Original text 2010-10-15: Yesterday a rule of law index was published covering 35 nations. They covered 9 aspects, and presented the results over a hundred pages, but did not provide any overview. Therefore I’ve compiled the data and made the following simple graph, with all the scores at a glance.
Sweden got the highest score, while the United States only came in the ninth place, between France and Spain. Most Latin American countries ended up below the middle with almost the same score, but Bolivia – the only ALBA country included – ended up in the bottom 10% in this global comparison.
Update 2010-10-18: Having read that corruption is correlated with the form of government, with parliamentary systems being less corrupt than presidential systems, I decided to add an analysis of the form of government to this rule of law index by calculating the average position for each form of government. Result:
Parliamentary monarchy: Average 6.9 (7 countries).
Parliamentary republic: Average 5.2 (8 countries).
Full presidential republic: Average 4.4 (15 countries).
The parliamentary monarchy is also known as constitutional monarchy. There were also two semi-presidential republics, two semi-constitutional monarchies, and one parliamentary republic where the president is also head of government, in the list.
It would seem that the parliamentary monarchy is clearly superior, but one should keep in mind that monarchies only appear in countries that have been stable for a long time, and there is a clear correlation between low corruption and long time of stable government. The most interesting comparison is therefore between the two main forms of republics: The full presidential republic, and the parliamentary republic. The latter comes out the winner hands down. This graph illustrates it strikingly:
In a parliamentary republic the president is the head of state, and represents the country. The head of government, on the other hand, is a prime minister (premier), often the party leader of the biggest party in the parliament (or the leading party in a coalition). The cabinet, which may or may not be selected from members of parliament, takes decisions by majority vote, runs the bureaucracy much like the board of directors in a corporation, prepares the budget, and prepares major legislative proposals. The cabinet can be dismissed by a vote of no confidence by the parliament, for whatever reason. When that happens the head of state has to ask someone else to form the government, and if unsuccessful, may have to call for an extra election to change the balance of power in the parliament.
This is the typical system in Germanic Europe, but in the Americas it is virtually unknown south of Canada. Given the attacks on democracy that is taking place in Latin America, including Honduras, I would submit that going towards a parliamentary republic would strengthen democracy. Experience post WWII shows that parliamentary republics are likely to succeed in establishing democracy, but presidential republics are likely to suffer coups and authoritarian setbacks.
Everyone concerned about rule of law, democracy, and prosperity – in Honduras, Nicaragua, or elsewhere – would be well advised to consider separating the role of head of government from the presidency, so that the latter only remains head of state, and to let the popularly elected parliament exercise oversight over the head of government and his cabinet. This is a constitutional reform that makes sense, and that can be done completely legally.