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Friday, 16 June 2017

Stalemate

Recently, the FT wrote about the Anglo-American democracy problem. Both basically have a 2-party democracy and both countries are in serious turmoil. Continental Europe is based on proportionate representation rather than a complicated district system affected by gerrymandering and favouring and over-representing the top candidate. France is somewhere in between.

The Trump Administration’s main priority is destroying the 8 year Obama legacy. Promising to tear this down was easy. Replacing it with new policies is difficult because of internal party divisions. This makes sense as both parties have 2 wings: moderate and extreme. Essentially, these 2 external parties represent 4 internal parties. Their hate towards each other, unites them.

The UK has a minority government since their recent snap general election. Their PM wanted extra seats in order to overcome internal party divisions. Her surprise move made perfect sense given the favourable polls but her gamble failed. The Brexit debate that divided Britain, now divides UK Parliament. A hard Brexit becomes a soft Brexit and perhaps no Brexit after all.

After negotiating for more than 90 days, the Netherlands still has no new government. The difficulty lies in its multi-party system (2017: 13!) and the refusal of most parties to cooperate with at least 1 other party. Nearly all parties refuse cooperating with the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders (13%). Finding 76 seats (or 51%) requires at least 4 parties in the political center.

The main benefit of coalition governments is that they build on existing political legacy rather than tearing it down first and build later. The main drawback of building coalition governments is in its duration. Belgium still holds the record with 589 days in 2011.

France is interesting as it - essentially - used to have a 2 party structure: Conservatives/Right vs Labour/Left. Choices were rather limited. The surge of the extreme nationalists of Le Pen created more choice and a multi-party system. Then came Mr Macron. Within a year, he came, saw and conquered. France might soon be ruled by only one (1) party.

Does the outcome in France suggest a voters’ preference for a strongman, similar to autocratic regimes in China, Philippines, Russia and Turkey?? I like to think that Mr Macron is just the New Kid in Town (artists, lyrics, video). He offers Hope with a moderate view rather than an extremist view that conflicts with Equality, Fraternity and Liberty.

Perhaps the solution is in Germany: proportionate representation with a 5% election threshold. This removes extremist, protest, and/or “single” issue parties which are generally not willing to govern anyway, unless on their conditions.

The best defence for a multiparty system and a coalition government comes from Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

From the musical Chess - One Night in Bangkok (1984) by Murray Head