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Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore Revisited: Ideologically-Bounded Democracies?  

Kai Ostwald

Malaysia and Singapore were long seen as quintessential hybrid regimes that combined elements of electoral democracy and autocracy to achieve remarkable political stability: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) dominated Malaysia’s politics for over six decades before its unexpected defeat in 2018, while the People’s Action Party (PAP) has led Singapore since the country’s independence and remains in power today. Both parties attained dominance through similar channels. UMNO and the PAP accrued significant legitimacy by overseeing decades of rapid socioeconomic development that transformed the citizenry’s lives. Embedding ideological frameworks—based on empowerment of the Indigenous Malay majority in Malaysia and overcoming systemic vulnerability in Singapore—throughout the state and the electorate provided electoral advantages and further bolstered legitimacy. This was supplemented by regularly reshaping institutions to strengthen incumbency advantages, as well as occasional usage of coercion to limit inroads by opposition challengers. Both regimes have evolved in key ways since the turn of the 21st century. UMNO saw its dominance gradually erode in the decade before its 2018 defeat. It mounted a brief comeback in 2020, but its decisive loss in the 2022 election marked a clear end to its hegemonic rule. While the PAP remains in power, it faces stiffer opposition and a “politically awakened” electorate, also marking a departure from earlier phases of uncontested dominance. While there is disagreement on how extensively these developments change the nature of the underlying regimes, several points are clear. Even if party dominance has declined, the ideological frameworks that both parties established remain intact and fundamentally shape political competition, which is free and relatively fair within the ideological bounds imposed by those frameworks. Moreover, the strength of the ideological bounds is such that no political actor has the agency to unilaterally remove them, which may preclude democratization as it is typically understood. On the opposition side, strong inroads, made in part by conforming to the ideological frameworks, have allowed opposition parties to accrue legitimacy of their own. This has made coercion more costly and has diminished its role in maintaining power. In short, elements of the regimes in Malaysia and Singapore remain resilient. But they are fundamentally different than during the peak of UMNO and PAP dominance: the opposition has accrued legitimacy, the role of coercion has diminished, and political competition now occurs relatively freely within the bounds imposed by the respective ideological frameworks. This puts the current regimes in tension with the assumptions underpinning their earlier “hybrid” classifications, and raises a question: rather than assessing how every political twist and turn moves the needle on a two-dimensional autocracy–democracy spectrum, could it be more practical to think of Malaysia and Singapore as having evolved into relatively stable vernacular democracies that, albeit not fully democratic by conventional standards, are as democratic as the ideological constraints left behind by their founding and long-dominant parties credibly allow?

Article

Political Parties in the European Union  

Karl Magnus Johansson and Tapio Raunio

Media often portrays European Union (EU) decision-making as a battleground for national governments that defend the interests of their member states. Yet even the most powerful individuals, such as the German chancellor, the French president, or the Commission president, are party politicians. At the same time the consistent empowerment of the European Parliament (EP) means that the party groups of European-level “Europarties”—political parties at European level—are in a key position to shape EU legislation. The Parliament has also become more directly involved in the appointment of the Commission, with the results of EP elections thus influencing the composition of the Commission. Examining the “partyness” of European integration, this article argues that scholarly understanding of the role of parties in the EU political system has taken great strides forward since the turn of the millennium. This applies especially to the EP party groups, with research focusing particularly on voting patterns in the plenary. This body of work has become considerably more sophisticated and detailed over the years; it shows that the main EP groups do achieve even surprisingly high levels of cohesion and that the left–right dimension is the primary axis of contestation in the chamber. It nonetheless also emphasizes the continuing relevance of national parties that control candidate selection in EP elections. Considering that most votes in the Parliament are based on cooperation between the two largest groups, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Party of the European Socialists (PES), future research should analyze in more detail how these groups build compromises. Actual Europarties, however, remain relatively unexplored. Case studies of treaty reforms or particular policy sectors reveal how individual Europarties have often wielded decisive influence on key integration decisions or key appointments to EU institutions. The Europarty meetings held in conjunction with European Council summits are particularly important in this respect. The regular, day-to-day activities of Europarties deserve more attention, both regarding decision-making and vertical links between national parties and their Europarties. Overall, it is probably more accurate to characterize Europarties as networks of like-minded national parties or as loose federations of member parties, especially when compared with the often centralized and strongly disciplined parties found in the member states.

Article

Patronage and Public Administration  

Francisco Panizza, B. Guy Peters, and Conrado Ramos Larraburu

The concept of patronage refers to the power of political actors to appoint trusted individuals by discretion to nonelective positions in the public sector. This proposed new definition avoids an exclusive association with less developed countries and recognizes the presence of patronage in modern democracies, drawing a distinction with broader terms such as clientelism and politicization. Patronage differs from clientelism because the reasons for providing patronage include a list of other motives beyond the classic particularistic allocation of public resources. At the same time, patronage is not strictly equal to politicization, as this definition reduces the influence that politicians exert on the administrative machinery to a distribution of posts. In specifying what patronage is in narrower terms, this definition merges two different literatures, one associated with institutions and political parties, and another with bureaucracies, public policy, and governance issues. Even though the meritocratic civil service is a hallmark of modern democracies, the presence of political appointees in these societies is universal. Patronage provides some benefits for governance, and any normative assessment of this type of appointment should consider the costs and benefits of this practice within each particular political and cultural context.

Article

Morality Policy  

Eva-Maria Euchner

Morality policies are a specific set of public issues that provoke fierce debates over the “right way” of living. Popular examples are the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland in 2015, the conflict on abortion policy in Poland in 2016, the reform on prostitution policy in France in 2016, and the legalization of assisted dying in Canada in 2016. Future moral questions concern the use of CRISPR in gene editing of embryos, transgender rights, the regulation of self-driving cars with a hands-off regulation, and the involvement of robots in elderly care. Morality policy analysis is a relatively new field of study that struggles with finding a clear-cut definition and delimitation of morality issues from nonmorality issues. The lowest common denominator is that value conflicts over “first principles” and “battles between right and wrong” are indicative of this type of policy, while monetary values fade into the background. Based on this definition, four groups of typical value-loaded topics can be identified, issues related to: life and death (e.g., assisted dying, abortion policy, artificial reproduction, capital punishment), gender and sexuality (e.g., homosexuality, prostitution, pornography, sex education, transgender rights), addictive behavior (e.g., drug policy, gambling policy), and limitations on individual self-determination (e.g., gun policy, veil policy, Islamic religious education). The basic analytical question that drives the scholarly community is the popular proposition that “policies determine politics.” In other words, the underlying key interest is whether morality policies provoke different political processes than “nonmorality” issues. At first, scholars from the United States started to explore this question, which was also known as “culture wars.” Later on, since the early 2000s, the enquiry expanded in Europe. Thus, a growing number of researchers are investigating policymaking processes for morality issues and are evaluating traditional explanatory factors from the field of comparative public policy analysis. These factors include, among others, the influence of political parties and party cleavage structures, interest groups and societal mobilization, and institutional as well as cultural variables (e.g., religion, value change, and cultural modernization). In most cases, a uniform and direct impact of these factors is controversial, which is probably related to disagreement about the classification of public issues as moral problems. Discussion of this problem would benefit from contributions from other fields, such as research on religion and politics, the literature on gender and politics, legislative behavior, and political psychology. Aside from a more careful review of traditional explanations of morality policy change, including in particular the role of political institutions, it would be enriching to widen the analytical focus and investigate other stages of the policy cycle. The implementation phase is particularly interesting because morality policy outputs often suffer from legal vagueness, which leaves wide room for discretion by street-level bureaucrats or other third parties. Moreover, an increasing number of cross-policy comparisons (including comparisons between morality and nonmorality issues), as well as an alternative set of methodological tools (e.g., social experiments, network analysis, and quantitative content analysis), would enrich our understanding of morality policymaking.

Article

The United Kingdom and the European Union  

Alasdair Blair

Since the end of World War II a key question that successive U.K. governments have faced is what position the country should occupy in global affairs. Such a question stemmed from the legacy of Empire, which both offered global connections and at the same time financial demands in terms of the need to maintain a global footing. These issues came to a head when the United Kingdom applied (unsuccessfully) to join the European Community (the forerunner of the European Union (EU)) in the 1960s when the country was reappraising its position in the world. And while the United Kingdom eventually joined the Community in 1973, there remained an underlying skepticism about membership within the public at large as well as within sections of the Conservative and Labour parties. This suspicion gained more traction from the 1990s onward as the then EU appeared to be moving to a deeper level of integration in the wake of the Maastricht Treaty. This spurred on Euroskeptics in the United Kingdom to campaign for independence. To put a lid on this pressure for reform, David Cameron held a referendum on U.K. membership in 2016. His gamble that this would once and for all seal the United Kingdom within the EU by closing down the issue of withdrawal did not actually materialize, as the electorate voted to leave, which in turn set the country on a path to depart the EU in 2020. Yet, despite these developments, just as was the case in 1945, the United Kingdom is in many ways still searching for a role in the world in 2020.

Article

Luxembourg and the European Union  

Robert Harmsen and Anna-Lena Högenauer

A founding member state of the European Union (EU) and a major European institutional center, Luxembourg has been a consistently strong supporter of the further development of European integration, often acting to facilitate compromises at critical moments. Its European policy rests on a broad political consensus and enjoys strong support in national public opinion. However, the country has also defended key national priorities on occasion, such as the interests of the steel sector in the early phases of European integration or its taxation policy in the early 21st century. Historically, this openness toward cooperation can be explained by reference to Luxembourg’s long experience of cooperation with neighbouring countries. Luxembourg was a member of the Zollverein (German Customs Union) in the 19th century and formed an economic union with Belgium after the First World War. European policymaking in Luxembourg is characterized by a pragmatic and informal policy style. The comparatively limited size of the national bureaucracy allows for an ease of internal communication and coordination. The typically long tenures and broad remits of national officials coupled with their multilingualism facilitate their integration into European policy arenas, where they often play pivotal roles. Luxembourgish society is further highly “Europeanized.” As the country became one of the largest producers of steel in the world, it attracted high levels of immigration from other European countries. The economic transformation of the country from the 1980s onward—moving from an industrial economy to a service-based economy centered on the financial sector—would not have been conceivable without the parallel development and deepening of European integration. In 2018, foreigners made up 48% of the resident population of the country, with citizens of the other 27 EU member states accounting for around 85% of that foreign community. The country’s labor force is further heavily dependent on cross-border workers from the three surrounding countries. This unique national situation poses a range of distinctive policy challenges regarding both the national political system and the wider governance of an exceptionally dense network of cross-border relationships.

Article

Welfare Politics in Africa  

Jeremy Seekings

The emerging literature on the politics of social protection in Africa provides insights into the ways in which the unevenly changing character of representative democracy shapes processes of public policymaking in practice. Reforms are widely on the agenda, in part as a result of their advocacy by diverse international organizations and aid donors. But there are many obstacles between the policy agenda and policymaking (and implementation). In many countries, political elites hold conservative views on cash transfer programs. The institutionalization of regular and nominally contested elections has rarely resulted in significant pressures from below for pro-poor programmatic social policy reforms. In some countries, “democratic” politics continues to revolve around competition for patronage rather than programmatic reform. In others, voters themselves seem to prioritize other programs (especially agricultural subsidies) ahead of social protection. Nonetheless, a growing number of competitively elected governments have introduced reforms, as have some semi-democratic or authoritarian regimes. For both more and less democratic governments, regime legitimation through apparently more inclusive development seems to be a more powerful factor than voter pressure.

Article

Afghanistan: Martial Society Without Military Rule  

Amin Tarzi

Since its inception as a separate political entity in 1747, Afghanistan has been embroiled in almost perpetual warfare but has never been ruled directly by the military. From initial expansionist military campaigns to involvement in defensive, civil, and internal consolidation campaigns, the Afghan military until the mid-19th century remained mainly a combination of tribal forces and smaller organized units. The central government, however, was only able to gain tenuous monopoly over the use of violence throughout the country by the end the 19th century. The military as well as the Afghan society remained largely illiterate and generally isolated from the prevailing global political and ideological trends until the middle of the 20th century. The politicization of the Afghan military began in very small numbers after World War II, with Soviet-inspired communism gaining the largest foothold. Officers associated with the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan were instrumental in two successful coups d’état in the country. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, ending the country’s sovereignty and ushering in a period of conflict that has continued into the third decade of the 21st century in varying degrees. In 2001, the United States led an international invasion of the country, which was followed by efforts to organize smaller, professional Afghan national defense forces, which remained largely apolitical and became the country’s most effective and trusted governmental institution. However, designed by foreign forces to support foreign goals, they disintegrated when left to defend the country independently against the Taliban in 2021. The Taliban may represent a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, that of having a politicized militarized force.