Lessons For The Philippines: Trump Would be Wise to Advocate a Shift to Parliamentary Governance

Understanding Trump’s popularity in The Philippines vis-a-vis his predecessor

Donald Trump remains generally popular among the vast majority of Filipinos who continue to support President Rodrigo Duterte in record numbers. The reasons for this are not hard to ascertain. Donald Trump has uniformly resisted attempts by members of the US Congress, the US media establishment and even members of the military-industrial complex to take an anti-Duterte line and has instead largely refrained from interfering in the foreign policies of The Philippines (very much unlike his predecessors). Secondly, while Barack Obama antagonised a newly elected President Duterte during the former’s last months in office, Trump expressed his admiration for Duterte in a leaked phone conservation while Trump has also publicly stated that he seeks the death penalty for drug traffickers, thus demonstrating that unlike many in the US, the current US President is largely sympathetic to Duterte’s struggle against the plague of narcotics.

CoRRECT government 

The CoRRECT Movement continues to advocate for constitutional reforms in The Philippines- reforms that will create a new form of federal-parliamentary governance that is open to foreign direct investment (FDI). While the US model is certainly a federal one, its congressional/presidential model is one that is actually as incompatible with the modern needs of the American public as is the Philippine system in respect of Filipinos.

At the moment, the US government is literally inoperable as the executive (Donald Trump) cannot reach an agreement with the opposition who control the House of Representatives (half of the legislature). The result has been the longest government shutdown in US history. A clear solution to avoiding such inevitable shut downs would be for the US to consider the proposals that The CoRRECT Movement is advocating for The Philippines.

While the US remains ahead of The Philippines in terms of federalism, it is stuck in the same rut in respect of a convoluted, expensive, ineffective and increasingly undemocratic presidential/congressional system. Thus, while Donald Trump clearly enjoys being the American President, it is entirely possible that he would be far more comfortable being an American Prime Minister within a federal-parliamentary system.

Trump and Duterte are both tailor made for fast paced, improvisational parliamentary debates 

Unlike many of his predecessors, Donald Trump does not enjoy bland, scripted speeches. Trump likes to speak on his feet and is quick to criticise, challenge and mock his political opponents. It is this kind of flexible rhetoric that comes into use during parliamentary debates where the government and opposition debate one another in real time on a regular basis. In this respect, it is equally easy to see why Rodrigo Duterte would flourish in such a system.

If the US had a parliamentary system, rather than holding closed door meetings with his rivals, Donald Trump could debate them from across a parliamentary chamber where each side would be able to state its case on issues of the day ranging from the infamous border wall, to taxation, foreign policy and trade.

If there was anyone in American politics tailor made for a parliamentary system it is Trump and this is not just because of his rhetoric. While congressional/presidential systems impose strict term limits whilst scheduling elections based on dates set in stone, parliamentary systems allow for flexibility in each of these respects. In a parliamentary system, one stands and falls by how much confidence one can command within the parliamentary legislature. Likewise, an executive in a parliamentary system (the prime minister) can call for new elections at any time, thus effectively calling the bluff of an all too eager opposition who believe they are more popular among the people than they actually are.

Realistically, this would mean that if Trump found himself in the situation of not being able to command a strong enough majority in a parliamentary chamber, he could simply call a snap election and let the people decide if the want a Trump lead party in power that will fund the border wall or whether they want a Nancy Pelosi led government that is opposed to the wall. All of the sudden, deadlock has a clear solution and one that is entirely democratic.

Democratic checks and balances versus arbitrary checks and balances 

Another main difference between parliamentary and presidential systems is that in parliamentary systems, the people’s will provides checks and balances while in presidential systems, an arbitrary and complicated system provides inbuilt deadlock disguised as checks and balances. In a parliamentary system, a popular party and leader will tend to win large majorities, thus making it easy for such a strongly supported government to pass legislation. By contrast, if the general public remain conflicted, a party might only win by a small majority or else be forced to form a coalition with smaller parties that in a parliamentary system tend to get more representation than in congressional ones. Of course, if such a coalition cannot work effectively, it will collapse, thus triggering new elections where the people will get a fresh opportunity to break the deadlock using the power of their vote. Clearly, for someone as confident as Donald Trump and someone as unambiguously popular as Duterte, such a system would self-evidently be naturally appealing.

A pipe dream for America is both necessary and doable for The Philippines 

While the US could certainly benefit from a parliamentary system, realistically, superpowers only ever change their political systems during a profound crisis and thus, there is far less of a chance that the US will change its system than there is in respect of The Philippines. Because of this, the central thesis of this piece is not so much to convince Americans to back reforms that will likely never see the light of day, but instead one seeks to demonstrate that while many Filipinos remain trapped in a mentality that considers the US political system superior to all others because of America’s wealth and military power, such Filipinos really ought to think twice.

If the American system is not even serving America, what makes Filipinos so confident that such a system can serve The Philippines? While a nation with the world’s most powerful private sector like the US can exist in spite of its government, for a developing country like The Philippines, a reformist government that opens up the private sector and creates harmonious private-public sector relations simply cannot afford the downtime that ultimately America can afford.

This is why, one ought to imagine both Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte as if they were Prime Ministers rather than Presidents of their respective nations and to therefore extrapolate what they could do if they were operating in a more flexible and democratic system – one in which thinking on the spot is a more useful tool than being able to read off a script (like Obama) or otherwise attempting to read off a script (like Noynoy Aquino).

Conclusion

Both the US and The Philippines could benefit from the same reforms, but clearly The Philippines needs them more due to being at a different stage of economic development than the US superpower. In this sense, while the US system will likely refuse the medicine it very much needs, The Philippines should be a more cooperative patient and listen to the doctors proscribing a parliamentary cure to deadlock and political chaos.

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