general work ethic and manner of interpersonal-relations, we’ll find that Filipinos are not at all like Americans. If we were to look at how to characterize the dominant culture of the USA, it would have to be essentially immigrantNorthern European (what they call “White”), Anglo-Saxon, and predominantly Protestant.
In essence, the characteristics of the dominant culture of the USA are not exactly the same as the dominant characteristics of the dominant culture of the Philippines. Now lest anyone try to contest the common definition of the dominant culture of the USA, let me preface that with a disclaimer: While the modern-day USA is a melting pot of so many other cultures that fall outside of the traditional “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” categorization as today there are many Italian, Hispanic, and Irish Catholics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, and many others, the operant word is “dominant.”
The dominant culture of the USA – the same culture of the Founding Fathers rallied around by most of the colonists who declared American Independence in 1776 – was predominantly Northern European, Anglo-Saxon (from England and other parts of the British Isles), and Protestant. Obviously, the cultural and historical difference of the dominant Malayo-Polynesian (which many of us refer to as “kayumanggi”) origins and Spanish-influenced cultural identity of most Filipinos against the dominant White and Anglo-Saxon cultural identity of most Americans in itself actually explains why US-style Presidentialism hasn’t exactly worked in the Philippines the same way it works in the USA. So how about looking for real alternatives that fit our culture?
Since the adoption of a system of government should best reflect our character as a people – from a majority perspective (without necessarily neglecting the identities of fellow Filipinos who form cultural or religious minorities), we should therefore define exactly what characteristics describe the majority and “dominant” culture of the Philippines.
I have devised a scheme that would allow us to determine, based on our predominant cultural identity, what options are available to us in adopting an appropriate form of government that would suit our temperament, our history, and cultural inclinations. This would, in essence, be parallel to adopting a sport that would suit us better, based on our physique as well as our country’s climate (since the Philippines has no winter, we obviously cannot expect to be competitive in skiing), as opposed to blindly copying another country’s sports preferences without determining its appropriateness to our situation.
First, we shall define ourselves based on our country’s predominant ethno-racial, cultural, or religious identity and even try to examine other possible categories which we may share with other countries so that we can find comparisons. As a predominantly Catholic country, for instance, we will then need to look at the list of all other countries that have a predominantly Catholic identity, even if only nominal.
From there, we will look for which are the best countries under a particular category by making use of the latest 2009 ranking according to nominal GDP per capita. From that, we shall look at the forms of government used by those countries that emerge at the top of each category we happen to belong to.I must add also that nominal GDP per capita is a fair ranking as opposed to the absolute size of a country’s economy, as it removes the bias for large countries against small but well-run ones and evens it out according to population size.
Moreover, using that measure as a basis is consistent with my view (also Get Real Philippines’ view) that per capita Economic Performance is an indication of the quality of a country’s ability to govern itself.This exercise in comparing the Philippines with other countries which fall under categories where the Philippines also belongs is a very simple one that does not even require complex statistical regression analysis which often seeks to reveal trends and correlations which are not always easy to spot. In this particular case, the comparisons are actually simple side-by-side comparisons which generally reveal a straightforward easy-to-spot trend.
The Dominant Filipino Identity & Categories that Define the Philippines
Now let’s define which categories Filipinos as well as the Philippines should belong to:
1. Malayo-Polynesian: We have an Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian sub-stratum core heritage, which we can even further break down into both Malayan and Polynesian
2. Southeast Asian: We geographically belong to Southeast Asia, are members of ASEAN, and in fact we do share a few traits common to other Southeast Asians, such as having a rural peasantry whose houses are usually made of bamboo and use thatched nipa leaves or cogon grass.
3. Predominantly Catholic: More than 70% of Filipinos identify as Catholic or were raised in a Roman Catholic background
4. Hispanic-Iberian: Although Spanish has virtually disappeared as a language spoken by Filipinos for everyday discourse, the Filipino’s Hispanic cultural identity (among the lowland Christian majority) remains and is still essentially stronger than the highly superficial American influence.
5. English-speaking: While English is not spoken natively by the majority of Filipinos, English is the official language for purposes such as business, education, and intellectual discourse.
6. Formerly occupied by the USA
8. Ethno-linguistically Divided
9. Population Size
10. Land Area
Noting all these categories, let’s now look through the GDP per capita rankings of 2009 look for the countries which fall under each category and pick out the top ones.
1. Core Heritage: Malayo-Polynesian
Since Malayo-Polynesian is a huge ethno-linguistic family under the even bigger Austronesian family, I’ve decided to break Malayo-Polynesian down into two sub-sets: Malayan – representing the countries of the Western side of the Malayo-Polynesian realm including the Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, and East Timor; and Polynesian, essentially covering the Eastern side of the Malayo-Polynesian realm which includes a few sovereign and independent island or archipelago countries.
Under Malayan we find that of several “Malayan” countries found in the region, the one with the most dynamic, most cosmopolitan, and most advanced economy is Malaysia. While Brunei is actually higher on the nominal GDP per capita scale, it’s an outlier because its wealth is predominantly dependent on oil alone with hardly any real economic diversification.
In fact, its public infrastructure is not as impressive nor as advanced as Malaysia’s at all. Moreover, Brunei is an absolute monarchy which has a British-influenced parliamentary system playing a subordinate “advisory” role to the Sultan. That being said, Malaysia is the best-run “Malayan” country (based on GDP per capita) and it uses a parliamentary system.
Under the Polynesian category, we also find that the best-run independent/sovereign “Polynesian” countries, namely Samoa – immediately followed on the IMF GDP per capita ranking by Tonga – happen to use Parliamentary Systems. There certainly are other Pacific Island countries as well, like Fiji and Vanuatu, but they are Melanesian, not Polynesian. Filipinos are more ethnically and culturally-similar to Polynesians than Melanesians. Samoa and Tonga both use parliamentary systems.
2. Geographical: Southeast Asian
Under the Southeast Asian heading, we essentially join in the Malayan ethnic family that we are in, but we also include other countries in the region – most of whom were just as poor or much poorer than us back in the 1960’s. Automatically, the model country in the region is Singapore, followed by Malaysia, both of whom use parliamentary systems.
3. Majority Religious Background: Predominantly Catholic
The Philippines, being predominantly Catholic – as more than 70% of its population identifies as having been raised with a Roman Catholic upbringing – should also find itself compared among other predominantly Roman Catholic countries.
These need not necessarily be countries in which church attendance is high, but instead, should point to the predominant culture as having been highly influenced by Roman Catholic traditions. The top four predominantly nominally Catholic countries from the 2009 GDP per capita rankings of the IMF and World Bank list are Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, and Belgium. As it turns out, the top ranks of predominantly Catholic countries are countries that use parliamentary systems.
Due to more than 300 years of Spanish influence, lowland Christian Filipinos can be culturally categorized as Hispanic-influenced, and therefore majority of Filipinos fall under the Iberian category.
Incidentally, numerous political scientists looking for a control group for variables in trends analysis often put the Philippines side by side with other Latin American countries due to the obvious similarities in temperament and cultural inclinations. Under both the Hispanic and Iberian categories, Spain is consistently at the top of GDP per capita ranking. Spain is the only Hispanic and Iberian country that uses a Parliamentary System. All other Hispanic (the whole of Spanish America, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines) and other Iberian countries like Portugal and Brazil) all use presidential or semi-presidential systems.
5. Official Language: English-speaking
Most people would guess that that in the English-speaking realm which includes countries that speak English as a native language (USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ) as well as countries that use English as an official language (including India, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, etc) it would be the USA, which uses a presidential system that tops this list.
As it turns out, the IMF, World Bank, and CIA Factbook 2009 rankings show that Ireland is at the top of the nominal GDP per capita ranking among all sovereign and independent English-speaking countries, and Ireland uses a parliamentary System. Incidentally, Ireland – like the Philippines – is also predominantly Roman Catholic, and moreover has a large percentage of actively-practicing Catholics.
For the IMF ranking, Ireland was preceded by Bermuda and the Channel Islands (Jersey & Guernsey), but those are not sovereign countries but are actually British dependencies. In the CIA Factbook ranking, Ireland was preceded by Jersey. In the GDP per capita ranking based on purchasing power parity, Singapore – which, like the Philippines, uses English as an official language of education and business but has a majority population whose native language is not English – does even better than the USA or Ireland. And Singapore, as mentioned, uses a parliamentary system.
6. Recent History: Formerly occupied by the USA
People are likely to think that all formerly US-occupied countries use the American System, but not really. There aren’t that many such countries that had once been occupied by the USA (without co-occupiers) and are now independent, and currently the list includes the Philippines, Palau, Japan, and the Federated States of Micronesia. From that list, the country that comes out on the top of that list for GDP per capita in 2009 is Japan – which uses a parliamentary system.
7. Territorial Type: Island States + Archipelagos of Two or more Islands
The Philippines is an archipelagic and “island” country. As such, a comparison of all countries falling under such a category should also be done. Under this category, we find ourselves among a group of sovereign and independent countries that includes Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, the UK, Iceland, Ireland, Mauritius, the Bahamas, Malta, Sri Lanka, Kiribati, etc.
Ireland – which uses a parliamentary system – comes out on top of the IMF nominal GDP per capita list of island and archipelagic countries and is followed on the list by Iceland, which also uses a parliamentary system. However, since both countries are essentially single-island states, a separate analysis that excludes single-island countries and looks only at archipelagic countries yields parliamentary Japan, which is an archipelago with three main islands plus numerous other small islands at the top of the list.
8. Ethnic Homogeneity / Heterogeneity: Countries with Three or more Ethno-linguistic Groups
As the Philippines is a country that is composed of numerous ethno-linguistic groups, with the majority of lowland Christian Filipinos alone being subdivided further into groups such as Ilocano, Ivatan, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Bicolano, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Waray, and many more, plus “highlander groups” such Ibaloi, Ifugao, Kalinga, Manobo, and others, as well as Bangsamoro groups including the Maranao, Tausug, Badjao, Iranun, etc, the Philippines is clearly an ethnically heterogeneous one, not only limited to ethnic identification, but more importantly including the reality of having numerous local languages (not mere dialects) in use.
Such a category thus requires a comparison to be made with other countries whose people are similarly ethnically-divided. Excluded from this category are melting-pot immigrant nations such as the USA, Brazil, and Argentina – to name a few – whose predominantly immigrant populations have extremely diverse origins, but mix together and essentially assimilate into a single mainstream. This category concentrates on countries in which ethnic identification predominates (instead of being just a matter-of-factly) and different languages are used for everyday purposes for at least three different groups. In this category are countries such as India, which is divided into different states who often have their own state languages and have cultural distinctions as against other states.
The same would include Switzerland, which is divided into Swiss German, French, Italian, and smaller Romansch-speaking areas, and names all four as official languages. Belgium qualifies too as is divided into three parts: A Dutch-speaking Flemish north, a French-speaking Walloon south, and a small German-speaking area. Belgium has three official languages.
Moreover, included in this list are countries such as Singapore whose people, though not separated regionally, are essentially divided into Chinese (further subdivided into Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hokchew, Hokchia, Hainanese, Hakka, and others), Malays (who, though united through the use of the Malay language, sometimes subdivide themselves into Melayu, Javanese, Bugis, Baweanese, Minangkabau, and others), and Indians (who are subdivided into Tamil, Malayalee, Hindu-Punjabi, Sikh-Punjabi, Konkani, Gujarati, Parsee, and others).
Singapore has four different official languages. Also included in this category are countries such as the UK and Spain, both of whom contain different regional ethno-linguistic identities who in recent history have tended to more strongly assert their separateness from the dominant culture of their respective capitals, such as the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Catholics from Northern Ireland who assert their distinctness from the dominant English culture of the capital of London in the United Kingdom, on the one hand. On the other hand, Spain has “separate groups” such as the Catalans, Basques, and Galicians, who assert their distinctness from the dominant Castilian culture of Madrid in Spain.
Indonesia, too, is included in the group, as it is a country which – like the Philippines – is composed of numerous ethno-linguistic sub-groups, such as the Javanese, Riau Malays, Balinese, Minangkabaus, Ambonese, Baweanese, Bugis, and even Papuans from Irian Jaya. Though Indonesia officially recognizes only “Indonesian” which is based on Riau Malay based on mostly Dutch-based borrowings (as opposed Malaysia’s use of Malay which has mostly English borrowings), but most people still use their own local languages when among friends.
Canada finds itself in the list as it consists of three main blocs: Anglophone Canadians, Francophone Canadians, and the indigenous First Nations. While Anglophone Canadians and Francophone Canadians tend to assimilate other groups of people, such as the children of Filipino and Chinese immigrants in Vancouver becoming Anglophone Canadians on the one hand, whereas the children of Lebanese, Vietnamese, and Haitian immigrants in Montreal becoming Francophone Canadians, on the other, the distinction between these two main groups based on linguistic affiliation continues, and Canada continues to consider both languages official.
Within this category of countries ethno-linguistically divided into more than three groups, the IMF nominal GDP per capita ranking of 2009 shows Switzerland, on top, followed by Belgium, Singapore, and Spain following. All these countries use the parliamentary system.
9. Population Size: Countries 5 places higher and lower than the Philippines in total population
Another category would be population size. Since there are no countries that have the exact same population size as the Philippines which based on mid-2010 estimates is around 94,013,200, it’s best to pick out the five countries that rank higher in terms of population size as well as the five countries that rank lower than the Philippines.
In the list of countries that rank five places immediately above the Philippines in terms of population size, we have the following:
Bangladesh – 164,425,000 156th place in nominal GDP per capita
Nigeria – 158, 259,000 133th place in nominal GDP per capita
Russia – 141,927,297 59th place in nominal GDP per capita
Japan – 127,380,000 17th place in nominal GDP per capita
Mexico – 108,396,211 61th place in nominal GDP per capita
Among those that rank five places lower than the Philippines, we have:
Vietnam – 85,789,573 137th place in nominal GDP per capita
Germany – 81,802,257 16th place in nominal GDP per capita
Ethiopia – 79,221,000 172th place in nominal GDP per capita
Egypt – 78,888,000 114th place in nominal GDP per capita
Iran – 75,078,000 85th place in nominal GDP per capita
Of this list of countries combined, the top two countries in terms of nominal GDP per capita are Germany and Japan, both of whom use parliamentary systems.
10. Land Area: Countries 5 places higher and lower than the Philippines in total land area
Lastly, we check out the group of countries that are similarly sized in terms of total land area as the Philippines (299,764 km2) by combining the group of 5 countries bigger than the Philippines and 5 countries that are smaller than it. In the group of countries 5 places higher and 5 places lower than the Philippines in terms of total land area, the size-based ranking for those above the Philippines (bigger land area) are:
Norway – 323,802 sq.km 2nd place in nominal GDP per capita
Ivory Coast – 322,463 sq.km 138th place in nominal GDP per capita
Poland – 312,685 sq.km 49th place in nominal GDP per capita
Oman – 309,500 sq.km 36th place in nominal GDP per capita
Italy – 301,336 sq.km 21st place in nominal GDP per capita
Likewise, for the countries that are smaller than the Philippines, we find the following:
Burkina Faso – 274,222 sq.km 157th place in nominal GDP per capita
New Zealand – 270,467 sq.km 27th place in nominal GDP per capita
Gabon – 267,668 sq.km 64th place in nominal GDP per capita
Ecuador – 256,369 sq.km 89th place in nominal GDP per capita
Guinea – 245,857 sq.km 414th place in nominal GDP per capita
After joining both groups, the top 3 countries which come out on top economically (as per nominal GDP per capita) happen to be Norway, Italy, and New Zealand – all of whom use parliamentary systems.
Analysis of the Results:
This 10-point comparison among countries that fall within categories representing characteristics that define the Philippines has instructively revealed a simple and easy to spot trend.
As we can clearly see, there is even no need for complex statistical regression analysis to prove that the countries that come out at the top of each category happen to be countries which use Parliamentary Systems. Personally, the most surprising result of this simple comparative exercise was the revelation that the USA – the most well-known highly-developed country to use the Presidential System – did not have the highest per capita GDP among all English-speaking countries, and was instead bested in this category by Parliamentary-based Ireland.
By reviewing the results of this simple comparative exercise, it is clear for all to see that the Parliamentary System is by and large associated with superior economic performance, with higher per-capita GDP acting as the indicator. Since the categories used are clearly linked to characteristics associated with the Philippines, there is absolutely no merit in the mistaken notion that “the Philippines is not fit to try out the Parliamentary System.”
This simple exercise has proven with very easy-to-spot results that for the Philippines to at least attempt to emulate the best-performing countries within each of the 10 different categories representing characteristics shared with the Philippines, it needs to consider the option of switching over to the political system which has consistently produced better-performing economies with some of the highest per-capita GDP’s per year.
The Best are Parliamentary, The Worst are Presidential
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they all say, and the eating is all about economic performance versus economic non-performance. By just looking at the raw and unprocessed listing of the top 20 countries based on GDP per capita, we can easily spot the trend. This is not to say that all of the countries top of the nominal GDP per capita list use parliamentary systems. It’s just that out of 20 countries on the IMF list, 15 of them use parliamentary systems. On the World Bank listing, 17 out of the top 20 countries use parliamentary systems. In both the IMF and World Bank lists, only the USA uses a full presidential system.
Moreover, we also just need to simply compare the top 20 listing with the bottom 30 to see the other trend. Again, this is not to say that all countries at the bottom rung in terms of nominal GDP per capita use Presidential Systems. Indeed, countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh which have long been associated with mass poverty use parliamentary systems.
However, on the World Bank listing, out of the bottom 30, only 6 countries use a parliamentary system. Likewise, in the IMF listing, only 4 countries out of 30 use the parliamentary system. The rest use full-presidential systems, semi-presidential systems, and military dictatorships.
By simply looking at both listings, it is easy to spot the fact that the Parliamentary System is generally associated with higher chances of economic success and lower chances of economic lethargy and failure. In fact, certain countries, such as Mongolia, Moldova, Lebanon, and Kyrgyzstan have consciously decided on shifting away from presidential forms (most of them came from semi-presidential or full-presidential systems) to adopt the parliamentary system in order to streamline their economic development through better policy-making.
Countless numbers of world-renowned political scientists such as Arend Lijphart, Juan Linz, and many more have pointed out trends which have revealed the superiority of the parliamentary system over the presidential system. Using statistical regression analysis, some economists such as Daniel Lederman, Norman Loayza, and Rodrigo Soares published a study entitled “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter” which revealed very telling correlations between the use of a parliamentary system and lower incidences of corruption. A separate, though similar study by John Gerring and Strom Thacker, entitled “Political Institutions and Corruption: The Role of Unitarism and Parliamentarism” reveals the same results. Indeed, there really are so many advantages to adopting a parliamentary system over the more inefficient and gridlock-prone presidential system, yet so many ordinary Filipinos without much of a sincere desire to objectively understand the real merits of considering a shift to the Parliamentary System just easily dismiss it without even having intelligent reasons to justify their rejection.
Worse, there are numerous members of the oligarchic political élite who resist any proposal to shift to the Parliamentary System because they feel that they have much to lose from shifting to away from the familiar and easy-to-manipulate Philippine Presidential System.
This is simply because such a shift will immediately change the rules of the game. Instead of the current status-quo Philippine Presidential system which makes heavy use of patronage politics, the politics of name-recall, popularity & celebrity-status, the disbursement of largesse through the Pork Barrel fund, as well as the promotion of personality politics as opposed to party-centric and platform-based politics, a shift to the parliamentary system will immediately shift the political dynamics so that competence and track-record, not popularity, name-recall, or family heritage makes individual politicians rise within the ranks of their respective parties, and moreover, causes the parties with the most relevant platforms and the most feasible proposals, policies and programs to gain their numbers in parliament.
While the current Philippine Presidential System, with its propensity to consistently produce minority presidents allows vested interests from the oligarchy, powerful religious blocs, and other influence-peddlers to hold a single person – the President – hostage to their demands, such can never work in a parliamentary system. Within a Presidential System, the “supremacy” (power that is “over and above”) that the Office of the President holds over all other decision-making bodies as well as holding veto powers over the legislature, a President can be influenced, cajoled, harassed, pressured, or bribed into making a yes or no decision, regardless of whether this decision reflects the views of the wider public spread out across the entire country.
On the other hand, a Parliamentary System – in which the legislature itself controls the executive cabinet (cabinet members are themselves members of parliament) – works based on consensus, as the Prime Minister does not hold “supremacy” over different members of parliament. Instead, all a Prime Minister has is “primacy” (purely a position of “first among equals”) so that he/she may not ram down his/her own opinions or preferences over the other members of parliament, and instead, must carefully convince the members of parliament on the merits of each position to get their agreement.
(It will be recalled that it was the manner in which Australian PM Kevin Rudd tried to ram down his unpopular mining tax proposal to members of parliament which got his own party mates withdrawing support for him as Prime Minister, thus replacing him with Julia Gillard)
In other words, in a Parliamentary System, it is much harder for unscrupulous vested interests, such as rent-seeking monopolistic members of the oligarchy to influence public policy through special deals and bribes because they will have to influence a majority of members of parliament just to influence policy. Such unscrupulous vested interests, as much as they may try, cannot easily influence the Prime Minister, because a Prime Minister cannot make decisions alone and instead can only propose courses of action which need to be confirmed through a deliberative assembly.
In a Presidential System, unscrupulous vested interests need only to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe one person: the President. In a Parliamentary System, vested interests will find it difficult (and far too expensive) to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe a majority of members of parliament because there are too many of them.
In the end, it is obvious why many members of the old oligarchy, extremists from some religious sectors, as well as other vested interests who seek to influence or control the public policies of the Secular State are against moves to shift over to the superior, more stable, more efficient, more accountable, and less-prone-to-corruption Parliamentary System as these vested interests will instantaneously lose their ability to influence or control public policy and subvert the public interest for their own selfish interests.
These have not even considered the fact that the Presidential System the Philippines is a highly personality-based system that unduly favors celebrities and people with popular surnames, as opposed to ensuring that the most competent people emerge on top.
While both India and Malaysia have many among their poorer classes of people generally exhibiting identical personality and behavioral characteristics with the “starstruck” masses of the Philippines such as a hero-worship of pop-stars, actors, and other celebrities, Malaysia and India have never ended up with actors, pop-stars, and incompetent-but-famous people ever having become Prime Minister. These differences in political dynamics very clearly explains why the Parliamentary System is ultimately more generally associated with much lower levels of corruption, superior economic performance, a better quality of life, and a much higher GDP per capita.
As everyone can see, the evidence is overwhelming as to the obvious superior performance of societies which use a Parliamentary System over those using a Presidential System. Filipinos who truly wish the Philippines to become a better-performing society with a much better economy, a higher GDP per capita, a much more stable political system, better public policies, and a better quality of life for its people should definitely make themselves intellectually open to the option of shifting to a system which is more generally associated with success. At the very core of our culture and identity as a people who are essentially a cross between Malay-Austronesian & Hispanic, we really have much more in common with Malaysia and Spain both of whom use the Parliamentary System and have progressed because of it than with the United States of America which uses the gridlock-prone Presidential System. It really is about time the Philippines shifted over to the Parliamentary System.
“Half the faculty at Yale Law describes the American Presidential System as one of this country’s most dangerous exports wreaking havoc on over 30 countries across the globe… It is a recipe for Constitutional Breakdown…”
– quoted from “The West Wing” character “Toby Ziegler”, Season 6 Episode 15
Just before I published my recent essay that related the soccer versus basketball issue to the presidential versus parliamentary debate, a few statements made by Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan which appeared in the July 3, 2010 Manila Standard caught my attention, and I quote the Manila Standard article as follows:
“Personally, I am against a parliamentary system. It is not the form of government that is important. It’s like you are being made to choose between a sedan and a truck. What if you do not know how to drive? I believe that it is not the form of government but the political leadership we should be concerned about,” he told newsmen at the Balay Aquino-Roxas, the LP headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City.
He argued that if the presidential system has its flaws, the parliamentary system has its flaws too. In Australia, he said legislators are now debating whether they should shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system.”
I am essentially trying to pull my punches as I write this because two of my own sisters are friends of one of Senator Kiko’s own staff members. I must admit that it is extremely difficult for me to do so because a highly-educated and intelligent person like Senator Kiko should not be making such errors of analysis, or worse, errors of fact.
I sincerely hope that Senator Kiko takes the time to read through my recent essay entitled “Philippine Progress: Shift in Sports, Shift in System” because by simply doing so, he may learn to understand that his bias against proposals to shift towards the Parliamentary System is extremely misplaced and unfounded.
For one thing, different systems very often do yield different results. Some systems are better – or worse – than others. Coming from an IT background, I have had to deal with this fact all the time as some operating systems like Microsoft Windows Vista, are technically faulty and cause more system crashes than others, causing end-users to avoid such operating systems like the plague and either prefer to downgrade to its predecessor – Windows XP, upgrade to its newer successor – Windows 7, while still using the same piece of hardware, or decide to make a wholesale shift to Apple’s MacOSX platform.
(Note: I used to work for Microsoft and still maintain a certain loyalty to the company, yet I cannot pretend that MS Windows Vista wasn’t a lemon.)
As much as people may want to insist that “it’s not the system, it’s how you use it” or “it’s not the system, it’s who’s using it”, ceteris paribus, the fact remains that a competent and expert user who knows what he’s doing can still waste a lot of time having to deal with system crashes that are no fault of his own. Between using a system that is prone to crashing on the one hand, and using a more robust and stable system that seamlessly works on the other, an expert user will clearly get a lot more things done using the stable system. Obviously, as some systems are indeed better than others, the more stable systems allow users to get more things done without interruption.
The good Senator also needs to realize that some systems favor certain traits over others. A Presidential System, due to the manner in which the Philippine electorate tends to choose the President based on “winnability”, clearly favors popularity and name-recall over competence. In other words, popularity greatly determines whether a candidate wins within a Presidential System and everything else is secondary. Of course, the ratios are not the same. France and the United States, for instance, both use Presidential Systems (France is sometimes described as “semi-Presidential”), yet competence and platform figure a lot more than in the Philippine setting – albeit a presidential candidate’s popularity is still the major determinant – in how presidents in those countries get elected. A Parliamentary System, on the other hand, favors parties with the most relevant platforms (as well as the overall competence in getting things done) that the per-constituency electorate can identify with versus parties whose platforms and lower levels of competence the electorate will avoid.
Moreover, due to merit-based competition within the various parties in a Parliamentary System, the most competent party members with the best leadership skills emerge at the top of the party’s leadership as “Front Benchers.” Within a party, the best member among the best gets on top (vertical competition), while the others become deputies and hold important positions within the party. In short, there is very little chance that an incompetent member of parliament can ever become Prime Minister. The intra-party competition that has more to do with competence and ability, rather than popularity ensures that.
By gaining a better understanding of how the Parliamentary System works, Senator Pangilinan will better understand why India, despite having millions of ordinary people who worship Bollywood Stars and Cricketeers has never ended up with any of them ever becoming Prime Minister. He would realize that it is totally possible for an extremely competent technocratic economist like Manmohan Singh to end up Prime Minister without having to do song-and-dance numbers for India’s masses, and on the other hand, while the Filipino masses – who like India’s masses, also worship our movie stars, TV celebrities, our basketbolistas and boxing legends, ended up voting for an incompetent movie star in 1998 and almost made him win again just last May (despite having been deposed in 2001 and convicted of Plunder). In 2004, his good friend and fellow movie star, the late FPJ, almost won as well.
Republicanism in Australia: Shift from the British Monarch to an elected President as Head of State
This brings me to the next part: Senator Pangilinan’s mention of Presidentialism in Australia.
Let us review the good Senator’s statement: “…the presidential system has its flaws, the parliamentary system has its flaws too. In Australia, legislators are now debating whether they should shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system…”
I’m afraid that Senator Pangilinan is grossly misinformed. Get Real Philippines itself has Australia-based members on the ground who have explicitly confirmed that his allegation that “In Australia, legislators are now debating whether they should shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system” is either a grossly deliberate misrepresentation of facts or the result of faulty research.
To set the facts straight, Senator Kiko needs to be corrected for him to realize that Australia has no quarrel with the Westminster Parliamentary System it currently has in place. Indeed, he is right that no system is perfect, but Australians generally acknowledge that their current Westminster Parliamentary system works for them – quite well, in fact. In contrast, an ever-increasing number of Filipinos are now beginning to acknowledge the role that the Presidential System has played in the country’s poverty, underdevelopment, and inability to fix its own problems.
Was it the recent high-profile change in Prime Minister where the Australian Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd vacated the Premiership and his deputy, Julia Gillard became Prime Minister that led the good Senator to mistakenly proclaim that “legislators are now debating on whether they should shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system?”
Australians have accepted that such is exactly how a Parliamentary System should work!
A parliamentary system ejects Prime Ministers who ram down proposals (like Rudd’s proposed Mining Tax) to Parliament without properly consulting the ruling party’s own Members of Parliament. Ordinary MP’s from Rudd’s own party, for instance, feared that if Rudd pushed through with his Mining Tax proposal, they would lose the support of their own constituencies (since Australia is heavily-dependent on mining) in the next elections, and that’s why Rudd was asked to resign. That is precisely the beauty of the parliamentary system: Prime Ministers have to listen to their own members of parliament, otherwise, those who put their own party at risk face the prospect of losing their position as leader of their own party.
Kevin Rudd’s departure from the Australian premiership is paralleled by Tony Blair’s retirement and replacement by his deputy, then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Tony Blair, like Kevin Rudd, enjoyed a certain level of popularity due to personal charisma in addition to personal competence, yet largely because of Tony Blair’s unfortunate decision to go along with George Bush’s adventures in Iraq, where Weapons of Mass Destruction were eventually not found, the British Labour Party gradually suffered a massive diminution in the party’s popularity ratings as a result of Blair’s decision on Iraq. Sensing that the Labour Party was going to lose its majority if it continued on with Tony Blair at the helm, Blair was politely advised by his own party members to “retire.” And retire he did – his swansong as PM being the conclusion of Peace Talks with the Irish Republic Army in Northern Ireland. And it was there that Gordon Brown, Blair’s then second in command, took over.
(Note: While the British spell “Labour Party” the British way with “ou”, in Australia, the official name of the “Australian Labor Party” is spelled the American way without the “u.”)
Thus, parties who continue to enjoy majority support from the population by continuing to win a majority of parliamentary seats reward their leaders who continue to lead them well by granting them longevity as Prime Minister. But on the other hand, Prime Ministers who make fatal mistakes such as Kevin Rudd’s controversial Mining Tax or Tony Blair’s miscalculated involvement in Iraq find themselves “punished” with retirement or ouster. That dynamic within the Parliamentary System of parties causing their own leaders to resign or retire is the “check-and-balance” that ensures that a parliamentary system continues to be more representative and responsive to people’s real needs, much more than a Presidential System could ever be.
Thanks to a superior system such as the current Parliamentary System already in place in Australia, there really is no talk about shifting from Australia’s parliamentary form of government to a presidential one. What exists, on the other hand, is a relatively strong movement to shift Australia away from being a Constitutional Monarchy with the reigning British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State (currently represented by an appointed Governor-General) towards becoming an Independent Republic with a President – elected by Parliament – to act as a ceremonial Head of State.
That movement has less to do with the form of government than it has to do with expressing Independence from Australia’s “personal union” with the British Crown. That movement is called the Australian Republican Movement. There are others within the movement who propose having a directly-elected President (elected by the people, as opposed to the dominant proposal that the President be elected by Parliament) as Head of State, who will also be powerless and ceremonial just like the role of the Queen (proxied in Australia by the Governor-General).
Of course, there does exist an extremely infinitesimal number of people within the Australian Republican Movement who have floated the idea of having an American-style President (who is powerful and holds executive powers) , but that faction is marginal, and such a proposal has not even reached the critical level of intra-parliamentary debate that would get ordinary citizens talking about it. Instead, the debate that does continue to be pervasive regarding the word “President” is still firmly within the proposal to replace the British Monarch with a non-hereditary President as ceremonial Head of State.
To reiterate, there is no debate about shifting from a parliamentary form of government towards a US-style Presidential one within parliament nor is there one that attracts the general Australian citizenry’s attention. Besides, such a direction from Parliamentary to Presidential is extremely unlikely considering that there are actually more countries that have already shifted from Presidential to Parliamentary, such as Moldova (transitioned in 2000), Lebanon (transitioned many many years ago during the late Rafik Hariri’s term), Kyrgyzstan (newly-transitioned – April 2010), or Ukraine (currently in transition).
Moreover, there are other countries who are currently considering making the shift; Afghanistan (proposed by opposition leader Dr. Abdullah Abdullah), Nigeria (proposed by a Nigerian ex-Justice in the UN World Court), and of course, the Philippines (since FVR’s time).
Parliamentarism: Newer, More Evolved; Presidentialism: Older, Less Evolved
One of the things that can actually help Senator Pangilinan understand the relationship that the Westminster Parliamentary System and the US-style Presidential System have with each other is to look at the historical context of their evolution. (See diagram)
Firstly, the Presidential System of the Philippines is obviously a take-off from the American presidential system, and the American presidential system – having been a product of British colonialism – is a take-off from an earlier incarnation of the British System. Rather than thinking that the British System has always been based on what we currently refer to as the modern Westminster Parliamentary System, it is worth noting that the British System had been in a constant and steady state of gradually ceding power from the Crown towards the Parliament ever since King John of England signed the Magna Carta all the way until the British System arrived at its current form a little after the reign of Queen Victoria.
To review, the British System evolved essentially from an original state of Absolute Monarchy in which the English Monarch had full power over the domains he held and was later on assisted by a group of nobles, assisted by selected town and village leaders acting as a council of advisers which later became known as the “Parliament” during the French-speaking Norman occupation, as the word derives from the French word “Parler” (“to speak”), and “Parliament” (taken from the French “Parlement”) is where such speaking takes place. Much later, that parliament evolved so that its commoners and nobles split into two components, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, so that eventually, the House of Commons became the more powerful between the two. Much later, that system gradually ceded power from the Monarch towards Parliament.
In other words, today’s essentially powerless and merely ceremonial monarch had at some point in time held vast amounts of real executive power. It can be said, for instance, that Queen Elizabeth I of England (late 1500’s) was a vastly more powerful Monarch than, say, Queen Victoria (late 1800’s), and that Queen Victoria had much more power (or influence) than her own descendant, Queen Elizabeth II (present-day).
By recognizing this fact, we can see that the US-style Presidential System was actually an attempt to recreate or imitate the British System of a much earlier era on the American Continent. In fact, the US Founding Fathers originally thought of making George Washington a King, in the same way that Britain had a King. The colonists living in North America were used to having proclamations made in the name of the British King long before they declared their Independence on the 4th of July, 1776. In many cases, they didn’t really even know that the British Monarch was no longer that powerful, and instead, only seem to have remembered their forebears’ stories about how Queen Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen” (for whom the states West Virginia and Virginia are named) was very powerful. Suffice to say, the American colonists wanted a government that seemed to be as mighty as how they perceived Queen Elizabeth I’s and subsequent British Monarchs’ reigns were.
In the end, it was decided that instead of setting up a medieval-like Hereditary Monarchy, the United States of America would instead have a more modern, elected President in line with the more democratic ideals of the Age of Enlightenment. The President, in other words, would be no different from a King who still held real power (as did much earlier incarnations of the then English System), except that the position was not to be inherited and was instead to be democratically-elected, chosen by members of an Electoral College popularly chosen from among the various Congressional districts.
That relatively early breaking away from the constantly-evolving British System that was brought about by American Independence thus insulated the United States from the continuing shift towards ceding more and more powers from the Crown (or “Head of State”) to the Legislature (referred to as “Congress” by the Americans), so that a century after America was founded, the American President continued to have the same executive powers, while the British Monarch had continued to become less powerful, and more ceremonial.
It can be argued, therefore, that if America had hypothetically broken away from the British much later – say, one full century after the actual Declaration of Independence, then America’s system would probably not have adopted the presidential system it is today, and would instead, be more similar to the Victorian system where the Parliament was calling most of the shots and the British Monarch had gotten relegated to a much more decorative role. That hypothetical United States of America would have certainly done away with hereditary monarchy and replaced it with an elected “President”, but that President would have had a similarly ceremonial position as the one that Queen Victoria held at the time.
Conversely, “colonies” that currently remain within a personal union with the British Monarch such as Australia or Canada would probably end up with a more American-style presidential system had they hypothetically declared independence from the British at around the time of 1776 or much earlier than that.
This then brings us to the conclusion that the Presidential System is merely a vestige of an older and less-evolved form of the British System, where the hereditary Monarch still had much greater say over decision and policy-making than the legislature, while the present-day Westminster Parliamentary System is actually a more thoroughly-evolved form of that same system, brought to its inevitable logical conclusion, where the parliament was eventually ceded full control over decision-making, and where the Monarch was turned into a powerless and merely ceremonial figurehead.
It is also worth noting that numerous older systems that were in place during the earlier half of the 1900’s which featured a “strong President”, such as Germany’s Weimar Republic, mostly involved a parallel transition from a much older Strong Monarchy-based system that still gave certain powers to the hereditary monarch, and once the monarchy was dissolved, the resulting Republic’s elected President took on the position of power that the dissolved hereditary monarchy once held. Since the pre-World War I German Kaiser Wilhelm II was not exactly a powerless ceremonial monarch, and instead held real executive power, the Weimar Republic which followed the dissolution of Germany’s Imperial Monarchy continued on as a Semi-Presidential System with a strong President having more overriding powers over the old Reichstag and its Chancellor.
In fact, of the numerous monarchial systems that were in existence at the first quarter of the 1900’s, it is the Parliament-domimant British System that appears to have been the most evolved of them all. It was the only one at the time which fit the description of today’s modern “Constitutional Monarchy” where the Monarch is relegated to a mostly ceremonial and powerless role, and real executive powers are given exclusively to the legislature. Everywhere else, vestiges of the more anachronistic powerful hereditary Monarchy holding sway over a more representative legislature persisted. Rather than ceding full control of all decision-making to the representative legislative bodies, the older, less-evolved systems merely sought to moderate the immense executive power of the hereditary Monarch by balancing it off with the influence of the representative legislature. When you merely replace a strong hereditary monarch whose executive power is moderated by the legislature with an equally strong elected President, you have a Presidential System.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the present-day Westminster Parliamentary System – being the more evolved incarnation of the British System between the two – always comes out superior to the Presidential System in numerous studies made by international scholars when correlating both systems with higher stability(as per Dr. Juan Linz, PhD), lower levels of corruption, and greater efficiency and accountability(as per a study by three economics PhD’s commissioned by the World Bank and the University of Chicago).
With this, it needs to be underscored and emphasized that from the historical perspective of the development of systems of government, the Presidential System is comparatively more “primitive”, while the Parliamentary System is relatively more “evolved.”
Seek the Best Advice within the Party
It would greatly benefit the good Senator to carefully coordinate his personal pronouncements on Charter Change or the Parliamentary System with one of his own fellow Liberal Party-mates, current Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad.
Many years ago, when Butch Abad was a Liberal Party congressman from Batanes, he wrote a whitepaper that explained the urgent need for the Philippines to move away from the current problem-ridden Presidential System based on the 1987 Constitution’s prescriptions and towards the more stable and better-evolved Parliamentary System His focus on the need for the Philippines to shift away from Presidentialism and on to Parliamentarism was soundly researched and totally spot-on, drawing largely upon the work of Dr. Juan Linz, PhD of Yale, who dealt mostly with the aspects of system stability.
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan needs to realize that personal preferences are irrelevant when a public servant talks about the Greater Good of Society. What he personally prefers may be based on emotion, sentiment, whims and caprice and as such is highly subjective. The Greater Good of Society, unfortunately, does not belong to the realm of subjectivity & bias and instead, requires objectivity and rational thought. The good Senator, therefore, needs to ensure that he carefully, objectively, and dispassionately studies all the relevant literature in order to more fairly compare both systems against each other so that instead of relying on subjective personal preferences, Senator Kiko – who at this moment is fighting for the Senate Presidency – can be more capable of making the right decisions as well as push for real improvements for the Greater Good of the Filipino People.
Orion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes systems the way they should be: logically and objectively.
Being an Overseas Filipino Worker himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.
Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.
Orion first achieved fame as one of the most remembered and most impressive among the winners of the popular RPN-9 Quiz Show “Battle of the Brains”, and got a piece he wrote – “The Parable of the Mountain Bike” – featured in Bob Ong’s first bestselling compilation of essays “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” He is the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement to spearhead the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.