Politics: Democratic stability and consolidation could be at stake

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The PTr/MMM alliance in their joint press conference of Saturday 6th September 2014, after almost six months of “Koz … koze, ON/OFF mode, negative/ positive development”, came up with the proposal to introduce a fundamental constitutional change to move away from the current westminsterial system towards a semi-presidential system. In the current westminsterial parliamentary system, the Prime minister exercises significant executive powers usually termed as prerogatives and is answerable to the legislature. The President currently is largely ceremonial without any executive powers. The proposed system will consist both a directly elected president and a Prime minister with the latter responsible to the legislature. There will be a transfer of some executive powers from the Prime minister to the president, over and above some additional powers of control and nomination of key public officials.

The functioning of the proposed semi-presidentialism depends to a large extent on how well the powers are distributed among the key players that would create a fair, equitable and dynamic balance between them. There is not one model of power distribution which defines semi-presidentialism and which guarantees its success. It is thus imperative that none of the power centres acquire essential and permanent control over the other. The system should have its own counter check balances to keep the critical equilibrium points level in terms of power, transparency and accountability among the various bodies with a view to guaranteeing peace, harmony and stability. The decisive factor which defines a semi-presidential system is the power attributed to the president. Too many powers for the president will tilt the system towards a form of presidentialism which can open up possibilities of authoritative, abusive and autocratic rule.

It is regrettable that such fundamental change which will give a different shape not only to the political context but will set also new paradigms for charting the course of progress of the economy and affecting the well-being of the people, have not been subject to public debate.

Instead, this important project has been concocted by the PTr/MMM and now is being presented to the people on a piece-meal basis, as part of their deal for an alliance between them for the forthcoming elections. It is also regrettable that the views of the people have not been sought and heard on this important proposed constitutional amendment and the concerns which the people are expressing out of the minimal and piece-meal information given, are being turned off with such vehemence and arrogance, which goes as far as contradicting with their vows of sincerity of purpose. It could be gathered that besides his right to nominate and remove ministers, to dissolve the legislature, the president will have his say in almost everything – foreign policy of which he will have responsibility, home affairs, finance and financial services, information through appointment of the MBC board and Director, nomination of the public officers and appointment of Serious Fraud Office Director and its members. On top of that, the president will preside cabinet meetings and address the National Assembly as many times as he would wish.

It makes no doubt that the circumstances the PTr/MMM alliance has been formed and now the piece-meal presentation of the semi-presidential system, raise a lot of doubts and concerns among the people on the workability of the proposed semi-presidential system, implying a power sharing between the president and the Prime minister. These concerns are mainly:

The dualistic executive regardless of whether the president and the Prime minister are of the same party and/or alliances represent a permanent strain to government stability and efficiency, especially if the cake is not equally divided and if any one of them has a growing appetite to eat the whole cake, without the other and the people benefiting from it.

The unaligned terms of office between the president (7 years) and the Prime minister (5 years) and unaccountability of the president can give rise to autocratic leaders who feel that they have the legitimacy to act above rule of law.

The tailor-made arrangement with its perfect share of electoral tickets, ministers and front bench representation may turn out different if the outcome of the next elections is not as expected. This will then generate tensions, unintended consequences and unnecessary competitive elements which could result in politicking, delayed decision-making and constitutional ambiguities.

The president’s 7-year term overlapping with two Prime ministership terms could lead to cohabitation possibilities when the president and the parliamentary majority are not from the same party, with unpredictable consequences. The French president term of office is aligned with the Prime minister of 5 years purposely to minimize such cohabitation possibilities.

President’s power to dismiss the Prime minister in case of Vote of no confidence by the majority in the National Assembly may give rise to situation whereby the president could pool power and rally the majority in the executive and National Assembly to pressure the Prime minister if he is not of his liking to resign, causing hence perpetual tensions and conflicts.

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