July 06, 2005

Should Bolivia Become Parliamentary Republic?

MABB © ®

The latest news in Germany has made me to start thinking about what former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada said in an interview last week, from which I posted a short commentary here. GSL said that if Bolivia were a parliamentary democracy (as many European countries are), the government would essentially work better.

Taking into account that Bolivia has a semi-parliamentary system in the sense that the president is elected by the majority coalition in the legislative, it might be worth exploring the possibility of making Bolivia a full parliamentary system.

The current events in Germany show a parliamentary system of government in action. Last week the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder (SPD) filed in congress a letter which asked parliament to submit his government to a vote of no confidence. Now, this is a mechanism in the parliamentary system, to show how much support the government still has in congress and if it can still effectively govern. The background for this actions by the social democrat Chancellor is a series of defeats for his party in regional elections which significantly eroded his legitimacy. The last drop came last May when the SPD (Social Democratic Party) lost the control of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. A state in which the SPD had been in control since after the war.

After much negotiation among the parties and a bit of planning by the SPD-Greens ruling coalition, Congress voted yesterday to remove confidence in Schroeder's government. After the no confidence vote, the Chancellor paid a 15 minute visit to the mostly ceremonial Head of State, Federal President, Horst Koehler. In this visit the Chancellor asked Koehler to dissolve Congress and call for new elections. This is Schroeder's real aim, to dissolve Congress and for new general elections to be called, so his government can be re-legitimized and he can continue ahead with his controversial reforms called Agenda 2010.

However, new elections will not be easy to come. First, President Koehler has 21 days, of which he already noted he would take all, to decide if the request has constitutional grounds. If Koehler decides to grant the Chancellor's wishes, the matter is most likely to go on to the Constitutional Court (CC) because many members of parliament have expressed they would seek that venue.

If the ruling is in favor of the Chancellor, Germans might be heading to the ballots as early as September. The CC is the supreme voice which will decide the matter.

Now, of course, we can get into a debate about the defects and virtues of the parliamentary system. But the question I ask is how would it work in the context of Bolivia and if it really makes sense to turn Bolivia's system into a parliamentary one.

The Bolivian case is not so simple. The president, if he finds himself isolated and weakened, does not have another choice to renew his legitimacy other than to resign and/or call for new elections. I am not sure if he can legally close Congress. But, even if he had this last choice, which president would want to pursue it and be seen as an anti-democrat for closing the people's representative body (Congress) and for carrying out a self coup d'etat.

So, what are the choices a Bolivian president has in such a situation? Well, we saw some of the choices in the last crisis with Mesa. Mr Mesa, according to news reports, was indeed thinking of closing Congress and calling for early elections. This decision however, was taken aganis the backdrop of deep political and social crisis, which was almost entirely unpredictable. However, in a matter of litteraly 10 minutes, his preferred choice was given. That was, the renouncement of Mr Vaca Diez and Mr Cossio (the Senate President and second in-line for the Presidency and the Deputies Chaber's President and third in-line respectively) to the presidential succession.

The mechanisms available for the President of Bolivia to deal with a crisis like this are conducive to more crisis. Every move the President makes is potentially seen as illegitimate and even anti-democratic.

Any comments on the subject would be appreciated, as I just started to ponder this issue.