Monday, May 21, 2007

France and Taiwan

Not too much has happened recently, other than Nicolas Sarkozy being officially sworn in as President of France on May 16.

The inauguration of the French President used to be a lavish ritual, but according to the Associated Press, Sarkozy has an "impatient, less tradition-bound style" so he just rushed through it without much formality.

In the old days, the President-elect was adorned with various trinkets of office, then got his portrait taken standing beside a bookshelf, to imply how wise he was. Here we see President Georges Pompidou doing that in 1969:

What a great man. But evidently, in Sarkozy's France they just put the trinkets on silk pillows and allow the president's idiot children to stare at them, as seen here:

The only other thing worth noting is that Taiwan got a new Prime Minister on Monday. Or at least that's what the mainstream media says. I have a bit of a pet peeve with the way the media, and the encyclopedia people, and all the rest, try to awkwardly pretend that all countries of the world operate under basically analogous systems of government. The main way they do this is by throwing around the word "prime minister," in reference to all manner of foreign leaders.

The problem is, very few countries actually have a "prime minister" other than England and the former British colonies. In these nations, the PM is a sitting legislator who serves as leader of the largest parliamentary caucus. It is through this role that he serves as the nation's most powerful politician, as he alone presides over the lawmaking process. Many other countries have a parliamentary system as well, but these are often vastly different from the British model we tend to assume is standard.

In other countries, the parliament may be entirely independent from the executive branch of government, meaning there is no one official who controls the legislature in the way a British-style prime minister does. In such systems, there is often a strong president who holds independent executive powers. But sometimes there is a weak president, or a weak monarch, who holds very little power. In such circumstances the government's executive power is controlled by a sort of "middle" figure, who is neither a creature of the legislature nor the full head of state. In Holland, for example, their government is run by a "Minister President" who is an official appointed by parliament, but is not a member of parliament while he governs, nor is his cabinet. I understand a lot of western Europe actually operates on this system.

Now in Taiwan their system is even more complex. There are in essence six branches of government:

The judicial branch, which consists of the courts
The executive branch, which consists of the cabinet
The legislative branch, which consists of the parliament
The "control" branch, which consists of various government watchdog and scrutiny institutions
The "examination" branch, which consists of the senior bureaucracy

Then there's the President of the Republic, whose office is treated as a distinct super-branch that supersedes all the others. But wait! There are other presidents in Taiwan too! Each branch of government is administered by a different president, who is appointed by the President of the Republic and ratified by the parliament. So there is a president of the judicial branch, and a president of the legislative branch, and so on.

The President of the executive branch presides over the cabinet, so people in the English-speaking media have affixed the label of "prime minister" to him. Using that term ignores the complexities of the Taiwanese system of government, however, and implies that he, and say, Tony Blair, occupy offices that are basically the same. I'd like it a lot better if the media would just call people by their own titles.

But anyway, the old "prime minister" was named Su Tseng-chang. He wanted to run for President of the Republic, but earlier this month he was unsucessful in his bid to win his party's nomination. So he resigned, and the PotR appointed a new guy, Mr. Chang Chun-hsiung. He will be the fifth premier in seven years, which should be some indication as to how important that position is in the Taiwanese government. On the right we see the official "passing of the golden thing" ceremony.

Oh yeah, and that President of Romania survived an impeachment referendum, to the surprise of no one. Only 26% voted in favor of removing him.


Ricardo said...

Hahaha, I love all the trinkets in governement.

Evan said...

It almost sounds like Taiwan has more "Presidents" than the European Union.

Anonymous said...

"The problem is, very few countries actually have a "prime minister" other than England and the former British colonies."

I don't agree with this. Quite a few countries call their head of government 'prime minister'. It doesn't matter if his/her role in the governtment is different. No one claims that it is inaccurate to call eg. the president of Israel 'president' simply because his political role is vastly different from eg. the president of the US.

" In Denmark, for example, their government is run by a "Statsminister" who is an official appointed by parliament, but is not a member of parliament while he governs, nor is his cabinet."

This is false. In Denmark the prime minister and other ministers can be, and often are, members of parliament (although they don't need to be). That is also the case in most of western Europe. Secondly I was taught in school that at least in Swedish the word 'statsminister' simply means prime minister and that is probably also the case in Danish since they are practically the same language.

Quantum Wizard said...

That previous comment was by me.

JJ said...

It's not the case, the generic word in Danish for "prime minister" is "premierminister." It's the same in Holland, where their leader is called the "minister-president" but foreign prime ministers are called "premier." And in many other countries it's the same; specialized title for their guy, different title for everyone else. It seems to be a tacit recognition that their office is unique.

I was fairly sure the Danish government does not allow sitting members of parliament to be cabinet ministers, but I may be wrong. I've found nothing on the internet to confirm or deny it, I find it quite hard to find firm details about foreign systems of government. That was one of my complaints; oftentimes when you go to look up a foreign system the info just says something like "they have a parliamentary system" as if that explains everything. At the very least, I know Belgium and Holland don't allow their cabinets/PMs to be members of the legislature while in office, I will change my reference in the post accordingly.

Lastly, I think the term "president" is probably a term which is overused and undefined in the international context as well, but at the very least most countries in the world seem to use that specific title without hesitation. The issue with the title of "prime minister" is unique, as we have a situation in which many countries are consciously NOT using the title, yet the media and academia pretend like they do.

A good analogy would be monarchs- monarchs around the world use different titles, Shah, Kaiser, Czar, Sultan, Emir, Emperor, King, etc, and the English-speaking press recognizes these distinct terms. We don't, for example, refer to "King Hirohito" or "King Wilhelm." Using different monarchical terms helps accentuate the fact that we are referring to unique national offices. So why do we ignorantly shoe-horn foreign heads of government under the phony, all-encompassing label of "prime minister."

Brutannica said...

I agree with JJ on this one. I also think the press should call presidents "dictators" when appropriate, since "president" has a democratic tinge. I know this is controversial for some countries (like Russia), but what about places like NoKo, Sudan, Myanmar, or Cuba?

Anonymous said...

North Korea abolished the office of president, and Myanmar doesn't use the title.

j_major said...

would be considered controversial to call "dictator" to venezuelan Hugo Chávez?

what would be the main standard to select either label (president or dictator)? respect for human rights or being put in office by democratic election?

here in Latin America, we have some experience in dealing with this kind of labels. Normally, dictators force local media to adress him as "President". When democracy returns, then the government usually adresses the leader as "Constitutional President", but the media calls him/her just "President".

Whent it comes to a foreign country, our media normally calls President to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, but when it comes to Augusto Pinochet, they refer him as "former dictator" or "former chilean leader", depending on the ideological bias of the specific medium.

quantum wizard said...

"I was fairly sure the Danish government does not allow sitting members of parliament to be cabinet ministers, but I may be wrong."

I read through (the English translation of) the Danish constitution and it mentioned nothing of not allowing MPs to be cabinet members. Also Wikipedia claims that in Denmark cabinet members can be MPs but don't need to be.

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