George M. Bob-Milliar
Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015.
Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.
Climate change is increasingly being framed as a “climate crisis.” Such a crisis could be viewed both to unfold in the climate system, as well as to be induced by it in diverse areas of society. Following from current understandings of modern crises, it is clear that climate change indeed can be defined as a “crisis.” As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5oC special report elaborates, the repercussions of a warming planet include increased food insecurity, increased frequency and intensity of severe droughts, extreme heat waves, the loss of coral reef ecosystems and associated marine species, and more. It is also important to note that a range of possible climate-induced crises (through, e.g., possible increased food insecurity and weather extremes) will not be distributed evenly, but will instead disproportionally affect already vulnerable social groups, communities, and countries in detrimental ways.
The multifaceted dimensions of climate change allow for multiple interpretations and framings of “climate crisis,” thereby forcing us to acknowledge the deeply contextual nature of what is understood as a “crisis.” Climate change and its associated crises display a number of challenging properties that stem from its connections to basically all sectors in society, its propensity to induce and in itself embed nonlinear changes such as “tipping points” and cascading shocks, and its unique and challenging long-term temporal dimensions. The latter pose particularly difficult decision-making and institutional challenges because initial conditions (in this case, carbon dioxide emissions) do not result in immediate or proportional responses (say, global temperature anomalies), but instead play out through feedbacks among the climate system, oceans, the cryosphere, and changes in forest biomes, with some considerable delays in time. Additional challenges emerge from the fact that early warnings of pending so-called “catastrophic shifts” face numerous obstacles, and that early responses are undermined by a lack of knowledge, complex causality, and severe coordination challenges.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and newspapers across the country declared that gay couples could now exercise this right in all 50 states. While the Obergefell decision was an important moment in history and a significant victory for the LGBT movement, it was not an immediate and complete change in policy. Rather, the change emerged slowly over decades from numerous complex interactions among federal, state, and local governmental actors. These same actors continue to influence marriage equality even after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling.
A careful consideration of the path of marriage equality demonstrates the importance of federalism in the evolution of policy in the U.S. context. Not only does the extent of federal involvement influence state decision-making, but state policies also respond to the policymaking processes in other states. Examining the progression of marriage rights for same-sex couples also illustrates how variation in state government institutions shape policy outcomes in the U.S. system. For example, aspects of state courts such as judicial capacity influence the nature of state policy responses on the issue of gay marriage. Finally, focusing on marriage equality provides an opportunity to consider how institutions of government and political actors strategically interact to influence the policymaking process. For example, advocacy coalitions make strategic choices to focus on levels and institutions of government that are more responsive to their interests. Overall, same-sex marriage policy and the scholarship that investigates it highlight the complex and sometimes convoluted development that characterizes the policymaking process on many important issues in American politics and society.
Finland joined the European Union together with Austria and Sweden at the beginning of 1995. At first glance, Finnish membership appeared as a rapid change of political orientation, given the inflexible policy of neutrality the country had maintained until the early 1990s. In spite of the brevity of national adaptation and consideration, the decision to follow Sweden and submit an application for EU membership was based on an overwhelming political consensus. All the major political elites, including party and interest organizations, key actors in the private sector, and the media were in favor of Finnish membership. In the referendum for EU membership in October 1994, membership was supported by 57% of the people.
A stable popular support characterized the Finnish EU policy for the first 15 years of its EU membership and distinguished Finland from its Nordic neighbours in the EU. The popular approach was anchored in a perception of EU membership representing a comprehensive change from the country’s difficult position in the Cold War era to full-fledged membership in the Western community. Finland thus joined the EU’s currency union as the only Nordic member state and adopted a constructive approach toward more integration in most policy fields. It was only in the context of the economic and financial crisis of 2008–2009 that Finnish public opinion became—at least temporarily—heavily polarized by the EU question. This resembled the situation in many other EU member states. During the two decades of Finland’s EU membership, the country has experienced a Europeanization of its political system and legislation. EU membership has contributed to a further parliamentarization of Finland’s semi-presidential political system with EU affairs being designated to the powers of the government and coordination of policies taking place at the prime minister’s office. Due mainly to EU membership, the Finnish Parliament has also become an influential actor in foreign and European policies.
Finland has smoothly adjusted to the EU’s policies and has become a persistent proponent of the EU’s unity in external relations. Since the first years of its EU membership, the country has been in favor of majority decisions and a stronger role played by the commission and the EP in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It has also gone through a major change in its legislation on crisis management and the tasks of defense forces to be able to better fulfill membership commitments to the EU’s security and defense policies.
After the polarization of EU opinion taking place in the framework of the general elections of 2011, and leading to the emergence of an anti-EU “Finns Party” as the third-largest party in Finland, a more consensual atmosphere has recently returned with increasing levels of public support to EU membership. The Finns Party first made its way to the governmental coalition together with the two largest center-right parties in 2015, which significantly softened its EU criticism and moved its focus to an anti-immigration agenda. Finally, in 2017 the Finns Party was split into two parts with the more moderate part practically failing to establish itself in parliamentary or European elections of the spring 2019.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule.
Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate.
Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
As a group engaged in struggles for representation and inclusion, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have vied for access to social and political power. There is little dispute that LGBT people are a relatively powerless group in society, but the extent to which the group is powerless is subject to debate in political science. Scholars disagree over the extent of powerlessness because the definition of power is contested among political scientists. As such, scholars have examined the powerlessness of LGBT people in varying ways and reached different conclusions about the success the group has had in achieving rights and visibility.
LGBT powerlessness emerges from the group’s status as sexual and gender minorities. Over time, the boundaries that constitute the group have shifted in response to power asymmetries between LGBT people and cisgender, heterosexuals who control access to political and social institutions. In addition, power asymmetries have emerged within the LGBT community at the intersection of race, class, and gender as well as across subgroups of the acronym LGBT. Thus, the distribution of power and powerlessness vary within the group as well as between the group and dominant groups in society. These within- and across-group variations in power shape LGBT group boundaries, representation and public opinion, and voting behavior. The powerlessness of LGBT people must be understood in relation to these contingencies that define the group’s boundaries, and the ways in which power is distributed within and across groups.
Transboundary haze pollution affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility, but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze, and the fires that cause it, has been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically. This has resulted in a very dynamic research agenda that has to keep up with these changes.
Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia making up almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. This includes research by this author, using the patronage politics framework. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations, and how this affects patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues.
Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) over land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, at the same time, these peat areas face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land.
The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion. And the major players of the palm oil sector also come from this region. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And ASEAN has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments like Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act suggest that countries may be losing confidence with regional efforts, which may be an indicator for future directions for solutions as well.