Southern Africa is a region marked by huge tensions caused by the longevity of colonial rule and racial discrimination. Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa all achieved independence only years after most of Africa, and only with protracted militarized struggle. Even those countries that did enter independence in the 1960s, alongside most of Africa, were marked by the struggles of their neighbors—Zambia, host to exile liberation movements, was a frequent military target; and wars, sponsored or supported by apartheid South Africa, continued to rage in Angola and Mozambique even after they achieved independence. This has marked the post-independence politics of most countries of the region, almost all of whom have gone through, or remain within, an era of one-party politics or dominant party rule. In part, this can be read as a residual longing for stability. In other part it can be read as a “liberation generation” using its history as a lever by which to hang onto power. Having said that, the politics of each country has distinctive characteristics—although one has certainly been protracted effort to adhere to forms of ethics, such as “Humanism” in Zambia, and truth and reconciliation in South Africa. The contemporary politics of the region, however, is one with forms of authoritarianism and corruption and, in many cases, economic decline or turmoil. The rise of Chinese influence is also a new marker of politics in the region as all of Southern Africa, with many different former colonial powers, enters a new era of problematic cosmopolitanism—with the international jostling with already sometimes-volatile elements of ethnic diversity, balancing, and conflict.
Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
The study of constitutionalism often begins with the question of what a constitution is. Sometimes the term refers to a single legal document with that name, but the term “constitution” may also refer to something unwritten, such as important political traditions or established customs. As a result, scholars sometimes distinguish between the “Big-C” constitution, that is, the constitutional document, and the “small-c” constitution, the set of unwritten practices and understandings that structure political life. Constitutionalism is typically associated with documents and practices that restrict the arbitrary exercise of power. Most constitutions contain guarantees of rights and outline the structures of government. Constitutions are often enforced in court, but nonjudicial actors, like legislatures or popular movements, may also enforce constitutional provisions. The relationship between democracy and constitutionalism is not at all straightforward, and it has received an enormous amount of scholarly attention. Constitutionalism seems to both undergird and restrain democracy. On the one hand, constitutions establish the institutions that allow for self-government. On the other, they are often said to restrict majoritarian decision-making. Related to this question of the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy are questions about how constitutions change and how they ought to change. Can written constitutions change without changes to the text, and can judges bring about these changes? Do extratextual changes threaten or promote democracy? Finally, not only do individual constitutions change, but the practice of writing constitutions and governing with them has also changed over time. In general, constitutions have grown more specific and flexible over time, arguably, allowing for a different kind of constitutional politics.
Benjamin Ferland and Matt Golder
One common way to think about citizen representation is in terms of the ideological distance between citizens and their representatives. Are political elites ideologically congruent with citizen preferences? Electoral systems are an especially important political institution to consider when studying citizen representation because they influence the size and ideological composition of party systems, how votes are translated into legislative seats, the types of governments that form after elections, and the types of policies that get implemented. In effect, electoral institutions affect each stage of the representation process as one moves from citizen preferences to policy outcomes. Research on ideological congruence indicates that electoral rules can cause distortions in citizen-elite congruence to emerge and disappear as one moves through the representation process. In this regard, studies show that proportional electoral systems enjoy a representational advantage over majoritarian systems when it comes to legislative congruence (the ideological distance between the median legislative party and the median citizen) but that this advantage disappears when it comes to government congruence (the ideological distance between the government and the median citizen). Although research on citizen-elite ideological congruence has made significant progress over the last two decades, several new lines of inquiry are still worth pursuing. One is to move beyond the traditional focus on the left–right ideological dimension to evaluate citizen representation in a truly multidimensional framework. Another is to develop a unified theoretical framework for thinking about ideological congruence and ideological responsiveness. For too long, scholars have conducted studies of citizen-elite congruence and responsiveness in relative isolation, even though they address fundamentally related issues. In terms of measurement issues, progress can be made by developing better instruments to help locate citizens and elites on a common metric and paying more attention to the policymaking dynamics associated with minority and coalition governments. Existing studies of ideological congruence focus on the United States and the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe. Scholars might fruitfully extend the study of citizen representation to presidential democracies, other regions of the world, and even authoritarian regimes. Among other things, this may require that scholars think about how to conceptualize and measure citizen representation in countries where parties are not programmatic or where elites are not necessarily elected.