Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Comparison of Various Governments

Having read about the "formal institutional architecture" of Mozambique (that means the constitutional and electoral system), what are the biggest differences between the country we are visiting and your country of origin (for most of that's the US). What seems most appealing about Mozambique's system compared to the US? What is least appealing?

As we continue to learn more and more about democracy and the constitutional and electoral systems that are set in place in Mozambique, it is surprising to see the similarities and differences between this country that is just beginning its democratic journey to the current
democracy in the United States. This week, we read Carrie Manning's work, Semi-Presidentialism and the Preservation of Ambiguity in Mozambique; Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy; and the IDEA National Handbook on Constitutions and Elections.

First, some basic facts. Mozambique began its multi-party elections in 1994. The system is set up so that the presidential candidate needs a majority of valid votes. (This is in comparison to the United States' electoral college system). This means that if no one obtains more than 50% of the votes in the election, then there will be another election between the two strongest candidates. After seeing the confusion and chaos of the Bush vs. Gore elections, perhaps Mozambique's system of elections are slightly more appealing. While there are strong opponents and supporters of the electoral college, I stand neutral because I believe that there are so many pros and cons on both sides. It is hard to compare the two election systems because the United States has more states and operates on a different level of complexity compared to Mozambique.

When the United States Constitution was first written, there was no provision put in place for the formation of political parties - it just happened. The Democratic and Republican parties have been the majority political parties for decades and they have been able to somewhat balance the power between them through the divisions of power in our government. However, when we look at Mozambique's relatively short history of democracy, we notice the obvious dominance of the Frelimo party. Renamo has always been the runner-up in elections. However, things are about to change. I think the upcoming election will be very interesting because the status quo of the Mozambican election between Frelimo and Renamo will be disrupted by the emergence of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. According to Professor Pitcher, this is a "younger" party composed of many younger members. Will this new party have a strong enough influence in the election to change the distribution of the votes? It's going to be a great time to be in Mozambique.

Another slight difference is that the Mozambican president's term lasts 5 years compared to the American president's 4 years. Professor Pitcher had mentioned that a possible question we could ask former president Chissano is why he decided to step down after his two terms. According to Manning, "In the 2004 general elections, President Chissano, who had served the maximum two terms, was replaced by Armando Guebuza." Traditionally, African presidents are known for their persistence in trying to stay in office. He obviously had the power to change the Mozambican constitution so that he could stay for a few more terms; however, he stepped down. In this regard, I believe that the United States is better in establishing the two 4 year presidential terms.

In Manning's Semi-Presidentialism and the Preservation of Ambiguity in Mozambique, she mentions that Mozambique is a "highly presidentialized semi-presidential regime". This was a confusing statement, but as I tried to understand Manning's work more, I think I understood what she was trying to say. You see, Mozambique is categorized as a semi-presidential government because a president and prime minister both exist. However, it is "highly presidentialized" because the president ends up appointing his prime minister anyways. Manning describes the relationship between the president and the prime minister as the same relationship between American presidents and their vice-presidents. In comparison, the United States is set up as a presidential system with a division of powers. A true semi-presidential system would occur in a situation like France where the president and prime minister are from different parties.

The main point that I realized from reading Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy is that there is no perfect system in the world. Every country whether it is the United Kingdom, the United States, or Mozambique will face difficulties in establishing an electoral system. However, the obstacles should not prevent them from trying to obtain democracy. For example, in the United Kingdom, the religious rivalry between the Protestants in Northern Ireland the Catholics in Ireland have caused differences and violence between the opposing views. In the case of Northern Ireland, their population is so small that it is difficult for them to obtain any sort of majority position in Parliament. This situation is analogous to the differences between the rural and urban Mozambicans and the differences between Frelimo vs. Renamo. The strength and majority of the Frelimo party is preventing the Renamo party from expressing their opinions in government.

In the IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) Handbook, Chapter 4 stated that "In presidential systems...presidents who have clear majority support are likely to have much greater legitimacy and be in a stronger position to push their own policy agenda than those
elected on a small plurality of the vote. This has an important impact on relations
between the president and the legislature. A president elected by a clear absolute
majority of the population can command a great deal of legitimacy in any conflict with
the legislature". This is a pretty substantial statement for the American electoral system because with our current system of the electoral college, a presidential candidate might not win the majority of the popular vote and still win the election.

Analyzing the various government and electoral systems of nations around the world has shown me that there is no perfect system. We just have to make a system work for the specific country based on its historical traditions and current needs of the country.

It will be interesting to see how much Mozambicans care about their country's government system. I hope they are passionate and excited for the emergency of a democracy in their nation. On a funnier note, I really hope that our interviews don't turn out like a clip from Jay Leno's Jay Walk when he asks basic questions about our government.

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