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Representation

and the Political


Process

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Democracy
 Direct (historically earlier form): citizens
themselves govern
 To which extent is it possible?
 Representative (modern)
 Government by citizens’ representatives
 The main principles:
 The state is a separate entity above society
 The state derives its authority from citizen consent

 State officials have an autonomy from society, but


are accountable to it

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 What is the meaning of representation?
 1. Rulers are elected, granted authority to govern -
but may not necessarily do what citizens want:
unfulfilled promises
“painful but necessary” reforms
 2. Rulers are not elected, but govern in such a way
that citizens do feel that their interests are taken
into account
kindly kings, benevolent dictators seeking citizen
support
 Obviously, electoral democracy is a better form of
representation
 But major problems remain
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 For instance:

 washingtonpost.com: Big-Money Contributors Line


Up for Inauguration

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 1. Electoral mechanisms: how well do they
communicate society’s demands to the state
 2. Channels of citizen influence on the government
between elections – in the policy-making process
 3. The contents of policy
 Some of these problems can be solved through
improvements in the mechanisms of representation
 But there are strong arguments in favour of
reinforcing representation with robust institutions of
direct democracy

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The political process

The political process can be described as the flow of


political power
This flow never stops
It has its own patterns, reproduced over and over
again in a systematic way
It moves through institutions, links, channels which
connect society with the state

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The Political Process
Elections Government

LAWS AND POLICIES


Interest Executive
Groups
INTERESTS

Demands
Political
Parties
Assembly

Supports
Media Judiciary

Social impact of laws and policies

SOCIETY THE STATE


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Some interests have more weight than others. Such
differences are reflected in every part of the political process
Some interests need the state more than others
Different interests need the state for different things
The flow of power has a dual nature
Power flows in two directions:
from society to the state
from the state to society

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Overall, the dominance of the society-to-state flow should be a
sign of democracy: the government heeds societal
demands
But if one looks at the unequal distribution of power, the
picture looks different
Economically dominant classes exert dominant control over
both flows of power
The rise of economic inequality in society is a sign that the
political process works primarily for those at the top,
creating a DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT

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Interest Groups and Interest
Articulation

The basic actor in the political process is the individual citizen


The range of individual political impact -
From letters to MPs and newspapers
To being a Bill Gates – or a Prime Minister’s close friend

But most individuals can have any impact only by acting


through interest groups – created to articulate (formulate
and express) group interests
In modern societies, they are numerous
They vary in structure, goals, style, financing, support base
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4 main types of interest groups*

 ANOMIC
 NONASSOCIATIONAL
 INSTITUTIONAL
 ASSOCIATIONAL

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*See Gabriel Almond, Bingham Powell et al., Comparative Politics Today,
8th edition, Longman, 2003, Chapter 4

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ANOMIC GROUPS

Spontaneous (more or less) formations which arise to


respond to a specific issue, usually in a crisis –
demonstrations, riots
Not well-organized or sustained -
but may trigger off revolutions…
Can be created by organized groups

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NONASSOSIATIONAL GROUPS

Like anomic groups, not well-organized


Unlike anomic groups, are based on common
identities, such as ethnicity, region, religion,
occupation, etc.
Can be very large (ethnic communities in Canada) – or
very small (residents of a village)

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INSTITUTIONAL GROUPS

Formal groups created for the purpose of influencing


government policy
Mostly elite groups, are created by people possessing
significant social power - businessmen, military
officers, bureaucrats, politicians, the clergy
Possess large resources – financial, organizational,
etc.
Often have direct channels of influence on policy

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ASSOCIATIONAL GROUPS

Created to represent on a sustained basis diverse


social interests – trade unions, business sectors,
ethnic, religious, civic groups, etc.
They lobby, finance election campaigns, put out their
message through the media
A strong civil society is characterized by the existence
of strong, well-organized non-elite associational
groups which exert real influence on the political
process

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How interest groups act and interact

3 main interest group systems:


Pluralist – free interplay between the groups
Democratic corporatist – systematic, organized
coordination, with involvement of government
officials
Controlled – in authoritarian states, have no freedom
of action, closely controlled by ruling parties and
bureaucracies (authoritarian corporatism)

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Channels used to transmit demands
Legal access channels:
Personal connections
Mass media
Political parties
Legislatures
Government bureaucracies
Protest demonstrations, strikes
Coercive methods:
Protest demonstrations, strikes
Boycotts
Riots
Terrorism
Coup d’etat 17
Interest Aggregation
The process through which demands are translated into policy
proposals

The key pre-modern (feudal) mechanism for IA is


the patron-client network (the crony system):
who knows whom, who is obliged to whom, who serves
whom – personal, informal, and flexible tools of power
In modern democracies, generally considered ineffective. Rule
of law, active citizenry, media freedom, competitive elections
limit the usability of cronyism.

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The main modern IA mechanism is the political party. Some
interest groups (institutional and associational) also perform
IA tasks.
But patron-client networks have not disappeared from modern
democracies
They continue to serve as unofficial - but not necessarily illegal
- mechanisms interlocking with official institutions
When a patron-client network is used to break the law, this is
called corruption. But the lines between the legal and the
illegal are often blurred

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Political Party

An interest group seeks to influence the state


A political party seeks to capture control of the state

Functions of political parties:


provide links between the rulers and the ruled
formulate programs to govern society
help organize the process of policy-making
recruit and train citizens for political leadership roles

How are political parties created?


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1. BY COMPETING ELITES

The first parties, usually created in early parliaments, were


elite factions with narrow popular bases, divided by ideology
and interest, fighting each other for power
With the rise of democracy, they are forced to reach out into
broader society to seek voter support
Example of an elite party which successfully adapted to mass
politics – the British Conservative Party

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2. BY CIVIL SOCIETY

Organized by citizen activists, interest groups seeking to


reduce the power of elites - or overthrow the elites
altogether

The influence of these mass parties comes from the


numbers of their supporters. They are interested in mass
participation, and their programs are built around popular
demands

NOT ALL MASS PARTIES ARE DEMOCRATIC -


TOTALITARIANISM IS A FORM OF MASS POLITICS

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2 basic types of party systems:

Competitive (in democracies)


Non-competitive (in authoritarian states)

In non-competitive systems, one party rules, allowing no


challenges to its control of the state

Competitive:

One-and-a-half party systems (Japan until recently)


2-party systems (USA, also Canada)
Multiparty systems (most European states)

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Parties in government

In one-party authoritarian systems, the party,


organized as a military-type command structure,
controls both state and society
In two-party systems, the majority party has a high
degree of control over government
In multiparty systems, government is often formed on
the basis of several parties (bloc, coalition).
Differences between parties in a coalition may
undermine the government

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 http://www.wegovern.ca/

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