The government of the USA was officially created in the US Constitution in 1787. That document defined a representative form of government that split power more or less equally (or so it was intended) between three branches of government:
1. Executive (president & vice-president, both to be separately elected by the citizens either or via electors voted by the people, and thus primarily answerable to the voters; this is known as a presidential system. ),
2. Legislative (two houses of congress; one based upon actual population, the House of Representatives and the other based upon the number of states, the Senate), and
3. Judicial, which established the US Supreme Court.
In the USA, the Executive branch is elected by the Electoral College, whose members are elected directly by the voters. This system has resulted in US elections where the presidential candidate who received the most popular votes was not the one who received the most electoral votes. Notwithstanding the popular vote, the candidate with the most electoral votes is always the winner. Most recently, this situation occurred in 2000, when Al Gore received the most popular votes, but George W. Bush, who received the most electoral votes, was the winner (unfortunately).
The parliamentary system, on the other hand, is used in one form or another in most of the democracies on Earth. People elect the members of parliament. Those members then elect the Prime Minister, who is primarily responsible to the Parliament. In both cases, the winner must garner a majority of the votes cast.
If no US presidential candidate receives a majority the resolution is quite different from a parliamentary system. In the USA, if there are three presidential candidates but none receives a majority of the electoral votes, the US Constitution directs that the House of Representatives of the US congress will elect the president from the highest vote-getters in the general election, with each state having one vote. If their vote still does not produce a majority win for one candidate, the vice-president becomes president.
In a typical parliamentary system, if no single party wins a legislative majority , the political parties must negotiate among themselves until a coalition is formed which represents a majority in Parliament. In a system like this, the majority requirement forces the creation of a political coalition which prevents the near-continuous legislative gridlock that seems to be the present way of doing business (or actually NOT doing business) in the US congress, as long as the coalition among the political parties holds together. If it falls apart, parliament can be dissolved and new elections called to elect new members of parliament.
The above descriptions are simplified and are not all-inclusive of all the possible eventualities, since there are multiple forms of parliamentary systems and presidential systems. But the gist of their differences is clear. Parliamentarian governments generally don’t suffer from the years-long legislative gridlock that occurs in the US Congress. A no-confidence vote in a parliamentary system can result in new elections being called, while such a vote in the USA would be considered nothing more than political theatrics and a waste of time and money. Each partisan house of the US congress is free to exercise grid-lock and get nothing done by playing partisan politics ad nauseam . The republican House of Representatives has in fact passed multiple partisan bills with no democratic support, knowing full well that the their legislation would be dead on arrival in the democrat-controlled US senate. It’s a waste of public money and time for the sole purpose of politics, but the country as a whole suffers because of it.
At least in a parliamentary system, proactive and successful multi-partisan negotiation is part of the process if the members want to keep their jobs.
So consider the following; When the US Congress finally returns from their month-long summer break in September, President Obama will be proposing job-creation legislation in an effort to help the unemployed, repair our crumbling infrastructure, and improve the economy. Since a bad economy and increased unemployment would help the GOP politically in the upcoming 2012 general elections, one might guess that their motivation to support Obama’s proposals will be met with utter disdain, disapproval and dismissal by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. While millions of Americans continue to be unemployed and the economy continues to stagnate, the GOP will gridlock congress for their own political gain.
If the USA had a system such as, for instance, the United Kingdom, a compromise solution would emerge up front, be debated and possibly amended, and then passed in time to do some good, all because a coalition already exists in parliament. And if that coalition fell apart…members of Parliament might face a new election…and be thrown out.
Just imagine… if we could have called for new congressional elections subsequent to the extremely partisan (and embarrassing) debt ceiling debacle in July….
How cool would THAT have been?? 🙂