Study: Parliamentary systems have longer shelf life than presidential ones
During the past 30 years, only 35 states have maintained stable, continuous democracies, according to the Freedom House political index. Of those, 31 (almost 90 percent), are parliamentary systems, with the others being the United States, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Colombia.
"Switching to a presidential system now would probably mark the end of democracy in Israel," says Naomi Chazan, head of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo
"I don't want to bring Venezuela's and Colombia's problems to Israel," says Dr. Reuven Hazan of the department of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "A president like Hugo Chavez is all we need."
The authors of the report, Hazan and Professor Avraham Diskin, examined 60 democracies in 2005 in their study entitled "Why Democracies Collapse." Close to two-thirds of the democracies that collapsed were presidential systems, and only one-third were parliamentary. Also, three-quarters of the stable democracies are parliamentary, while a quarter are presidential.
The Megidor Committee set up by President Moshe Katsav to examine the government structure in Israel is to submit its report in the next few days. It will recommend strengthening the parliamentary system and not move over to a presidential system. A sub-committee of the Megidor Committee, headed by Chazan, compared the success rate of parliamentary and presidential systems. Chazan's research assistant, Nir Atmor, was in charge of concentrating the data.
"In every comparison, the parliamentary systems received higher marks than presidential systems," the Chazan committee concludes. "Most indexes place Israel at the bottom on the parliamentary systems, close to the better presidential systems. Parliamentary systems function much better than presidential systems, that's unequivocal," Chazan says.
In a study cited by the Chazan report, 40 percent of the presidential systems from 1973 to 1989 have undergone military coups. "This is sufficient to substantiate the argument against the presidential systems," the report concludes. "Presidential systems rise and fall, and disappear," says Chazan. "And they display a serious tendency toward dictatorship."
South American states tried to copy the American presidential system, Dr. Hazan says. As a result, by the end of the 1970s, not a single Latin American democracy remained. They all collapsed, and the army stepped in after the system stopped working, he says.
According to the democracy lifespan index of Polity IV Project (data until 2003), only three presidential systems are among the 20 longest lasting democracies. The average lifespan of the 33 parliamentary systems is 48 years. The average lifespan of the 17 presidential systems is 24 years, including the United States. Without the U.S., the presidential system's lifespan average drops to 17 years.
Chazan rejects the argument that Israeli democracy is not stable. She agrees that governments have a stability problem, but says "our long-term record is amazing." She says that of all the post-colonial states that achieved independence after World War II, only two - India and Israel - lasted as democracies throughout the period.
"Israel has existed for 58 years. There is no presidential system apart from the U.S. and Costa Rica that has lasted for 58 years," Dr. Hazan says.
One indicator of a trend toward dictatorship is to watch how many people in surveys agree with a statement like, "a strong leader is better for the country than elections and parliament."
Out of the 47 democracies examined in the World Values Survey, the 20 countries in which the yearning for a strong leader was the lowest were parliamentary democracies. The average of those craving for a strong leader in parliamentary systems was 29 percent, compared to 46 percent in presidential systems. In Israel, the longing for a strong leader is especially strong - 56 percent - despite the parliamentary system.
Diskin wrote in an article that "the main problem of a presidential system involves a possible clash between the executive authority and the judicial branch."
Such a clash "could paralyze the system and is potentially violent. There are several examples of democracies that have collapsed following such a clash. The U.S. is a rare example of a presidential system in which there has not been a violent clash like this," he said.
Does a presidential system really increase government efficiency, as Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman suggests? Does it make it easier to govern and implement policy?
The World Bank's government efficiency index gives parliamentary systems an average of 78 and presidential systems only 49. There is not a single presidential system among the top 10 efficient democracies (the U.S. is 11th). In contrast, 17 of the 20 least efficient states (out of 60) are presidential democracies.
Almost all the government systems in Western Europe, the largest, most stable concentration of democracies, are parliamentary. Presidential systems are prevalent in Third World areas such as Latin America, Africa and Asia. The fact that most of Israel's grades are between the presidential and parliamentary systems indicates the deterioration of the quality of government in the country from Western to Third World norms.