The lack of unity of leaders, political parties and civil groups that fight for democracy in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua is the greatest weakness in the task of defeating the worn-out and unviable dictators that misrule those countries.
Recognizing a consensus leadership and the need for a unified command is almost impossible. In addition, those dictatorships promote the existence of a so-called “functional opposition”, and exert state terrorism against the “non-functional” opponents.
In consequence, from it derives a great deal of ungovernability due to the same divisiveness that makes the Presidential system, predominant in Latin America, fall into crisis.
Would Parlamentarianism, instead, be the best option to get rid of dictatorships and strengthen democracies in Latin America? Let’s see.
Parliamentarism is the system of government in which the people elect the members of parliament, and then the elected parliamentarians (Legislative branch) choose the government (Executive branch). In this system, the government has to make itself accountable to the Parliament.
The Parliament is at the end the institution that is legitimized by the vote of the people. It is the institution that elects the government, and thus the government would depend on the majority in the Parliament. In other words, “the government depends on the trust of Parlament, and Parlament’s power is based on the legitimacy obtained by the popular vote”.
The Parliamentary system promotes consensus and political negotiations necessary to form a government with a majority.
The debate between Presidentialism and Parliamentarism is as long as the existence of the Latin American republics. Chile was a Parliamentary Republic from 1891 to 1924 until it changed after a Coup d’ Etat. Brazil was also a Parliamentary Republic from 1961 to 1963, when a referéndum ended it.
The proliferation of political and social options, of parties and movements, and political and social divisiveness, have eroded the Presidential system in the Hemisphere, giving rise to weak governments shaken by successive crises that in the end, turned those government crises into a whole crisis of democracy.
Castro-Chavism has taken advantage of the weakness of Presidentialism to seize power and, through apparent legal reforms, to enacted “electoral dictatorships” that violate human rights and finish the rule of law and separation and independence of powers.
Dictatorships of the so-called 21st Century Socialism strive to simulate democracy under the fallacy of “new forms of democracy”, giving them the excuse to ignore the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the agreement that legally defines the “essential elements of Democracy” in the region.
The latest effort of these dictatorships was at display at the failed CELAC meeting that just took place in Mexico recently.
For an effective transition from dictatorship to democracy, it is necessary to cease the legal system imposed by the usurpers of power and avoid impunity. A Transition won’t be possible with the laws created by the dictatorships; neither will be with the executioners involved as political actors protected by impunity. There’s no future in a legal system in which dictatorships were built.
One example is the failure of the transitional government of former Bolivian President Jeanine Añez (currently a political prisoner by the very people who benefited from this failure), with the consequent disgrace against the Bolivian people.
Another example is the unfortunate situation of the legitimate government of Juan Guaidó in Venezuela. Both cases prove that in order to recover democracy, a political force greater than the criminal forces of the dictatorships is needed.
In order to recover democracy, the “republic” must be recovered, and to achieve that goal the presidential system presents itself as an obstacle to transition into a government in democracy.
If all democratic leaders and opposition groups -both functional and real- continue to disperse energy in their fight to impose the next president, using instead the parliamentary system to build consensus and majorities, enough political strength would be achieved to stop dictatorial regimes.
The Parliamentary system will be able to organize participation in the exercising of power, and once defeated the dictatorship, would help to concentrate political power in a participatory, pluralistic and as diverse a Parliament as the popular vote decides. That Parliament would then decide the head of the government, that can be named as President of the Government just to keep up our obsession for titles.
In Presidential systems, when a president is good, the term of office is short and most of them are tempted to "reform the constitution" and violate it just to stay more time in power. When the president is bad, any form of impeachment falls under the shadow of a "coup." In this objective reality, let us consider directing recovery and management of democracy to Parliamentarism, in which a good head of government can remain as such, as long as the 16 years of Merkel in Germany, or the 17 year-period of Berlusconi in Italy, or the almost 12 years of Thatcher in the UK, without being considered a dictator.
* Lawyer and Political Scientist. Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy