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Political Institutions. Levels of Governance. Political Institutions. Unitary System. Government has authority over all lower levels of government Authority may be granted to the lower government but power resides in the central government

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levels of governance
Levels of Governance

Political Institutions

unitary system
Unitary System
  • Government has authority over all lower levels of government
  • Authority may be granted to the lower government but power resides in the central government
  • Lower level governments have no power granted them by a Constitution
federal systems
Federal Systems
  • Lower level governments are granted authority by the constitution
  • Power cannot be taken away from the lower levels
advantages to the federal system
Advantages to the Federal System
  • Logistically advantageous for large countries
  • Accommodate regional differences
  • Reduce tensions in regions given to social, ethnic, and religious conflict
disadvantages to the federal system
Disadvantages to the Federal System
  • Lack of uniformity
  • Possible reinforcement of social divisions
  • Affiliation of two or more states
  • No strong central government
  • Member states retain a great deal of sovereignty
  • Example: European Union
  • Characteristic of a unitary system
  • Transfer of power from a central government to the lower levels
political institutions1
Political Institutions

Executive and Legislative Systems



Single Chamber


Different chambers for different classes

Common feature of federalism, one house is regional represented

duties of the legislature
Duties of the Legislature


Authorizing taxes and government spending

Selection, Approval, and Removal of Government Officials

Oversight of the Executive

parliamentary system
Parliamentary System

Prime Minister is the head of government

Removed by

    • national elections
    • Legislature vote of no confidence

Monarch or President is the head of state

  • Largely ceremonial but may be elected
  • Very little real power

Other Important Terms:

Party Discipline: following directions of party leaders

Opposition/Shadow Government

parliamentary system1
Parliamentary System





Hasty Decision

Concentration of Power

Efficiency in passing legislation

fusion of power

Accountability for Voters

Reward/punish those in office

presidential system
Presidential System

Directly elected president

President serves as both head of state and government—no prime minister

Powerful, and cannot be removed other than by impeachment or election

Not beholden to legislature

Can weaken party as candidates focus on winning one single election versus coalition building and working up the ranks

presidential system1
Presidential System



Difficult to Remove


Unable to pass legislation

Creeping Authoritarianism

Concentration in the office of the presidency over time

Check on Majority Rule

Less likely to ‘undo’ legislation

National Mandate

Only nationally elected office

National support for policies

semipresidential system
Semipresidential System

Combination of two systems

Prime minister who is charged with domestic policy

Directly elected president who sets broader agenda and foreign relations, national security

Russia, South Korea, Taiwan

benefits of each
Benefits of Each
  • Benefits and downsides of a parliamentary system?
  • Of a presidential system?
  • Semipresidentialism?
  • Remember—this completely unconnected from the kind of electoral system used for legislature
  • Could have president with PR to elect legislature
political institutions2
Political Institutions

Elections and Electoral Systems

participation voting and elections
Participation: Voting and Elections
  • Central to liberal democracy
  • Suffrage: right to vote
    • Age, ethnicity/race, income?
    • Obligatory, voluntary?
  • Electoral systems: How do we count votes? How do we waste votes?
    • Single Member District (SMD)
    • Proportional Representation (PR)
single member districts smd
Single-Member Districts (SMD)
  • Electoral system used in minority of democratic countries, including US, Canada, Great Britain
  • Constituencies as single-member districts: only one seat being contested per district
  • Numerous candidates compete; voters cast ballots for one individual
  • Candidate with plurality (largest share) wins seat. “First past the post”
  • May not be a majority! Majority of votes could be “wasted”—not be cast for the winner!
effects of single member districts smd
Effects of Single-Member Districts (SMD)
  • Large number of votes may be wasted
  • Share of seats may not reflect the share of votes won
  • Small parties tend to do badly, unable to gain first place in single member districts
  • Result is a two party system—people unwilling to vote for small parties
  • One alternative is to have two rounds or other mechanisms to ensure majority
proportional representation multimember districts
Proportional Representation: Multimember Districts
  • System used by majority of liberal democracies
  • Attempts to make proportion of votes reflect number of seats won in the legislature
  • Voters cast vote for a party (not a candidate) that competes in multimember districts
  • Votes are tallied and seats divided by the percentage gained by each party
effects of proportional representation multimember districts
Effects of Proportional Representation: Multimember Districts
  • Fewer votes wasted—small parties can win seats
  • Elections not centered on individuals, as in SMD
  • Parties control who will fill seats for their party, increasing party discipline
  • Many more parties in legislature—may lead to coalition government (no one party has majority of seats)
which is the more democratic system
Which Is the More Democratic System?
  • Attractions of SMD? Drawbacks?
  • Attractions of PR? Drawbacks?
  • Which is more democratic?
    • Participation?
    • Efficiency?
mixed electoral system
Mixed Electoral System
  • Some countries use both SMD and PR: Germany, Japan, Mexico, others
  • Some seats in legislature elected by one system and some by the other
  • Voters get a dual ballot—cast vote for a single member district and for a party
  • Can split your vote between two parties, save PR vote for smaller party, SMD for larger one!
electoral system and executive legislative relations
Electoral System and Executive-Legislative Relations
  • Parliamentary systems with SMDs less likely to have multiple parties
  • PR in parliamentary systems make coalition governments more likely
  • Electoral system and executive system not connected—independent of each other
referendum and initiative
Referendum and Initiative
  • National ballot on an issue
  • Referendum: top-down, binding on government
  • Initiative: bottom-up, binding on government
  • Countries vary greatly in how these are used
    • US and Canada: no constitutional provision
    • Switzerland: very common
political institutions3
Political Institutions

nondemocratic regimes and governance

origins of nondemocratic rule
Origins of Nondemocratic Rule

War, occupation, imperialism

  • Poorly drawn borders
  • Uneven modernization
  • Weak autonomy and capacity
  • International support for nondemocratic regimes
culture and nondemocratic rule
Culture and Nondemocratic Rule

Culture rather than ideology shapes authoritarianism

  • Political culture: social roadmap for politics
  • Democracy as a Western product
    • Christianity
    • Secularism
    • Individualism
    • National identity and nation-state
  • Not universal?
outside of the west
Outside of the West
  • Non-Western cultures less receptive to democracy?
  • Islam: tight connection between religion and state?
  • “Asian Values”: Confucian emphasis on community over individual?
  • Western democracy may appear anarchic, selfish in comparison!
problems with the cultural argument
Problems with the Cultural Argument
  • Critics argue that democracy can spread
  • Not limited by cultural barriers
  • Asian values: but spread of democracy to much of Asia in 1990s!
  • Confucianism, Islam can each be interpreted differently
nondemocratic and political control
Nondemocratic and Political Control

How do nondemocratic regimes stay in power?

  • Coercion and Surveillance
  • Cooptation
  • Personality Cults
  • Legitimacy?
coercion and surveillance
Coercion and Surveillance
  • Means of control
  • Observation, use of force
  • Targeted harassment, torture, killings
  • Inculcation of fear necessary
  • Secret police as political tool to enforce
  • Bringing individuals into an organization and forming a relationship
  • Dependency on organization
  • Cooptation is present in democracies, widespread in nondemocratic system
methods of cooptation
Methods of Cooptation


  • Limited number of state-sanctioned organizations
  • No private organizations allowed
  • Organizations connected directly to state


  • Less structured method
  • Public exchanges political support for specific favors or benefits
  • Rent-Seeking: parts of state “rented out” to supporters

Kleptocracy: rule by theft

personality cults
Personality Cults
  • Promotion of image of leader above mortal qualities
    • Extraordinary wisdom and power
    • Quasi-religious qualities
    • Use of media to portray this image
    • All failings ascribed to “lesser” people below him or her
    • Terror: no one willing to that leader is fallible?
can a non democratic rule be legitimate
Can a Non-democratic Rule be Legitimate?

Accepted form of Government

  • Yes—charisma (Mao)
  • Yes—tradition (monarchs)
  • Yes—rationality (rule by unelected “experts”)
types of nondemocratic rule
Types of Nondemocratic Rule
  • Personal and Monarchical Rule
  • Military Rule
  • One-Party Rule
  • Theocracy
  • Illiberal/Hybrid Regimes
types of nondemocratic rule1
Types of Nondemocratic Rule

Personal and Monarchical Rule

  • One person alone is fit to rule
  • Patrimonialism: ruler depends on collection of supporters in the state who gain direct benefits from that rule

Military Rule

  • Military seizes control of state: coup d’etat
  • Often justified as a temporary move
  • Often lacks a specific ideology
types of nondemocratic rule2
Types of Nondemocratic Rule

One-party Rule

  • Single political party monopolizes power, and other parties banned or excluded from power
  • Benefits given to party members in return for support
  • Leadership uses the party to mobilize and spread propaganda as needed
types of nondemocratic rule3
Types of Nondemocratic Rule


  • “Rule by God,”
  • Faith is the foundation for the political regime

Illiberal/Hybrid Regimes

  • Possess democratic mechanisms, but weakly institutionalized
  • Executives typically hold tremendous power
  • Democratic processes not well respected
  • Subject to sudden changes, arbitrary withdrawal
  • Media under state control
  • State institutions under direct control of government (politicized)
political institutions4
Political Institutions

Political Parties and Bureaucratic Systems

types of party systems
Types of Party Systems
  • One Party
    • Single party
    • One party generate support from the government
    • Non competitive
    • Example: China’s CCP
  • One Party-Dominant
    • Large party controls the political system
    • Small parties may exist but not competitive
    • Example: Mexico’s PRI
types of party systems1
Types of Party Systems
  • Two Party Systems
    • Two parties compete for the majority of control
    • Smaller parties play no role in the electoral outcome
    • Example: UK
  • Multiparty systems
    • Several important political parties
    • None gain a majority in the legislature
    • Example: Iran and Nigeria
unelected institutions in government
Unelected Institutions in Government
  • Bureaucracy
    • Part of the executive responsible for the implementation of government policy
  • Tasks of the Bureaucracy
    • Implementation of laws and policy
    • Agenda setting and advising on policy specifics
    • Interpretation of existing but vague laws
    • Policy creation
unelected institutions in government1
Unelected Institutions in Government
  • Organization
    • Cabinet departments/ministries
    • civil service/ civil servants
  • Military
    • Hierarchy
    • Implements policy
    • Civilian vs. government control
  • Judicial Independence: degree to which freedom exists from the other branches
  • Civil Law System: statutes and codes
  • Common Law: judges interpret law, setting precedent
  • Rule of Law: constitution
  • Judicial Review: rule on the constitutionality of governmental policies
    • Constitutional judicial review
    • Statutory judicial review