We are now just over two months away from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is the first of possibly several posts here at Mischiefs of Faction on how the Star Wars series deals with politics. In this post, I wanted to focus on the treatment of political parties in the Galactic Senate of the Old Republic.
Politics in general is an issue that plagues the Star Wars films, particularly the much-derided prequels. The subject is not handled very well, but George Lucas nonetheless chose to make it central to Episodes I through III. Each of those films features scenes in the Galactic Senate, several prominent characters who are senators, and key plot points that turn on the outcomes of floor votes. Very few sci-fi films contain even references to a parliament, let alone depictions of floor activity, so this is clearly something Lucas considered important.
But as I've written previously, there are a number of serious problems with the Galactic Senate. Take parliamentary procedure, for example. There doesn't seem to be any rule about who may speak when. Indeed, in this chamber, even nonmembers may speak and make motions! It's hard to see this chamber actually functioning as depicted, and it's really a wonder the government managed to last as long as it did. But one of its most notable flaws is the absence of political parties.
Basically, this is a large chamber, containing thousands of delegates. It would be very difficult to run a chamber of this size without some way of organizing it, such as breaking members into parties. It would be prohibitively difficult to assemble winning coalitions on any divisive issue without the aid of parties. The chamber also clearly had strong ideological divides over war policies and the strength of the executive, and given the amount of money the government must have been shelling out to finance its war against the Separatists while ignoring things like slavery, the disbursement of funds must surely have been an issue of some importance. It's surprising that stances on these issues wouldn't coalesce into some kind of party structure.
Yet we see no evidence that parties even exist, no less organize the Senate. Basically, the Galactic Senate is like the Nebraska Unicam, only with a much larger budget and more floating legislators.
This is a real shortcoming for the Galactic Senate, for the one thing it really needed was an organized minority party. Such a party would have had the incentive to investigate the Palpatine government when it was secretly spending untold sums to raise a clone army. It would have organized opposition to Senator Binks's (Naboo) proposal to grant Palpatine dictatorial powers, structuring some sort of floor debate rather than just passing the bill by acclamation through a series of grunts. Through its oversight and investigative powers, it may well have uncovered Palpatine's plot and prevented his becoming emperor.
A minority party might have been led by Padmé Amidala, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, and others who would later play key roles in the rebellion. They were clearly concerned about an overly powerful executive and excesses of the war. But as this deleted clip from Episode III suggests, they were too late in organizing, meeting in secret to avoid discovery. Had they organized earlier, they could have been more public, and the republic could have enjoyed a healthy debate rather than a dangerous and rapid shift toward tyranny.
Of course, Palpatine would have derided such an organization as "the party of no" and labeled it as needlessly divisive. If there were any journalists in this universe other than sports commentators, they might have decried the polarized environment and called for the parties to compromise. Pundits no doubt would have diagnosed Padmé and others as suffering from Palpatine Derangement Syndrome. But as annoying a situation as this would have been, it would have been far preferable to the outcome depicted in the films.
As yet, we have little idea what the restored republic's government will look like in Episode VII. But we can only hope that its founders saw the value of partisan government, and that those who find themselves on the losing side of parliamentary arguments have the good sense to organize a minority party.