New Zealand Republic

New Zealand Republic

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.

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