How to Judge the Legitimacy of a Political System?

Legitimacy being the degree of faith, rightfulness, justness, respect and willing support that a political system and its authority-holders enjoy, no political system can function without it.

However, legitimacy cannot be measured only in terms of the obedience of laws and policies by the people, because it can be a forced obedience, or obedience due to a fear of the power of the rulers.

In authoritarian and totalitarian political systems and in dictatorships the rulers secure a high degree of obedience for their policies and rules, but their regimes always lack real legitimacy.

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In such systems, the authority holders use coercion to get their commands accepted. A dictator always comes to power by the use of force, violence suppression or dominance. However, he later on tries to secure legitimacy for his regime. For this he uses several different means.

President Zia of Pakistan used Islamic fundamentalism and ‘controlled elections’ as the means to secure legitimacy for his regime. President General Musharraf of Pakistan secured the services of an as elected government for securing legitimacy for his authority. He continued to be both the head of military as well as the head of state.

In November 2010 the military rulers of Myanmar (Burma) held a controlled and tailored general election to demonstrate the legitimacy of their illegitimate rule. In the socialist political system of the (erstwhile) USSR also the obedience to state policies used to be secured by the state and not rendered by the people.

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It is only in a democratic political system that there arises the need to analyse the degree of legitimacy that it enjoys. Such a system is in need of legitimacy more than other types of political systems because in order to maintain and develop itself as a democratic system, it must continuously maintain and even increase the degree of legitimacy that it enjoys.

While discussing the issue of Legitimacy, Blondel also suggests the way the legitimacy of a political system can be measured. He writes, “There are in fact, two ways in which one can talk about the extent of legitimacy, or the dimension of legitimacy enjoyed by the political system and its power holders.

(i) One is the number of persons and their groups who support the political system. The greater this percentage, the more legitimate the political system or group would seem to be.

(ii) Second is the intensity of the system. Members of the political system or group can be very passive, almost neutral or else intensely opposed or intensely in favour of the political system.

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By linking these two aspects we can try to measure the legitimacy of a political system and its authority holders.”

It can be observed that for judging the legitimacy of a political system and its authority- holders, several factors have to be analysed.

1. Nature and level of popular, voluntary and active public participation in the political process.

2. The degree of support that the Political System continuously and enduringly receives from the people.

3. Rational attitude of the people towards authority.

4. Respect enjoyed by the authority-holders and state symbols.

5. The nature and level of political conflict.

6. The faith of the people in the objectives, goals, values and basic structure of the constitutional system.

7. Credibility of the authority-holders and decision-makers.

8. Willing popular support being given to the policies and decisions made and implemented by the authority-holders.

9. Degree and extent of popular support for the top leadership.