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ACM Home arrow Convenor's Column arrow Republican Rorts: From Manila to Berlin and Paris

Republican Rorts: From Manila to Berlin and Paris Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Thursday, 07 July 2005
With the rejection of the politicians’ republic in 1999, the republican movement now favours a convoluted and expensive process which Greg Craven and Malcolm Turnbull say will result in a referendum on a republican model where the president, rather than being the creature of the existing politicians, is yet another politician.

It is interesting to see the serious difficulties some republics are in with their presidents.

Compare this with the republican attempts to exaggerate minor aspects of the personal lives of some members of the Royal Family, as reasons to throw out our constitution.

The scandals which afflict republics mostly involve the alleged commission of the most serious criminal offences, and in one instance the attempt to circumvent the clear intention of the constiution. The problem is that in republics, they seem too often to get away with it.

Apart from the protection of some presidents from charges and even investigations about crimes they are suspected of having committed, some presidents seem prone to engaging in serious electoral rorts.

Here is a summary of a few of the current alleged rorts. We won’t repeat again the way the French president is being shielded from criminal investigation. Nor will we examine today the spectacle of the hereditary presidencies.

There are allegations of electoral rorts in the Philippines and Iran, a serious issue with the Lebanese president who is accused of acting for a foreign power, and the way the politicians are trying to persuade the German president to circumvent the constitution which was designed to avoid the weaknesses of the Weimar Republic. Under that republic, the President had handed power to Hitler.

THE PHILIPPINES

Greg Sheridan began his column in The Weekend Australian of 2-3 July, 2005 with these words:”HI Garci."

This was a stentorian female voice in the most popular new ring tone for mobile phones in Manila. If it weren't so tragic, it would be hilarious, for the voice is that of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, taken from a recording of a phone call she made to a senior Philippines election official.

According to Mr Sheridan, the President's phone conversation is one of more than two dozen that were illegally tapped by Philippines military intelligence and later released by Arroyo's political Opposition.

They reveal her ringing senior Commission on Elections (Comelec) official Virgilio Garcillano while the votes from last May's presidential election were being tallied.

At that stage local votes were being consolidated into district and province aggregates. This is, says Mr Sheridan, the stage at which vote rigging traditionally occurs in The Philippines.

In a May 29 call Mrs. Arroyo plaintively asks Garcillano: "So will I still lead by more than a million?"

Mrs. Arroyo eventually beat her opponent, the movie star Fernando Poe, who died from a stroke a few months after the election, by a little more a million votes.

Nearly half that margin came in Mindanao, the site of a murderous Muslim rebellion, a province for which Garcillano had responsibility.

According to Mr Sheridan, Garcillano at one point says to the President: "The way in which your votes were increased was done well."

At another point Garcillano appears to be comparing vote tampering in Basilan with that in Sulu.

He says: "In Basilan the military wasn't so good at doing these things, like in Sulu, with General Habacon. But I already talked to the Board of Canvassers in Sulu. I think we should just ask the election officer of Pangutaran to hide so he doesn't have to testify."

IRAN

The outgoing Iranian president, Hashemi Rafsanjani claims that “all the means of the regime were used in an organised and illegal way to intervene in the election”

According to former hostages in the US embassy in Tehran 25 years ago, the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of those responsible for their kidnapping and interrogation.

The Sunday Times of 3 July 2005 reports that intelligence sources accuse the President of having been involved in a string of assassinations in the Middle East and in Europe.

THE LEBANON

Then there is The Lebanon, where the new government has not worked out how to remove the president who is thought to be closely related to Syria.

Syria is suspected of being behind certain political assassinations in The Lebanon.

GERMANY

The Germans do not elect their president-that is left to a college of politicians, the Bundesversammlung, which consists of the Bundestag, the federal lower house, and an equal number of delegates from the states.

The current President, Horst Kohler, was elected on 4 March 2004.He was the candidate chosen by Germany’s conservative and liberal opposition parties. Selected by Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), currently Germany's largest opposition party, he was endorsed by its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), as well as by the small liberal party, the Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP).

As opposition parties controlled a majority of votes in the Bundesversammlung, the result of the vote should have been a foregone conclusion, but turned out closer than expected.

Köhler defeated the Social Democrat candidate Gesine Schwan on the first ballot by 604 votes to 580; 20 votes were cast for minor candidates, while one elector was absent because of a heart attack.

The result would be as if Prime Minister Howard had a Labor President, or Prime Minister Keating had had a Liberal President.

Obviously, if the President had the powers of the Governor-General, this could put the two on a collision course.

But because of their bad experience with the Weimar republic, when President Hindenburg finally appointed Hitler as Chancellor, the present German constitution grants the president few powers.

For example the Bundestag, the lower house elects the Chancellor, or the Prime Minister.

The Bundestag can also remove him-all they have to do is elect someone else under article 67. The President must do their bidding.

To repeat, the President has no discretion in the appointment or dismissal of the Chancellor, not even where the choice of a Chancellor is not obvious because of say, a hung legislature.

This is to prevent a repetition of Hindenburg's appointment of Hitler.

However the President does have one discretion in another situation. This is now in play, and relates to the only occasion when a Chancellor may obtain an early election.

Article 68 provides that in the event of a vote of no confidence in the Bundestag, the President may order a general election.

Wishing to avoid the instability of the Weimar Republic, which had led to the Third Reich, this is strictly the only time when an early election is permissible.

One assumes this Article refers to a real vote of no confidence, otherwise it could be too easily circumvented.

But the Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, on 1 July 2005 has actually done just that.

He has engineered an artificial vote of no confidence against the Schroeder government!

The vote of no confidence was passed by 296:151 with 148 abstentions procured by the Chancellor from his allies.

The Chancellor has asked the President, Horst Kohler, for an early election, which he thinks he can win by reversing voting trends in recent state elections.

Precedents suggest an early election after a loss of confidence favours the incumbent.

The President has 21 days to decide whether to grant an election, based on this manoeuvre to circumvent the constitution. If he does, a legal challenge is likely.



And republicans denigrate our constiution, one of the world's most successful.


Until next time,

David Flint
 
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