Parliamentary Envy?

My main subject is American politics. Occasionally I veer into international politics because, unlike our current president, I realize that America doesn’t operate in a vacuum. I often ponder the advantages of a parliamentary system of federal government. With the news of the last few days I also am seeing the downsides. Let’s explore.

Typical of Americans, I am far from an expert on the parliamentary system. The part I really like is the multiple political parties and, unlike in America, voting for a “third party” candidate is often not a wasted or unintended consequences vote.

I’ll use myself as an example. As an American progressive I have no viable alternative but to vote for the Democrat because the Republican Party certainly doesn’t hold any progressive principles or embrace any progressive causes. At the same time the Democratic candidate is often something less than a pure progressive. There is no viable Progressive or Social Democratic Party in America. In the rare instance where a candidate might run under one of those banners voting for them is at best a waste and in the worst case scenario effectively a vote for the Republican. The Progressive or Social Democrat can’t win and by taking my leaning Democratic vote away from the Democratic candidate I made it easier for the Republican candidate (who I certainly didn’t want) to win.

With what has evolved into America’s two party system, the White House is always in control of one party or the other, we always have a clear majority in the House and while a 50-50 tie is possible in the Senate its leadership is easily resolved. Under the parliamentary system a majority coalition must be formed in order to form a government. Often the largest party does not win an outright majority of legislative seats and is forced to form a (moderating) coalition with one or more “third parties”. In fact Israel has never had anything but a coalition government in its history.

Tuesday morning I awoke to the news that Justin Trudeau had won but his Liberal Party had failed to win a majority of seats in Parliament and he will have to form a coalition. Knowledgeable observers of Canadian politics, (that certainly doesn’t include me), figure that will be achieved rather easily.

Back to Israel and we have a very different situation. About a month ago Israel had elections and neither Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party nor main challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party won a clear majority. Netanyahu has unsuccessfully tried to form a coalition in the interim. It appears Gantz will have the next opportunity. Apparently the powers to be aren’t very enthusiastic about his chance of success because a plan the have Netanyahu and Gantz discuss a power-sharing/coalition are already underway.

The reality is that no perfect form of representative democratic government has yet been devised. America’s Constitution (remember it’s not the original governing document) has survived well over 200 years. It has been the template (minus the Electoral College) for a plethora of democracies since. The Founding Fathers even provided for the basis (the Emoluments Clause) and the method of removal (impeachment) of a corrupt President interested in personal enrichment from foreign entities. That is still not perfect when you consider it would leave us with a President Mike Pence, albeit most likely temporarily.

I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side but I still envy parts of the parliamentary system.

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