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Contrary to popular belief, Northern Irish politics is not an entirely religious affair. The widespread and longstanding use of the labels “Catholic” and “Protestant” to denote political allegiance undoubtedly contributes to such an impression. The relationship between religion and politics in Northern Ireland is, however, more complex than these convenient labels suggest. Indeed the question of whether and to what extent religion possesses any political significance in the region has generated considerable academic debate. Organizationally, there is a clear separation of church and party in Northern Ireland. The main political parties have eschewed formal ties with churches, and faith leaders have largely confined themselves to involvement in “small p” politics. The one exception to this general rule has been the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Its close ties with the Free Presbyterian Church has long rendered it a unique case in the British and Irish context. The historical relationship between the main unionist parties and the Orange Order, a quasi-religious organization, further blurs the lines between religion and party politics in Northern Ireland. Since the signing of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement in 1998, alternative or non-ethnonational political issues have become increasingly salient in Northern Ireland. More specifically, touchstone moral issues have taken center stage on several occasions. Abortion rights and marriage equality, for example, remain high on the contemporary political agenda, with clear party differences observable on each issue. The staunch moral conservatism of the DUP, derived from its commitment to a fundamentalist Protestant doctrine, again sets it apart. The continued exceptionalism of Northern Ireland on these issues, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and, increasingly, Ireland, serves to reinforce the importance of understanding the role religion plays in shaping party policy programs and party competition in the region.

Article

Matthias Basedau

Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability. Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.

Article

Russell H. Kaschula and Michael M. Kretzer

Language policies in sub-Saharan African nations emerge out of specific political, historical, socioeconomic, and linguistic conditions. Education plays a crucial role for all spheres of language policy. Policies either upgrade or downgrade indigenous languages through their application at various educational institutions. The most significant example is the selection of the language(s) used as languages of learning and teaching at higher-education institutions. The region’s colonial history also influences the language policies of the independent African states. Language policy in Senegal is an example of a francophone country focusing on a linguistic assimilation policy in which minor reforms in favor of indigenous languages have taken place. Rwanda’s language policy is unique as the former francophone nation now uses English as an exoglossic language in a type of hybrid language policy. Botswana is an example of an anglophone country that follows a language policy that is dominated by a very close connection to the notion of nation-building through its concentration on a single language, Setswana, alongside English. Tanzania is an anglophone African country whose policy focuses on Kiswahili, which is one of the very few indigenous and endoglossic languages. Kiswahili is broadly used in Tanzanian educational institutions until the tertiary level, but its use as medium of instruction focuses on the primary level. South Africa demonstrates the very close relationship between general political decisions and language policy and vice versa. Language policy decisions are never neutral and are influenced by the politics of a specific country. As a result, individual and societal language attitudes influence language policies. In addition to this, the overt and official language policy on a macro level may differ from the implementation of such policies on a micro level. At the micro level, practice can include covert language practices by various stakeholders.