How the Political System Can Affect You

It is Impossible to Escape the Political System

The political system of any country in which you reside affects your life to a greater or lesser extent. How important this is for you is a matter of personal judgement. It is a big factor and can change at any time. The only certainty about politics is its uncertainty. It is necessary to be forearmed by being forewarned and flexible to cope with changes quickly if necessary.

Political Gear

As a resident you may have no direct influence over the political system. It is likely that a vote at a local government or national levels will be available to you. This is not always the case. As a resident of Australia prior to 1984 British subjects are entitled to vote if they were enrolled at this time. It is is a compulsory duty. Understanding the basics of the system will keep you out of trouble and help to explain the attitudes and approaches to difficulties of local people.

Rights and Responsibilities

The R & R of Politics


Every governing system imposes responsibilities upon those living within its jurisdiction and usually also grants rights to them. It is for you to know and understand the system. Adaptation will vary according to the system you have left behind. Those from a laissez faire democrat Westminster style of government will not find this replicated in many places although most countries claim that their system follows this model. It should be remembered that prior to the end of the Cold War almost every communist one party dictatorship included the word "democratic" in its name. This is the case today with North Korea. Learn where real power resides and who has decision-making authority. This will put you at least a step ahead of most locals. How many U.S. citizens know that the vice president has only one assigned constitutional duty? He is required to replace the president if the latter becomes unable to continue in office. Other than that he has a limited role as president of the Senate having a casting vote in the event of a tie. He cannot even take part in debates. Power is with the president but he can be over-ridden by Congress. The Congress can institute legislation but it is subject to a presidential veto. It is always useful to know how things work. The country's constitution spells out the rules -- if it has one. In the United Kingdom, home of the much vaunted Westminster system, there is no constitution. The basis of British law is a hotch potch of precedent barely based on the only four residual clauses of the original Magna Carta of 1215. The prime minister has the power. He is the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. British prime ministers are not directly elected by the people.

Foreign Affairs

Affairs - not of the Heart

It is the government of the day which decides upon foreign policy. This means it is an area which can change with any change in power. It is as well to know just what particular parties support with respect to foreign affairs. Any changes could rapidly affect the granting of visas and the continued support of foreign resident programs.

The Military

Who Gives the Orders?

It is as well to know the position of the military hierarchy with respect to the government. Mao Zedong said "Political Power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Countries which subscribe to this view are admitting that the military forces can and sometimes will take power over the civilian authorities. Often senior military officers in such places are given political appointments to by civilian governments "keep them onside". In the U.S.A. the supreme civilian power holder, the president, is also the commander in chief of the armed forces. In the United Kingdom the monarch is the head of the military but the crown has no political power, only a ceremonial role. These could be seen as the extremes of the political system with respect to the military authorities

The Law

Guilty as Charged

An independent judiciary is important to most and nearly all countries claim to have such a body. Most do not and there are many ways for the government to manipulate the judiciary by the appointment of senior officers. The major divide is between Roman Dutch Law and English Common Law. In general women are treated more harshly under the former system. Also the burden of proof lies with the defence under Roman Dutch Law. This has ramifications in both criminal and civil cases. In muslim countries a religious based law system, Sharia Law, co-exists with criminal and civil law. These are general observations only but it is as well to know that such differences exist before one has to go to a lawyer.

The Church

Your Church
His Church

In the U.S.A the enshrinement in the constitution of religious freedom has given rise to a plethora of churches. Some of these relatively small organizations wield enormous power in their local areas. In the United Kingdom it is the protestant religion which is the "Established" or "State" church of choice. Its privileges are small and largely ceremonial although a few bishops sit in the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber of the British parliament. As little real power as the church has in Britain being a catholic or a protestant in the wrong area at a bad time in the province of Northern Ireland could mean death during a twenty-five year period of civil unrest which has only just ended.

In Conclusion

There are many other things that the political system makes possible through the government. These will be dealt with on other pages. It may not seem like a great retirement activity but just having a nodding acquaintance with politics and current affairs is useful. If you look round from your chair on the beach and see not a friendly bureaucrat in a suit, a bowler hat and carrying his brief case but a sheik in a turban, loose pantaloons and pointed slippers twirling a cutlass about your head then you are too late. Neither a cheery "G'day mate" nor an earnest "Insh'allah" will avail you anything. You should have known. You should not be there. The political system has beaten you.

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