In Defense of Democracy Time to Move to a 4-Branch Government Model

Democratic governance is instrumental in delivering economic, social, scientific, technological, and cultural progress. Through generations of political stability the defining hallmark of which is equality, rule of law, and accountability, democratic governance speeds up development even more. No other systems were or could be able to deliver this.

To ascertain the validity of the above claim, all one needs to do is examine the history of the political-economy of the modern western world, principally the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, France, and Canada. Throughout the centuries, the world did not see another political order that had been tried and proven to be sustainably fruitful. In other words, no true democracy means no all-round, trans-generational progress.

It is true that other governance styles (like the one used in China) have delivered and continue to deliver progress at great current and future human rights costs. However, only democracy has the inherent capability to smoothly adjust to and flow with changing global situations while registering sustainable development at predictable and traceable cost.

The perplexing question addressed here is ‘although most developing countries want to establish a democratic system and prosper like their western peers, why are they failing? Is there a solution?’

Representative democracy is mainly built on a three-branch model; the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. This model has worked and continues to work in most of the developed world and in a few developing countries. In spite of many efforts, the model has nevertheless failed to deliver the expected results in many developing countries.

Due to this failure, the world has witnessed millions of people (including journalists and activists) abused, jailed, tortured, and killed; the tyrannical leaders of such countries robbing billions in state funds while millions of their citizens live in extreme poverty; countless civil wars; in recent history, such countries becoming breeding grounds for religious extremists and terrorists; and so on.

Examples of flawed and failed democracies abound in all corners of the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit and Mo Ibrahim Foundation  mention Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Chile, Nicaragua, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Alabnia, Bosnia, North Korea, China, Afghanistan and others in their listing of authoritarian regimes.

The two root causes for the failure of the three-branch based governance model to deliver results in most countries are, first the executive branch has too much power. That tempts and makes it easy for the executive to manipulate institutions and systems to its advantage, including using the military to stay in power longer. Second, there is no equally powerful force within the three-branch system that can deter the executive branch from slowly controlling the legislative and the judiciary organs. Of course, the laws and regulations provide power to checks and balances on paper; but they don’t convert it into coercive power.

Observations, again and again, have shown that system-malfunctions happen slowly as once progressive political leaders register some good socio-economic progresses initially, but start strengthening their positions illegally by controlling the media, manipulating opposition political parties, faking elections, appointing people who support their position in judiciary places, and coming up with pretexts to stay in power longer, including the amendment of constitutions, among others.

The practical solution I suggest to this chronic problem is to include a fourth branch in the representative democracy’s structure. The fourth branch will take over some of the key jobs and powers that were in the hand of the executive body. Those are related to the establishment and control of democratic institutions and processes as well as some far-reaching decisions that should never be made alone by the executive body.

More specifically, some of the nature, jobs, and powers of the fourth branch must include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following.

Who they are

The members, from 50 to 60, must be very well respected by society and would be elected directly by citizens (like members of the legislative). They would be non-politicians coming from diverse areas such as academia, the private sector, religious organizations, retired military persons, sports and arts circles, to mention few. They will have to work full time for the cause of installing and sustaining democracy.

What they do

Their primary job is to facilitate the establishment and unhindered performance of democratic institutions and processes, monitor and report to citizens on the performances of the executive branch, vote on decisive socio-economic policies as well as national defense issues (that must not be left to the ideology or scope of one political party), within the framework of the laws of the land. On the other hand, the fourth branch won’t get into the jobs of the executive such as the management of national defence force, international relations, the economy, taxes, and internal law and order.

The power they need

The fourth branch must have its own army, say 5,000 to 10,000, accountable only to it to be able to use military force in the event the executive branch or any other body is not willing to abide by or implement the decisions of the fourth branch. Force will not be used unless those bodies attempt to illegally manipulate, control, or dismantle the democratic institutions and the democratic process. This is the only balancing power that can be used both as a psychological and a practical deterrent to authoritarian executives who hold power in most developing countries. Including a fourth branch in the structure without giving it this military back up will simply be one more burden, not a spring of solution, to the nation.

Many may ask “How is it possible to have two military forces under two potentially conflicting commanders, i.e. the head of the fourth branch and the head of the state? Is this not dangerous?” Without going to further details, the answer is it is possible and is not dangerous to have two sets of armies – one will defend democracy and the other will defend national sovereignty.

Others may ask “Why establish a fourth branch and why not transfer the intended power to the judiciary and/or the legislative?” The answer is both of them have powers and jobs already big enough; adding more power to either one will tilt the balance towards one end rather than establish a fair balance, which is what is needed. That is why the forth branch is necessary.

How long it stays in power 

Instilling, stabilizing and sustaining democracy involves undertaking free, fair and periodic elections. Countries need to make sure that the state of democracy is in an irreversible condition; and have a political culture in which stake holders have fairly predictable behaviors. These would obviously take more than a generation. That is why it is advisable to make the fourth branch a permanent institution.

Obviously the new four branched government will be much more complex than its predecessor. But as long as the jobs of each branch, the new laws, rules and regulations are defined, elaborated and clear, one can expect less fender bender.

The world has waited more than enough – labouring and hoping that a genuine democratic system will emerge in developing nations within the framework of the three branch government model. That has worked for a few developing countries where the leaders, especially those who hold power in the initial post-revolution period/s, were determined and willing to step down when the people chose others. That, unfortunately, did not happen in the greater majority of the developing world. That makes time to move to a four-branch government model.


6th Year . April 16  – May 15 2018 . No.60

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