“The government entered a shutdown.”
“The government has stopped paying the salaries of hundreds of thousands of civil servants and furloughed them.”
“The government is unable to pay the salaries of civil servants.”
“A bill proposing the annulment of the Affordable Care Act has passed.”
“The federal government has entered a shutdown to a large extent.”
When you see the above headlines, you may well have thought that these happened in some Third World country: Actually all these developments have taken place in the United States of America, a superpower and a country that often boasts about its system of governance. The US government was literally paralyzed when a new budget proposal did not pass Congress in October 2013. The U.S. government announced that it entered a shutdown. Many unfunded government offices had to stop providing services, and staff salaries could not be paid. Many federal employees were indefinitely furloughed. America was in a state of crisis. Previously in 1995-96, the US experienced a similar political crisis and the government again announced that it was shutdown.
In the U.S., all bills, including the budget, have to pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate. Bills that fail to pass through Congress do not go in effect. This is regarded as an insurance policy of the presidential system. Once a president is elected, it is all but impossible to remove him until new elections are held. Congress was established as a balance mechanism to prevent presidents from misusing their power. Presidential elections and the elections for the House of Representatives are held at different times in order to prevent any one branch of government from achieving complete power over the administration as a requisite of balance. In the U.S. the president is elected every four years, senators are elected every six years and members of House of Representatives are elected once every two years. If the government and the president lose strength after the elections, they are regarded as having lost popular support and it becomes possible for the opposition to obtain a majority in the House of Representatives and that leads to the opposition blocking the system. In brief, WHILE PARALYSIS OF THE STATE CAN EASILY BE PREVENTED THROUGH A MOTION OF NO-CONFIDENCE OR THROUGH THE ANNULMENT OF THE PARLIAMENT BY THE PRESIDENT UNDER THE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM, THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE UNDER THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM!
The U.S.A. is built on a union of states. A civil war broke out less than a century after its foundation; there were vast differences of opinion. The presidential system, established to preserve the rights of all states, great and small, has today turned into a system that obstructs the rights of the people. Instead of finding a middle way through agreements and negotiations for the division of powers, a system has emerged in which right tends to lie with whoever puts on the greatest display of power.
The American democracy, accepted and aspired to as a role model for the world, has turned into a “culture of conflict” as the phrase goes; the culture of compromise has all but disappeared. This situation now reveals that the current system calls for revision. The aim behind the presidential system is to place politics onto balances. However that balance has now been overturned in America. The failure of the House to pass a new budget brought down the system. Politics, which should be separate from the economy, has come to employ power capable of even bankrupting the Treasury.
As a matter of fact, as in the rest of the world, political division and polarization is quite normal in America as well. This is simply the nature of politics. Differences of opinion between the government and the opposition, as well as criticisms, are the wealth of any democracy. However if this polarization prevents politicians from compromising, even when it comes to national interests, the alarm bells start ringing. Especially in the U.S. presidential system, if the two parties of the House cannot agree on a subject, everything becomes paralyzed. The country is currently governed by a Democratic President while the Republicans have a majority in Congress. The Tea Party, a minority among the Republicans, is also highly influential among Republicans. The Tea Party Caucus controls 10% of the national vote but 20% of the Congress. This blocks the political system by opposing whatever a Democrat President says or does.
The following words of Obama’s summarize the position very well: “When you have a situation in which a faction is willing to potentially default on U.S. government obligations, then we are in trouble.” (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/obama-exasperated-over-government-shutdown-warns-were-trouble-f8C11323098)
These words of Obama’s also very well describe the situation to which the presidential system has led: “Unfortunately, Congress has not fulfilled its responsibility and failed to pass a budget. As a result, much of our government must now shut down until Congress funds it again. The threats to our national security have not changed, and we need you to be ready for any contingency.” http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=120890
The situation was no different this year either. The U.S. House of Representatives only passed a controversial budget proposal some two and a half hours before the government would have officially entered a shutdown. In other words, the government would have shutdown in 2014 as well, and this was only prevented by last minute negotiations. Nobody knows what will happen this year.
In U.S. political literature, a President who loses the support of the majority in Congress is known as a ‘lame duck’, though it often refers to last few years of a President as he reaches the end of his Constitutionally-alloted two term maximum. The Democrats continued to lose votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate in the elections held in November 2014 and the Republicans have effectively gained the upper hand. Obama, who is due to remain in office until January 2017, is therefore looking at a difficult two years. If the political gridlock continues unabated, it will be the American people who will suffer the consequences. Financial losses in the latest crisis reached $24 billion and public confidence in political institutions was badly shaken.
Latin American countries, which have sought to copy America and introduce presidential systems, reveal a very painful picture. There are regimes in those countries that ignore the principle of division of powers and turn into virtual dictatorships solely to prevent gridlock in the system. Similarly the presidential systems in the MENA region turned into dictatorships and were eventually overthrown by popular uprisings and civil wars; they also reveal the scale of the disaster caused by presidential systems.
In conclusion, it is seen that the presidential system causes problems everywhere. Consequently the most rational option is therefore to revise the system in order to fix those aspects that do not function properly.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Jefferson Corner: