The case for a strong selfless parliamentary system.
In a time when nothing is more certain than rapid changes in the world: the Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s election, the rise of populism in Europe, the spread of fake news and alternative facts.
A time when people don’t trust their governments: In France, for instance, former French President Hollande didn’t dare running for re-election knowing he would be humiliated in his own party’s primaries, former French President Sarkozy was largely defeated in the Socialists primaries, the two major parties in France were prevented from competing in the second round of the presidential election for the first time in France’s History.
A time when people doubt politics can do anything to make their daily life better and their country a better place: Although a majority of British MPs voted Remain in the EU referendum in June 2016, they nearly all voted the Brexit Bill to allow the Prime minister to trigger Article 50 in March 2017 and start the negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union.
A time when some politicians are caught red-handed involved in sordid cases of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and abuse of power with their own staff, whilst representing their constituents or being a member of the government.
In a time when the nationalist, far-right, alt-right and ultra-right parties are fed with our insecurities, our fears, our doubts, our distrust of mainstream politics and politicians, our distrust of the media, our distrust of experts, and turn to voters with empty promises, radical views and dangerous solutions instead.
In a time when the internet and social media bring us closer together with our family, our friends, our communities like never before, and at the same time push us apart with our hate-groups, hate-preachers, hate-lecturers and hate-newspapers.
In a time like this, the only viable system of governance has to be a strong, selfless parliamentary system. A system that enables direct democracy to work, prevent leaders at the top from taking decisions favoured by lobbies or by their wealthy and influential friends.
A STRONGLY INTERCONNECTED EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE
So, imagine a system of democratic governance in which the executive and the legislative branches are strongly interconnected and work in the national interest, and don’t follow or receive orders from right-wing tabloids, newspapers, fake newspapers and their multibillionaire media mogul owners, nor allow swinging opinion polls to command their decisions, tell them how to lead their debates or preside over the way they should vote in Parliament.
The executive branch would derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature. Because the Members of Parliament are directly elected to represent the people, only they should hold the legitimacy to choose how the country must be led and what is in the best interest of the country.
Because they are elected to represent their constituents, MPs would always keep in mind what is best for them in the first place, but they would also be allowed to use their common sense and feel free to disagree with their constituents and to disagree with what the press and opinion polls claim is the so-called “will of the people.” If they were to think it is in the interest of the nation for them to vote unpopular bills or vote down popular bills, so be it.
A PRIME MINISTER ‘LIGHT’
Does it still make sense that, in the 21st century, a man or a woman sitting in a gold decorated office have all the power of a country in their hands, when the directly elected members of the Parliament are the people’s representatives?
Does it still make sense that, in the 21st century, a man or a woman sitting in an office protected from the crowd, can make use of executive orders or royal prerogatives without the need to ask the Parliament and, by doing so, overrule the people’s representatives?
No, of course not.
In a Selfless Parliamentary System, the executive could still take the form of a prime minister who would be elected by the legislature (MPs), not simply nominated because they are the leaders of the majority in Parliament as it usually is the case (in the UK for example). Once elected by the MPs, the new prime minister would resign of any other mandate or work they would have been holding so far, including as leader of their party if it were the case, to concentrate on their sole duties as prime minister.
That prime minister would neither be, nor have, the power of a head of state and would not be considered as the leader of the country either, but rather the country’s home policies executor and the country’s representation abroad. The face of the country. The prime minister would not hold any special powers: no power to dissolve the Parliament, no veto, no ‘Executive order’ (USA), no ‘Royal prerogative’ (UK) and no ‘Article 49.3’ (France) to allow their government to force passage of a bill.
The role of the prime minister would be stripped to its bare minimum to allow them to simply go on with the job for which they and their cabinet would have been elected. While the mandate of the legislature would not exceed four years, the prime minister’s mandate itself would not exceed two years and could not be renewed more than once, in order to favour the democratic rule of alternation in power. It would also ensure that they would not enter into any political campaigning as they would not be the leader of their political party.
Although the government ministers would be chosen by the prime minister, parliamentary commissions would investigate their background individually and ensure they are fit for the job. The prime minister and the government ministers would be held accountable to the legislature and could, therefore, be taken down with a simple required majority of the votes in Parliament.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE, THROUGH THEIR ELECTED PARLIAMENT.
Although the prime minister and the government ministers could be taken down by a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, the prime minister would not be allowed to dissolve the Parliament. Parliament would be elected for a duration of four years. MPs would not be allowed to renew their mandate more than once. If unhappy with their MP, voters in a constituency would be able to recall them and organise a by-election in which the MP would be allowed to participate and try to convince the voters to keep them in Parliament. Recall would only be possible once every 18 months to avoid abuses.
These measures would favour the democratic rule of alternation in power. Thus, renewing politicians every eight years.
Imagine... No more grumpy old faces on the TV and in the media!
Imagine... New faces every eight years instead!
Choices about the Economy, Education, Health, Employment, Transport, Environment, etc. would all go through commissions before being presented by government ministers to Parliament, where votes would take place to finalise policies, with or without amendments. Choices and orientations would be discussed in commissions and presented to the complete chamber by the members of Parliament themselves.
The need for national referendums would totally disappear with this system as all the decisions would be taken by the people’s representatives, for the people and in the interest of the country.
Wartime decisions would not be taken by the prime minister alone. The prime minister and their cabinet would make the case for or against war, but the ultimate decision would be taken by the Parliament through a free vote that would be in the interest of the country.
As a principle, the ruling of the country would never be in the sole hands of one individual above everybody else.
HOW COULD / WOULD IT WORK?
Such Parliamentary System would work in any country with a constitutional monarchy with a monarch as the ceremonial head of state and the Prime minister as a member of the legislature (such as the United Kingdom, Sweden or Japan). It would also work with a republic, with a president as the ceremonial head of state (such as Germany, South Africa or Botswana).
The European Union is certainly currently using the closest system, so far, to the Parliamentary System described above, in the way it functions, regardless its imperfections and sometimes technocratic feel. It, therefore, is no utopia. This system can be implemented.
RESTORING THE PEOPLE’S TRUST IN POLITICS.
What is needed to make this work in a country like Britain, for instance? A selfless prime minister who can work together with selfless ministers and members of Parliament with a common interest in mind: not “the will of the people,” but the almighty national interest.
This system of governance is no utopia. It only needs a little bit of thinking, a little bit of work and a big deal of willingness from both the people and the politicians to change the way a country works.
People who voted for the far-left in recent elections are calling for a closer democracy. We must be open-minded. We must listen to the Leave voters (UK), the voters of Bernie Sanders (US), Jean-Luc Melenchon (France), Podemos (Spain) and M5S (Italy)... We must also listen to the voters of Marine Le Pen (France), Geert Wilders (Netherlands), Donald Trump (USA) and Ukip (Britain).
All the extreme parties, whether Left or Right, grow on a dying system that people feel does not answer their questions, does not listen to them, does not represent them any longer.
Well, let’s challenge the system. Let’s change the system!
The creation of a Selfless Parliamentary System would be a real revolution in itself. It would be a new way of doing politics, closer to the voters, closer to the people, but it would also and mainly be a way to restore people’s trust in politics, and send the populists, nationalists and hate-preachers of our time back to the one place they really belong: the History books.
It may come true, one day... if WE ALL want it hard enough!
(This article was first published at PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)