Posts tagged parliamentarism

Contra fragmentsofasong:

pol102:

Via theatlantic:

Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours

BERLIN — It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away.
He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German.
Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in.
It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.
To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.
“It is completely different from the States,” Liebich said. “And I’m happy about it.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]


US political campaigns are extremely expensive. And also inefficient (in terms of educating voters about issues and/or platforms). Why do so many other countries do it better? One reason: electoral system. The main difference isn’t just Germany’s campaign finance laws. After all, politicians vote for campaign finance laws. But in proportional representation systems, politics tends to focus less on personalities and more on party platforms. This is especially true in proportional representation parliamentary systems, where there isn’t a president on the ballot.
Note 1: Germany has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which does include single-member district candidates elected in plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) elections, just like in the US. But the whole system tends towards proportionality because of how the remaining seats are awarded. And Germany’s politics is even more “personalized” than politics in most other list-proportional systems.
Note 2: Germany does have a president, but this person only acts as head of state (like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II). Germany’s head of government is the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel), who is elected by the legislature, not voters. Hence, Angela Merkel was elected by a majority coalition of German parties. Merkel’s alliance (CDU/CSU) won 49.4% of the vote, effectively reelecting her. But to govern, she’s seeking a coalition partner (either SPD or the Greens).

It’s also worth noting that even if the US had a German-style political system, it would NOT have German-style politics.  Even if we ignore some of the huge cultural and historical differences, there’s still that small matter of the US being, in comparison to Germany, huge.  There is less distance between being a local German politician and being a national German politician than there is between being a local US politician and a national US politician.  This means that German politics is almost by default more local, which allows for less of a mystique for the German chancellor than for the US president.  (For example, Germany has a vibrant film industry, but I can’t name a single German movie that is about the chancellor.  I can name about 10 US movies that are about the president.)  Another worthwhile thing to keep in mind is that this election was different than many previous German national elections in that I have not met a single person (of any political persuasion) who was really pleased with the options they were able to choose this time around.  Hardly anyone really liked what they voted for, in the end - and they from the beginning that they were not going to like their options.  That made for a sluggish campaign (Merkel did virtually no campaigning compared to her previous years) and a general disheartened mood.  So this election is not all that representative.What is true, and what is important to point out to several GOP congressmen, is the part about pragmatism and compromise.  German politics do have a tendency towards those, and from that the US could really, really learn something.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Look, I know a number of people who research German politics of a living. In fact, I’m on a research grant that includes two such people. And our grant is exclusively looking at legislative candidate selection across a range of countries. They will tell you that the evidence (and the conventional wisdom in the literature) is that German politics is national. In fact, they were surprised to find that even constituency delegates (those elected in actual districts using first-past-the-post) had a tendency to act like “list” politicians. 
Partly, that’s because I think you underestimate just how BIG Germany is. With more than 80 million people, it’s the 16th largest country in terms of population (we’re 3rd, with 300 million people).
You also misunderstand how parliamentary systems work. The German Chancellor doesn’t have the “mystique” of the American presidency, but that’s because prime ministers are less powerful (constitutionally) than presidents. But the argument is flawed. If the premise is that German politics is inherently “local” because it is “small,” then the Chancellor should have MORE mystique than the US president, because the Chancellor would be the top “local” politician. Your argument also ignores the powerful mystique of presidents in TINY presidential systems like El Salvador (pop. 6 million), Costa Rica (pop. 4.5 million), or even Uruguay (pop. 3 million).

Contra fragmentsofasong:

pol102:

Via theatlantic:

Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours

BERLIN — It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away.

He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German.

Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in.

It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.

To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.

“It is completely different from the States,” Liebich said. “And I’m happy about it.”

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

US political campaigns are extremely expensive. And also inefficient (in terms of educating voters about issues and/or platforms). Why do so many other countries do it better? One reason: electoral system. The main difference isn’t just Germany’s campaign finance laws. After all, politicians vote for campaign finance laws. But in proportional representation systems, politics tends to focus less on personalities and more on party platforms. This is especially true in proportional representation parliamentary systems, where there isn’t a president on the ballot.

Note 1: Germany has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which does include single-member district candidates elected in plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) elections, just like in the US. But the whole system tends towards proportionality because of how the remaining seats are awarded. And Germany’s politics is even more “personalized” than politics in most other list-proportional systems.

Note 2: Germany does have a president, but this person only acts as head of state (like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II). Germany’s head of government is the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel), who is elected by the legislature, not voters. Hence, Angela Merkel was elected by a majority coalition of German parties. Merkel’s alliance (CDU/CSU) won 49.4% of the vote, effectively reelecting her. But to govern, she’s seeking a coalition partner (either SPD or the Greens).

It’s also worth noting that even if the US had a German-style political system, it would NOT have German-style politics.  Even if we ignore some of the huge cultural and historical differences, there’s still that small matter of the US being, in comparison to Germany, huge.  There is less distance between being a local German politician and being a national German politician than there is between being a local US politician and a national US politician.  This means that German politics is almost by default more local, which allows for less of a mystique for the German chancellor than for the US president.  (For example, Germany has a vibrant film industry, but I can’t name a single German movie that is about the chancellor.  I can name about 10 US movies that are about the president.)  
Another worthwhile thing to keep in mind is that this election was different than many previous German national elections in that I have not met a single person (of any political persuasion) who was really pleased with the options they were able to choose this time around.  Hardly anyone really liked what they voted for, in the end - and they from the beginning that they were not going to like their options.  That made for a sluggish campaign (Merkel did virtually no campaigning compared to her previous years) and a general disheartened mood.  So this election is not all that representative.
What is true, and what is important to point out to several GOP congressmen, is the part about pragmatism and compromise.  German politics do have a tendency towards those, and from that the US could really, really learn something.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Look, I know a number of people who research German politics of a living. In fact, I’m on a research grant that includes two such people. And our grant is exclusively looking at legislative candidate selection across a range of countries. They will tell you that the evidence (and the conventional wisdom in the literature) is that German politics is national. In fact, they were surprised to find that even constituency delegates (those elected in actual districts using first-past-the-post) had a tendency to act like “list” politicians. 

Partly, that’s because I think you underestimate just how BIG Germany is. With more than 80 million people, it’s the 16th largest country in terms of population (we’re 3rd, with 300 million people).

You also misunderstand how parliamentary systems work. The German Chancellor doesn’t have the “mystique” of the American presidency, but that’s because prime ministers are less powerful (constitutionally) than presidents. But the argument is flawed. If the premise is that German politics is inherently “local” because it is “small,” then the Chancellor should have MORE mystique than the US president, because the Chancellor would be the top “local” politician. Your argument also ignores the powerful mystique of presidents in TINY presidential systems like El Salvador (pop. 6 million), Costa Rica (pop. 4.5 million), or even Uruguay (pop. 3 million).

Talking about parliamentary democracy today, and thought I’d show two clips from debates in the British parliament. Here’s one of David Cameron (current prime minister, then opposition leader) going up against Gordon Brown (then prime minister).

Talking about parliamentary democracy today, and thought I’d show two clips from debates in the British parliament. Here’s one of David Cameron (current prime minister) going up against Ed Miliband (current opposition leader).

If you’d like to tag along with my POL 102 class this semester, here’s your chance. 

This week we’re covering democracies, and I wanted to introduce them to the parliamentary system. I decided Britain was the best example for them, in part because it’s not further complicated by a different electoral system: the British use the same first-past-the-post (FPTP or single-member plurality (SMD) system we do.

But I also chose it because I recently found this great BBC documentary about the recent British elections, called Five Days That Changed Britain (broken up into four parts on YouTube).

Why don't other countries have government shutdowns?

An interesting explanation from Foreign Policy magazine. Basically, a unique feature of American presidentialism: Contrary to conventional wisdom, US presidents are rather “weak.” Other presidential systems often give executives discretionary power over the budget; in many cases, the budget (along w/ economic policy) is the prerogative of the president & the legislature only gives an up/down vote. 

Who Governs France?

Here’s an interesting question—and one I’m not certain about myself. It seems the French government has “collapsed.” Meaning, the prime minister & his cabinet have resigned. This happens frequently in parliamentary systems, where ceremonial heads of state (constitutional monarchs) exercise little real power, and government bureaucracies simply go in a holding pattern. 

But France, of course, is a semi-presidential system. So Sarkozy, the French president, has not resigned. And he was popularly elected, giving him a legitimate democratic mandate. 

So. What will Sarkozy do in the interim? As we have seen in a previous Economist chart, this can be a long time. The Belgian king does very little while his country’s parliament struggles to create a new government. But what does the French president do?

[Of course, this is also just the way France’s hybrid form of semi-presidentialism handles cabinet shakeups. But it’s an interesting theoretical question: If the legislature rebuffed him entirely, just how far could the French president go, before submitting to a period of “cohabitation” (when the president & prime minister are from different parties)?]

This chart (from The Economist) highlights the distinction between “state” & “government.” It also illustrates an interesting feature of parliamentarism.

This chart (from The Economist) highlights the distinction between “state” & “government.” It also illustrates an interesting feature of parliamentarism.

The Daily Show explains some key differences between presidentialism & parliamentarism, based on the May 2010 British election.