Balance of Power: a cure for the woes of absolute power

“No, do you see what’s happening in the United States where they have a system where paralysis is able to be engineered because the way that republican module works; you can have one chamber controlled by the party that doesn’t form the administration, one chamber Democrat, one chamber Republican.
“You see the difficulties they have been having with debt ceilings and shutdowns. No, the thirteenth senator will then mean that the senate will be controlled by the opposition and non-government senators and they will have the power to paralyse the government.
“I am very sorry, I am the one who pushed it into a U.D.P. manifesto, and this government pushed it forward in terms of constitutional reform. But then I quickly realized it is a wonderful ideal but in practice it will make no sense…so I am telling you I cannot at this juncture, I cannot support the notion of any thirteenth senator.” (Prime Minister Dean Barrow, November 27, 2013).
Lately, we have seen an upsurge in the number of political scandals or questionable administrative decisions being aired out in the media. There’s also been a corresponding outcry from activist groups and/or unions who vocalize their contempt at these actions, either via press releases, press conferences, or by taking to the streets.
Let’s look, for example, at the recent stance taken by citizen Russel Roberts against the “Gun Law”. Following the arbitrary release of a well-connected individual in whose yard the police found an unlicensed firearm, Roberts, now joined by Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) and Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA), has entered the public sphere to decry the inequitable application of said law.
Robert’s denunciation of the law comes not only because of its draconian nature; it also comes because, while the average, young black male and their entire families in some instances could be imprisoned for a period of time if an unlicensed gun or ammunition is found in their house or yard, this man–Reynaldo Verde–was released because the police arbitrarily decided that the gun, found in his home, wasn’t his; it must had been planted in his yard.
Roberts, COLA and BGYEA have called for the authorities to be fair and treat Verde as they would have treated any grassroots man or woman who doesn’t have the political connections or financial capital to escape the heavy hand of a law that most describes as being too harsh.
Failing that, the activists have called for reform: either the government revise the law, or they remove it completely and start over.
Right to a degree
It’s a good fight. However, one must think that this is a case-in-point scenario for why some form of balance of power is necessary.
The way our political system is designed, the party in power is able to pass sometimes unpopular and dangerous laws through the House.
As PUP leader Francis Fonseca said recently, his party had opposed that law.
Fonseca, in an interview with the media, said:
“Well anyone who looks at the record will know that at the time they introduced that gun law, the People’s United Party, in the national assembly, opposed that particular section of the law, and in fact, made some very strong statements. We made recommendations for improving that law.”
The unfortunate reality is this: even with such opposition from the party out of government, such laws can be and have been passed, because of the ills of absolute power that our style of governance seems to prefer.
Going back to the Prime Minister’s statements from last November, he is right. There are certain risks to be considered. The United States’ system is a good example of the potential chaos that could be experienced.
For instance, the divide between the Democrat-led executive and the Republican-controlled Congress turned the USA’s recent budget process into a full-blown, 16-day government shutdown.
Risks to our way
But, at the same time, Belizeans should look at the risks that exist in our form of government as well.
Is it wise to have a legislature that could pass questionable laws like the gun law, without any way to force a compromise?
The way the government is structured now, under this winner-takes-all system, it is only beneficial for those in power at the time, but how beneficial is it for the people of Belize?
Shouldn’t governance be about what is in the best interest of the people, all the people? And we should ask ourselves, is this system of governance really ensuring such a thing? Have Belizean citizens across the board benefited from how we are governed today?
Barrow says the 13th Senator would cripple the government; it’s hard to believe that the business community or the unions would be that unreasonable that the government of the day would be unable to convince a few of them to see things their way–if, of course, there are true merits to what is being proposed.
The 13th Senator–or some other change (including an elected Senate or the instituting of some form of proportional representation)–would have provided a better safeguard against the passing of laws such as this controversial “gun law” that sees mothers and fathers dragged before the courts for a single bullet that they may or may not have had any knowledge of.
Consider this. Belize has approximately 180,000 registered voters. Roughly 65,000 (about 36%) of those voters voted for the United Democratic Party in the last general election.
If the ruling party, be it PUP or UDP, are given absolute power in both the Lower and Upper House, and they only truly represent less than 40% of the electorate, then we have to question is this truly representative democracy.
In the end, the gun law issue underscores an even larger issue. There needs be some form of balance of power in our legislature, because its the lack thereof that has given license to this gun law.
What we may lose in terms of speed of passing Bills through the House, we gain in a reduction in the possibility of other laws like the “Gun Law” being passed without the proper levels of scrutiny and compromise to ensure the benefit of all Belizeans.
Nobody wants a dysfunctional government, but everybody needs truly representative one.

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