In Topic 3.5, you will be expected to explain how political participation is impacted by a regime’s use of power and authority. There are five specific components to this topic. Let's break down each component individually.
Understand that political participation can be voluntary or coerced (forced) as well as done on an individual or group basis.
The two most common forms of political participation are voting (formal and individual) and protests (informal and group). Voluntary or coerced participation can occur in both authoritarian or democratic regimes. For example, voting is a requirement of all citizens in Australia (democracy) and North Korea (authoritarian regime). The only one of the course countries that has compulsory voting is Mexico, but there are no sanctions and no enforcement... so is it really compulsory?
Protests are another form of political participation that can occur in authoritarian or democratic regimes. Now, remember thatcivil society is the shared interests, purposes, and values of typically non-governmental agencies that attempt to enhance the participation of citizens in policymaking. In democratic regimes, there is typically a much more robust civil society that allows citizens to have their collective voices heard. However, in authoritarian regimes, it is common for the government to coerce individuals into counter-protests in order to diminish the impact of protestors and their influence. Two course countries that typically use this tactic are Russia and Iran.
Political participation can be in support of or against a regime and that participation can be independentof the state or under the direction of the state. To illustrate this, let's refer back to our last discussion in which Russia often employs counter-protestors in order to diminish protests against the government. So, these counter-protests are under the direct of the state to make sure that all citizens comply with the Russian Government.
Certain political conditions make it more likely that citizens will engage in violent political behavior, especially when citizens feel that their more conventional options are ineffective or unavailable. In all 6 course countries, we have seen violent political behavior at one time or another on the part of citizens. Let's look at one example from each country:
In all 6 course countries, we have seen violent political behavior at one time or another on the part of citizens. Let's look at one example from each country:
UK (Northern Ireland)—The IRA (Irish Republican Army) committed acts of violence in order to regain independence for Northern Ireland. The UK responded with army occupation to try and end IRA attacks.
Mexico—In 1994, the Zapatista Army declared war on the Mexican Government demanding work, land, education, etc. for the indigenous populations of Chiapas. The result was an expansion of indigenous rights.
Nigeria—Boko Haram is a terrorist group that seeks to create an independent state in Nigeria. It uses violence, kidnapping, etc. to challenge the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government has responded with violence.
China—2009 Uyghur riots erupted in the capital city of Xinjiang. The riots were sparked by Uyghur dissatisfaction with how the Chinese government handled the deaths of Uyghur workers during a previous uprising. This is a good time to go back to Topic 3.2: Political Culture. Nationalism is extremely important in China, being Han Chinese or part of the majority population can lead to tension and mistreatment of minority groups like the Uyghur who are Muslim Turks in terms of ethnicity. The Chinese government has responded with violence, even going as far as to set up concentration camps trying to shape the political socialization of the Uyghurs.
Russia—Chechen conflict and wars have raged for years in Russia. Chechens, an Islamic minority group, continue to resist Russia’s control of the once independent nation. Currently, Chechnya is once again under Russian rule after the Russian military violently attacked insurgents in the area.
Iran—In 2019-20, there were nationwide protests over the significant increases in oil prices in Iran. Protestors were initially peaceful but became more violent with some calling for the removal/overthrow of the Supreme Leader. Iran responded by shutting down the internet for 6 days, as well the government killed hundreds of protestors.
Formal political participation (including casting ballots in elections) can be encouraged across regime types to enhance legitimacy, gather input, act as a safety valve, or apply a check on governmental policies.
Time to discuss a few terms here to better understand this key concept. First, the term legitimacy refers to the right to rule as determined by citizens. The second term is safety valve, or processes that allow discontented citizens to express themselves in order to prevent rebellion or revolution.
Let's tackle legitimacy first. In each of the course countries, regardless of regime type, political participation is used to enhance legitimacy. For instance, in the UK, Mexico, Russia, Iran, and Nigeria citizens are allowed to directly vote for the legislative or executive branches. This is done to provide the people a say in government and therefore increase legitimacy or the right of those leaders to rule.
Protests, civil society, and items such as referendums allow for safety valves to prevent all-out rebellion. We can go back to the Zapatista’s in Mexico that, through their violent protests, placed pressure on the Mexican government and saw the Mexican government respond with new programs to help the indigenous people of areas like Chiapas.
There is one observation or tendency that needs to be shared prior to moving onto our next key concept: authoritarian regimes are more likely to use citizen participation to intimidate opposition or give an illusion of influence, while democratic regimes hold elections to allow citizen control of the policy-making process.
Our final key concept in this topic is the referenda, which we mentioned above briefly with Mexico and the Zapatista protests. A referenda or referendum allows citizens to vote directly on policy questionswhich is one more way that citizens can participate in politics.
Referenda can be used for a variety of reasons including as a means to promote democratic policymaking, to allow a chief executive to bypass the legislature, and to oblige citizens to make difficult and potentially unpopular decisions on public policy issues. An example, mentioned directly in the CED, is the United Kingdom, which has used referenda to decide questions about the devolution of powers to regional assemblies, the separation and creation of an independent nation-state, and their withdrawal from the European Union
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