New Zealand Republic

New Zealand Republic

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Democracy vs. Republic -what's the difference?

New Zealand is currently a constitutional monarchy, but in reality we function as a democracy. What's the difference between a democracy and a republic? Why is it important not to confuse the two?

A democracy is rule by the majority. If more than 50% of the people can be persuaded to want something in a democracy, then they hold the power over society. This means that the majority can theoretically enact whatever they want, without regard for justice, morality, the rights of minorities or the rule of law. Every majority can become misguided, so it stands to reason that their power shouldn't be unlimited. "Majority rule only works if you're also considering individual rights. Because you can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper." ~Larry Flynt

In the New Zealand context, the rule by the majority is expressed through our Parliament of elected representatives. Because our country only has an unwritten constitution (one that is fragmented, decentralized, highly flexible and changed relatively easily), Parliament is sovereign over everything. Under Parliamentary supremacy, our Bill of Rights and the way our government functions can be changed by a simple majority vote. This gives broad, sweeping powers to Parliament which are open to abuse. Without adequate restraints or safeguards, this has the potential to become what is known as the tyranny of the majority. The majority use their power to infringe on the rights of others or institute controlling and oppressive measures, because there is nothing higher than them which says they cannot do so.

A republic, on the other hand, is rule by Law. The ultimate authority in a republic is not the ever-wavering majority that tosses and turns like the tide, but rather a higher Law (a written constitution). A true republic is ruled by a higher Law that limits the government, and leaves the people to themselves. The majority does not take all in a republic because the constitution restrains the majority. The constitution protects the God-given, inalienable rights of all, including the minority and the individual.

A republic isn't perfect, but it is the best form of government by far. The emphasis of a republic is different compared to a democracy (although in modern times, both usually have elected representatives). The emphasis of a Republic is a higher law --something more fundamental and concrete than what the majority wants at this particular point in time. It encourages more reasonable decisions, long term thinking, and well thought out changes, not rushed and rash rulings. "Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy." ~Alexander Hamilton. The essence of freedom is the proper limitation of government.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Head of the Government and Head of State

  In countries that use a Parliamentary system, such as New Zealand, the senior position of the Executive branch of government is split into two separate roles:

1. Head of the Government. This is the one who actively runs the country on a day to day basis. He or she will command a majority in Parliament (or have a working coalition with other parties), as a government cannot be formed or properly function without one. The term of office is usually a modest period, to more accurately reflect changing views among the populace. The office is intended to reflect the will of the people through a particular leader of a political party. 

2. Head of State. This is the one who is considered to represent the nation as a whole, while still having important duties to discharge (such as diplomatic conferences). It is a less powerful and more ceremonial position, which generally has less partisan stigma attached to it. If there is a vote of no confidence in the administration, the Head of State can often dissolve the government and call new elections. The term of office is usually a longer period, to aid in overseeing the stability of the nation. The office is intended to unify the people and facilitate peaceful succession from one government to the next.

   In New Zealand, our Head of Government is the Prime Minister, and our Head of State is the Monarch of the United Kingdom (currently Queen Elizabeth II). Since the Queen can hardly ever actually be in New Zealand, a representative of the monarchy is chosen in the person of the Governor General. The Governor General however is not an adequate substitute for a New Zealand Head of State. The Governor General has little real power, having an almost purely ceremonial role. The Governor General is essentially appointed by the Prime Minister, and can also be dismissed by the PM, thus eliminating any possibility of the Governor General holding the Prime Minister accountable for his actions. There is very little that restrains the Prime Minister, aside from elections and the rare occasion of a usually toothless judicial review.

  We need a republic to elect our own independent kiwi Head of State that can adequately represent New Zealanders while providing a real check on the Prime Minister's power.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


  What is a constitution? A constitution is the fundamental legal foundation upon which a nation's government is built upon. It is a comprehensive guideline and blueprint for how the country and its legal system is to be organized and operated. It differs from a law, in that a law can be changed relatively easily by Parliament. A constitution on the other hand, can usually only be changed through a more difficult, slower process (such as a Parliament super majority or a nation-wide referendum). 

  A constitution almost always includes a bill of rights, which outlines the key rights all citizens possess, which a government must not interfere with. It is a way of restraining the ability of the government to oppress and excessively regulate its own people. These rights are not subject to changing laws and consensus, and so thus are a safeguard against the abuse of government power. It brings stability and order to the nation and  provides protection of the freedoms and liberties of all people, to prevent the tyranny of the majority over the rights of the minority and individual.

  New Zealand is only one of four countries that doesn't have a written constitution (the other three being the United Kingdom, Israel, and Saudi Arabia). Our unwritten "constitution" is taken from a variety of different sources, including Acts of Parliament, Judicial rulings, convention, and arguably the Treaty of Waitangi. However, this incomprehensive "constitution" is far too flexible and ill-defined to be useful. It doesn't adequately fulfill the two primary functions of a real constitution of providing a clear outline of the powers and responsibilities of the government and protecting the rights of citizens. Some of our laws are entrenched (meaning, like with a constitution, something more than a simple Parliamentary majority is needed to change it), such as certain sections of the Electoral Act of 1993. But even with the Electoral Act, the entrenched sections are not entrenched themselves. In addition, our Bill of Rights Act of 1990, arguably one of our most important pieces of legislation, could be abolished through a simple Parliamentary majority!

New Zealand should become a republic in order to become independent and to draw up a constitution to prevent government abuses and safeguard our rights and freedoms.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Checks and balances on power

Absolute power is incredibly negative and dangerous as its unrestrained nature often spells disaster for accountable, responsible, mature and peaceful government. History has shown us too many times that absolute power oppresses and destroys. Unrestrained power trumps all, including justice, morality, human rights, decency, wisdom and individual freedom. Such unbridled power only produces blind and barbaric dictatorship. The power of the government must be restrained (through division of responsibility, a constitution, democratic elections, etc.) to make these atrocities and outrages a lot less likely to come to pass. Checks and balances are needed to help accomplish this aim. A check is a precaution to make sure no one branch or section of government becomes too powerful, and a balance is a way of making power more evenly distributed among branches of government in order to counter them against each other. Two major kinds of "checks and balances" are:

1. Separation of the three powers
   The three powers, or branches of government, are the executive (enforces the law), the legislative (makes the law), and the judiciary (interprets the law).The theory is that by keeping these powers separate, it restrains government and prevents or checks any one branch from gaining a significant advantage. Some branches are more powerful than others, so balances are put in place to even out the inconsistencies.To keep the three powers separate there must be separate elections of the executive and legislative branches. The United States is a prime example of this system.The downside in the United States is that while it is an effective way to limit the power of the government branches, it can often paralyze the whole system. For example, because the Legislature (Congress) and the Executive (President) are elected separately, it is possible to have a Republican Party controlled Congress and a President from the Democratic Party (as it is under President Obama's administration currently). The U.S. President signs bills to make them laws, so even when a majority in Congress want a law passed, the President can choose not to sign it into law. Alternatively, the majority in Congress can prevent the President from enacting any of his promised legislation. Things can get very complicated and confusing, not to mention inefficient.

  In New Zealand, we don't have a strict enforcement of the separation of powers because we use the Parliamentary system. Whichever political party gets the most votes automatically gains control of both the executive offices and the legislature (either by having a party majority or a coalition agreement). The Head of the Government and the Cabinet Ministers are members of Parliament, and they are the primary initiators of legislation.
2. Separation of Head of State, and Head of the Government
  This theory is all about dividing power between two different senior executive positions. Some powers are given to one office and some are given to the other. They each have different responsibilities and varying duties. This system enables executive power to be held accountable without eliminating decisiveness and frustrating the government system. A country that has this separation usually operates under the Parliamentary system, which means that the executive is also responsible to the legislature. Without confidence and supply (a vote which grants the government its funding), or an affirmative vote of confidence (a vote which shows that there is still a majority support for the government in Parliament), a government cannot rule. Hence, the unity of Head of State and Head of the Government into one office and the absence of accountability to the legislature presents the opportunity for abuses by excessive executive power if not checked adequately by other means. This was what happened when Adolf Hitler combined the offices of President (Head of State) and Chancellor (Head of the Government) in 1934 Weimar Germany.

  In New Zealand, our Head of State and Head of the Government are separate, and our Prime Minister is responsible to Parliament. However, due to the purely ceremonial nature of our Monarch and her representative in New Zealand the Governor General, and the powers of the Prime Minister, our Head of the Government is not checked and held to account as much as he could or should be. We have a good system, but there is plenty of room for improvement. We need to abolish the British Monarch and institute a New Zealander as our Head of State while simultaneously better defining the role and giving suitable reserve powers so that he or she can fulfill their obligations and responsibilities properly.

 New Zealand should become a republic to institute a proper check on the Prime Minister through an adequate Head of State and the limitation of power.

Different kinds of republics

The definition of a republic is:
A country which is ruled by supreme law (i.e. a constitution)
The word "republic" comes from two Latin words:
"Res" (meaning: thing) and "Publica" (meaning public)
So republic means "the public thing". What is the public thing? -the Law (which means a republic is rule by law)

I have complied a list of 5 things I personally think a country must have to be a true republic:

1. A written constitution that protects the rights and freedoms of its citizens
2. Freedom of Religion, Press, Assembly, Speech, Association, etc.
3. Elected Representative law making body (or bodies)
4. Elected Head of the Government
5. Elected Head of State

There are 3 kinds of republics:

1. Full Presidential (example: U.S.A.)
2. Semi-Presidential (example: France)
3. Parliamentary (example: Germany, India)

-In a Full Presidential system, the President is the Head of Government, and the Head of State. This system has separation of the three powers as a major factor in the structure of the country. The President appoints the cabinet, but it cannot be dismissed by a vote of no confidence.

-In a Semi-Presidential system you have a Prime Minister (or Chancellor) and a President. One of them is Head of the Government, and the other is the Head of State. Executive power is shared between those two offices. They both are active participants in the day to day running of the country.  The President appoints the cabinet, but is can be dismissed by the legislature by a vote of no confidence.

-In a Parliamentary system there is no clear separation between the legislative and the executive branches (i.e. the Head of Government is elected through the legislature, like it is in New Zealand currently). But it has a separate Head of State (who has some power although sometimes can be ceremonial), and Prime Minister (who holds the real power).

New Zealand should become a Parliamentary Republic, since it is the type that resembles our current system, the one New Zealanders would be the most comfortable with, and because it is the best suitable option for our needs, values, and culture.

Why should New Zealand become a republic?

A few clear reasons why New Zealand should become a republic when it is ready:

1. We would gain a written constitution. In a republic our rights would be protected, whereas in a democracy (such as we are technically) the majority has unrestrained power over society that could lead to oppression. However, it's not about restraining the majority for the sake of it, but rather about restraining the majority so that rights are not violated, and so that everyone's views are heard.

2. We would be able to elect a New Zealander as our Head of State. Do you want your country's Head of State to be an English monarch over 10,000 miles away, who isn't a New Zealander, and couldn't be more removed from us? Or do you want an elected New Zealander as our Head of State that knows and cares about our problems and interests? In order for New Zealand to become truly grown-up, there must be a change where New Zealand is fully run by New Zealanders. It is our democratic right to elect our own Head of State!

3. We will have a real check on the Prime Minister's power. Currently, the Governor General is appointed by the Prime Minister, which means he appoints the only person who can legally dismiss his government. This is not an effective check on the PM's power because he will naturally pick someone to be Governor General who is sympathetic to his party. The Governor General can be dismissed by the Prime Minister at will currently, but an elected New Zealander as our Head of State will provide an effective safeguard to protect our system, and hold the Prime Minister accountable. We will especially need an effective check on the Prime Minister in a time of crisis.

4. We will attain full independence and nationhood. Many people from different countries are confused about our system and our form of government. Too many mix us up with Great Britain, Australia, or other Commonwealth countries. They don't understand our system. By breaking off all political ties to Britain and changing our flag, we will send a message to those countries that they will never forget. We are not part of Australia! We are not a colony of Great Britain! We are not a satellite nation or a protectorate; we are our own people! We are our own country; independent, free, and mighty. New Zealand has a great history of freedom, democratic tradition, tolerance, and diversity. Let us take our rightful place as one people, and as one nation. Let us prove once and for all to ourselves and to the rest of the world that our destiny rests firmly in our own hands. Now is our time!

My links

NZ Republic Movement website:

NZ Republic Movement YouTube:

New Zealand Herald Articles: