The Corner

Parliamentary Systems

An email opens up a new topic: “The United States has been the world’s greatest inspiration to freedom-lovers and young democracy movements for over 200 years. So why is it that worldwide – including now in Iraq – new democracies overwhelmingly choose the parliamentary form of government, rather than our federalist model? Is it because other nations (particularly smaller ones) don’t have the same rigid patchwork of semi-independent states we have? Or does it have to do with placating ethnic/sectarian concerns by giving them a chance to be part of a governing coalition? Still, the latter concern doesn’t seem like it would be a factor in, say, Israel.

“I have wondered this before, but I thought of it again with today’s news that Iraq has finally formed its new government. If they had followed the American model, they would have had their government in place by mid-February. The parliamentary form of government is certainly more responsive to the electorate, but its inherent instability would seem to make it a poor choice in a place like Iraq where a stronger executive branch could deal more effectively with law and order and keep things on a more consistent and even keel.

“But I’m no poli-sci expert, so please enlighten me (and maybe the Corner readers, as well).”

Wish I could. It’s a good question, but I’ve never seen a satisfactory explanation.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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