A Case for a US Parliament

The Economist created an info-graphic showing what American politics would look like if the United States had adopted the parliament system.

The United States, upon gaining independence from Britain in 1776, became the first constitutional republic in the modern history. However, while the US created an entirely different system of governance compared to its former colonisers, the Americans never really got away with the influence of Britain, especially upon the creation of a body called the Electoral College that would elect both the president and vice president of the country. In fact, the United States is perhaps the only presidential republic in the world that uses this system, whereas other presidential democracies typically elect their presidents and vice presidents directly. This makes the United States of America a presidential republic on paper but a quasi-parliamentary republic in reality. Some parliamentary republics, like South Africa, the President is elected by the parliament and acts both as head of state and head of government. However, while the South African president is accountable to the parliament, the President of the United States is not, and the Executive branch of government is separated from the Legislative and the Judiciary branch, a common feature of presidential republics.

However, while the United States did not descend into dictatorship during its 242 years of existence, it experienced several tumultuous periods in history, with the American Civil War being perhaps the largest constitutional crisis that the country faced. Furthermore, it has experienced gridlocks and government shutdowns several times, with the most recent dating back Barack Obama's first term as President. And with the rise of Donald Trump, partisan lines and divisions has deepened further. In fact, some articles by Bloomberg, Washington Post, and the National Interest have recommended the shift from the presidential to the parliamentary system. However, considering that the United States was the country that introduced the presidential form of government and is one of the few stable presidential democracies in the world, the suggestions would be ironic, and should the US pursue any changes in its system, it is likely that other countries would follow suit as America is often seen as a beacon and model of freedom and democracy to other countries. Nonetheless, the shift would do much good than harm to the United States. Here's why.

1.) Parliamentary systems would diversify the US political arena

The United States is notable for its two-party system, where the left-wing Democratic Party and the right-wing Republican Party are the two main parties in the US political system. And while this has been a recipe for the stability of the presidential system in the US, factionalism became rampant, and Americans have been desiring a third party to compete alongside the two established party. In fact, according to a poll by NBC News, 71% of American millenials want a third party, feeling that both the Democratic and Republican parties are doing a poor job in representing the American people.

In most parliamentary systems, at least four or five parties fight for seats in parliaments during elections, and parties in parliamentary democracies represent different views, from the liberal and social democratic to the conservative and anti-immigrant. And while the United Kingdom has a two-party system similar to the US, third parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party have a say in parliament. In fact, the Conservatives once formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats during the premiership of David Cameron. In the US, however, third parties have less voice and less representation.

This makes the two main parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, filled with internal squabbles. The Republicans have now been divided between the anti-Trump Republicans and the so-called "Trumplicans" and the Democrats are now choosing between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Since the two parties are filled with differing, sometimes opposing, views, conflicts inside those parties happen often, and the two often fail to represent the much diverse political opinions of many Americans around the country.

In a parliamentary system, these internal conflicts and lack of political representation could be solved by gradual introduction of new parties into the arena, which compete and collaborate with the older, more established ones during election times.

2.) The parliamentary system would remove a poor-performing leaders more easily and keeps good ones in power

Donald Trump has been perhaps one of the most unpopular presidents the United States in US history. In fact, according to a Pew Research Survey, only 4 in 10 Americans believe that Trump is doing a good job as President, while 54% believes otherwise. In the US presidential system, a President could be removed through the process of impeachment, which is a long and arduous process with unsure results. In the history of the United States, no president has been successfully removed through impeachment. If the US has a poor-performing leader, it's either he or she could get impeached, which is a painstakingly difficult process that could take months and could destabilise the political system, or violently remove him or her through rallies, protests, or worse, coup d'états.

In a parliamentary system, a poor-performing leader could be removed through a vote of no-confidence. Spain easily removed its Presidente del Gobierno (or Prime Minister in English) Mariano Rajoy through this process and replaced him with Pedro Sanchez. This process proved to be clean and quick involving less fuss and drama. And while this could create a perception that parliamentary systems are unstable due to the fact that leaders could be removed easily, this process is not always used, and Prime Ministers usually resign in office before being removed by the parliament if he or she loses its confidence during a scandal or even if he or she failed to deliver his or her promises. David Cameron resigned when majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union, and Matteo Ricci resigned as Prime Minister of Italy when Italians voted against changes in its constitution.

However, if a Prime Minister keeps the confidence of both the parliament and his or her party, then he or she could be able to stay in his or her position for much longer. For example, Lee Kuan Yew stayed as Prime Minister of Singapore for three decades, passing important reforms that would transform Singapore from a Third World to First World country. Angela Merkel became Chancellor of Germany since 2004 and continues to be so despite controversies in handling the migrant crisis plaguing Europe. A US Parliament would ensure greater stability by allowing good performing leaders to stay so long as they keep the confidence in parliament, and poor-performing leaders could be removed easily and neatly.

3.) Term limits would be unnecessary under a parliamentary system

This feature is an extension of the second feature, and this is an important matter to discuss. Term limits are prevalent in presidential systems to avoid abuse of power. The US President and Vice President serves for a maximum of two terms, with each term having four years. Eight years, should a President and his or her Vice President becomes reelected in their positions, would seem like a lengthy amount of time. However, such term limits prevent leaders, especially good ones, from preventing to complete projects that they had laid down for the country. In much of the US history, it is rare for a party to hold the Executive Branch for more than 8 years, and power changed hands between the Democrats and the Republicans. Such artifical provisions would be unnecessary in a parliamentary system.

While problems in election calendars in parliamentary systems could be solved by introduction of fixed term limits similar to the UK, these term limits do not necessarily prevent parties from holding majority seats in parliament for a prolonged period of time. If a good-performing Prime Minister becomes elected then appointed by the Head of State, he or she could initiate then finish necessary reforms and programs without worrying about term limits that would stall him or her from delivering results. As long as a Prime Minister keeps the confidence within the parliament, he or she could pass important short-term and long-term policies. This ensures stability and it also ensures that programs would not be stalled due to political reasons. One major example of this was the Affordable Health Care Act, which the Republicans blocked from being passed upon gaining majority in Congress. A US parliament would bring about stability in both leadership and delivery of reforms and policies.

4.) Parliamentary systems would prevent gridlocks from occuring

One of the main weaknesses of presidential systems are gridlocks. Gridlocks, also called politcal stalemates, are situations in which policies or laws have difficulties being passed. This occurs when either the Executive and the Legislative branches or in the case of a bicameral Legislative branch, the Uppoer House and the Lower House are controlled by two opposing parties. This creates a situation in which progress does not occur since two parties block each other's reforms and policies. While this keeps the branches in check, this prevents real change from occuring.

Parliamentary systems are less prone to gridlocks since the executive and legislative branches are fused together, and the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet comes from and is accountable to the Parliament. This ensures faster and more efficient passage of laws and policies that could have an effect in the country.

5.) Parliamentary systems ensures faster legislation

The US has been negatively viewed for the slow pace of reforms in areas like gun control and healthcare. Changes in these aspects of policy have been blocked oftentimes by one of the two main parties, and this creates a situation in which reforms pass either slowly, or does not pass at all, especially if this is against the ideology of the ruling party.

In a parliamentary system, reforms such as gun control and universal healthcare are easily passed, since the executive and the legislative branches of government are fused together. If, say, the Democratic Party wins the parliamentary elections, then the party could be able to pass greater reforms such as gun control, universal healthcare, free education, etc. But it does not only benefit the Democrats. Republicans could also pass legislation faster in a parliamentary system.

Bottom Line

While changing the system from the presidential to the parliamentary in the United States would seem impossible to happen, it could still be put into consideration, considering the current bleak state of the politics of the US in the age of Trump. While the presidential system can tout faster action and complete separation of powers, the parliamentary system ensures accountability, greater stability, and diversity. The fate of whether the presidential system would stay or go still depends on the hands of ordinary Americans.

I am a Filipino-Taiwanese senior high school graduate and a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer currently residing in the Philippines.

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