Are Parliamentary Governments Better For Democracy than Presidential Ones?

I do not believe that a parliamentary system of government is necessarily better for democracy than a presidential one. I contend that a country’s electoral system is a better measure of how democratic it is, rather than merely the system of government itself. Majority rule is the essence of democracy, however various countries with either system of government are ruled by a contorted sense of “majority,” whereby certain peoples or regions are underrepresented or ignored. Majority rule on the basis of plurality undermines the meaning of the word as the winning, large minority takes all. First-past-the-post electoral systems waste votes, discourage voter participation and underrepresent smaller political parties. Proportional representation enfranchises voters and ensures that the proportion of votes that a certain party wins largely equates to the proportion of seats they hold in the legislature, and by extension induces majority rule through compromise and coalition. Therefore, PR electoral systems are better for democracy regardless of the system of government.

Although PR electoral systems are found mostly in parliamentary systems, they are not mutually exclusive. Mexico, for example, is a presidential republic that employs a form of proportional representation in its legislatures. The United Kingdom, a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, employs a first-past-the-post electoral system. FPTP electoral systems waste votes because people who vote for the smaller parties don’t stand a chance against the large pluralities of bigger parties. People may also vote for someone whom they didn’t initially support in the hopes that their vote won’t be wasted. If one believes that pluralism and representation of all factions of society are essential to democracy, then PR is better for democracy than FPTP.

In the UK, radicals on both sides of the spectrum have turned truculent and broken from the mainstream Labour and Tory parties to form minority parties, which threaten the large pluralities that the original parties enjoy. In many ways, the Labour and Scottish National Party ideologies overlap, however as Patrick Wintour writes, “a vote for the SNP deprives Labour of an overall majority and merely guarantees another five years of Tory austerity.” Traculent votes for the SNP takes votes away from the other leftist Labour Party and under FPTP, the SNP has nothing to gain with a small minority of votes.

Jack Rawlings of the Huffington Post writes of an electoral system that combines plurality with proportional representation called Alternative Vote Plus (AV+). The British Green Party, another fringe minority party, won 1% of the national vote in the 2010 election having only one seat in Parliament. Under AV+, “they could expect to have three to eight seats which would provide them with much more agenda-setting power than they currently possess.” All in all, proportional representation is better for democracy as it empowers citizens by giving an individual’s vote more weight and consequence. In addition, PR enfranchises minority political parties and gives them they political clout they deserve in a just democracy.


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