Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Making the kingmakers

Much has been said about the benefits of the parliamentary system of government by the proponents of the intended shift towards such system in the Philippines. However, much more has been left out of these debates, especially when it comes to the system’s weaknesses. And one doesn’t have to look only to Italy, known for its notoriously short-lived governments, to prove that it is often virtually impossible to form a viable cabinet after the elections.

It is now more than half a year since I had reluctantly left the Philippines to fulfill my so-called civic duty, i.e. vote in the elections for the new parliament in my own country - the Czech Republic. Had I known what was to come, I probably would have stayed to enjoy a few more splendid sunsets over Manila Bay. The sad truth is – we still do not have a new government in place today which would enjoy the necessary support of the parliamentary majority.

It has to do with the fact that the election produced a maximally divided House of Representatives (the lower chamber of the Czech bicameral parliament) where the parties of the right (Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Greens) and the parties of the left (Social Democrats and Communists) got exactly one hundred seats each. The question whether the Greens are actually right or left has no relevance here since the party’s preferred coalition partners were rightist.

What to do with one hundred votes, then, when you really need at least one more? Sure, you can always try to form a minority (or in this case more precisely, a non-majority) government and hope you get lucky when it comes to the vote of confidence, but no one really likes to go that way.

Therefore, we have seen much bickering and political grandstanding during the somewhat weak-hearted attempts at forming a cabinet in the previous months, but the cruel arithmetic made it quite clear that we might be stuck with the caretaker government without a proper mandate for a long time.

That is, until an all-important political defector was found recently: Mr. Melcak of the previously ruling Social Democratic party had a sudden falling-out with his colleagues and announced he would not be voting with them anymore. The right’s block took it as a sign and revived the once considered and later dropped idea of the three-party coalition with exactly 100 votes.

It remains to be seen whether the unpredictable renegade will actually allow the creation of the new government, but it should be noted this is not for the first time we have seen such an unexpected kingmaker appear.

Nobody is really suggesting that some sort of a bribe necessarily had to play a role in Mr. Melcak’s political rebirth, but one doesn’t have to stretch his imagination too much to foresee where such a setup would lead to in the politically much more opportunistic and much more corrupt Philippines. No offence intended, just a little something to consider in the future debates.

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