Political History of Belhavia

Introduction

The Empire is a federal presidential constitutional monarchy whose structure arose from the 1811 Provisa Convention, which created the 1812 Constitution from Arthuristan Enlightenment ideals, most importantly on Lockean theory of social contract and natural rights. There are three branches of government purposefully designed to ensure that the Emperor has substantive executive authority that is tempered by a system of checks and balances with the Office of the President, Imperial Senate, and the Imperial judiciary each possessing concentrations of responsibilities to counter abuse by either the monarch or the elected government. This division of power, duties, obligations, and responsibilities are outlined in the Imperial Constitution, which is considered the supreme law of the land throughout Belhavia.

The Imperial Constitution is the founding document of the current political state, and from which all laws are derived. This is in contrast to the predecessor state, the Kingdom of Belhavia (1650 - 1715), and the pre-1812 Empire that was organized as an absolute monarchy; both of which relied upon the theory of the divine right of kings as the source of all laws propagated under the state. The Constitution lays out the duties, purview, and powers of the Imperial government in relation to the monarch, the Imperial citizenry, and the provinces and territories.

Early Belhavian Politics (1301 - 1454)

Grand Duchy of Provisum (1454 - 1650)

War of Succession (1641 - 1649)

Kingdom of Belhavia (1650 - 1715)

First Party System (1674 - 1811)

Empire of Belhavia (1715 - Present)

Second Party System (1812 - 1858)

Third Party System (1858 - 1955)

Fourth Party System (1955 - Present)

The Fourth Party System (1955 - present) has been characterized by a de facto two-party system but a de jure multiparty system; on the right, the Conservative Party, and on the left, the Liberal Democratic Party. The Libertarian Party is a minor, third party that is competitive in some provincial and local elections. Historians and political scientists categorize the new party system arising from the disintegration of the old rightist Federalist Party and reorganization as the Conservative Party in 1955. The Liberal Democrats, although the major left-leaning political party of the contemporary era, was actually formed in 1922 in the late stage of the 3rd Party System (1858 - 1955) by a merger of the Liberal Party and Democratic Party.

For the first half of the current party system (from 1955 to the 1980s), the Empire went through cyclical patterns of two- or three-term majority control of the presidency and the Imperial Senate by both parties. Between 1946 and 1960, the Liberal Democrats (often referred to colloquially as the "Lib Dems") had controlled both the executive and legislative branches. Between 1960 to 1968, the Conservatives retook control. From 1968 - 1980, the Lib Dems held onto the presidency and Senate majority. This "flip-flopping" between parties was usually rewarded in strong electoral mandates by voters.

After 1980, the political climate shifted back to what many people believe is the nation's conservative nature, with the Tories dominating national politics for much of the last 34 years. Political historians call the "Liberal Heyday" period (1946 - 1981) the "Liberal Aberration," noting the roughly 35-year-period came into being because of unique events and attitudes in the middle-late 20th century. With the "Neoliberal Revolution" of the 1980s throughout the wider world, many nations receded from the peak of leftism and statism wraught by the Cold War.

Since 1981, there has only been one Lib Dem President, Garret Holleran (1993 - 1997; 2001 - 2005), though throughout the late 2000s, the Liberal Democrats have come close to winning back the Presidential Palace and Imperial Senate, though under Eli Goldman's presidency (2009 - present), the Conservatives' have dominated elected offices across the Empire.

The Belhavian "Liberal Heyday" (1946 - 1981)

After the fall of the Galarian dictatorship in 1945, there was a renewed emphasis on restricting government power and dismantling the quasi-police state of the Galarian era. The 3rd Party System collapsed as the old Federalist Party, unable to escape public blame for its collaboration with the Galarian regime, fell apart in 1955. The Lib Dems, empowered for the first fifteen years after the autocratic regime's fall, pushed through a series of left-wing measures: a progressive income tax, a high capital gains tax, a confiscatory inheritance tax, a public universal pension for the elderly similar to other social security schemes elsewhere in the globe, and made Keynesian economic theory the political consensus for government taxation and expenditure policy.

When the newly minted Conservatives (also called "Tories" from the 19th century party of the same name) won the Presidential Palace and the Senate in the early 1960s, they were able to curtail some of the new programs with limited success. The Social Security program was means-tested, the subsidy program for healthcare for the poor called Social Health was repealed, and the progressive income's top tax rate was cut from a high of 55% to 42.5%. However, the welfare state, though limited and vastly smaller than many world nations, was not completely dismantled. This failure would later spark a massive voter backlash, informed by other issues as well, in the 1980 presidential and Senatorial elections.

The late 1960s and 1970s were known as the heyday of leftist public policy in the Empire. In 1969, the property requirement to be eligible to vote was watered down so significantly that the franchise was nearly universal. The Ministry of Health was founded in 1970 to administer the restored Social Health program. The top income tax rate was raised to 72.4% in 1977.

The Conservative Revolution of 1980

Party Polarization Causes Shift

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a bevy of factors oversaw the fast-paced polarization of the political climate, with moderates in each party being squeezed out by more ideologically-pure partisans.

After the 1974 midterms, public support for the Lib Dems began to recede with the Tories gaining more support among middle-income and young voters disillusioned with the high unemployment, confiscatory tax rates, rising antipathy to hard work, and the general malaise in the Empire at that time.

The 1976 Conservative presidential primary were characterized by a battle between "moderates" who accepted the idea of a welfare state (represented by Governor Jacob Goldstein, who won the nomination) and rightists who ran on a platform to dismantle it wholesale, which was heralded by then-Senator and future President Julian Settas.

Vice-President Berel Levine ran on an openly leftist, social democratic program in 1976, vowing to build upon President Vern Callan's (1969 - 1977) Just Society theme.

President Levine won by a healthy margin over Goldstein, 52% - 47%. However, this is the narrowest election margin since the 1968 election, where Vern Callan won by only 1.7 points, 47.1% to 45.4%. Once inaugurated, however, his presidency was plagued by a series of policy, managerial, and public relations disasters that ultimately opened up the political scene for a Conservative revival.

The Levine Era

Berel Levine raised the income tax to 72.4% in 1977 during his honeymoon period, though the Senate balked and narrowly voted down his extensive social welfare proposals for its enormous price-tag. Throughout 1977 and 1978, his administration attempted to reach out to communist and leftist regimes unconditionally, and criticized allies such as the Western Confederal States for their aggressive foreign policy. In the 1978 midterms, Conservatives had a modest pickup of seats that broke the Lib Dem super-majority in the Senate.

In early 1980, the 7-7-7 Incident displayed the Levine presidency as inept and weak on foreign policy; themes Conservative Senator Julian Settas expounded on in his second presidential run.

A Political Realignment

Julian Settas beat Levine by a 54% - 43% margin in 1980, winning the presidency back for the Conservatives for the first time since 1964. This fits in what comparative political historians call the "Neoliberal Revolution" of the 1980s across Pardes with the rise of neoliberal conservatives coming to power in Belhavia, Belfras, Emmeria, the Western Confederacy, Arthurista, and elsewhere.

New Foreign Policy: The Settas Doctrine

A week after being sworn in, Settas gave a speech at the Freeport Military Academy outlining an assertive anti-communist foreign policy of military engagement and force projection. Pundits immediately labelled it the "Settas Doctrine."

It became so popular and effective that it was enveloped into the political culture of the Empire, and during the brief return of Lib Dems to power in the mid-1990s, no effort was made to overturn or modify it.

The Fall of the Welfare State

In his early 1981 honeymoon, Settas successfully proposed and enacted a comprehensive conservative agenda through the newly-seated Conservative majority in the Imperial Senate.

The income tax was phased out in six years: the tax structure was collapsed into two brackets, 20% and 10%, and then condensed into a single, flat rate of 10% in 1983. In 1986, it was zeroed out and formally repealed. In its place, the National Retail Sales Tax was created with a flat rate of 25%.

The capital gains and inheritance taxes were abolished. The Social Health program was repealed and the Ministry of Health abolished, as well. The Social Security system was privatized in 1982.

With the drastic fall in welfare expenditure, a sweeping military modernization bill - the Military Modernization and Reform Act of 1981 - was passed. In the wake of its passage, the private military contractor firm the Pyrion Group was created.

One major failure of domestic policy for Settas was on voter eligibility reform. Two attempts to strengthen property requirements for voter eligibility were defeated in the Senate; the first time by a narrow 3-vote margin. The public approval of the 1969 reforms proved resilient, and Settas abandoned any further effort at eligibility reform.

The Conservatives' Electoral Dominance Since 1980

Settas-Katz Era

By the time of the 1988 presidential election, political scientists argued that a political realignment had occurred.

An internal analysis of the Imperial Government's size and scope by the Settas Administration that was released in the late 1990s indicated that 23% of all Imperial regulations had been repealed or pared back, the tax burden dropped from an average effective tax rate of 36.1% in 1981 to 20.2% in 1988, 4 ministries had been abolished, 20 major Imperial laws (focused on economic intervention by the Imperial government) had been repealed, and 34.6% of the Imperial government's workforce laid off. This analysis concluded that the Settas Administration had "singlehandedly defeated Big Government, with a popular mandate." Government spending as a percentage of G.D.P. fell from almost 30% in 1981 to 16.5% in late 1988, a remarkable 50% cut in public spending.

Although President Julian Settas's popularity was dented in the 1987 Goldburg Scandal, his Vice-President, Naftali Katz, was ahead of the polls going into 1988. Katz faced Liberal Democrat Michael Dukalos, who he defeated handily by a 53%-to-46% margin.

Katz, however, was more moderate than Settas had been. He continued his predessor's conservative agenda, but deviated at points both because of his own personal political philosophy and the realities of a divided Imperial Senate.

Budget Crisis of 1989

As he took office in January 1989, the Tories in the Senate had their most narrow majority in ten years, with a margin of 4 seats over the Lib Dems. Several of those Conservatives were more moderate-to-liberal and came from Lib Dem-leaning provinces. In the spring of 1989, they balked at the steep spending cuts in Katz's budget and joined with the Lib Dems to defeat it in committee.

The Tory right became inflamed, and in-fighting broke out in the caucus and spilled into the media, creating a public relations crisis. The mainstream Conservative Senate caucus reached out to the 3-member Libertarian Party caucus, which demanded in turn even deeper cuts to existing social programs.

Each side proposed dueling budgets in the powerful Senate Budget Committee, each blueprint being defeated by narrow margins. With public approval of his administration falling, Katz entered into negotiations with the Liberal Democrat-breakaway liberal Tory faction. These negotiations in August of 1989 produced a balanced budget with a higher level of domestic discretionary spending and a tax hike by raising the National Retail Sales Tax's flat rate from 25% to 32.4%. To gain enough votes, Katz turned to the Libertarians, offering military cuts they preferred.

The final budget for fiscal year 1990 passed on a slim 37-33 margin.

Conservative Party "Civil War"

After the Budget Crisis, the Conservatives entered what many observers termed a "civil war," with more conservative factions seeking to oust liberals and moderates from positions of power in the party. The party's right flank soured on Katz quickly, outraged he broke his "no-new-taxes" pledge and his willing to increase Imperial government spending, the first time since 1980.

After the May 1990 Rachel Morganson shooting, Katz again invoked opposition within his own party by attempting to pass some gun control legislation, though the bill failed and the president relinquished any further efforts to pass it.

In the 1990 midterms, strong Liberal Democratic candidates and weak conservative voter turnout produced a nearly hung Senate, with a narrow Tory majority of 34-32. However, the Liberal Democrats joined with the Libertarians and one Independent to create a 36-34 center-left coalition majority, sparking the January 1991 Senate Coups. After several weeks, the Tories collapsed the fragile Lib Dem-led coalition and re-established their governing majority in the Senate.

Although they agreed on general fiscal policy, the Libertarians and Tory right clashed over military spending. For much of the next two years, dysfunction prevailed and little legislation was passed. However, Tothian did unify the Senate in passing a landmark free trade agreement with Tarsas, which passed on a 45-25 vote in September 1991.

1992 Primary Challenge

In November 1991, Katz - who was gearing up for his 1992 re-election campaign - had a high profile primary challenger in Raffen province Governor Josh Rubenstein, an outspoken conservative. Rubenstein tapped into the right-wing's simmering anger and distrust of Katz, and he immediately was polling only modestly behind Katz in several of the first provincial primaries in January and February of 1992.

As Katz dealt with the Rubenstein challenge, Lib Dem rightist Garret Holleran was positioned to win the center-left opposition party's nomination after creating a centrist force within the Lib Dems after Dukalos' loss in 1988, the party's third-straight presidential defeat.