Western polyarchies are broadly equivalent to regimes categorized as liberal democracies’ or even simply “democracies”. Their heartlands are therefore North America, Western Europe and Australasia, although states ranging from India and Japan to the ‘new’ South Africa all exhibit strongly polyarchical features.
The term ‘polyarchy’ is preferable to liberal ‘democracy’ for two reasons. First, liberal democracy is sometimes treated as a political ideal. Secondly, the use of ‘polyarchy’ acknowledges that these regimes fall short, in important ways, of the goal of democracy.
All states that hold multiparty elections have polyarchical features. Nevertheless, western polyarchies have a more distinctive and particular character. They are marked not only by representative democracy and a capitalist economic organization, but also by a widespread acceptance of liberal individualism.
Western polyarchies are not all alike, however. Some of them are biased in favour of centralisation and majority rule, and others tend towards fragmentation and pluralism. A system of consociational democracy is particularly appropriate to societies that are divided by deep religious, ideological, regional, cultural or other differences. Consensual or pluralistic tendencies are often associated with the following features:
• Coalition government
• A separation of powers between the executive and the assembly
• An effective bicameral system
• A multiparty system
• Proportional representation
• Federalism or devolution
• A codified constitution and a bill of rights
B. Postcommunist regimes.
The collapse of communism in the eastern European revolutions of 1989 – 1991 undoubtedly unleashed a process of democratisation that drew heavily on the western liberal model. The central features of this process were the adoption of multiparty elections and the introduction of market-based economic reforms. In that sense, it can be argued that most (some would say all) former communist regimes are undergoing a transition that will eventually make them indistinguishable from western polyarchies. Nevertheless, for the time being at least, there are reasons for treating these systems as distinct. In the first place, the heritage of their communist past cannot be discarded overnight, especially when, as in Russia, the communist system had endured for over 70 years. Secondly, the process of transition itself has unleashed forces and generated problems quite different from those that confront western polyarchies. One feature of Postcommunist regimes is the need to deal with the politico-cultural consequences of communist rule. A second set of problems stem from the process of economic transition. The ‘shock therapy’ transition from central planning to laisse2-faire capitalism, advocated by the International Monetary Fund, unleashed deep insecurity because of the growth of unemployment and inflation, and it significantly increased social inequality. Important differences between Postcommunist states can also be identified. The most crucial of these is that between the more industrially advanced and westernized countries of 'central’ Europe and the more backward ‘eastern’ states. In the former group, market reform has proceeded swiftly and relatively smoothly; in the latter, it has either been grudging and incomplete or it has given rise to deep political tensions.
C. East Asian Regimes.
The rise of East Asia in the late twentieth century may ultimately prove to be a more important world-historical event than the collapse of communism. Certainly, the balance of the world’s economy has shifted markedly from the West to the East in this period. However, the notion that there is a distinctively East Asian political form is a less familiar one. The widespread assumption has been that modernization means westernisation. Translated into political terms, this means that industrial capitalism is always accompanied by liberal democracy. However, this interpretation fails to take account of the degree to which polyarchial institutions operate differently in an Asian eon text from the way they do in a western one. Most importantly, it ignores the difference between cultures influenced by Confucian ideas and values and ones shaped by liberal individualism.
East Asian regimes tend to have similar characteristics. First, they .ire orientated more around economic goals than political ones. Secondly there is broad support for ‘strong’ government. Powerful ’ruling’ parties tend to be tolerated, and there is general respect for the state. Although, with low taxes, and relatively low public spending (usually below 30 per cent of GDP/gross domestic product/), there is little room for the western model of the welfare state, there is nevertheless general acceptance that the state as a ‘father figure’ should guide the decisions of private as well as public bodies, and draw up strategies for national development. This characteristic is accompanied, thirdly, by a general disposition to respect leader, because of the Confucian stress on loyalty, discipline and duty. Finally, great emphasis is placed on community and social cohesion, embodied in the central role accorded to the family. The resulting emphasis on what the Japanese call ‘group think’ restricts the scope for the assimilation of ideas such as individualism and human rights, at least as these are understood in the West.
D. Islamic regimes.
The rise of Islam as a political force has had a profound affect on politics in North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. In some cases, militant Islamic groups have challenged existing regimes, often articulating the interests of an urban poor. Islam is not, however, and never has been, simply a religion. Rather, it is a complete way of life, defining correct moral, political and economic behavior for individuals and nations alike. Political Islam aims at the construction of a theocracy in which political and other affairs are structured according to ‘higher’ religious principles. Nevertheless, political Islam has assumed clearly contrasting forms, ranging from fundamentalist to pluralist extremes.
E. Military regimes.
Whereas most regimes are shaped by a combination of political, economic, cultural and ideological factors, some survive through the exercise, above all, of military power and systematic repression. In this sense, military regimes belong to a broader category of authoritarianism. Military authoritarianism has been most common in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia, but it also emerged in the post-war period in Spain, Portugal and Greece. The key feature of a military regime is that the leading posts in the government are filled on the basis of the person’s position within the military chain of command. Normal political and constitutional arrangements are usually suspended, and institutions, through which opposition can be expressed, such as elected assemblies and a free press, are either weakened or abolished.
Although all forms of military rule are deeply repressive, this classification encompasses a number of regime types. In some military regimes, the armed forces assume direct control of government. The classical form of this is the military junta, most commonly found in Latin America. This operates as a form of collective military
Government cantered on a command council of officers who usually present the three armed services: the army, navy and air force. The second form of military regime is a military-backed personalized dictatorship. In these cases, a single individual gains pre-eminence within the junta or regime. In the final form of military regime, the loyalty of the armed forces is the decisive factor, but the military leaders content themselves with ‘pulling the strings’ behind the scenes.