Wednesday, September 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Parliamentary Perils

From time to time, occasional voices in the U.S. are heard
lamenting our executive-legislative-judicial form of government,
usually accompanied by pleas to adopt a much more globally
employed parliamentary system.

No system is perfect, of course, but the long-range wisdom of the
founding American leaders is  being reinforced today as three of
the world’s democratic parliaments are facing profound crises.

(Historically,when one of the three U.S. branches becomes too
strong or too weak, another branch provides needed balance.
In recent years, Congress has become stalemated, but both the
executive and judicial branches have attempted to fill the
resulting vacuums. A case in point has been the use of executive
orders by both President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and
President Donald Trump, a Republican.)

Two of these parliaments are in nations which are our closest
allies, the United Kingdom and Israel. The third is in the world’s
largest democracy, India. Each of their crises highlights perils that
parliaments can face.

In the United Kingdom, the Brexit crisis has paralyzed its ancient
parliament, once the model for new nations across the globe. In a
national plebiscite two years ago, British voters narrowly but
clearly voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU) and the
parliament-determined government was charged to bring about
the withdrawal (known as Brexit). But under Conservative Prime
Minister Theresa May it failed to do so. This was because her own
party was divided between pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit M.Ps, and a
negotiated deal to leave the EU was blocked in the parliament, thus
thwarting the voters’ decision. A new Conservative prime minister,
Boris Johnson, pledged to make Brexit happen, deal or no deal, but
he no longer has a parliamentary majority, and the current members
not only are blocking an October 31 withdrawal, they are preventing
Johnson from calling a new election (which polls indicate he would
handily win) thus, in effect, paralyzing the current British government.

In Israel, a new election was called, and the two largest political
parties and their allies are apparently virtually tied, with most of
the votes now counted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won
an election earlier this year, but was unable to form a coalition of
61 members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would enable
him to remain in power. Netanyahu’s center right coalition appears
to have 54-56 seats, His center left opposition coalition appears to
have 41-43 seats.  The third largest coalition, representing Arab
voters, has 12-14 members. Finally, a conservative but secular
party has 8-10 members. The latter, led by Avigdor Liberman, has
called for a “unity” secular government, but refuses to support any
government that includes the Arab coalition. Thus, a new majority
is stymied unless the religious parties are willing to compromise
on the issue of drafting Orthodox men into the Israeli army,
an issue that Mr. Liberman continues to insist on. Mr. Netanyahu
remains in power for the time being, and as Israel’s longest-serving
and most successful politician, cannot yet be relegated to the defeat
now being proclaimed by hostile media in Israel and the U.S.

In India, the problem is not one of stalemate resulting from a
lack of a parliamentary majority. Prime Minister Modi of
the Hindu nationalist party, recently won a landslide re-election,
saying he would revoke the autonomous status of Kashmir, a
mostly Muslim province in northwestern India. This status had
existed since 1947 when Kashmiri leader Sheik Omar Abdullah
had negotiated it with then Indian Prime Minister Nehru. At the
end of the British colonial period, both India and Pakistan claimed
Kashmir, but Nehru offered Kashmir the closest outcome to the
full independence that the Kashmiris sought. Kashmir’s leaders
today assert that Modi’s and the Indian parliament’s unilateral
action is illegal, but India has sent in troops to occupy the area,
and has arrested most of the province’s Muslim political
leadership, including Sheik Abdullah’s son and grandson, both
former chief minsters of Kashmir. While Modi’s revocation is a
fait accompli, the controversial action risks staining India’s
reputation as a genuine democracy which adheres to the rule of

All three of the above crises remain unsettled for now, but the
lack of an accepted legal mechanism to easily resolve the disputes
only illustrates a key weakness which can arise in the
parliamentary system.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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