Thursday August 28, 2014 - 3:54 am | Login

Westminster System versus Presidential System

Celebrating 31 years

While Vanuatu is celebrating its 31st anniversary there are major concerns over how to tackle the issue of the continuous instability in the government.
After the 2008 general election there have been five changes in the government. For the first time in the history of Vanuatu we were governed by two illegal governments following a Supreme Court ruling that also declared a caretaker government as the result of political instability.

Prime Minister Sato Kilman addressed the nation live on Television Blong Vanuatu, on Monday, July 18 2010. He emphasised the need to address the issue of instability. “I believe this is the right time to address seriously the issue of instability”, he said on TBV. He also called for a review of the constitution and the current democratic form of government. “As the prime minister I believe it is important for us to fully review our constitution and the Parliamentary Westminster’s System of Government to see whether it is still suitable for us”, explained PM Kilman.

The Electoral Office has confirmed that a referendum would be cheaper compared to a general election as the printing cost would be cheaper. “This will only mean that we will have to print only two different papers and that is yes or no, agree or disagree depending on which one we want to use”; said the Electoral Office. In a referendum voting can be done at any polling booths not like the general election where the eligible voters must vote at their registered polling station.

While a new movement known as the National Presidential System has continued to change the Parliamentary Westminster System to the Presidential System, PM Kilman said the only solution would be through a referendum.”If we wanted to change from the Parliamentary Westminster System to the Presidential System then I believe that the best option is to allow the citizens of this country to decide through a referendum”, suggested PM Kilman. But PM Kilman believes that the best form of government will be a system that also adopts our culture. “As the Prime Minister I would like to see that any new changes of government, it must be the one that recognises our cultural heritage and based on our tradition and values”, said PM Kilman.

However, PM Kilman’s suggestion of the new government system may be similar to a hybrid Westminster form of government that Polynesian countries are currently enjoying compared to the four Melanesian countries. Vanuatu, Solomon Island and Papua New Guinea are those countries in the region that have experienced quiet a number of changes of government during a single term, while Fiji is currently governed under the military leadership of Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Yet in the Pacific Region, Australia and New Zealand have enjoyed the Parliamentary Westminster System of Government similar to the presidential form of government that also provides stability for the Micronesian countries. This has raised the question of whether the Parliamentary Westminster System is still suitable for Vanuatu and other MSG member countries.

The Pacific Institution of Public Policy, Youth Quake, Discussion Paper No. 17 quoted PNG’s Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare as saying that “nothing is wrong with the democratic principles and that they are not incompatible with the Melanesian Values”. “The issue is that parliamentary democracy has to be adapted to the local situation. It’s a bit like a brand new four wheel drive coming off the ship for sale here. The basic model is good, but if it is to work here in PNG then you need to change the tyres, boost the suspension and modify a few things. You can’t expect one model is going to suit every condition, especially with the roads we have here”, Prime Minister Somare said. PNG achieved its independence before Vanuatu and is now exploring other mechanisms in the Westminster form of government to address its political instability.

One US president late Abraham Lincoln had defined democracy as a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Despite the problems of instability, democracy is still regarded as a better form of government compared to say authoritarianism under communism, fascism or monarchism. The Parliamentary Westminster System is still known as the best form of government compared to Presidential System. The Westminster System encourages unity amongst members of parliament as the cabinet members are directly responsible for their backbenchers whereas in the Presidential System, the President has less control over the members of the legislatives. In the Presidential System the president is the Head of the Executive and may veto any decision or law approved by the legislatives and may turn down the two third majority of the legislatives. But in the Westminster System it allows for an open forum and debate of the laws in parliament. The Presidential form of democratic government can speed up economic development, so long as the political party of the President has a good control over the legislature, but it can also lead to dictatorial tendencies (Dr Nanau. G, 2010, Lecture note).

Therefore, none of the democratic forms of government are immune to political instability except for the leaders and the citizens to modify the systems to suit their environment through the legislation of laws. A study by Dr Michael G. Morgan, Louise Baker and Luke Hambly states, “Political Parties, Parliamentary Governance and Party strengthening in Melanesia from the Center for Democratic Institutions, Australian National University have identified few causes of political instabilities and make several recommendations to the leaders of the MSG countries”.

The four main causes of political instability as identified are weak political organizations, political party roots in societies are weak and individual personality dominates parties and campaign, programmatic and ideological cleavages and the electoral volatility is high in the Melanesian countries. The findings have recommended a need for all political parties to be reformed, create a law that encourages 2 two party system, review of the electoral system and act that will compliment all those political parties.

However, while those findings do not call for a change of the government system it is important for the people of the nation concerned to critically analyse the current Westminster System adopted in Vanuatu and whether the Presidential System would be the best solution for our political instability. Political instability is the main issue that is of great concern for every citizen. But have we identified the main causes of this political instability? The finding does not identify members of parliaments as the main cause of political instability and does not recommend any change of the system.

Although the PM Kilman maybe right in calling for a full review of the constitution but the leaders cannot turn a blind eye on the organisations of all the political parties. With out the political parties there is hardly any government. The findings from the Center for Democratic Institutions have recommended for Vanuatu as one of the Melanesian countries to strengthen all political party organisational structures and legislate an Act that will compliment those political party organisational structures. This will also mean that any formation of a political party must meet a certain criteria which will be determined under the electoral Act. It means those political parties approved under the Act will receive funds from the government to support their development.

There are two systems under the democratic system of government which political ideologists have labeled as the “best system of government” compared to monarchy, communist, socialist and others. In the Pacific region, the numbers of countries that are governed under the Parliamentary Westminster System are more compared to Presidential System which is a system of government adopted by the Micronesian countries. If the Parliamentary Westminster System is acceptable and works well for countries like Australia, New Zealand and the Polynesian countries then why can that system be unsuitable for the Melanesian countries?