The Failed Import of Political Systems (Part 1)

When the time came for the drafters of the U.S Constitution to decide on an effective division of power in their new country, they probably spent countless hours devising a structure that would avoid a situation where absolute power would corrupt absolutely.  The division of powers in the U.S Constitution follows the very basic principle of preventing any abuse of power from any given state branch, and these lines in the sand make of the American political system, in my opinion, one of the most sophisticated political systems in the world.  In the U.S Constitution, one not only sees the competences of each branch and how they interact with one another, but it is also possible to see other intricacies that were specifically tailored for the U.S’s political waist.

While this system works in an American context, I argue it is erroneous to state that exporting the American model to other countries unequivocally constitutes an effective installation of democracy.  This is due to two basic reasons.  Firstly, the fact that the American political system was meant to serve the exceptionally specific needs of the American people downplays its applicability in those countries considering its adoption.  The American Constitution was not intended to be a best-seller, and in its clauses one may or may not find solutions to the politically and historically-specific requirements that other countries may have in their territories.  And secondly, if the American model does adhere to any given country’s political needs, it is often ill-imported.  This means that it is installed while leaving behind several important elements that make the system work efficiently.

In this first part, I will analyze an important component that allows for an effective division of power in the U.S that is not seen in several other political systems: a gapped electoral system.

Intentional Gaps in the Electoral System

For many years, several regions of the world were considered the U.S’s “backyard”.  This label was imprinted on them during a juncture in their histories where U.S hold on their governments was both strong in power and formative in substance.  During this time, several constitutions were drafted, where most of the region’s leaders looked to the north for a star to follow.  Unfortunately, the presidential system that works so well in the U.S was installed in most cases without the tools that allow for an effective balance of power: separate elections for the executive and legislative branches.

The U.S constitution excels at creating procedural divisions between each state branch, but it also provides an interesting time component that is rarely seen in other presidential systems.  There is a deliberate time discrepancy between the moment in which elections will be called for the executive and legislative branches.  In the U.S, legislative elections for the House of Representatives are called every two years, or two years after each presidential election is called.  The U.S Senate has a similar system, with two marked differences: that senators are elected for a six-year term of office, and that at least one-third of the Senate’s seats is open for elections every two years.  In short, the American electorate has the opportunity to increase or decrease the government’s political leverage at the legislative level every second year.

This may perhaps seem odd or even excessive to the citizens of countries where one elects the president and congressmen/women at the same time.  The U.S’s two-tier election system is nonetheless extremely effective, for it provides the American electorate with a powerful oversight tool that will present them with the opportunity to reward or chastise the government in office for its performance.  If after two years, the government’s deliverance of its campaign platform is met with a favorable reception from the public, American voters might believe it deserves greater support at the legislative level, all in the interest of a nation plan that they believe works.

I perceive a fault in presidential systems that have joint presidential-legislative elections, for they reduce the electorate’s leverage during the incumbent government’s term of office.  As it was expressed above, the American electorate has the opportunity to decide what party will lead in the House of Representatives and the Senate every two years, which makes of their vote a highly valuable asset.  When presidential and legislative elections take place at the same time, the electorate’s ability to express itself through the electoral process gets severely reduced, making of the overall system less representative.

Having joint presidential-legislative elections also increases the chances of the electoral process becoming heavily politicised.  In this system, governments are not subjected to elections in the middle of their term, which leaves more space to concern themselves with ensuring a relative permanence in office, as opposed to catering for the tangible needs of the population.  For all democratic intents, this is highly damaging, for it allows parties in office to decide on policy matters based on re-election ambitions, which may or may not coincide with what citizens require during the government’s mandate.

There needs to be a juxtaposition of re-election ambitions and social interest, which becomes feasible when presidents and legislators are elected separately, for social interest becomes a constant milieu through which re-election is sought by political parties.  This ensures that social matters move beyond being used as mere campaign tools, to occupy a permanent and indivisible place at the core of a country’s political discourse.

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