Ivory Coast Can Learn from the Parliamentry System of Governance

Monday, December 06, 2010

By Mamadou Koulibaly, Ivory Coast

As Côte d’Ivoire is in a unique situation with two presidents of the republic, beyond the short-term analysis of the scourges of the titanic struggle that awaits the country, we can lead the debate on the pathways that could allow the limitation of absolute power that intoxicates leaders to the point of making them forget they only are the servants of their people.

The parliamentary system discovered by the English more than three centuries ago has exported more easily and had more success in poor countries in institutional transition. This is the Westminster model of government found in Great Britain which has remarkably stood the test of time and latitudes. Countries, with poor, heterogeneous populations, exiting colonization, remote from western culture and knowing political tensions have often had to adopt this model to ensure relative stability and effective progress. This has been the case of India since 1947 and Japan since 1945.

This model is clear, simple and it establishes a total agreement between the government and the parliamentary majority. State power is exercised only by the leader or the leader of the party that has the majority in parliament. As the policy of the government complies with the program under which the majority was elected, everything goes well. The President or Prime Minister, depending on the name given to it, is first an elected politician and most members of government are also members of parliament.

As an example look at the experiences of Haiti and Jamaica. In the first country, after the independence it was chosen to have presidential systems : there then followed a succession of coups and dictatorships, and today a situation of uncertainty and fragile institutions. The model turned into an illusion. Not far away, Jamaica adopted a parliamentary system modelled on the Westminster one and since then democracy has been functioning smoothly, parties transcending social divisions and enabling alternation in power. Ethnic tensions and economic difficulties are better absorbed and channelled.

However, the only choice of regime is not sufficient to define the framework of political parties. A complementary element is absolutely essential : the voting system, which can either distort the parliamentary system, or have the presidential system evolve. The voting system should be the majority vote with a one-round ballot, in order to allow a majority to have decision power. Political consensuses have largely demonstrated their limitations on the continent. The mission of the Opposition is in the counterweight and not in the decision.

In Africa, we must be wary of regimes that want a strong executive with a direct universal suffrage. The parliamentary system combined with the majority vote with one-round ballot, is more effective and less dangerous to democracy and the rule of law.

It is the duty of African elites to give good constitutional institutions to their nations. Politicians must be aware of their responsibility. The nature of power is more important than the person who exercises it. In Africa, politicians should realize that the fundamental opposition may not remain in the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers but between limited government and government with absolute power. As stated by Professor Jean-Philippe Feldman, lawyer in Paris, "when the power is absolute, the government is oppressive ; when power is limited the government is liberal." When we know that absolute power corrupts, it is necessary to be wary not to mortgage the future generations. The fact of being given a public mandate or management of a state administration does not allow one to violate the rights and freedoms of citizens. As servants, leaders should instead protect these rights and freedoms.

Hayek summarizes this philosophy in terms that could not be clearer "the critical issue is not who governs but what government is entitled to do."

The analysis of the different constitutional models shows that this parliamentary conception is the most suited to the desired path of progress for Africa. Westminster remains the reference model. The more regimes come close to it, the better democracy and the rule of law work. The more they move away from it, the more democracy is malfunctioning.

Hon. Mamadou Koulibaly is President of Audace Institute Afrique, a think tank   based in Ivory Coast and an ally of Africanliberty.org . He has been a staunch defender of the  parliamentary system in Africa.