Cocaine and Honduras

The street value of the cocaine that is smuggled through Honduras every year is much larger than the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). I pointed that out in an article in Swedish Newsmill two weeks ago, and now it has been brought to the front burner also in Washington (Brookings Institute, Honduras Weekly).

Trying to understand the political crisis of 2009 is futile, in my opinion, if one does not take into account the drug smuggling. I have written an estimated 30 or so posts the last 16 months on the issue, exposing how the drug cartels are taking advantage of the situation. They are both making it worse to suit their purposes, and they are manipulating media’s reporting of it, also to suit their purposes.

The cocaine smugglers, who are in cohorts with the communists, socialists, or whatever you call them, benefit when:

  1. the security apparatus is overwhelmed
  2. the people does not trust the security apparatus

It is simple logic to figure out what tactical moves the drug cartels could take, and apparently are taking, to exploit the vulnerability of the country:

  1. commit murders, but do it so the blame falls on the police, or even better, on the state itself
  2. encourage demonstrations, pay people to block the streets and riot
  3. encourage populist ideas that are unconstitutional or otherwise impossible to make work
  4. The idea is simply to make the state fail. To make the citizens distrust their government. To make everyone distrust the police isn’t hard: Just bribe a few policemen to “help” out by doing criminal acts, such as kidnapping or “scaring” supporters of the anti-government so-called resistance. If that fails, dress out as police. The main thing is that the “resistance” believes that they are targeted by government-sponsored death squads.

    For good measure, they can also kill one or two businessmen, or a dozen, what the heck; and make it seem that it was done by the “resistencia”. If they are really successful, real death squads might appear eventually.


    The basic idea is to create mayhem. They have created a terrible level of violence, but all hell hasn’t broken loose yet. The military is still holding their position as the most trusted institution in Honduras, and that bodes well for the future. The fact that the military arrested the president last year, on the Supreme Court’s orders, and stood up to all attempts to bribe them, indicates that the leaders of the country have a solid support from where it really counts. And that any new attempt to overthrow the form of government would be risky, to say the least, since there is no chance, it seems, that the military would fold.

    The second strong force is the private enterprise. They are stepping up with donations to help increase the security, with a surveillance system in San Pedro Sula, capable of integrating 800 cameras with automatic detection of suspect activities. Another good thing with it is that it may provide videos of alleged police brutality, so that it can be determined, finally, if it is the police that breaks the law, or the demonstrators who make false accusations. That could help settle that argument so that the country can move on. The main purpose remains of course to help stop the violent crimes: Murders and kidnappings. And the effect is already starting to be noticed.

El Salvador wants to Reform OAS

El Salvador wants to reform the Democratic Charter of OAS (OEA in Spanish). It is obviouslys not functioning, since Cuba was allowed back, Honduras is not allowed back, and they do nothing in response to the coup d’état that Daniel Ortega i slowly carrying out in Nicaragua right now.

The foreign minister of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, said that “it is already overdue that Honduras returns to OAS”. He critized the “heterogenous” reaction and announced that El Salvador is working on a proposal to reform OAS.

Blogs & Debate and the Constituyente

The thing with the call for a constituyente is that it is a solution in search of a problem. The resistencia is pushing hard for a constituyente, but they never give an intelligent argument for why it is desirable. Instead of arguing for why it is necessary, they make the laughable case that the present constitution no longer is in effect, having been somehow “broken” by the “coup” last year.

What they mean by the “coup” was the arrest of Zelaya, to prevent him from bringing to completion the coup that he was carrying out. The method of Zelaya’s coup was to hold a constituyente. In other words, the resistencia’s argument is that the constituyente is necessary in order to restore constitutionality after Zelaya had been deposed for trying to hold a constituyente.

But hang on, why did Zelaya want to hold the constituyente in the first place? Their argument is recursive. And what about the fact that it is unconstitutional to hold a constituyente in Honduras?

The simple truth is that they want power. Nothing else. If they had had democracy at heart, they would not have violated the rule of law, because nothing that is based on a crime can survive. The only way to true democracy with participation for all segments of the population is to respect the rule of law, and to respect the rights of others.

One can never accept a coup d’état against a democratic government. One can never accept to throw a democratic constitution out the window – especially not without having any idea of what comes instead. What the resistencia is insisting, is that Honduras abandons the rule of law, abandons democracy, abandons civil liberties, and instead places the destiny of the country in the hands of a more or less self-appointed “savior”. The old Greeks used to call such persons “tyrants.”

If you would like to defend the position of the resistencia you are welcome to write an editorial and I will publish it here – provided that you present a coherent argument that refrains from advocating that which is unconstitutional, illegal, or against international law.

There are a number of blogs that discuss and debate the politics of Honduras, in light of the political crisis last year and the insistence on a part of some groups of holding a constituting constitutional assembly, a “constituyente“. This blog is one of them.

To see the others, click on Further Information in the bottom right corner of the screen. There you can also find the link to register and to log in.

In the Menu, the header above the posts, you can see the categories which at present contain posts. Click on them to retrieve existing posts (early posts are not yet categorized, so you may also want to use the tag cloud of the search button in the footer).

Human Rights-Accusations as Political Tool

After Manuel Zelaya was deposed as president of Honduras June 28, 2009, and Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as interim president, the human rights-organization COFADEH (committee for families of detained disappeared persons in Honduras, formed in response to the military dictatorship that ended 1982) made repeated and extremely grave accusations against the government for human rights-abuses: Murders, concentration camps, etc. One of the accusations was that the leader of the leftist party UD, Cesar Ham, had been murdered. If they are right, then Honduras is today the only country in the world where the department of agriculture is managed by a dead man; Ham is a cabinet member of the present government. Incidentally, COFADEH accuses this administration of being worse than the interim one.

Berta Oliva
Berta Oliva

The bottom line is that COFADEH does not have any credibility, does not deserve to be taken seriously. Yet, when 30 Congress members in the U.S. recently wrote to secretary of state Hillary Clinton, demanding that all help to the “coup regime” be terminated, they based their arguments largely on the “disingenuous” claims of COFADEH.

Berta Oliva, coordinator of COFADEH, Honduras, denounced disappearances also under Zelaya. Furthermore, she claimed that people went into political exile. It would probably not be too far-fetched to assume that they went to work as illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Oliva was the unmarried partner to a person who dissappeared in the military dictatorship. There were 184 documented cases of disappearances. When Zelaya took office the survivor of one of them got 8 million lempiras. Oliva, the coordinator of the human rights watch set up to fight for the cause, got 12 million lempiras by the Zelaya administration. The other 182 families got nothing. Most remarkably, the son of Oliva’s ex partner got nothing, but she – who had no legal bonds to him – got 12 millions. This is from a La Gringa’s Blogicito article at the time:

“In December 2008, by presidential decree, Milton Jiménez was declared one of two people selected to receive a large financial settlement for being a relative of one of the 184 victims of ‘detainment and forced disappearance’ in the 1980’s. The amount of his settlement was L. 8 million. The other compensated victim was Berta Oliva, the president of the committee of the Detained and Disappeared Families, who was granted L.12 million. The other 182 families of victims were granted nothing.”

The state ombudsman for human rights, Dr. Custodio, who also fought this battle during the military dictatorship, has now taken a completely different position than Miss Oliva. According to his office the true number of human rights violations during the Micheletti administration was but a fraction of that claimed by COFADEH. Police brutality and excesses are not unique to Honduras, they happen also in USA and Sweden, so one cannot a priori blame them on the government the way that some human rights groups are doing.

It seems clear beyond a shadow of doubt, that human rights accusations have been and are being used as a propaganda tool. Due to the sensitivity of this matter, western media seem inclined to think no smoke without fire, and even if they are too skeptical to forward the actual reports, they have tended to report that “there are reports of human rights violations.” That is bad enough. That is giving a victory to the propaganda.

If we look at statistics, and assume that a group that is murdered to a higher extent than the other group is the victim of that other group, then we might conclude that the resistencia is the aggressor against government supporters, not the other way around. Most likely, though, the murders are done for criminal, not political, reasons, so the whole idea to exploit them for propaganda purposes is sickening, disgusting, and appalling. Let them rest in peace.

New Blog Mission, Layout

The new mission of this blog is to debate reforms aimed at increasing democracy under the rule of law in Honduras, and thus raise the standard of living for all in the country.

The idea is to provide a  respectful debate atmosphere, where all relevant arguments based on respect for the rule of law, human rights, and democracy, can be expressed. To avoid the distraction of irrelevant arguments, all blog entries are moderated.

Just as a democratic meeting needs a chairman, this blog will be moderated to facilitate the debate.

Topics that can be covered are problem analyses, reform proposals, factual backgrounds, and debates. Comparisons and facts from outside Honduras, or experience from other countries, may also be relevant.

To mark the change, the blog’s layout has been completely changed, and the name of the blog has also been changed from the founder’s name to the URL.

How to Participate

To comment, just register and post your comment (preferably in the same language as the post).

To post an article, request to be elevated to Contributor (you can write in your comment, “Please make me Contributor”).

You can post in Spanish or English, depending on what is easier for you, and if you are writing primarily for Hondurans, or for friends of Honduras in Europe or North America.

Use Tags in your post. For instance, if your comment is about holding a constituyente, write that word as a tag. That makes it easier to find all related posts.

Background of this blog

Until now this has been a personal blog, set up in early July 2009 to cover the Honduran political crisis. The initial objective was just to post government documents that were not readily available on the internet – or anywhere else – but that I had gotten hold of, and that could help understand what really happened June 28, 2009, in Honduras. It was initially in Swedish. Pretty soon it turned out, though, that the blog was read by Americans and Hondurans, using internet translators, so I decided to write some articles in English directly. By now it is almost exclusively in English, but with linked documents in Spanish.

However, while the interest abroad in Honduras has abated, the domestic tension continues. The White are still calling for rule of law, the Red are still calling for a constituyente and does not recognize the government. As I wrote about the other day, this is precisely the situation that preceded the Civil War in Finland. One has to take this seriously, and try to find common ground for reforms that can prevent an escalation. At the same time, as an insurance, the international public opinion should be kept informed about the true situation in Honduras. The Red side has Chavez’s entire propaganda machinery at their disposal. They totally dominate the news cycle via the global news agencies. It’s a David’s fight against Goliath, and virtually the only tool the White side has, is social media.

This blog is hosted on a server in Sweden. Respect copyrights, don’t post texts by others in your name.

Advice to the Red in Honduras

Are you a sympathizer with the “resistencia” in Honduras? Then this is for you. Learning from the history you can avoid some costly mistakes.

We all know Honduras needs democratic reforms, rule of law, and an improved standard of living for the poor. If someone wants to make you believe that the rich in the country don’t want that, they are selling you snake oil. The only thing they object to are the false prophets who are preaching solidarity, while in reality they have a completely different agenda.

Let me take two examples from history, the French and the Russian revolutions, as examples to learn from.

A French journalist who writes about Honduras in US newspapers, wrote as follows: “Working in Central America, where journalists are often accused of conspiring against the status quo, can be daunting. Perched on the highest rungs of government, a crypto-fascist element continues to regard incorruptible and outspoken journalists as gadflies and muckrakers, meddlers, purveyors of social discontent, and blabbermouths who threaten the established order. People in positions of power and influence still equate popular aspirations — the quest for truth, justice, respect for human rights and calls for transparency by the governing elite with political agitation and left-wing subversion.”

Since the deposal of Zelaya last year, I have consistently tried to get the truth out, argued for justice and the respect for human rights, and called for transparency in government in Honduras. Have I been rejected by them? No. On the contrary, they have thanked me for doing exactly that. So why has this journalist such a different experience? Perhaps the real reason is revealed in a letter he sent me, in which he wrote: “… and the “Constituyente” of 1790 rid France of its parasitic gangrene — a bloated aristocracy and a corrupt, all-powerful clergy. It drafted and promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man, established a secular state and instituted a radical and absolute separation between Church and State — a mandate that is fiercely enforced to this day. A few heads in a basket is not too high a price to pay to purge a country from its feudal masters….”

“A few heads in a basket”? He is advocating political murder, and wonders why those he wants to murder don’t like him? Is he for real?

Lesson: You have to respect human rights yourself, if you want others to respect your human rights. The one who breaks the law becomes unprotected by the law. It is never, ever, justified to kill any person for any reason, nor to torture.

But what about the French Revolution, doesn’t he have a point? Keep in mind what happened next, before you declare it a success. A dictatorship under Napoleon, the self-declared emperor, who threw all of Europe in war, who killed millions through his wars. Is that a success? Not in my book. The French Revolution is an example of what NOT to do.

But let’s take another example, one that is more relevant to Honduras today: the Russian Revolution. In 1809 Russia conquered the part of Sweden known as Finland. They were allowed to continue using the Swedish laws and form of public administration, since it was more advanced than the Russian. Also the Congress was kept in place. By 1860 the Finnish language, spoken by the poor majority, was given official status.

The social gap in Finland at that time was perhaps the strongest one anywhere in the world. The Russian capital St. Petersburg was built to be the world’s most splendid capital, and it was close to the border to the Grand Duchy of Finland. Not far on the other side of the border Finns still lived in primitive huts in the forest, at about the same standard of living as the poor in Honduras today. The gradient was mind-boggling, and it was accompanied by an ethnic division; the swedish-speakers were the economic elite, the Russians had the power, and the finnish-speakers had nothing but growing ambitions based largely on socialist ideals.

However, by 1899 an intense Russification started, led by general governor Bobrikov. The oppression was intense, the “walls had ears” as my grandfather said. On one occasion his 10-year old classmate was to be sent to Siberia for calling a man who worked for the Russians a “traitor”, but luckily the boy’s father sent him abroad before the police came. Most time in school was taken up with learning Russian, and they used Russian officers as teachers. In 1904 Bobrikov was murdered, and in 1905 the first Russian Revolution came – including in Finland, where a general strike was held in late October.

At the general strike the White and Red united. The White demanded Rule of Law; that the Czar respect the agreement with the Finns, that he respect their Constitution, their Congress, their laws. The Red demanded a constitutional assembly, a “constituyente”. In distress, the Czar agreed to the demands of the White, and they ended the strike.

The Red, however, continued in their demands for a constituyente. What I am about to tell you does not appear in the Wikipedia article about this time, but the Red turned their anger against the White. They went around murdering businessmen and other swedish-speakers whom they considered to be with the White side, with the “oligarchy”. They came also to my great grandfather’s house, but his workers stopped them, saying that he was a good employer and pleaded with them to save him. But it was a terror at the time.

In 1906 the Constitution of Finland was changed to become more democratic still. They created a unicameral Congress with equal rights not just to vote, but also to be elected, regardless of land ownership and sex. It was the first place in the world where women could be elected, and the second, after New Zealand, where women could vote. It would seem that this should satisfy the Red, right?

It did, for a while. But then the oppression from Russia started again, World War I came, and in early 1917 a second Russian Revolution at which the Czar abdicated. After that, Finland started working to be more independent from Russia. The Finnish Congress, which had a socialist majority, passed a law that it, not the provisional government in Russia, was the head of state of Finland. The Russian prime minister Kerenskij did not accept that, dissolved the Finnish Congress and called for new elections. This time the liberals won. Shortly after, in late 1917, the third Russian Revolution occurred, the Bolsheviks took power, and Russia started its long period as the Soviet Union.

However, Finland declared itself independent when that happened. The socialists considered the dissolving of the Congress and subsequent election invalid. Russia acknowledged Finland’s independence on January 4th, 1918, and the liberals in Congress started preparing for converting Finland into a sovereign parliamentarian monarchy. The socialists terminated their cooperation, and an uprising started. This led to what the left has called the Finnish Revolution, the right has called the War of Liberation (since Russian troops helped the Red), but which is now neutrally called the Finnish Civil War. The White side won, but the loss of lives was great on both sides.

World War II also brought great hardship to Finland. Attacked by the Soviet Union, and abandoned by the western democracies that chose to cooperate with Stalin (even though he at the time was a much bigger murderer and dictator than Hitler), Finland fought, at one time or another, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. It was the only belligerent on mainland Europe to maintain democracy throughout the war. Together with London and Moscow, the Finnish capital Helsinki was the only one in Europe never to be occupied, of the countries taking part in the war.

The Finns got a rough deal after the war, and had to pay restitution to the Soviet Union – while Germany got the Marshall help from USA.

Today Finland is one of the richest and most successful countries in the world. Why?

They learned the lesson, and they learned it well. You are the master of your own destiny, you and nobody else. To the White and Red in Honduras the message is clear: You have to cooperate and find common ground. If you let others interfere in your country, they will not have your best interest in mind. Only you can have your best interest in mind. And that common interest is best served by a fair and just democracy, in which all have a stake, and in which no minority is oppressed, but the rights of everyone are assured.

White-Shirts Demand Rule of Law

The organization Union Civica Democratica, or UCD, who went out en masse to demand that Zelaya stopped the attempts of overthrowing the Constitution last year, has today taken to the streets again to demand the same thing from the new president, “Pepe” Lobo.

Demonstration by the National Congress in Honduras, 2010-10-20.
Demonstration by the National Congress in Honduras, 2010-10-20.

One sign reads “Why do our leaders have to ask things that they should already know?”, referring to Lobo’s rhetorical statement “How can it be wrong to ask the people?”. Of course, the asking is just a trick to go around the democratic institutions, which is why it is explicitly ruled out as a way to change the constitution (in article 373).

Another sign reads, “Who does a constitutional assembly benefit?” and it has a check mark for “Politicians” but not for “the People”.

A sign in the back reads “Education YES, Re-election NO” (the president cannot be re-elected, and changing that is widely seen as the only credible reason for the call for a constituyente).

One sign near the center reads, “We demand RESPECT for the Constitution and the Rule of Law”. This is the core of the message of the white-shirts.

Without rule of law, no laws, no rights, no freedoms, no democracy matter. And that is why the Constitution must never be changed in an unconstitutional manner, no matter how justified it may be to change it. It is simply not worth the price. Besides, all important changes can be made perfectly legally already today.

While on this matter, a bird sang that people in the U.S. State Department believe that Honduras is at the brink of an insurgency. Since I have known the country, for about 15 years, I have noticed a striking similarity to Finland at the previous turn of century. They had very similar social tensions, they also had a small ethnically distinct upper class, and they had the reds and the whites just like Honduras today.

The Swedes in Finland correspond to the Palestinians in Honduras, and the Gringos in Honduras correspond roughly to the Russians in the Grand Duchy of Finland. On one occasion the red came to the house where my grandfather was alone at home, a young boy, totally defenseless except for a machine gun that he was prepared to use against them, should they break through the door. Fortunately for him the workers in the nearby factory came to save him before he had to pull the trigger. When I was young that machine gun still hang on the wall.

The red insurgency in Finland was beaten down, every time, until the revolution succeeded in Russia and Finland became independent. But that’s not the main point, the point is why did it exist in the first place? My guess is that the ethnic stratification of the country created a glass ceiling for the domestic Finns, just as there is a glass ceiling for the “Indios” in Honduras. It’s unintentional, since the Swedes kept to themselves, the Palestinians keep to themselves, and similarly the Jews in Europe kept to themselves. When an ethnic group comes out on top of the others but keeps to itself, perhaps it is inevitable that resentment is created, that can be exploited to foment racist hatred by cynical persons striving for power (Stalin in Russia, Hitler in Germany, Zelaya in Honduras). This is just an attempt at an explanation, it is by now means an excuse. There is no justification for racism.

It is a fact, though, that Honduras needs democratic reforms, though this has nothing to do with race. However, the reforms must be done with respect for the Constitution. That work should start NOW, not mañana, and the goal must be to make the country rich – for everyone.

The Organization of American States is lost

Nine years ago the OAS members signed a special charter tasking the organization with safeguarding democracy in the Americas. Yet they did nothing when former president Zelaya of Honduras violated the Constitution. They did nothing when president Ortega of Nicaragua now violates its Constitution. They were quick to side with president Correa’s questionable claims in Ecuador, calling it a coup attempt although witnesses say that the president himself ordered the military to fire on the hospital.

While OAS utterly failed to criticize these three ALBA presidents, affiliated with Hugo Chávez, their secretary general, Insulza, has humiliated Honduras at any chance he has got since that country stopped the attempted coup d’état by Zelaya on June 28, 2009.

Insulza’s organization even pushes for Honduras’s new president, Lobo, to violates his country’s constitution by discussing to hold a constituyente, something that is explicitly illegal in the Honduran constitution. The idea of a constituyente was even put aside “for ever” by Zelaya himself in the agreement he signed with Micheletti. Yet, the OAS (!) is now bringing it back on the agenda.

Even the Washington Post is today calling OAS hypocrites, since they have done nothing to stop the blatant disregard for democracy in Nicaragua lately. They write, “Mr. Ortega’s assault on Nicaragua’s constitution makes both Mr. Zelaya and the Honduran army look timid.”

Latin America is overflowing with cocaine money, especially the isthmus. This obviously corrupts, lower levels, middle levels, high levels, national levels, and – apparently – also international levels such as the OAS. What other explanation can there be?

Saving Democracy in Latin America

Under the leadership of Venezuela’s president and former failed military coupster Hugo Chávez, self-declared Marxist, a number of Latin American countries in the ALBA alliance are moving towards what they call more “popular democracy.” Fidel Castro calls it communism, though.

The call for this “popular democracy” has reached also Honduras, where former president Manuel Zelaya argued that the people have a right to decide their own destiny, and therefore nobody should object when he was to hold a referendum that would lead to the constitution of the republic being thrown out. Never mind that the poll was fixed, and never mind that it had not been decided in democratic order. If The People does something, it has to be approved. And now the new president, Porfirio Lobo, is using the same arguments, the same words, while trying a different strategy that at the end of his term will lead to the same result: The constitution being thrown out so that he can be re-elected.

While neither of the two gentlemen say openly that their re-election is the one and only purpose of the maneuvers, one can deduce as much, since no other purpose would explain their acts.

I’m the first to admit that Honduras needs some reforms to decrease corruption and increase the rule of law and democracy. What these presidents are doing is, however, the polar opposite – while managing to convince part of the population that they are doing it to help them. It’s the classical trick of popular tyranny, practiced for thousands of years.

Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center.
Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center. Chávez, Zelaya, and the boys want to go left and make the parliament weaker. Experience shows more democracy is found to the right, with a stronger parliament. Click for full size.

Honduras – as most of Latin America – has a Presidential Republic form of government today (center in the illustration). Chávez’s “Socialism in the 21st Century” changes the constitutions to undermine the democratic institutions and introduce organizations that are outside institutional control (left in the image). Adolf Hitler did precisely the same thing to undermine the democratic checks and balances. They claim that it is done to give more popular democracy, but it is done at the expense of rule of law. The only one who really benefits is the president – now turned dictator.

A change that can be made totally legally in Honduras, without running afoul of the articles “cut in stone”, is to go to the right instead. A parliamentary democracy increases the rule of law and decreases corruption, there is empirical data to support that. It also provides a better protection against coups such as the one attempted by Zelaya.

The democracy can thus be strengthened by Congress, today, without changing the fundamental form of government. It will still be a Republic, the President will still be separate from Congress and elected directly by the people for a single four-year term. The only change is that his cabinet must be approved by Congress, and that Congress can fire them if they disapprove of their work. Also, the decisions must be taken by the Cabinet in a quorum, although formally it is the President as the head of the executive who will sign off on them.

Democracy in Latin America is under attack. With this little graph I hope that I have illustrated what can done to protect and improve democracy on the continent instead.

An earlier post on a similar topic:

Why Parliamentary Republics beat Presidential Republics

Parliamentary republics have separated the roles of head of state  and head of government. They are thus quite  similar to parliamentary monarchies, but the head of state is an elected president rather than a king or queen. Parliamentary constitutions are based on the premise that all power emanates from the people, and that the power is vested in their elected representatives in congress between the elections – just like the shareholders of a corporation elect a board of directors to manage business between the annual meetings.

Parliamentary constitutions are based on the principle of the sovereignty of the people, whereas presidential republics are based on the principle of separation of powers.

In practice this means that the government is dependent on the support of the congress, since the congress has the power to dismiss the head of government (and thus all of his cabinet). While in a presidential republic it would take a recall vote to depose the president (and thus all of his cabinet) for political reasons, in a parliamentary republic the cabinet can be dismissed by a vote in the parliament on short notice. This gives more political control over the government, and gives a voice to a larger segment of society.

The parliamentarians are elected in such a way as to represent the full range of diversity in the country, and proportional to the actual situation in the electorate. This is important; there cannot be one-person districts, because if so, a large percentage of the constituents may end up lacking representation. How large? Well over 50%, perhaps up to 67% or so, thanks to gerrymandering. If one third rules over two thirds, is that democracy? In a parliamentarian system with proportional representation, all parties larger than some 5% of the electorate can be represented in the parliament in proportion to their actual support.

A president only needs 50.01% of the electorate to win, and less if the vote counting is not proportional (as in the USA). Furthermore, presidential republics tend to be two party systems, just one up from one party systems. Thus, to buy the presidency it is enough to buy two candidates. It is self-evident that it is much harder to buy the government in a parliamentarian system, since you would have to buy the support of a majority of the congressmen.

Empirical Evidence

In a report from the World Bank titled “Accountability and Corruption – Political Institutions Matter” (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2708, 2001) the authors conclude that:

“The main results show that political institutions seem to be extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption. In short, democracies, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of press are all associated with lower corruption. Additionally, we show that common results of the previous empirical literature on the determinants of corruption – related to openness and legal tradition – do not hold once political variables are taken into account.” (my emphasis)

Also the political stability is higher in parliamentary systems. In How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2001), Robert A. Dahl writes that since 1950, only 22 nations have managed to remain stable with no coups or other discontinuity of the constitutional order. Of those 22, only 2 are presidential republics (USA and Costa Rica). The remaining 20 are parliamentary, 11 republics and 9 monarchies.

As for rule of law, see a previous post on Rule of Law Index 2010.

There is thus empirical evidence that parliamentary democracies:

  • offer better protection against coup d’états
  • foster less corruption
  • foster more rule of law