Chapter 5 Notes
Chapter 5 Notes PLSC 2013
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This 4 page Class Notes was uploaded by Elise Herenton on Wednesday September 28, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to PLSC 2013 at University of Arkansas taught by Jeffrey Ryan in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 7 views. For similar materials see Intro to Comparative Politics in Political Science at University of Arkansas.
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Date Created: 09/28/16
Chapter 5- Democratic Regimes Defining Democracy Democracies feature two important concepts: Democracy must comply with the rule of the people and the consent of the governed. Democracies comply with these principles in three ways: Participation (voting), competition (between candidates or parties), and preservation of liberties. Democracies refer to governments which are governed either directly or indirectly by the public and feature participation, competition, and liberty. However, this is also a subjective definition. Communist states define a democracy as a system that promotes collective equality. Thus, scholars use the definition liberal democracy, or a political system that promotes the values of participation, competition, and liberty when describing such systems. Factors that Contribute to Democratization Some have suggested that a distribution wealth is a factor that explains democratization. If national wealth is primarily held by elites, then they are less likely to relinquish power. But if wealth is evenly distributed, those in power may be more likely to step down peacefully. Economic fluctuations may also cause elites to relinquish power, if they lose their ability to generate capital. However, the failures of modernization theory to explain democratization have led to competing explanations. Civil Society, or organizations outside of state control and which help people define and advance their interests, may also contribute to democratization. Such organizations can lead to democratization if they allow individuals to express their interests and draft solutions to dilemmas they encounter. Culture and Democratization Culture may explain a society’s preference for an ideology or a political process. Societies develop preferences regarding the balance of freedom and equality. Some scholars have argued that democracy is a cultural phenomenon that only develops under specific conditions. However, this border on stereotyping and does not explain recent patterns of democratization. Ex. Predominately Catholic countries Institutions of the State How power and responsibilities are distributed between political institutions will influence elements of political life in a country. Ex. Separation of Powers and Gridlock. Different characteristics between democracies can be identified according to how much power various institutions hold within a political system. The Executive Branch of a democracy is responsible for carrying out the policies and laws created by the state. Within the Executive Branch, power may be divided between a head of state and a head of government. A Head of State is an executive institution that symbolizes and represents citizens of a state, primarily in international arenas. Heads of State may be responsible for conducting foreign policy and serving as Commander in Chief of the state’s military. Some Head of State only hold symbolic powers. (Ex. The British Monarchy) Executives, cont’d. A Head of Government is responsible for developing and implementing domestic policy and serving as the head of a government. (Usually referred to as a Cabinet.) Heads of Government usually serve as a Prime Minister. A Cabinet is a body of ministers (or secretaries) who are individually responsible for implementing a specific policy. Legislatures A Legislature refers to a deliberate body in which policies that affect a state as a whole are considered, debated, and voted on. Legislative delegates represent the fewest constituents. This, combined with the process of voting on legislation, makes a legislature the most democratic in a government. Most legislatures can be classified as a unicameral or a bicameral system. Bicameral legislatures feature two chambers of representatives. Bicameral legislatures initially served of different economic classes. (Ex. British Parliament) Today, bicameral legislatures serve as a check on legislative power and allow for the representation of specific local interests. Unicameral legislatures only feature a single legislative chamber. Discuss everything together Unicameral legislatures are more common in smaller countries. (Ex. New Zealand- parliamentary system) Models of Democracy Recall: how power is distributed between institutions influences the balance of political life in a state. Enough similarities exist between democratic systems to identify three basic systems: Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential democratic systems. In a parliamentary system, the roles of head of state and head of government are assigns to spate executive offices. In this system, a prime minister is a member of the legislature, who holds executive powers within the legislative chamber. Thus, there is a limited separation of power between the Legislative and Executive Branches in a Parliamentary system. A party that holds the majority of seats in a parliament can elect own prime minister with little interference. Thus, a Prime Minister is not selected by the citizens of a state. If no party wins a majority, two or more parties will form a coalition, or a temporary alliance of parties that is arranged to establish a government. In this instance, the prime minister comes from the party holding the most seats. Parliamentary Systems, cont’d. In some systems, Prime Ministers may trigger elections at my point at any point during their term, (A “Snap Election”- happens quickly). This is likely to occur if a party believes that voters will reward their party with additional seats in a legislature. If no election has is called for, then one must be held after a specific interval. (5 yrs) Prime Ministers remain in office as long as they have support of their party and its allies. Prime ministers can be removed with a vote of no confidence, or a vote among legislators to support or remove a prime minister. Thus, the length of a prime minister’s term is not predetermined. Presidential Systems In a Presidential system, the roles of head of a state and head of government are combines into a single legislative office. This ‘President’ may have some control over a cabinet and over the legislative process. Presidents and legislators usually serve a fixed term and are not easily removed from office. Presidents under this system are directly elected and may draw political support from the public at large. This can give a president influence that legislators struggle to match. In countries with a powerful Cabinet system, national support may allow a president to fill Cabinet posts without the support of the legislature. Presidents are effectively independent of a legislature and vice-versa. This creates a strong system of checks and balances, and allows the president and the legislature to block the other’s initiatives. Semi-Presidential Systems Under a semi-presidential system, power is divided between a head of state and head of government, both of whom exercise power. Presidents (heads of state) in this system are typically elected by the nation as a whole. Prime ministers (heads of government) are selected by and subject to a parliamentary body. Exact divisions of power vary between countries. In some countries, Presidents may have some influences over the selection if Prime Minister. Presidents are usually responsible for developing new policies proposals or ideas. Prime ministers usually translate these ideas into legislation and work to pass it. Presidents are also responsible for foreign policy under this system. Semi-Presidential systems are most common in France and former soviet republics. Benefits and Drawbacks Parliamentary systems allow a national government to pass laws quickly and efficiently, and are less likely to be gridlocked. However, this also weakens the separation of powers and has the potential to lead to a tyranny of the majority. Voters also have limited control over the Cabinet and little ability to stop government actions. Presidential systems allow voters to directly selected a leader, who can only serve a limited term. However, poor leaders cannot be easily replaced. Independence from the legislature strengthens separation of powers, but contributes to gridlock and (possibly) divided government. Separation of power may also lead to a polarized, unstable political process. Electoral systems An Electoral system refers to the rules that decide how votes are cast, counted, and translated into seats in a legislature. A key element of an electoral system is the construction of constituencies, or the geographic areas that elected officials represent. How constituencies are organized influences the political process. Ex. Ethnic or religious groups. How votes are cast also shapes elections. Two systems are used to count votes in democracies: Single-member district system and a proportional representation system. Single-Member Districts (SMDs) A single-member district system refers to an electoral system in which a single district sends a single representative to a national legislature. Members in this system are elected through a plurality-based system, where a winning candidate must win more votes than another candidate, even if they do not receive a majority of the votes. In this system, votes cast for a losing candidate do not contribute to the election of any candidate. A potentially large percentage of voters do not have their vote count towards the organization of a government. Trump only got 30 something percent of the vote but because there were so many republicans running for office, he ended up winning the majority vote, even if 60 something percent of people voted against him. This system limits the appeal of smaller parties, as they stand little chance of gaining seats in a legislature. Thus, a plurality-based system is more likely to lead to system that is dominated by two parties. Single-member Districts, cont’d. In SMD elections, the personal appeal of a candidate may be more influential than the appeal of the party platform. This reduces the influence of political parties. In presidential systems, a SMD-style election also limits party discipline. Voters may also focus exclusively on the election of the president. Voters give less attention to legislative elections. Proportional Representation (PR) Proportional Representation (PR) refers to an electoral system in which parties compete in multi-member districts and seats in a legislature awarded based on a party’s strength of support. A multi-member district refers to a constituency that seats multiple representatives. Under this system, voters select a political party rather than a candidate. The percentage of the vote determines how many seats from that district a party will hold. So: If a party won 50 percent of the vote, their representatives would take 50 percent of the district’s seats. PR systems allow parties that win even a small percentage of the vote to seat delegates in the legislature. Thus, a larger number of voters are able to determine the composition of the government. Benefits and Drawbacks Party discipline and party ideology play a stronger role in a PR system. Since voters select a party rather than an individual candidate, candidates are less likely to adopt independent positions. A PR system also may enable religious or ethnic minorities to send representatives to a national legislature. PR systems are sometimes helpful in resolving ethnic and national conflicts. However, governments are usually formed through coalitions, since no party is likely to win a majority of seats in a legislature. Under these conditions, governments may not last for more than a few months. Ideologically driven parties can also use coalition building as a way to extract concessions from larger parties. SMD systems allow voters to directly connect with representatives. Conclusions Democracies can emerge from a variety of contexts. Factors such as modernization, distribution of wealth, and (importantly) the presence of Civil Society all help promote democratization. Culture also influences democratization, is not a sufficient explanation by itself. The type of power that democratic institutions hold will influence politics in that country. Combining or separating the Executive and Legislative branches will influence the ability of the government to act. How institutions (including electoral systems) are empowered will create political systems, which provide benefits to their citizens. All of these systems can be effective at guaranteeing civil liberties and civil rights.
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