I. Premise: The course began by discussing Aristotle, history’s first comparative political scientist. In his most famous book, Politics, Aristotle attempted to answer what continues to be one of the sub-discipline’s central questions: what is the ideal form of government? Aristotle approached this question by systematically studying every constitution available up to that point. Fast forward to the present and comparativists are still tackling this same question. However, our methods have changed and there is substantial disagreement regarding the definition of what constitutes an “ideal” or even a superior constitution. This course has sought to answer this question. We began by discussing the concept of the state and the challenges created when the nation or nations living within a territory and the state in charge of that territory do not fully overlap, as well as when the state lacks the capacity to exert full authority over its territory. We then discussed the concept of democracy, contrasting it with a variety of authoritarian regimes. From there, the course looked at the different institutional arrangements present in modern democracies through the lens of Madison’s Dilemma – the tradeoff between having and effective and a representative government. Following the mid-term, the course focuses on the challenges to democratization and how divisions within society – societal cleavages and how identities (ethnic, religious) – influence political behavior, challenge the state, and facilitate/hinder political violence.
II. Assignment: The provisionary government of San Escobar has recently overthrown its long-standing dictator. YOU (with funding from USAID) have been hired as an advisor. You have been tasked with proposing a working draft of the articles on political institutions that will serve as the basis for the constituent assembly’s discussion on the matter. When drafting the constitution, you should keep in mind: -1) Madison’s Dilemma: challenge of devising a government that is both representative of the population but flexible and capable of effectively governing the country -2) Majority Dilemma: preventing tyranny of the majority vs. allowing democratic majority to implement its political agenda -3) Type of Government: Presidentialism vs. Parliamentarism -4) Electoral System: majoritarian vs. plurality vs. proportional apportionment, how the electoral system shapes the party system (district magnitude, thresholds/quotas for entering the legislature) -5) Regional Autonomy: unitary vs. federal, number and composition of legislative chambers -6) Determinants of Democracy: Factors that shape the success of democracy and how you can make the most of/lessen the damage from them -7) How cultural/ethnic and religious divisions influence the prospects for democracy -8) Ensuring adequate representation of women You will then be asked to justify your institutional choices.
III. About San Escobar Context: is a tropical island nation located in the center of the Indian Ocean. The military-backed secular dictator who ruled this island nation with an iron grip for 30 years was recently overthrown following a popular uprising led by a coalition of secular democrats and the Children of the Sun, a devout Zoroastrian sect. This coalition, known as the Transitional Council, has assumed temporary control of the government and has charged you with the task of drafting a democratic constitution that will then be voted on in a nationwide referendum. Political Context -Past Experience: no prior democratic experience and no long-standing political parties. -Children of the Sun: the most organized and popular political grouping -Base: rural areas and the poor. -Organization: banned from organizing politically during the dictatorship. Operating underground for decades turned it into a very cohesive group with extreme loyalty among its members. -Secular Democrats: constitute a broad coalition with diverse opinions on how to organize the country’s politics and economics. -Base: middle class and urban professionals. -Organization: given their diversity of opinions and visions – ranging from Marxists to Libertarians – secular democrats will struggle to form a single cohesive political party. -Concerns: worry about religious dominance under democracy. While together they make up a significant portion of the population, they are deeply split on most policy issues. -The Military: the country’s most trusted political institution. Originally a strong supporter of the regime, they saw the writing on the wall and opted not to repress protestors. -Questionable Commitment to Democracy: Although the military played a key role in the overthrow of the previous regime, the top leadership remains skeptical of democracy. -Concerns: The military prides itself on being secular and a symbol of a modern, forward-looking San Escobar. It worries democracy will usher in a religious government under the Children of the Sun. It also concerned that bickering among democratic politicians may lead to instability. -Demographics: Ethnically, San Escobar has a relatively homogenous population. There is a religious minority. -Muslim Minority: represents roughly 10% of the population. As a religious minority, the Muslims are concerned about the prospects of being a permanent minority in a democracy where the main political actors are the Children of the Sun. Given their minority status, they had previously backed the dictatorship. They fear discriminations and even reprisals under a possible Children of the Sun government.
-Polls: if elections were held today, the Children of the Sun would receive 45% of the vote, compared to 40% for the secular pro-democracy opposition (assuming they are able to field a single slate of candidates). Economic Context: -Development: GDP per capita of $5,500 (1985 dollars) -Productive Structure: revenues from oil represent about 15% of GDP. This is substantial but low compared to Middle Eastern oil producers. The economy is fairly diversified. It exports light manufactured goods and tropical fruits mostly to Europe. IV. Grading and Points: the assignment is worth 25% of your grade and consists of three parts. 1. Draft a democratic constitution for the fictional San Escobar: 35% 2. Explain and justify your decisions (up to 5 pages, single-spaced): 50% 3. Asses the value of this exercise (up to 2 pages single-spaced) (15%). o What was the most challenging part of the assignment? Why? o How important is “getting the electoral rules right” to ensuring the survival and success of democracy? o What are other domestic political issues that newly established democratic governments should worry about to ensure democracy’s survival? 4. Meeting: Extra 5% Recommended Sources: Htun, Mala et al. 2013. “Between Science and Engineering: Reflections on the APSA Presidential Task Force on Political Science, Electoral Rules, and Democratic Governance. Perspectives on Politics 11, 3: 808-840. Lijphart, Arend. 2004. “Constitutional Design for Divided Societies.” Journal of Democracy 15, 2:96-109.