The concept of political regime Essay Sample
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The concept of political regime Essay Sample
The first thing that needs to be said is that I’ve chosen this topic as it seems very relevant and interesting to me. The concept of political regime is very widespread and popular among different scholars. So, let’s try to understand the meaning of this concept. According to G. O’Donnell and P. Schmitter, political regime is “the ensemble of patterns, explicit or not, that determines the forms and channels of access to principal governmental positions, the characteristics of the actors…and the resources and strategies that they can use to gain access’’ (O’Donnell and Schmitter 1986, p.73).
Another interpretation was given by V. Gel’man, who defines a political regime as a combination of actors with their resources and strategies and political institutions (Gel’man, Ryzhenkov and Brie 2003, p. 19-32). It is obvious that these definitions are quite similar, so we can distinguish some common features of them: specific actors that have an access to political power, channels and strategies of political participation and certain resources that determine the allocation of governmental positions.
However, I consider that the definition given by O’Donnell and Schmitter is a more relevant one as it is quite comprehensive and gives a certain understanding of the scope of these components in terms of application, i. e. not just resources and strategies, but also resources and strategies to gain access to principal governmental positions. On the other hand, though the definition might seem clear, there are still some problems regarding its components: what should and should not be included in the concept of a political regime.
Another problem is connected with the classification of regimes as there are plenty of types and all of them are diverse and comprehensive. So, it is a kind of a challenge to make up a clear system of terms. Speaking about the classifications, there are several of them. The first one was made by L. Diamond. In his work “Thinking about hybrid regimes” Diamond distinguishes such political regimes as Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Ambiguous Regimes, Competitive Authoritarian, Hegemonic Electoral Authoritarian, Politically Closed Authoritarian (Diamond 2002, p.26).
By ambiguous cases he means the regimes about which we don’t have much reliable information whether candidates and parties are free to campaign, the political opposition has a fair chance to win. He takes Ukraine, Nigeria, and Venezuela as an example of a such situation. As for democratic cases, he uses the minimalist concept by J. Schumpeter, where the democracy is “a political system in which the principal positions of power are filled through competitive struggle for people’s vote”( Schumpeter 1947, p. 269).
The form of electoral democracy is determined by “regular, competitive, multiparty elections” (Diamond 2002, p. 22), while the liberal one is specified with a wide range of political rights and civil liberties. Another important issue, mentioned in his classification, is the concept of hybrid regimes that combine democratic and authoritarian traits. He uses the quote from “The End of the Transition Paradigm” by T. Carothers to define the hybridity of a country by putting it into the specific “ political grey zone…between full-fledged democracy and outright dictatorship”(Carothers 2002, p.9,18).
He considers that all authoritarian types, ambiguous regimes and even an electoral democracy can be called hybrid. Diamond also pays a great attention to the nondemocratic regimes. He argues that the competitive authoritarian type is rather “a product of the contemporary world” and it can be defined by significant parliamentary opposition, certain degree of diversity and freedom in civic space and political pluralism (Diamond 2002, p. 24).
Electoral or hegemonic authoritarian regime has such significant features as extraordinary results of president’s elections (e.g. he “wins three-quarters or more of the popular vote”, like in Algeria in 1999), prolonged presidential tenure and non-competitive conditions during the elections (Diamond 2002, p. 32). Politically closed authoritarian regime is defined by the absence of “multiparty electoral competition of some kind” (Diamond 2002, p. 25). Another major classification of political regimes was made by M. Alvarez, J. A. Cheibub, F. Limongi and A. Przeworski. In their work “Classifying Political Regimes” the scholars use “dichotomous” basic classification, i. e.it is based on two concepts of democracy and dictatorship (Alvarez et al 1996, p. 4).
By their definition, democracy is a political regime that is specified with contestation during the elections. The contestation means that even the opposition has a chance of winning the office, and that no matter who won the elections, he or she has a right to enter the office, i. e. the results of the elections “must be irreversible” (Alvarez et al, p. 6). Besides, the scholars emphasize that in democratic regimes the elections should be necessarily repeated in order to give a chance of winning to other contestants.
Then they distinguish three basic assumption by which they decide whether a country is a democracy or not:1) “the chief executive must be elected”;2) “the legislature must be elected”;3) “there must be more than one party” (Alvarez et al, p. 7-8). They divide democracies into parliamentary, mixed, or presidential. Dictatorships, in turn, are defined as the regimes which failed to meet those three conditions of democracies. But the authors explain the third condition using more details and add the fourth one especially for non-democratic cases.
Alvarez and his colleagues broaden the one-party rule to conditions when there are no parties at all or the current administration created non-party or one-party systems during their tenure or the incumbents illegally change the rules or the regime according to their desire. The additional rule is characterized by extralong tenures and suspiciously successful elections, i. e. the incumbents haven’t lost even once. As for dictatorships classification, the authors make three distinctions of this type:1) the extent of popular mobilization, i. e. is there any political participation for the masses;2) “the number of formal powers”, i.e. does the country have executives, legislatures and parties;3) the presence of legislatures, i. e. are there certain laws that restrict the power of dictators.
According to the first issue, dictatorships are divided into “mobilizing” (with participation) and “exclusionary” (without it). Due to the second division, dictatorships are “divided” (with some powers) and “monolithic” (have no legislatures and parties). Finally, the third distinction simply divides regimes into ones with legislatures – “bureaucracies” or without them – “autocracies” (Alvarez et al, p.16-18).
It should be noted that these two classifications have both similarities and differences. Let’s start by considering similar features. To begin with, both classifications use the minimalist concept of democracy as the scholars focus on the competitiveness of elections, not on the economic and social aspects of democratic regimes. Secondly, in both cases authors contribute to the theoretical grounding by creating their own types of regimes and by confirming their hypotheses with empirical data.
They make up set of tables that visually represent the information about the analyzed countries. Frankly speaking, these classifications are rather different than similar. First of all, Diamond’s classification is polychotomous (is sixfold typology), while Alvarez’s one is dichotomous (is twofold typology). Moreover, the latter classification has no ambiguous and hybrid cases as the authors consider diverse division more likely to have errors in defining the regime. Besides, these classifications use different methods to define the regime of a country.
L.Diamond uses the Freedom House scores of approximately 192 countries at the end of 2001, while M. Alvarez and his colleagues range 141 countries according to their own distinctions during every year of 41 years period of observations. So, one must admit that the concept of a political regime is quite comprehensive. And what about its usage? I guess that it is used somehow different in various spheres. As I have already mentioned before, political scientists use this concept when they mean the combination of political actors, political participation and ways of allocating governmental positions.
In mass media this concept is very often used from the negative point of view – it is more about dictatorship issue. Take the political situation in Zimbabwe as an example. The ruling period of this county’s president Robert Mugabe is called a regime, because it lasted for 37 years and considered to be a dictatorship. In 2007 Australian Prime Minister John Howard made a controversial statement that is represented in this news headline: “Australia’s Howard says Mugabe regime like Nazis” (Reuters).
It is very clear that in this sense the term ‘regime’ has negative characteristics. One can also notice that here the meaning of this term, used by a politician, is also similar to those of political scientists. Another example, illustrating this point, can be the statement made by George Soros, American investor and political activist, about the present Russian regime:” Western sanctions, coupled with the sharp decline in the price of oil, will force the regime to fail on both counts” (The Guardian).
Here the meaning of a regime is also the same. So, to sum up, the usage of the political regime concept is basically the same in the political sphere but it is slightly different in mass media, and, consequently, in common people minds it is seen as somehow negative. Since the usage of this concept is quite widespread, it is important to understand how it can be used to interpret and explain political process. Let’s take recent events in Catalonia as an example. In October 2017 the Catalan parliament voted for the independence from Spain.
The major reason of a such decision is connected with the Spanish regime. In order to interpret these events, one should go back in history to the days of the Francoist Spain. Keeping in mind basic features of regimes, especially totalitarian one, we can explain why the Catalans wanted to fight the government and gain autonomy taken from them back. And nothing has significantly changed since that times, except for the change of a regime to a more democratic one and regranted autonomy.
The present Spanish regime imposes a great pressure on this region by putting its leaders in prison, cutting public spending, denying the independence. And it seems that their methods are sometimes not democratic at all. The concept of a political regime can be useful here as it will clearly distinguish the range of actions that is appropriate or not according to the situation and to the declared regime in the country. It can also help political scientists and other experts or investors to evaluate the current political process in terms of reliability of this country, like in case of Russia.
Many experts consider Russian regime as unfavorable for investment as strong authoritarian traits hinder the development of foreign funding. So, in conclusion I would like to state that the concept of a political regime is quite diverse and wide. Although, many scholars have already contributed to its development, this concept still needs to be studied and discussed as we live in a constantly changing world which creates new conditions and cases to research practically every day.