From the Viewsroom

The presidential model

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on July 26, 2020 Published on July 26, 2020

Tharoor bats for this form of govt. It’s not a convincing argument

It’s getting tough to tell when Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is being serious. One moment he’s rattling off words like hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of words) to amuse audiences. The next moment he’s expounding on how the British owe India reparations for whatever they milked from this country during colonial times. So was he being serious when he argued for a presidential system because the Westminster model hadn’t served us well? His reasoning was our parliamentarians are largely unqualified for the job and governments have to focus more on retaining power than governing. Tharoor admits, yes, the presidential system can easily morph into dictatorship. But he reckons the Prime Minister is already running India virtually unchecked so it wouldn’t make much difference if we shifted to the presidential system where one person’s larger than life. If he’s serious, it should be noted the US Constitution is based on a strict “checks-and-balances” division of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary. So, as even the presidential system involves a legislature, it wouldn’t be as if our breed of horse-trading MPs would disappear.

Let’s look at Sri Lanka where ex-president Junius Jayawardene scrapped the parliamentary system in 1978 and concocted a complex cross between the French and US presidential models. Has it benefited Sri Lanka? Jayewardene may not be to blame, but the country has been struggling since the 1980s. To argue one man might arise out of the system — like Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter — and wouldn’t have to depend on his party is to cry out for a Man on a White Horse who will be our deliverer. Let’s get it straight: there are no godlike strongmen who can rise above party and people and rescue us from ourselves. Both parliamentary and presidential systems can be undermined. Strongmen cannot be better than systems that created them. All systems of government can only deliver what the people demand from them. Nothing less and not an ounce more.

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Published on July 26, 2020
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