Tuesday, September 29, 2009

After Professor Pitcher visited class a couple of weeks ago, I paraphrased, in my blog, a comment she made revolving around the idea that nothing surprises her about Mozambique’s political system after observing what happens within America’s. She was referencing corruption within systems, particularly by certain individuals and parties only trying to get as much power as possible, as opposed to focusing on what really matters to the people they are supposedly representing. This comment/idea certainly has a negative connotation to it. However, it’s also clear that Pitcher and many Americans, in general, have deep pride in their country’s ideal system, the one that many of their ancestors fought and died for. Reflecting on this ambiguity of emotions toward the American political system that is so obvious in the U.S.’s society today, I wonder if Mozambicans have more clear-cut feelings toward the new political system they are facing. Although both America and Mozambique consider themselves democracies, what are the differences between the two? The similarities? Before experiencing how Mozambican citizens truly feel and view their system, our class is looking at the underlying structures, the formal institutional architectures, of both American and Mozambican democracy. More specifically, we have been reading about constitutional and electoral systems, which have high impact on issues related to governance, political stability and policy making. As we read Carrie Manning, Arendt Lijphart, and the IDEA National Handbook on Constitutions and Elections, we learn different electoral systems oftentimes produce diverse political results.

Manning’s work, Semi-presidentialism and the preservation of ambiguity in post-war Mozambique, describes the country’s experience with semi-presidentialism. Readers can contrast this with America’s presidentialism. Semi-presidentialism includes a president and a prime minister (defined as an auxiliary to the president who has limited powers). Manning compares the relationship of Mozambique’s president and prime minister to that of the relationship of America’s president and vice president. IDEA’s chapter, Electoral Systems, Institutional Frameworks and Governance, describes similarities between the two systems. Both presidential and semi-presidential constitutions elect presidents directly. Additionally, within both systems, the elected president’s position does not depend on maintaining the confidence of the legislature; he cannot lose his office solely based on policy grounds. In both systems, the president is head of government and head of state as well.

Differences, however, do exist when comparing the electoral systems of the U.S. and Mozambique. IDEA states that America is unique in carrying out its national presidential election by FPTP at the federal state level (FPTP is analogous to a plurality voting system, a single-winner voting system, or winner-takes-all system; the candidate with the most votes wins the election regardless of whether or not he gains an absolute majority in the election). This system can lead to an election winner who polled fewer votes than the runner up, as was the case in America’s 2000 election. Mozambique, on the other hand, uses a Two-Round System. By doing so, it avoids election of a candidate who polled only a small proportion of the popular vote. If no one candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes in the first round of elections, a second poll is held. During this “run-off,” the two strongest candidates from the first election compete. The winner of the run-off is then elected. According to IDEA, presidential terms are limited to two consecutive five year terms in Mozambique. However, after another five years, a candidate can run for re-election.

Although it is not protected under law, elections in the U.S. generally constitute a two-party system. Historically, this has also been the case in Mozambique (Frelimo v. Renamo), but its 2009 election shows an emergence of a third party – the Democratic Movement of Mozambique. The effects and significance of this third party are not yet clear.

Manning categorizes Mozambique’s system as a “highly presidentialized semi-presidential regime.” Since the president in Mozambique elects the prime minister himself, the position has usually been filled by someone who has a similar background and profile of the president and who benefits from his highest confidence. In other nations, this category of semi-presidentialism generally performs badly. What is most appealing about Mozambique’s system, however, is the fact that it hasn’t. Manning describes Mozambique’s experience as a unique, “surprise success story.” Since using the system, citizens have not returned to armed conflict, there has only been one episode of political violence, and three sets of effective and successful elections have taken place.

However, certain aspects of Mozambique’s system have proven less appealing. Although she agrees Mozambique is a unique, overall success story, Pitcher described some of the country’s challenges related to its elections during her class lecture. There has been no change of the party in power since 1975, party identities are polarized and fixed, voter turnout is declining, voters lack necessary information, and there is strong partisan loyalty.

Clearly, there are numerous similarities and differences between America’s and Mozambique’s political systems. After having studied the formal architectural structures of both, the next step is to hear opinions from Mozambicans themselves. Do they hold a similar ambiguity in emotions, both skepticism and optimism, regarding their system comparable to that of Americans? I hope our class discovers how Mozambique’s electoral system has encouraged different party systems, organizations, and citizens.

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