To put it nicely, limbo sucks. Well… the dance might not, but the eternal holding place for (depending on precisely what you believe) the unbaptized, those not evil enough for Hell but not good enough for Heaven and not qualifying for Purgatory, anyone caught in management reforms, etcetera and so on forever and ever amen… Ahem
It’s not fun being stuck in a situation where you can’t make a decision until something you can’t control resolves itself. I’ve been there multiple times, and it’s never fun. When an entire bloody country is stuck in limbo, well… About the best thing that can be said about that is that at least the bastards can’t do anything to make things worse.
Yes, I’m cynical. I’ve long held the opinion that the only problem with a hung parliament is that nobody will take it literally. Similarly, I’m quite certain that not only are almost all politicians corrupt, the set up of pretty much any governing body is largely designed to attract the corrupt and corruptible. Us sensible folks don’t want to deal with the hassle.
This is one of the reasons I don’t do light and fluffy. I came of age in one of the more notoriously corrupt Australian states, and grew to have a very jaded view of any and all authority figures as a result of that (I particularly despise the jocular, avuncular types. They’ll throw you under the bus without blinking).
This is kind of awkward when it comes to fictional governments. The “wise king” is such a strong fantasy trope that we tend to forget that said king really only has access to a collection of extremely filtered information. Unlike us modern folks, the average historical or fantasy king is making decisions based on what his advisors tell him. Even when he’s got magical assistance, if the advisors are corrupt, or the people gathering information for the advisors are corrupt, the king’s decisions are going to be… skewed. To put it nicely.
On the flip side of the technological divide, the problem in any high-tech society isn’t a lack of information so much as finding a way to sort the important stuff from the noise. And boy is there ever noise. Today’s society is so loaded with stuff parading itself around and pretending to be useful information that most of us can’t deal with it. I certainly can’t: I start from the default position that at least 90% of anything that’s coming through the media is false. Whether it’s outright lies, spin, shading the facts, or just plain ignorance doesn’t matter. It’s pretty much all inaccurate, not least because we’re currently several generations into what I sincerely hope is not deliberate torpedoing of the educational system to produce obedient little drones.
Honestly, in many ways Huxley’s Brave New World is way more frightening than Orwell’s 1984. No matter how many idiots mistake the latter for an instruction manual.
So how can a somewhat realistic and flawed government be portrayed in fiction?
I’d say the question is why would an author want to portray a realistic government? After all, I’m pretty sure there isn’t going to be much of a market for fictional versions of Hansard or the Congressional Record. At least, not unless they’re being sold as cures for insomnia, and even then you’re pushing it.
Seriously, when it comes to fiction, anything that’s not going to impact the plot and the characters is there to illustrate the plot or characters, or it probably shouldn’t be there. It’s often better to ignore the government system (unless your character has to deal with it – poor sod) or to use a broad brush and give the impression of something that’s familiar to readers than to try to detail it out. If the main character is bribing a government official, you can show any issues with corruption by how easily said official folds, what, precisely they get bribed with, whether there’s an expectation of quid pro quo, how scared the parties are of getting caught, and so on.
If you want to be really nasty to your characters, you can have them needing to have some official permit and a lovely dysfunctional setup where in order to acquire the permit they have to cycle through half a dozen different departments each requiring a different form that must be filled out completely and properly notarized in triplicate… ahem… getting a little over-bureaucratic there.
The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what kind of governing body a fictional setting uses, because it’s mostly background or a source of obstacles and an occasional bit of necessary help for the protagonists. The story itself could largely function without change if the government was different because all governments serve more or less the same functions (how well they serve them is a different matter and one to be endlessly debated). The characters aren’t going to get stuck in limbo waiting endlessly for someone to make the decision that lets them move forward. They’re not going to spend the book in a holding pattern (at least, not if you want to sell copies to more than your relatives and some people with very, very strange tastes).
We, alas, do not have that luxury.