Friday, 4 May 2007

Is this a model of democracy?

Talking with some young Americans at the time of the war with Iraq I put forward the following suggestion for the political system that might be introduced to the country after Saddam Hussain was deposed and asked whether they thought it was a good model. This was my suggestion:

The head of state should also be head of the most established sect of religion in the country, but one which most people do not actually subscribe to. The head of state should be from a foreign family and be unelected, holding their position for as long as they live with the position passing to their children on their death. All laws would be enacted in the name of this head of state and people would swear loyalty to them.

Half of the parliament would be unelected too. It would be made up of mainly elderly people who either are given their posts by political leaders or simply inherit them from their parents with often the same family having held a position in parliament for centuries. There is no obligation for them to attend parliament but they get paid a small fee if they bother to turn up. Twenty-four members of this part of parliament are rotating batch of religious leaders but all of them are from the same sect as the head of state.

The rest of parliament would be elected, however on a system that means if a candidate gets one more vote than his opponent s/he wins and almost 50% of the votes cast in a constituency are effectively 'wasted'. Different parties effectively have to get a different number of votes to win a member of parliament, so a centre party winning 18% of the votes gets 7% of the seats and another party winning 41% of the votes gets 62% of the seats in parliament. There are no left-wing, extreme right-wing or ecological parties in the parliament. Though ethnic minorities make up 8% of a country's population they have only 2% of the representatives in parliament. Women make up more than half the population and more than half the working population of the country but only 20% of representatives are female. More votes are needed to get a representative in from the South of the country than from the North. About 50% of the eligible population vote in national elections; 25-30% in local elections.

Legislation in the parliament can be extended in scope or duration by the use of the 'prerogative' of the unelected head of state, wielded by the head of government. It is often 'guillotined' to rush it through without debate. The head of government only appears before the parliament for 15 minutes once per week and parliament is closed for large portions of the year. Much legislation comes from a supra-national regional body, located outside the country, especially covering things like food and work issues.

Anyway, it is not much of a trick because people soon work out that it is the UK government system I am talking about. We have the Queen as the head of state and she is also head of the Church of England. The House of Lords is entirely unelected, still, after 10 years of reform being promised and it contains bishops. The electoral system does lead to huge distortions and it is a waste of effort for small parties to even bother trying to get in. Even the Liberal Democrats who in one form or another have been around for two centuries have found it difficult to get a credible number of members of parliament. Ethnic minorities and women are seriously under-represented in parliament. The Blair government has made more use of the royal prerogative and guillotining than any of its predecessors to get legislation, these days often poorly drafted, through, despite having huge majorities in parliament.

No comments: