In Parliamentary Democracies, A Change Of Prime Minister Should Automatically Trigger A General Election.
Last updated: April 5, 2019
WODC Round 1
Estonia vs Australia
Framework of the debate
In the interest of the debate we define prime minister as the leader of the government or the Cabinet. Obviously there are other titles for that person(for example “chancellor”), but that does not make a difference in principle. We set this debate to all Western liberal democracies. We believe that the change of prime minister is most likely to occur either internally (within a party) or externally (other parties are also involved).
We also disagree that a change of Prime Minister could happen externally. By nature, a mid-term change of Prime Minister could only happen in such a way that his or her successor is a member of the same party - either their deputy takes over or an internal vote is taken that decides who the next leader will be. Additionally, such changes are not brought about arbitrarily, rather, they occur for the benefit of the party or nation. Outside influences would never force the change.
We also reject that the general result of the vote would have changed if electors knew about it beforehand because the key idea here is that they would not have known and that public perception changes significantly overtime. We can see this in many examples - take the approval ratings of Kevin Rudd, for example. In March 2007, his satisfaction rating was 67%, but by the time he had announced his mining tax, there was a sharp decrease in his ratings [[http://au.acnielsen.com/news/200512.shtml]],[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_federal_election,_2010]] Similarly, after 9/11 Bush was at 90% but by late 2008 he was at 25%.[[http://www.gallup.com/poll/116500/Presidential-Approval-Ratings-George-Bush.aspx]] Politics is hardly a static business.
Party leaders and front-runners are far more than candidates
Also, it is concerning to suggest that because the leader is more popular than their party, the political landscape has changed so significantly that it is actually reasonable that the people should hold new elections. Generally, the party's policy is as good as whatever leader they choose. Popularity should not be an issue. Consider the case of the 2007 change of leadership in the UK. Approval ratings did not show a hugely significant change overall in the years before and after this change[[http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/]] Furthermore, given the nature of politics and humanity in general, that negative portrayal of the government, whether through the media or through politicians themselves, is likely to cause an unnecessarily emotive response in a general election. We would risk political campaigns diving to all new lows as parties try to compete based on popularity alone, and a lack of long-term policies being developed for fear of a huge financial losses of taxpayers' money when the next government comes along and revoked programs mid-way through implementation. A good democracy recognises that, as do Team Australia, a good leader is not necessarily a popular leader; popular leader is not a substitute for good policy, and therefore no election should ever be triggered on the basis that the new Prime Minister isn't popular enough.
Implementation and focus of ideas depends on the personality of the Prime Minister rather than the party
A Prime Minister's personality hardly determines the direction of parliament. Substantive policies determined by the parliament themselves are what determines their direction. Team Estonia attempts to create a false reality where a PM singlehandedly implements the entire agenda of an administration- which is simply hyperbolic and unfounded. It is fine to simply throw out the name Tony Blair, yet they have failed to actually show how he as an individual was able to steer the entire nation onto a political course based solely on his personality. They fail to prove their own false assertions.
The personality of a PM is hardly genuine, thanks to the buffering and polishing of public relation groups, speech writers and personal advisors. The PM has been designed to represent the party, embodying their ideals and values. The entire reason that they have been elected as PM is because of the malleability of their own thoughts and ideas. To claim that they have an agenda they bring with them to government is simply wrong, as they have to please the people in parliament who elevated them to power. Their personality was tailor made to sell the party's agenda to the electorate. Even if we were to take into account the impact of personality on the direction of government, we can see how it has been fabricated so it reflects the party and its beliefs.
Whilst we agree that the framework will change, we believe that the change is only trivial, because of the reasons we have already stated. This framework pales when we look at the other issues that a government must deal with, such as finance, the welfare system, and foreign relations. It is for this reason that while electors may be dissatisfied, the electors know it is not beneficial for the nation to have an impromptu election every time a change is made.
Legitimacy of the government
Secondly, even if it was probable that the the next prime minister represented similar views, the ideal of democracy does not allow this to be presumed-- there is a value in both the result of the elections and the mere fact that the result came through elections. This means that people need to feel that they are behind the state and legitimise all the actions the government takes. Legitimacy is important for both moral and practical reasons-- not only is it part of people’s right to agency, in practice the new prime minister who was not elected, might feel restrained (especially if the predecessor was highly unpopular) and not make the most effective decisions.
We believe that a shift in party leader is not a good enough reason to terminate all party promises, uproot all current schemes and plans and put everything on hold. The party was elected to act in the best interests of the people and has been elected to fulfill certain promises within a set period of time. If we remove the ability for parties to successfully complete their promises by constantly rushing to election what are we achieving? There may be some accounts where going to an election, would be appropriate, but it is clear that it is not a good enough reason to automatically trigger an election every time there is a change, irrespective of the reason behind the change.
Which ideal of democracy are you talking about here? Is that the ideal that the people make a choice and that the government must follow through with the expectations of that choice... which in a Parliamentary Democracy is that the party will stand and fulfil their promises within a set period of time. If we allow governments the power to simply reshuffle their cabinets and force an automatic election we will surely be going against the real ideal of democracy by removing the power of the people’s choice and overriding it simply by changing the figure head of the party.
Opposition claims that we will have elections over elections and any long term element of the governments will disappear. That claim is simply ridiculous since prime ministers do not resign that easily, so we are speaking about rare situations. Secondly, the system is not likely to be abused—if one deliberately and constantly manipulates with elections, voters are likely to dislike and not vote for one (or other parties are likely not to co-operate with one’s party).
Also, opposition seems not to understand the context of the debate. Not only are we not speaking about everyday changes, but also the idea of “set time” is relative. We have elections in the first place over a period of time to represent the views of the citizens, to allow long-term policies to be implemented and not to bore electors with politics too much (which in most cases is the reality) However, often the status quo strives to the opposite—it allows people to be ruled by leaders (and their policies) they have not voted for and it also might incentivise shifts in politics (because the other leader has other priorities, because other wing of the party is in power etc) without democratic permission.
We would like to point out that there already are limits in the set time period—if the prime minister is impeached, usually general elections are held and this affirms our principles.
It would be chaotic to have a general election EVERY time that there is a change of Prime Minister, which is a commonplace event in nations that only threatens to increase if the proposition had its way. In Japan since 2001 Ryutaro Hashimoto, Keizo Obuchi, Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Tara Aso, Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan have been Prime Minister. That is a change of seven times over a period of nine years. How can the proposition honestly believe that it would be practical to have a nation wide general election every time there is a new PM, where a nation like Japan would have its government reshuffling every 14 months?
And even if we were only to take into account the "western nations" Estonia focuses on, we can see how easy it is to depose a PM. In Australia, Kevin Rudd was overthrown as PM over the course of 12 hours, with no previous warning. There was not even a caucus meeting of the Labor Party to vote on whether or not he should resign, due to internal political pressures at forced his resignation. Team Estonia must cease to argue that reshufflng is uncommon and hard to do, due to the instability and political infighting which all nations suffer from. It must take into account the devious political environment governments exist in.
Obviously the debate is limited only to parliamentary democracies as it is stated in the motion. However, we would like to limit the motion only to the parliamentary democracies that also are Western liberal democracies (and not for example developing countries with several problems regarding elections).
Thirdly, it is definitely possible for prime minister to step down for external reasons. While in a majoritarian electoral system the next prime minister is likely to be from the same party, proportional electoral systems tend to favour a multi-party result. Therefore several parties make up a coalition-government and if that coalition falls and disassembles, it is likely that the prime minister’s party also changes (as in many Continental European governments, for example Germany, Spain and the Netherlands)
Team Estonia seems to hold the belief that Western liberal democracies are the only nations worth debating about in this discussion. Their argument seems to show that developing countries should not be debated about due to their “several problems regarding elections”. Regarding Estonia’s point that there are “several problems regarding elections”, we would like to say that this is points to what we are saying. If a government were to be too unstable and have issues regarding an election, a change is exactly what is needed, here, we are proposing an easier solution to change due to the fact that instable governments cannot afford to go to election. We would also like to point out and correct Estonia that we will not just change the motion due to the fact they wish to “limit” the motion without proper reasoning and/or evidence as to why developing nations should not be involved. It is also an imperative now that we do debate for the sake of developing nations seeing as Estonia have agreed that the debate is scoped to all parliamentary democracies.
We agree that in a multi-party coalition, there could indeed be external influences and the party changes. However we would like to point out that such coalitions are merely another example of potential sources of undue influence on the leadership - where a party could easily pressure a change of Prime Minister, potentially so that its own candidate would take their place!
The Estonian Summary
No one would dare to claim that a party should have the right to appoint a new member to represent a certain constituency without elections in that constituency. There are numerous reasons for that. First of all people have not elected the new candidate. The new MP has a different personality. Some people vote for personality and there is a big chance that they might not like the traits of the new MP. The group of people that vote for ideas would also be disappointed, because even candidates from the same party do not have identical minds, hence their understanding and focus of ideas might be different. This is especially true if the new candidate would be from a different wing of the party. Therefore a new appointed candidate would simply alienate voters. Also it would not be a legitimate act, because citizens have not legitimized the appointment by voting.
There is a big question in this debate to which Team Australia has never properly answered. Why is executive power that much different from the legislative power? Team Estonia has claimed throughout the debate that there is no such big difference. De facto people always elect the leader of a party, because the executive power always influences the legislative power. Obviously a share of the vote is for the MP they elect, but another share belongs to the leader of the party and Australia actually concurs to that.
On these grounds Team Estonia is tremendously proud to stand in the proposition!
The issue can be solved another way
We concede that there are times when the party and the PM are in the wrong, and we agree that if the party choices have been heavily manipulated by a specific PM then maybe there would be grounds to call a general election. This decision would be based on the best interests of the nation concerned and not on the whims of the public perception of what they think is happening, enforced whilst they are still reacting.
We propose that in most cases, such as the one mentioned by the proposition - death of a PM - or in the case of change dictated by the best interests of the nation, there would be no benefit to the wider community of calling an immediate re-election and stopping progress on all current governmental schemes and policies simply because a change has been made within the party heirachy.
We believe that instead of creating chaos in government, and instead of risking the progress and success of the current government's vital plans and programs, that there should, in the case of a change of PM, be a special election or referendum for the nation to decide on the candidate who will replace the existing PM. This model would allow the integrity of democracy to not be compromised and for a fair and valid judgment to be made.
We firstly do not think that prime ministers would resign very suddenly. Even if some drastic events would occur, that is usually not a reason for resigning—not until they are sure they are to blame etc. Also, the stability is not at stake, because there are other mechanisms to ensure constancy – e. g. civil service and the law system.
Secondly the problem in their system lies in the agent, who decides when elections occur. If they concede that there are “bad PM’s” and if these prime ministers have any power over their party (as they obviously do, because they are the leaders), then giving them the power to decide makes the system particularly defective. Why would a failed PM or party ever want to have elections? That result the grave consequences in terms of legitimacy and the implementation of public policies.
If a PM truly is a skilful and popular politician, who resigns for a sensible reason and has a sound candidate to fill the vacancy, the candidate is likely to be re-elected. Therefore even under the best case scenario parties and prime ministers will not suffer under Team Estonia’s model. However, there are three significant harms concerning the status quo — legitimacy of the system, alienation of the voters and effectiveness of the government – as we have proven in our substantive.
The Opposition proposed an alternative—only electing a prime minister. By stating that they are contradicting themselves by conceding that PM is important, which they previously tried to rebut. Secondly, we the model would not solve the legitimacy issue—if the party gets to power because of the prime minister, they should also be able to lose power because of that. . Secondly, this could create practical problems - PM from one party and parliament from the other
It would create instability and logistical problems
The proposition seems to want to scope this debate to “western liberal democracies”, and forget that of the roughly 30 parliamentary democracies in the world, over half are developing nations with extreme poverty and inner political turmoil, such as Haiti, who had its Prime Minister Réné Préval in 1991 exiled after a military coup d’état. When nations in these types of situations suddenly have an instant general election after the death of absence of the Prime Minister, is it not obvious how easy the political system could be manipulated through assassinations and force? The thought is frightening when the death of a political leader becomes an incentive for certain groups to attain power. A valid, legitimate government could be completely wiped out by the death of a single individual. This is not democracy. This is anarchy.
Although on a lesser scale, this effect could continue to be seen in the minority of affluent parliamentary democracies. The removal of a PM from office triggering a general election could still be manipulated by a biased media. What if the New Zealand parliament that passed the Carbon Tax, which is being installed in increments in their nation were to suddenly be brought to election if John Key, their PM were to die or leave office? A general election would suddenly take place where the electorate places their faith in the success of the Tax by the speculations of the media, which would not necessarily represent reality. This gives the media incredible power, which has the ability to use their own personal, subjective opinions to shape the electorate- thus shaping the parliament and its future policy course.
Regardless of the stability or affluence of the nation, a general election in the event of a PM leaving would subvert the entire democratic process
Regarding the death of the prime minister—this is not a part of our new policy, but is the status quo (at least in many Continental European systems, e.g. the Scandinavian countries) that demonstrates how changes in the person of prime minister triggers elections. We are truly happy that the Opposition would like to consider the death of the prime minister as a variation of our case, because that is working perfectly and without the harms presented by team Australia in numerous countries.
Also the example of New Zealand falls for the aforementioned reasons. Even if it would not be defeated, it is still not an argument against our system. The Opposition has not proven how biased media is in any way more present in case of extraordinary elections then ordinary elections (and hence an argument against our proposal). If the media truly is extremely biased, it can manipulate democracy anyhow and is equally regretful in all systems and we should tackle the problem of media instead of our policy.
Secondly, the Opposition has a peculiar understanding of extraordinary elections. It is not as if elections are organised at the same day and public outcry prevails. There still is a reasonable amount of time for parties to campaign. Also, it is good for political discourse, because if prime minister really failed at some issues, these issues are not likely to be forgotten and people would be more active in discussing them. This not only increases the quality of political engagement, but also deals with the issues that caused the resignation. Therefore these important issues could not be marginalised for the next electi
It would not be consistent with a fair, reasonable and responsible democratic ideal
Now, we agree that the PM is just a figure-head for party policy. People indeed will make their choices based on how they see the leader. But if a government suddenly decides they want more seats - what’s to stop them from replacing their leader with a shinier model, forcing a new election and overriding the democratic vote of constituents who expected their representative to remain in office for a full term.
Another reason why a general election is unnecessary is because of the concept of Responsible Government. In parliamentary systems such as Australia and Canada, the Cabinet, including the PM, is accountable to the rest of the Parliament.[[www.australianpolitics.com]] So while elections may be used to reign in the government, the role of the Parliament in between elections is to provide this role without the detriments the proposition's system would bring.
Lastly, it is obvious that a democracy where rough party politics trigger a haphazard and impulsive election is not sensible. A sensible government is one that has the potential to be open and honest. It has to be given time to fulfil promises, and it creates a rational and informed dialogue with its voters. The state of democracy is sometimes questioned, but the proposition's motion would just move us backwards.
Naturally there is a party structure behind the prime minister in SQ and after the implementation of our policy. But parties often are not fully democratic. Often leaders of parties have significant power to affect what is going on in the party (the top down model). They also might represent a certain wing of the party (especially if we have systems with only two big parties, which express many different views) and if they resign, the other wing becomes more popular (policies might change). Moreover parties often need leadership to be popular. By exploiting the candidate’s characteristics they also change the course of their policies. Voters tend not to think about policies, but leaders and human beings. Parties take advantage of that fact by changing their policies according to their leader—they advocate for issues that are important to that candidate, like John McCain and war veterans or foreign policy issues. To sum up-there are different discourses in politics and one of the most important is the discourse of leaders and directions these people point at through their competence. Since electors follow the discourse, the parties have followed and hence the personal traits of the prime minister do matter.
In a democracy citizens have the power to decide and generally the democratic system should be directed at respecting the will of the people. If you elect a leader you will take into account the policies he has advocated or the likeliness of him actually implementing those policies, so the risk is reasonable. However, when electing a leader you do not take into account the fact that he/she might get out of office and be replaced. You cannot also legitimise this action; the new government is illegitimate in the moral sen
The concept overestimates the role of the Prime Minister
The media is utilised by the party to sell their policies, and those running for PM create a façade which is used to sway the voter’s opinion and convince them that their party has the best policies. The Prime Minister-ship of Tony Blair and his relationship with Gordon Brown is one such example of this, after the death of Labor Minister, John Smith, Blair and Brown made a pact to allow Tony Blair to run for leadership. During the 2010 election, years after Blair’s term had finished, Blair publicly endorsed Brown’s leadership and aided in his campaign.
When we look at the issue of instability, we can see that a change in Prime Minister does not in fact disturb the running of the government in charge however, instability will arise by triggering an automatic general election which may bring upon sudden and uncertain changes creating further economic instability in countries which may or may not be able to afford to risk instability. The automatic triggering of a general election is an unnecessary upheaval and use of resources as it provides no real benefit to the best interest of the nation’s people.
The opposition claimed that „in a parliamentary democracy one is essentially voting for the party, not the personality“. We believe that the fact that parties have been the leading actors in democracies is not an argument for having them as a structure in the first place (e.g. there are several political scientists predicting the death or decline of party structure). Also the idea of democracy is not that idealistic. In reality voters can elect on whichever issues they like—the virtue of democracy. If people are allowed to elect politicians based on their charisma, beauty or any characteristic of the politicians (and not of the party), people also should be allowed to only choose the leader and as Australia concurs, vast majority of people do that
Lastly, the Opposition made a ridiculous claim that leader ought not to be popular. If this is true, there is no point in having a democracy in the first place, because the tendency to strive for popular policies is present in all democratic systems. To balance this, we have a professional civil service system in place and laws that are there regardless of party change, hence this argument falls.
By this logic, it was claimed that this would lead to especially bad campaigning. We disagree—it is likely to hurt the government even more if they continue running policies under the perception that people are not supporting them. E.g. the new leader then is seen as a continuation of the same bad administration and faces turmoil in next elections as well (as Gordon Br
Social and Political Impacts of the Motion
Let’s consider for a moment the power of lobby groups. Worldwide pressure groups are notoriously responsible for concerning amounts of influence over legislators. In many nations, for instance Canada[[http://www.polarisinstitute.org/big_oil039s_relentless_lobby]], members of corporate lobby groups actually work as government advisors! Now imagine that by putting pressure on the ruling party, groups might just convince them to drop their leader.
Too far-fetched? Because that’s exactly what essentially happened in June of this year in Australia. Prime Minister Rudd’s proposed Resource Super Profit Tax caused a huge stir in the mining industry. It would see their revenue cut by an extra 10%, and consequently, negative advertisements flooded Australian TV screens to denounce Kevin Rudd. His approval ratings dropped by up to 10 points[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_Australian_federal_election,_2010]][[http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/jittery-times-for-rudd-as-bitter-winter-sets-in-early-20100509-ulrr.html]]. However, the new leader too risks losing because of lobby groups.
DON'T give lobby groups the new power to force a general election!
Secondly, everyone understands that causing elections too often is not a very popular step to take. Therefore Team Estonia claims that politicians would simply be more careful with resigning and that is a beneficial thing. Before becoming a front-runner of a party, the candidate should understand that he (or she) is taking the responsibility for a set term and resigning is not a very good option. Also it would force politicians to act in more proper ways because they know that they have lost their escape root through simply resigning. Therefore we claim that it would simply make politicians more honest and devoted. For example politicians take impeachment very seriously, because they know that it will trigger general elections and the reasons on which they resigned are going to be under immense attention.
Third of all, if the parties would be confronted with harm to their popularity if they surrender to pressure from the lobby groups, there is a big chance that they would give up the surrendering part. A political system without powerful lobbies would certainly be a benefit rather than a harm.
An election is already extremely costly, we can see that in 2005, a general election held in the UK cost more than £80m GBP(140m AUD) to organize. It has also been recorded that before 2005, political parties in the UK had never spent below £250,000 on a political campaign. It is inevitable to consider that the public funding for candidates to achieve at least 4% of the first preference vote costs a party $2.10 per vote (2007 Australian election). Finally we saw in 2004 that the Australian election cost was estimated at approximately $75 million dollars. This spending is at the detriment of the nation’s financial situation and as such an increase in general elections would mean that this spending has the potential to almost double when the money should be spent in areas that the party was voted in for in the first place.
In the 2007 Australian election, 70,000 temporary staff was employed on short-term contracts. This shows the sheer manpower it takes to run an election. It is simply illogical and inefficient to use this manpower as well as money to run an election every time a party wants to shift leaders whom have the same policies (as a single party fundamentally would).
Again, it is the policy of a parliamentary democratic nation(s) to vote in parties for their policies which is imperative for all party members to have the same goals and notions within. Despite who the leader is, the effect overall on the party and the nation wouldn’t be drastic enough for the need of so much expenditure and manpower which should be used on the policies that were first preached.
A change in PM automatically triggering a general election questions the ideals of democracy; It is these sudden and irrational actions that lead to anarchy, not democracy. What would be an appropriate democratic decision is the original system and policies put in place by the elected party, preventing unnecessary economic and social instability allowing some illegitimate and implausible notion of democracy to arise. When a PM change is made within the same party, there is not a significant enough change in warrant action to this extent. Political elections are determined on policies, economical influences and social lifestyles impacted by the government. To suggest that one person holds all the power and is the reason that a particular party is in office is both ludicrous and offensive to all parliamentary democracies around the world.
Put simply, the potential for instability under Team Estonia’s model is too high. It would require Parliament to, firstly, be put on hold as the election campaign is held, and secondly, put all current members of parliament up for re-election. Additionally, there is very little incentive for any interested group to try force a leadership change, because the party remains the same until the end of the term and pressure serves no purpose. However, if this motion were implemented, interest groups would have a much larger gateway to impacting an election. It gives interest groups and the media too much power over politics, and undermines the interests of the general public, and thus the ideals of democracy.
Furthermore, general elections require much more than just a mere candidate’s speech, more than just campaigns through media. It is the money taxes used to provide manpower and the effective campaigns needed to generate these elections. Because of the high cost involved, it seems absurd to hold a general election everytime there is a change of PM as it only causes unnecessary financial strain on the nation. It is clear that in all parliamentary democracies, including those from western nations, an increase in general elections will risk detriment the nation’s finances, increasing the potential of the nation (regardless of being ‘western’ or not) acquiring national debt and damaging the nation’s financial situation.