Philippine Reform: Here’s Why Parliamentary Systems Breed Less Corruptions Than Presidential Systems

Transparency International has released the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index which ranks the nations of the world by widely held perceptions regarding corruption in the public sector. Of note is the fact that the top ten nations and beyond all have parliamentary political systems while the bottom ten and beyond each have presidential systems. The least corrupt countries according to the Corruption Perceptions Index include:

1. Denmark (parliamentary constitutional monarchy)

2. New Zealand (parliamentary constitutional monarchy)

Tied for 3rd – Singapore (parliamentary republic), Finland (parliamentary republic), Switzerland (parliamentary republic with elements of direct democracy), Sweden (parliamentary constitutional monarchy) 

7. Norway (parliamentary constitutional monarchy)

8. Netherlands (parliamentary constitutional monarchy)

Tied at 9 – Canada (parliamentary constitutional monarchy), Luxembourg (parliamentary constitutional monarchy)

Tied at 11 – Germany (federal parliamentary republic), United Kingdom (parliamentary constitutional monarchy). 

Rounding out the most corrupt countries in order descending from the most corrupt include the following:

Somalia (presidential) 

South Sudan (presidential)

Syria (presidential/war zone)

Yemen (presidential/disputed leadership/civil war)

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Juche system/de-facto communist autocracy)

Sudan (presidential)

Guinea Bissau (presidential) 

Equatorial Guinea (presidential)

Afghanistan (presidential/war zone)

Libya (failed state in the midst of civil war)

As is the case in league tables regarding living standards, wealth, happiness indexes and corruption, this year’s survey of corruption perceptions sees nations with parliamentary systems dominating the top whilst nations with presidential systems dominate the league table for the most corrupt.

Below is a piece from Eurasia Future detailing why a parliamentary system is the best method through which to reduce corruption and improve efficiency in Philippine governance

Imagine a man with an old and incredibly mechanically complicated car. Because of the car’s age, it is not particularly fast, comfortable or fuel efficient, but the car’s owner takes pride in being able to maintain a car that most other mechanics would not know how to keep on the road. One day when driving his family, the car stops in the middle of a busy highway. It was little more than luck that prevented a dangerous cash from occurring. From then on, the man decides that the old car is fine for driving on quiet empty roads but for driving his family around on the highway, he ought to have a reliable modern car with up to date safety features.

In terms of political systems, parliamentary systems are vastly simpler to understand and to participate in than are presidential/congressional systems. Parliamentary systems also offer fail-safe checks and balances against permanent deadlock or shifts between political extremes. Ironically, it is because of the needless complications in presidential/congressional systems that some take pride in living under such a system. In other words, after taking the time to learn the needlessly complicated ins and outs of any given presidential/congressional system, such people often don’t want to let go of such a system and replace it with a straightforward, easy to understand parliamentary system.

But just like the old and unreliable car, soon the problems inherent in presidential/congressional systems come to endanger economic stability and in the case of Venezuela (like many Latin American countries), even the safety of the country itself. In Venezuela, two rival legislative chambers, The Constituent National Assembly and the National Assembly complete for power as there remains no national consensus as to which assembly should be considered the more important of the two. The very creation of the Constituent National Assembly was the result of attempts by the head of state, President Maduro to break the political deadlock in the nation. But rather than helping to break the deadlock, the creation of the pro-Maduro Constituent National Assembly, merely emboldened the National Assembly to declare itself the supreme chamber whilst ultimately, the National Assembly’s leader Juan Guaidó decided to declare himself Venezuela’s head of state. Days after declaring himself the legitimate political leader of the nation,  Guaidó swore himself in as the President of Venezuela and has a result some countries recognise Juan Guaidó as President while other nations as well as the United Nations continue to recognise President Nicolas Maduro.

The fact of the matter is that such a phenomenon could not conceivably happen in a parliamentary system. In a parliamentary system, political leadership and political opposition are determined by basic mathematics. Which ever party has won a majority of seats in a parliamentary election gets to form the government and the leader of the winning party gets to become the head of government, typically referred to as the prime minister. Yet rather than leave the opposition with nothing or relegating them to a distant legislative chamber, the second largest party after a parliamentary election forms the official opposition and the opposition leader stands across from the prime minister during weekly debates where the two can challenge each other in real time.

Of course in some instances, a single party may not win enough seats to form a government on its own. This is what leads to coalition governments. After a series of meetings, compromises are made and two or more parties agree to form a joint (aka coalition) government based on consensus. This is why centrist parties are far more common in parliamentary systems than in presidential ones. In a winner take all system like that in presidential Venezuela, its either one faction that gets in or another, without any attention paid to the proportion of the votes cast -the opposite is true in parliamentary systems. Therefore, in Venezuela like in almost all Latin American states, if the far right win a presidential election by even just 52% of the vote – the country goes in a far right direction. By contrast, if the far left win a presidential election by even just 51% of the vote – the country goes in a far left direction. Yet in a parliamentary system, if a leading party only got 51% of the vote, chances are that they would have to govern from the centre in order to maintain their ultra slim majority. Furthermore, in parliamentary systems with more than two major parties, centrist parties often form in order to hold both the traditional right and traditional left to account, thus insuring the kind of sustained political balance that is largely impossible in a presidential system.

This is why whilst the parliamentary systems of Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, India and Pakistan tend to define their politics in terms far more nuanced terms than that of classic left and classic right, in the presidential systems across Latin America, the old fashioned far-left vs. right-right paradigm remains very much in play. This was seen in last year’s presidential elections in both Brazil (where the far-right won) and Mexico (where the far-left won) and it is certainly being seen in the battle between two completing “presidents” in Venezuela.

This is not to say that the kind of outside interference being witnessed in Venezuela cannot happen in a parliamentary system. That being said, the stability derived from consensus, the ability to legally call a snap election in a period of temporary deadlock and the tendency of parliamentary systems to promote moderates and centrists over extremists, means that a society with a parliamentary system is more politically stable as well as adaptable to national and global political change. Parliamentary systems can therefore foster more general social consensus, harmony and unity vis-a-vis  presidential systems which in the case of Latin America, have a long history of relying on military coups and foreign interference in order to end political deadlock. In a parliamentary system, a snap election can end the deadlock between the prime minister’s party (the governing party) and the opposition which seeks to form a new government. In presidential systems where such things are legally impossible, in times of crisis there is no telling just what extreme measures will be taken in order to foment political change. In Venezuela like many other Latin American states, it appears that a coup rather than a lawful process will ultimately determine the future of the country.

Of course, the United States has not had the kinds of coups seen in Latin American and African presidential systems, but this is because in the modern age of universal suffrage, the two main US parties have not been all that dissimilar to one another. The strong economy of the United States tended to create the kind of centrism that developing countries can only witness in a parliamentary context. That being said, as Donald Trump has ushered in a new right-wing trend in the Republican party whilst Bernie Sanders and his supporters have introduced hard-left politics to the once centrist Democratic party, the US is experiencing the longest governmental shut down in its national history as a result.

In a parliamentary system, the US could have already held a new election to break the deadlock but unfortunately, the US remains in the midst of one kind of political crisis cased by the presidential system, whilst Venezuela remains in a far more dire version of the same crisis – each caused by the unique flaws in presidential systems.

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