Democracy: The branches of government

Filed under: Politics,Special Comments |

By Henry Kyambalesa

By and large, sovereign nations worldwide claim to be governed through three ‘independent’ organs or branches of government that is, the law-making or legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. This, in the words of Farese, Kimbrell and Woloszyk (2009:125), “provides a system of checks and balances that prevents any one branch of government from becoming too powerful.”

In general, the legislative branch of government in any given democratic country is composed of elected members, while the executive branch is headed by an elected executive president or prime minister.

The judicial branch, on the other hand, is typically headed by an individual who is nominated by the executive president or prime minister, and is ordinarily confirmed by members of the legislative branch. Besides, the individual serves as a member of the executive president’s or prime minister’s cabinet. As such, the judicial branch is clearly not an ‘independent’ organ of government.

In the United States, for example, the fallacious and questionable ‘independence’ of the head of the judicial branch of the Federal government was somewhat acknowledged in April 2019 by U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, and by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the following words:

“Mr. [William] Barr is acting as the defence counsel for the president of the United States … [when] he’s supposed to be our lawyer, the people’s lawyer.”—CBS News (2019). And

“Attorney General [William] Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report … [has] resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality.”—Hains (2019).

There is, therefore, a need for national leaders worldwide to seriously consider the prospect of subjecting prospective heads of the judicial branch of government to a popular vote by a country’s citizenry in order to make elected heads accountable to the people, less vulnerable to the influences of politicians and ideologues, and ‘truly’ independent from the whims of the head of the executive branch.

And members of a country’s Supreme Court and other justices, as well as special counsels, would ultimately need to be nominated or appointed by the elected head of the judicial branch and confirmed by the national legislative branch of government.

The term of office of the elected head of the judicial branch should be analogous to that of the executive president or prime minister, and that of members of the legislative branch of the national government.

(Note: The “Mueller Report” was the final report of a U.S. counterintelligence investigation of the alleged Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.)

In passing, there is also a profound and pressing need for government leaders, interest groups and political parties and their leaders worldwide to ensure that their national constitutions and/or subsidiary pieces of legislation have adequate provisions for genuine citizen participation in assenting to, and/or withdrawing from, treaties pertaining to the following:

1) Bilateral trade—that is, trade between two sovereign nations that provides for a reduction or removal of tariffs, import quotas, export restraints, and other barriers to trade; and

2) Multilateral trade—that is, trade among sovereign nations in an economic bloc that provides for a reduction or removal of tariffs, import quotas, export restraints, and other barriers to trade.

The imposition of punitive tariff and/or non-tariff trade barriers on any given country’s trading partners should also involve the participation of the country’s citizenry, and should inevitably and unconditionally abide by existing rules and stipulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Such participation by a country’s citizens can be facilitated either through a referendum (as in the case of Brexit, for example) or through the people’s representatives in a country’s Parliament or Congress. Without such citizen participation, there can never be stable and lasting trade relations between and among nations, because trade relations unilaterally established by the executive president or prime minister of a national government, for example, are likely to be revised, perhaps severed, by his or her successor.

The situation facing the United States in this regard provides a good example. On January 23, 2017, for example, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) bloc of countries. In August 2018, he embarked on an initiative designed to pull his country from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in preference for bilateral treaties between the U.S. and Mexico, and between the U.S. and Canada.

And on October 1, 2018, Canada, Mexico and the United States of America agreed to replace NAFTA with a new trade deal provisionary referred to as the “U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” abbreviated to “USMCA.”

These unilateral decisions by the executive branch of the U.S. government will ultimately result in the disruption of regular flows of imports, exports and investments between the U.S. and its former TPP and NAFTA trading partners—flows which are likely to be re-established by the country’s importers, exporters and investors at great cost.

In all, citizen participation in making decisions relating to trade issues needs to be the norm worldwide if countries are to be protected from the whims and parochial inclinations of executive presidents or prime ministers. In the absence of such participation, the world is very likely to witness the emergence of a global trading regime governed by transitory trade deals—that is, trade-related agreements that change whenever there are changes in the executive branches of national governments.

Besides, decisions relating to membership and participation in, and withdrawal from, all non-trade international agencies and institutions should require genuine citizen participation.

Typically, government leaders worldwide are politicians elected to positions of authority in their respective countries. For this, and for this reason alone, and perhaps given the harsh words exchanged between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin J. Trudeau (see Shear and Porter, 2018), and between President Trump and French President Emmanuel F. Macron (see Borger, 2018 and Reuters, 2018), it would be irresponsible not to advise political leaders worldwide to control their tempers and tame their tongues, so to speak.

Among a host of other caveats and pieces of advice, they need to heed the following wise words of a former U.S. president and a former U.S. First Lady:

“Sometimes holding your tongue, sometimes letting things play themselves out knowing not just when to act but also when to hold back and see how things are playing out so that you can pick and choose the time to do what needs to be done because the moment may not be ripe yet.”—Mr. Obama (2016) and Wilmouth (2016).


“Being commander-in-chief is a hard job; [among other things,] … you need to have discipline, and you need to read, … you need to be knowledgeable, you need to know history, [and] you need to be careful with your words.”—Mrs. Michelle Obama (2018) and Roberts (2018).


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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31