The National Government
"Flat figures on a high distant stage,
like puppets or statues, stiff and absurd,
A complicated constitutional structure, designed to diffuse power. The more Bergonians see of the U.S. Presidency, the more they know they don't want a single powerful head.
In theory the legislative branch is supreme, and the executive is divided, in recognition of the natural tendency of power, evident in the history of nations, to flow from the legislative to the executive.
There is no strict separation of powers. Although the various organs of government each have well-defined powers, they often are allowed-- and required-- to blend their authorities.
The national government consists of a unicameral Congress, a President who chairs a powerful Executive Council that supervises a Prime Minister and the various ministries. Some of the leaders of Congress sit on the Executive Council. The president is much weaker than the American President, except in the sphere of foreign relations.
Keep in mind that Bergonians prefer local government. They want the national government to (a) protect the nation, (b) establish and regulate the basic monetary, financial, transportation & energy systems, (c) define environmental protections, and (d) assist state & local governments, but fundamental lawmaking power resides with the 31 states. Of course the complexities of industrialized society often require national action, but Bergonians try very hard to keep power devolved to the states and to local government.
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Congress, unicameral, elected every 2 years, states elect delegations by proportional representation.
The President controls foreign relations & the military, has no general veto power. Elected every 4 years.
The Executive Council, a "Presidium" chaired by the President, includes Congressional leaders and executive officers, with provisional & temporary legislative power.
The Cabinet of ministers, each one nominated by the President & approved by Congress.
Divided Government: when the President's party is the minority in Congress. Also Who Really Holds Power.
Legislative Councils, "mini-congresses" representing interest groups, promulgating regulations.
How Laws are Passed, Cong has veto power over acts & proposals of the President, Exec.Council & Legislative Councils. Also How the Budget is Passed,
The Peoples Assembly, advisory body of 2,500 citizens selected by lot to express the sense of the people.
Amending the Constitution, by referendum. Every 50 years a constitutional convention is convened.
Other Pages: The Constitution, State & Local Gov.
The Doctrine of Constitutional Primacy:
The structure and function of all government and law derives "wholly and solely" from the Constitution of the Democratic Commonwealth of Bergonia. The first Bergonian Republic that declared and fought for independence from the British established a constitution that set forth the explicit principle of constitutional law, and every government since, including Rarsa's dictatorial regime, has at least ostensibly embraced the same principle.
However, the prior governments were governments of capitalist society, so the first three constitutions largely regulated only the affairs of political bodies, while the economy largely thrived and writhed according to the so-called "laws" of the market. In a socialist society that extends democratic process to all parts of society, so therefore the constitution is the ultimate governing law for everything and everyone in society, including the entire economy.
The first thing the Mistralas did after they seized control of the government in 1934 was to elect a constitutional convention, which convened on 28 Nov 1934. The resulting document was approved in a referendum on 3 October 1935 by 68%, and went into effect with elections in 1936.
The "Constitution of 1936" contained a provision for the automatic convening of a constitutional convention in fifty years after its enactment. Thus Congress obeyed and in 1986 organized elections for a constitutional convention in 1988. The convention process attracted the energies of the Greening, and many contentious votes were taken, but at the end of the day a conservative majority prevailed on most issues, and the convention did very little damage, so that the "1990 Constitution" is virtually identcal to the 1936 Constitution. It was approved in a referendum in 1988 by an overwhelming 92% of the electorate, and went into effect in 1990 (hence the name).
Separation of powers:
The Bergonians have their own methods of limiting and diffusing power that are in some ways inconsistent with American methods. While Americans have strict division of powers between legislative and executive, the Bergonians are interested in integrating the two. The Bergonians diffuse deliberative power among several bodies, with the general notion that the more people who contribute to the process the harder it is to concentrate power, and the better the result.
Group processes are favored over individual concentrations of power, so a big legislative body is favored over all others. But the exigencies presented by deadlines, emergencies, economic downturns and protests require an executive, as do the needs of administrative efficiency, so there must be an executive branch, but since Bergonians are very wary of powerful men they solve the dilemma by (a) putting the executive at the same table with the legislative leaders, and (b) diffusing executive power among several offices.
The people elect the single house of Congress every two years. Bicameralism has been somewhat lost on Bergonians. One finds only a small number of states with bicameral legislatives. It is seen as an unnecessary brake on legislation. It is said that the US Congress has three houses-- Senate, House and Conference Committee-- that makes the legislative process more byzantine and less transparent.
Half of the 608 "delegates" serve two year terms; the other half are elected for staggered four year terms, so that 75% of the delegates are up every election.
The constitution allocates the delegates among the 31 states and the "autonomous counties" according to population, with a slight padding in the numbers for the very small states. Giving representation to the autonomous counties insure representation for ethnic minorities.
The Constitution gives law-making authority to Congress. Congress also passes all taxes and approves the budget.
Each delegate appoints a deputy, who may vote his proxy on the floor or in legislative councils. Deputies serve as alter-egos for the delegates, and give the delegates the ability to be in two places at once.
Every four years the people elect the President by popular vote. He can serve no more than two terms. This is a matter of perpetual debate-- many within the SFP and the Harmony Party want to restrict the president to a single term.
The president controls foreign policy and the military. He appoints the Prime Minister and Treasurer. He works with the majority in Congress to form a government of ministers, and he chairs the Executive Council.
Otherwise, without a veto power over legislation or direct control of the budget, he is weaker than the USA's president-king. But he can introduce bills into Congress, which the Speaker must advance to the floor for vote up or down without amendment. Although not in the constitution there is a protocol whereby the President will formally allow Congress to consider amendments, or a certain class of amendments. The Supreme Court has approved the implicit constitutionality of this arrangement, since the President has the power to submit an amended version after negotiations in any event.
The President appoints a First Deputy, his alternate, his shadow, who presides in his absence, and who takes his place in case of death, removal or disability. He serves as the president's alter-ego. The president can remove the First Deputy and appoint someone else at any time.
The 17 member Executive Council includes:
The Executive Council operates as a sort of "politburo," meeting in closed session whenever necessary to take up emergencies. It can pass emergency and temporary legislation, including war declarations, which later Congress can annul, approve or amend. The Executive Council submits the budget to Congress after the Treasurer receives proposals from the Cabinet.
Congress elects the Prime Minister by a plurality (guaranteeing the job to the party with the most delegates-- not necessarily a majority).
He in turn selects a Cabinet for Congress's approval. That approval depends upon a majority vote, at this point making coalitions necessary. The President has veto appointment of cabinet ministers, and thus becomes involved in negotiating the coalition as well. The resulting cabinet typically serves with a concurrence of the entire government, with an allocation of seats among the parties participating in the negotiations.
The Prime Minister and the various ministers form the Cabinet. They are " the government," and they run the bureaucracies and enact policy.
The Occurrence of Divided Government
In most elections one party wins the presidency and a plurality in Congress. which means that the President, Prime Minister and Speaker come from the same party.
The Prime Minister and the Speaker of Congress nearly always come from the same party, since both depend on a plurality of votes in Congress.
However, since an absolute majority vote in Congress is needed to approve a cabinet, and since in Berg's current 3-party system no party ever gets a majority, the Prime Minister must make a deal with another party and give it some cabinet posts. This has occurred in every election in Bergonia since the emergence of the Harmony Party.
If the President's party fails to elect the largest number of delegates in Congress, then there is divided government. The United States and France are no strangers to divided government, but Bergonia's constitution force the opposing parties to work together through the mechanism of the Executive Council. The party or coalition with a plurality in Congress will nearly always elect the Speaker of Congress, the Prime Minister, and most or all of the five delegates to the Executive Council. The President and his appointees occupy 5 seats.
Even when the president's party fails to win the most delegate seats, it usually comes in second, and since there are never majorities in Congress nowadays, the president's party usually participates in the coalition that elects the Cabinet and the Speaker.
Regulatory Power-- The Legislative Councils
The USA's Congress mutates legislation within the bowels of its Byzantine, shadowy structure of committees and conferences, and cedes great power to the executive by allowing it to make all administrative rules. In specialized areas, however, Congress has vested regulatory power to specialized agencies, e.g. the FDA, the FCC, which are relatively safe from direct political meddling.
Likewise the Bergonian Congress devolves regulatory power to a number of Legislative Councils. Each council controls a domain of public concern, and each typically have several "sub-councils." For example.
The chairman and a third of each council's members are delegates to Congress. Every December the delegates of Congress elect themselves to these seats on the councils. The rule is much like committee memberships in the American congress-- every delegate is entitled to election to at least one seat on one council. the numbers are such that many delegates have two seats, and these are allocated according to seniority within party ranks. The total number of seats are allocated among the political parties according to their numbers, again like how the American congress allocates committee seats.
The other two thirds of the seats go to representatives of the various affected interest groups. For example, the Commerce Council includes voting representatives of banks and federations of cooperatives and corporations (who in turn ultimately depend on their workers assemblies), as well as representatives of consumer associations and guild federations. The Health Council seats representatives from the Bergonian Medical Guild, the National Conference of Hospital Cooperatives, and the National Health Funds. The membership of the legislative councils is ultimately prescribed by Congress, but the councils themselves have limited powers to say exactly which representatives get to sit at the table.
These councils enact the bulk of the national government's administrative regulations, which of course regulate and set standards for everything from nursing home operation to licensing radio stations to workplace safety. Any regulation enacted by a legislative council has the force of law, subject to any Congressional statute which might conflict. But ether Congress or the Executive Council may veto the regulation. The councils also pass draft legislation, which the full Congress must then consider.
Congress passes all laws. Votes require a majority of all members.
The constitution requires that each piece of legislation must pertain to only one subject, so that delegates cannot hide their favorite items inside large complex bills-- and so voting is much more transparent. The common practice in the U.S. Congress to pass omnibus legislation affecting hundreds of subjects allows all kinds of abuses. Bergonian congresses in the passed practiced this kind of "riders" and "bundling" in the past, and it was recognized as a source of abuse, thus the practice was prohibited in the 1936 Constitution. Amendments must be "germane" to the subject of the bill.
Bills originate from a number of sources. The Executive Council may submit bills. The President can introduce bills by himself. The various Legislative Councils may also submit bills to Congress. Individual delegates may not themselves introduce bills, but any 5% of the delegates (31 delegates currently) may together do so.
The Speaker controls the order of business and the agenda, but if any 20% of the delegates sign a petition, he must bring up the bill they want for a floor vote within two weeks, unless Congress votes to adjourn.
How the Budget is Formulated
There are actually two budgets, not just one:
The Prime Minister and his various ministers submit proposals to the Treasurer, along with the military and foreign minister. He organizes them into a budget which the Executive Council reviews, amends, consolidates, and submits to Congress. Then Congress approves the budget. After all the wrangling inside the Executive Council, Congress usually approves the budget quickly.
Forming a government and pushing an agenda comes down to a triumvirate-- three men butting heads-- the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the President. Each has ways of leaning on each other, and each has his own reserve of authority, though among the three the President is considered paramount.
This provides a much more diffused allocation of power than in the constitutions of most other democracies, but Bergonians like their power diffused.
Congress, which is the closest to the people, and renewed every two years, has the ultimate law making power, which is more democratic than involving a powerful president. The Legislative Councils formally involve affected interest groups in making law, which makes the system more open and representative.
The Peoples Assembly
In the 1940's Bergonian anarchists and other extreme leftists proposed a radically different form of government. Instead of an elected legislature, they suggested a big assembly of common citizens selected by lot every year. They borrowed the idea from ancient Greek and Tan government, from jury selection and from scientific sampling of populations for experimental purposes (and also for demographic polling and marketing).
The idea frightened many, and the people in opinion polls at first overwhelmingly preferred a system of elected representatives. But in the 1970s the Harmony Party adopted some anarchist notions, including this one. After public opinion shifted during the Greening, the nation has decided to give the idea a limited tryout, and the 1988 constitutional convention added an amendment to create an advisory assembly of 2,400 members. See constitutional provisions.
A chosen citizen serves for a single two year term. Half the members are selected each year, to assure a little continuity. There are 2,400 seats which means one seat for every 71,250 people. The seats are allocated among regional districts comprised of cities and counties within the states. Uner this system, an ideal district had at least 1,140,000 people, for a delegation of 16. This allowed a delegation balanced for gender and language. Any citizen may nominate himself by registering at the local voters registration office. He does this by filling out a computerized ticket and paying five dollars (this alone raises $300 million). On the ticket he indicates his gender and his language, and he certifies that he has completed high school or the equivalency. From all the tickets submitted within the district, the lot is drawn in a public ceremony. The local political clubs energetically encourage their supporters to register.
The selections within the district are corrected to assure a proportional demographic representation by language and sex, according to the self-identification by the people registering. But the assembly's allocation of seats by district, gender and language reflect the actual population, not the segment of the population that registered. Though more men register than women, the end result is 50-50, meaning that the selected women were chosen from a smaller pool than the selected men.
Members are paid salaries while they serve, are given good residences in the capital, supported by staff, and are guaranteed their old jobs when their term ends. Once a person serves, he may never serve again.
There has been some debate about whether a person chosen to serve might be able to confer the seat to someone else. As it is now, each new member upon reporting to Lefitoni for the first session has to nominate someone who can take his place in case of death, illness or disability. But if a member voluntarily chooses to resign, the seat remains vacant. This keeps a selected person from giving their seat to someone else.
The assembly has limited power, but it is symbolically important. It may submit bills to Congress and proposals to any branch or officer of government. It may pass declaratory resolutions. It may submit matters to the people for referendum, and any matter approved in a referendum becomes controlling law. There are, of course, limits on this referendum power. For example, the Assembly cannot propose any law that limits or changes the power of any other constitutional body. It may not do anything that affects the current budget. And it may not take on any administrative power for itself. It also lacks any power to amend the constitution, although a current proposal would amend the constitution to allow it a role.
The Assembly so far has formally proposed legislation concerning
As distracters of the idea predicted, the chosen citizens have become somewhat too dependant on the Assembly's professional staff and on the professional politicians who come to court them. Most people selected to the Assembly have distinct party loyalties, and they form caucuses, so the political parties in Congress appear and explicitly operate here as well. The Anarchists refuse to run candidates for Congress or for any other elected office, but the Assembly is the anarchists' creation, so they in great numbers register for the lottery and occupy a respectable bloc of seats, and have their own caucus.
Because Assembly members are presumed to be politically inexperienced, the Assembly is chaired by a professional, neutral chair appointed by the Supreme Court, but the Assembly does elect a leadership, and therefore a few of the citizen-legislators emerge as leaders. Some citizen-legislators accrue popularity, win the friendship of party leaders, and attract media interest, and then may go on to run for elective office themselves. The big majority, thus far, have returned to their ordinary lives upon completion of their two years, proud to have participated. Everyone in the country recognizes the experimental nature of the Assembly. Some want to abolish it, while others want it to become a second house of Congress. But very few so far want it to replace the elected Congress of politicians.
The Supreme Court
Bergonia has a Supreme Court to resolve constitutional disputes. Disputes between states and the national government, or between constitutional officers and bodies, go to it for resolution. The Court consists of twenty-one judges chosen by lot from among a national panel of 600 senior judges. The 21 members serve for rotating seven year terms. This gets politics completely out of the selection. The short term (compared to the life terms of American federal judges) insures that the court stays relatively fresh and discourages royalism.
The constitution explicitly requires the court to follow the plain letter of the legal text, and interpret conservatively. This forces precision and explicit meaning in constitutional and legislative language. Little should be left to implication.
A system of subordinate courts are established, called National Courts. In proper cases brought by citizens, these courts have the power to review laws and regulations for constitutionality. Such decisions are often appealed to the supreme court. This is not very different than federal courts in the US. However they also review questions of constitutionality involving state and local government charters as well, since there are no parallel state court.
These courts may void laws it finds to be unconstitutional, and it may also remand laws and regulations to Congress for clarification or review. Congress, the president or executive council may directly petition the court to review a law or regulation for constitutionality. This way, the country need not wait for someone to file a lawsuit testing the constitutionality of a law.
The Supreme Court automatically considers all the Peoples Assembly's proposed referendums for constitutionality beforehand, and may either annul it for unconstitutionality, or propose a redrafting in order to comply with the constitution. If the Assembly approves the redrafting, the referendum proceeds.
Article 15 of the Constitution of 1938 read in its entirety as follows:
As it turned out, this very same language recurs in the Constitution ratified by the voters in the 1990 election, so that the voters in the year 2040 will again elect a constitutional convention.
Note that the scheme of electing the convention is exactly the same for electing Congress, reaffirming the widely held beliefs that (a) the people of the various states-- this being a federal system-- are the ones sending delegates to a national congress, and (b) proportional representation is the fairest way to produce a representative body.
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The difficulty in amending the constitution of the United States has been a great stabilizing influence-- no other nation has ever had a single constitution for so long (Bergonia has had five in its history). It has also contributed to the stultification of American democracy. Arcane institutions and procedures-- especially the electoral college-- distort the exercise of democratic will. A people must submit to basic law in order to maintain a good, peaceful democracy, but the people must be able to amend it with reasonable speed and ease when circumstances and wisdom require. Of course a constitution must not be amendable by a mere momentary majority; otherwise the law becomes a mere expedient. The foundations of government-- and human rights-- should be firm and stable. It is a matter of striking a correct balance. The American founding fathers worried greatly about the changeable nature of majorities, but they worried about it too much.
The American republic has been since its inception a federation of separate states. The bonds between the states were fused by the Civil War, but Article V make it clear that the states, having first established the constitution, have the primary power to amend it. Very few other nations' constitutions vest the power of amendment with their subdivisions (if any). The power of the state legislatures to amend the federal constitution subjects the constitution to the ruling elites of the various statehouses. All throughout American history-- from the protection of slavery, the establishment of Jim Crow and segregation, to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, we have seen how the state governments have been the final redoubt of hidebound reaction. Worse, state governments have seen far more corruption than the federal government. The people are, in the United States, denied the power to amend their fundamental law.
Thomas Jefferson made it clear in his writings that he anticipated the Constitution of 1789 to have a rather limited lifespan-- sooner or later the fundamental law wound have to be completely revised. Indeed, Madison and others at the constitutional convention expected that the states would call a convention to rewrite the constitution sooner or later. It is doubtful that anyone at the time ever expected the constitution to last over 200 years.
Perhaps every constitutional author expects, or at least fears, that sooner or later his creation shall be amended or rewritten in blood. Bergonians themselves replaced their first three constitutions by force of arms. Thomas Jefferson suggested that an occasional rebellion did no ill to a republic; many Bergonians go a step or two further in condoning rebellion against the legitimate state-- indeed revolutionary violence-- as a general principle, it the legitimacy is used as the basis for oppression. History teaches that oppressors not always, but most usually do, forcibly resist legitimate change to the their interests, thus instantly justifying revolutionary violence. Bergonians, perhaps even more so than the French, are open to the idea than an occasional popular uprising or revolution is good for the nation. But Bergonians have suffered a much more violent history than most other people, and so appreciate the merits of peaceful revolution.
So the idea of a scheduled revolution occurred to the Bergonian founders of 1937. Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, a world best seller in 1931, was transformed into a Bergonian setting by the anarchist playwright Irgon Caretame when in 1934 he wrote a dramatic parody of revolutionary hopes. He portrays the revolutionary man in a moment of crisis, and the Dream Angel (a figure out of Bergonian mythology) appears to him to show him the consequences of his choices. The angel breaks the young man's heart by showing him a vision of his spoilt grandchildren plundering the fruits of the revolution-- his revolution. The fifty-year clause was a built-in safety-valve for the People, giving them an opportunity to reach beyond the "grandchildren" generation.