LEARNING FROM THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

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LEARNING FROM THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

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boholano-thumbby Jose “Pepe” Abueva

On Friday, May 8, the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland held its parliamentary elections for the 650 seats in the House of Commons of the British Parliament that was also well covered by international media. I kept myself well posted by watching the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

  • With all 650 seats declared won, the Conservatives [Conservative Party] secured 331 seats in the House of Commons, 24 more than it did in 2010; this is six more votes than the minimum majority of the total seats to make the Conservative Party form the ruling Government without the help of any other political party. In the immediate past, the Conservative Party formed a coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats.
  • Labour have 232 seats, the Liberal Democrats 8, the Scotland National Party [SNP] 56, Plaid Cymru 3, UKIP 1, the Greens 1, and others 19.
  • The Conservatives get a 36.9% share of the UK national vote, Labour 30.4%, UKIP 12.6%, the Lib Dems 7.9%, the SNP 4.7%, the Green Party 3.8% and Plaid Cymru 0.6%.

“The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The country’s head of state is the reigning king or queen, and the “head of government” is the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority political party [or political coalition] in the House of Commons” [of Parliament]. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Queen Elizabeth II is the reigning monarch and Head of State of the United Kingdom. Thus soon after his election to rule again as the Prime Minister, David Cameron saw the Queen in  Buckingham Palace to inform her of his becoming again the Head of Government.

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It is also very instructive for Filipinos to learn that the United Kingdom has a very devolved and decentralized system of governance enjoyed by its component governments and nations: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Indeed, Scotland recently tried to secede from the UK in a referendum. Her failure has strengthened the aspiration for even greater devolution of powers to all the components of the U.K.

The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading countries because of its history, culture, governance, economy, science, and education as reflected in its global outreach and  influence.  Her language, English, is the leading global lingua franca par excellence.

Filipino adoption of the “presidential government” and the highly centralized “unitary system” from the United States.

Filipinas became the colony of the United States in southeast Asia that she purchased for 20 million dollars from Spain in the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, and then fully captured in the “Philippine Insurrection” or “Filipino-American War of 1899-2001.”

Filipino colonial leaders forcibly adopted the political system prescribed by their American colonial master and political tutor; and this would be increasingly reshaped and influenced by the traditional Filipino feudal-landlord patronage system.

On the whole, our Philippine political system is essentially our “presidential government” with its “separation of powers” and the highly centralized “unitary system” handed down by the United States. This was aggravated by our traditional political oligarchy and family dynasties, our weak and corrupt political institutions: including our electoral system, bureaucracy,  political parties, and judicial system, our social inequality, rapid population growth, and our impoverished and dependent citizenry.

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And our lack of “transforming leaders” who take seriously our inspired 1987 constitutional vision to “build a just and humane society” and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace.” (Preamble)

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Unfortunately, despite their historic and unique opportunity, the framers of our 1987 Constitution did not realize the blunder of merely prescribing and rehashing our tried, obsolete, and failed Presidential Government and highly centralized Unitary System.

They did not have the wisdom and vision of designing the alternative political system of “a federal-parliamentary system of governance” to build their truly inspired vision of our ideal society and democracy stated in the Preamble of the 1987 Constitution.   

According to Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skatch: “A pure parliamentary regime in a democracy is a system of mutual dependence: [1] The chief executive power [Prime Minister] must be supported by a majority of the legislature and can fall if it receives a “vote of no confidence.” [2] The executive power (normally in conjunction with the Head of State) has the capacity to dissolve the legislature and call for elections.

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“A pure presidential regime in a democracy is a system of mutual independence: [1] The legislative power has a fixed electoral mandate that is its own source of legitimacy. [2] The chief executive power has its fixed electoral  mandate that is its own source of legitimacy. (Alfred Stepan and Cindy Skatch. “Parliamentarism vs Presidentialism.” World Politics. 46 (Oct. 1993) 1-22.

“Why do most countries prefer Parliamentary Government to Presidential Government? Why does pure parliamentarism seem to present a more supportive evolutionary framework for consolidating democracy than pure presidentialism?

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In the view of Stepan and Skatch, the explanation is in the following tendencies of parliamentarism:

  1. Its greater propensity for governments to have majorities to implement their programs;
  2. Its greater ability to rule in a multiparty setting;
  3. Its lower propensity for executives to rule at the edge of the constitution and its greater facility at removing a chief executive who does so;
  4. Its lower susceptibility to military coup; and
  5. Its greater tendency to provide long party-government careers, which add loyalty and experience to political society. (ditto Stepan and Skatch.)

These are the tendencies that we would like for our reformed and revitalized Philippine political system to develop.

Most stable and progressive countries in the world have a Parliamentary Government. These include Japan, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden, and also India, Singapore, and Malaysia in Asia. The United States has a praise-worthy presidential government and federal system.

Expected advantages in changing our Unitary Republic to a Future Federal Republic. Providentially, the proposed Bangsamoro regional entity is a model of the proposed states in a future Federal Republic of the Philippines.

  1. The Federal Republic of the Philippines will build a just and enduring framework for peace through unity in our ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, especially in relation to Bangsamoro and our lumad/ indigenous peoples everywhere.
  2. Responsive federalism will accommodate the legitimate interests of the Moros, help end the war in Mindanao, and discourage secessionism.
  3. The Federal Republic will empower the citizens through their participation in the affairs of their autonomous local and regional governments. As the people become more involved in government decisions, they will raise their political awareness and learn to demand better performance and public accountability. Their participation and efficacy in elections and the making of government decisions will enhance the quality of governance. Better policies and implementation will enable the people to raise their standard of living. At the same time they will be more willing to pay taxes that will finance government programs and services for their direct benefit.
  4. The creation of autonomous territories and autonomous regions that will become federal states under a federal system will improve governance by challenging and energizing local and regional leaders, entrepreneurs, and citizens around the country. It will release them from the costly, time-consuming, stifling, and demoralizing effects of excessive central government controls and regulation in our traditional unitary system.
  1. Federalism through autonomous territories will specifically strengthen the powers of the provincial governors, city and municipal mayors, and other elected local government leaders. It will be proposed that the organic acts of Congress or the Parliament will make key local government executives—governors and mayors of the capital cities—members of the assembly of the autonomous territories and regions that will become federal states in the Federal Republic.
  1. Federalism, together with parliamentary government, will improve governance by promoting the development of strong, united, disciplined, and program-oriented political parties that are responsible and accountable to the people for their conduct and performance in and out of power; and by supporting the less endowed and developed regions  and the poor and the needy across the land.
  1. Thus, federalism will  stimulate  and  hasten  the  country’s political, economic, social, and cultural development and modernization. There will be inter-regional competition in attracting domestic and foreign investments and industries, professionals and skilled workers.
  1. The use of the major regional languages as the official language will enhance democratization and popular participation in governance. A renaissance of regional languages and cultures will enrich the national language and culture and broaden and deepen our democracy.
  2. In other words—with political will and sustained effort for the common good—Federalism and a Parliamentary Government and other political and economic reforms will gradually broaden and deepen Filipino democracy: gradually enabling it to deliver on the constitutional promise of human rights, a better life for all, a just and humane society, and responsible and accountable political leadership and governance.

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