Friday, March 30, 2012


Here are some selected past examination questions and suggested (specimen) answers for them. Read them carefully and try to master the art and technique of answering exam questions.
1. Define legitimacy.
Legitimacy may be defined as the acceptance of a governing regime (government) as an authority. In other
words, the legal right to rule a country is called legitimacy. A legitimate system of government is one
which is based on authority. It means that those subject to its rule recognize its right to make collective
decisions and implement laws, policies and procedures.
Legitimacy may also be defined as the extent to which the citizens obey, without questioning, the laws and
accept the policies, the procedures, acts, decisions, officials and the leaders of the government and the system,
structure and manner of administering the government. In other words, the widespread belief and feeling
among the majority of the population of a country that the government's rule is rightful or legal is known as
legitimacy. It must be noted that legitimacy is judged in the court of public opinion, not in a court of law.
Carlton C. Rodee defines legitimacy as "the extent to which citizens regard the State, its institutions, its leaders or
policies and programmes as morally right or acceptable."

2. Explain the term legitimacy.
Legitimacy is whether or not people accept the validity or authority of a ruling government. A government that is based on the "consent of the governed" is considered "legitimate." In other words, if the majority of the citizens of a country obey the laws of the State; accept the decisions, policies and programmes of government leaders; accept the institutions of the government as legal; and believe that the government has authority and that it properly should have the authority, then the government is regarded as legitimate. ("Legitimate" means lawful, legal, proper).
Legitimacy has to do with rights : whether a government has the legal right to rule; whether the leader has been duly installed; whether correct procedures have been followed in enacting a law. Legitimacy is also considered as the relationship between the rulers and the ruled (governed): the citizens of a country authorize and submit themselves to the law in return for protections and benefits from the State.
A government is legitimate if it obeys the laws it makes and when its authority its widely accepted. To be legitimate, the government must be supported by the majority of citizens. The government must be clean and honest, free from corruption and govern the country according to constitutional principles. If a government lacks legitimacy, its stability and effectiveness might suffer; massive civil disobedience and violent protests and demonstrations may happen and it may also collapse. Examples of governments that collapsed on account of lack of legitimacy are: the government of the Shah of Iran in 1979; the government under the rule of President Marcos in the Philippines; the government under the rule of President Ceausescu in Romania; the government under the rule of President Alberto Fujimori in Peru; and the government under President Suharto in Indonesia.
3. How does a government achieve legitimacy?
There are many ways by which the people's loyalty may be bound to a government so that it is generally considered legitimate:
a. First and foremost, a government may gain and retain its legitimacy from its people by providing for them the things they most want: internal security; security from external aggression (security of their country's territory (borders) against foreign invasion; protection from domestic disturbance; economic prosperity and development; high employment; equal justice to all; protection of minority rights; sound economic and social policies; good governance and so on. If the government can provide these things, its legitimacy will be greatly strengthened. If it cannot, it will lose its legitimacy.
b. Second, a government can also achieve legitimacy by existing a long time. Long-established regimes are generally well-respected by their citizens. Once a government has been around for a while, people become accustomed generally to obeying its laws. People expect to operate under some government or other, so whatever government is in place and has been obeyed in the past, it is likely to be regarded as legitimate - unless a particular crisis arises or some force (another State, perhaps) intervenes from outside. In other words, once a particular government has been in place for a while, so that the people have developed the habit of obeying it, it no longer has to perpetually justify its existence. Rather, the burden of proof lies with whoever would propose an alternative government. The existing government remains legitimate unless and until a compelling alternative comes along. The Congress government under Jawaharlal Nehru in India and the Barisan Nasional government in Malaysia are examples of this.
c. Third, many governments enhance their legitimacy by the ties that exist between themselves and the people because of the government leaders' past accomplishments (their historic role) or because of the religious and or ethnic identity or similarity between the government leaders and the people. This may be especially important in a new State, in which the government has not yet been in place long enough for the people to have developed the habit of treating it as legitimate and in which the many economic and social problems that plague most new States make it difficult for the government to achieve legitimacy through better governance and better policies. Many governments of new States are able to buy time by virtue of the status they acquired in leading the State into independence in the first place. For example, the Congress Party in India, the party of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and the National Liberation Front in Algeria all had a breathing space in which their governments were accepted, simply because they had led the independence movements which had established their States in the first place. Religious and ethnic ties may also be used by a government to enhance its legitimacy. In Iran, the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini used its ties to the dominant Shiite (Shia) Muslim sect to enhance its legitimacy.
d. Fourth, the structure of government can also contribute to its legitimacy. If people feel and are satisfied that they are fairly and adequately represented in the government (in the cabinet and the legislature) and have a say in choosing their representatives and in the formulation of public policies and programmes, they are more likely to obey. The procedures of democratic election are what give a government its legitimacy. Democratic governments are chosen by competitive elections in which all citizens vote to decide which of the various alternative leadership teams are to govern. Because the resulting government has won broader support than any alternative, it gains a strong base of legitimacy. It is the government "of the people." Legislatures filled by appointment or by rigged general elections do not contribute much to legitimacy.
e. Finally, governments try to strengthen legitimacy by the use of national symbols. The national flag, historic monuments, national day parades, military tatoo and emotional speeches are aimed at convincing citizens that the government is legitimate and should be obeyed.
4. Discuss the differences between authority and power?
a. Authority is power based on a general agreement that a person has the right to issue certain commands and that those commands should be obeyed whereas power is the ability to influence the behaviour of others in accordance with one's own objective or desire.
b. An important element of authority is legitimacy, but power is the ability to use influence, persuasion, threat or force to achieve one's own objectives.
c. Authority regulates behaviour by speech and words and reasoning, but power controls behaviour by coercion.
d. Authority is based on laws or the constitution of a country whereas power is based on force or military strength.
e. Authority possesses accountability and responsibility, but power lacks these.
5. Explain the merits and demerits of rigid and flexible constitutions.
a. A flexible constitution is one which can be amended easily whereas a rigid constitution is one which requires a special and cumbersome procedure to amend it.
b. The great merit of a flexible constitution is that it can be changed according to changing circumstances or to meet new requirements or to meet any emergency. However, if a constitution is too flexible, there is a danger of instability and uncertainty. The constitution becomes a plaything in the hands of dishonest and unethical politicians and leaders. They keep on changing it according to their whims and fancies and vested interests. Such a constitution can create uncertainty which is not good for the progress of the country. If the people lose their faith in their constitution, there would be chaos and confusion and revolution in the country.
c. The great merit of a rigid constitution is that it is definite, stable and certain. The people can refer to a single document which contains all the fundamental principles with regard to the structure, functions and powers of the government. It is easy for the citizens to understand a written document and there is no uncertainty with regard to its future. The interests and rights of all the people are protected and no unscrupulous politician or political party can change it overnight. To amend a rigid constitution, a stringent procedure is required. In the case of the United States of America, for example, a constitutional amendment can only be passed by a two-thirds majority of the Congress (both the House of Representatives and the Senate) and three-fourths of the state legislatures. In Malaysia, constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in parliament (both Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat). However, in the case of a flexible constitution, (as in the United Kingdom) the legislature can pass both ordinary and constitutional laws by a simple majority. No special procedure is required.
d. Unlike the flexible constitution, a rigid constitution cannot be changed easily to adjust itself to changing situations. On account of this, the progress of a nation can be affected.
6. What are the characteristics of a good constitution
A good constitution must have certain qualities. It must be definite. It must be written down in a single document so that the people an understand what the constitutional law of the country is.
It must be written in simple, non-technical and clear language for the people to understand it better.
It must not be either too brief or too long. If it is too long, it will be dificult for the people to read and
understand it.
However, it must cover all the important legal principles and provisions, such as the system
of government; the powers and functions of the three branches of government;
the rights and privileges of the both the majority and minority groups; the procedure
for the amendment of the constitution; and the areas of responsibility of both the central
and State governments. In a Federal form of government like ours, the powers and functions
of both the Central and State governments should be clearly stated so that disputes or
misunderstanding will not arise.
Furthermore, it should " neither be so rigid as to prevent change or so flexible as to encourage
tampering with basic principles." In a multi-racial and multi-cultural country, the constitution
should safeguard the interests and rights of all the citizens to ensure peace, stability and unity.
While the constitution should be stable, certain and durable, it must not be too rigid. It must go on
changing with changing times and requirements. Above all, a constitution should suit the social,
economic and political needs of the nation.
7. Explain the two types of democracy.
Democracy means rule by the majority with the protection of minority rights.
The two types of democracy are: (i) Direct or Pure democracy and (ii) Indirect or
Representative democracy.
In a direct democracy, all the people meet at one place and decide the matters that
concern them. This means that all people participate in the decison-making process in a
direct democracy.
In the small city-states of ancient Greece, the adult male citizens met together in the Assembly
and decided the important issues of the day.
Representative democracy refers to governance through elected representatives. The people elect
their representatives during a general election who then make decisions (enact laws) on their behalf.
Some examples of countries that practise representative democracy are Malaysia, India, Australia.
8. Explain the weaknesses of democracy.
Democracy is a government by the representatives of the people.
1. In a democracy, government is in the hands of the majority party and that party can can afford to
tyrannise over the people.
2. Democracy is a very expensive form of government. In a democracy everyone has to be cared for and it
requires a lot of money to satisfy the needs of all. Moreover, a lot of money has to be spent on electoral
campaigns and frequent elections.
3. A democratic government takes a lot of time to implement its plans and programmes. Democracy is
government by consultation and hence it takes a lot of time to arrive at decisions.
4. Bribery and corruption are the common abuses of democracy. Not only the votes are bought, even the
law-makers and administrators are bribed. Money plays an important part in politics and that lowers the
moral standards.
5. Democracy puts emphasis on quantity and not quality. It makes the decision of the majority the law
even if the majority is a small one. The views of the minority are ignored as democracy puts emphasis
on the majority views.
9. Explain the characteristics of the unitary system of government.
A unitary sstem is one where there is one set of central institutions which have ultimate political and
legal auhority within the territory. Examples are: Britain, France, Japan, China.
a. All governmental power is held by the central government in the state's capital.
b. The central government may create lower levels of goverment (such as local authorities or regional
governments) and give them more or less powers, but the central government can also take away those
powers and abolish the lower levels of government according to its wish.
c. The policies and laws of the government are uniform and apply to all citizens in the country.
10. Explain two (2) advantages / benefits of a unitary state.
a. The primary benefit of this system is the clear, hierarchical authority structure which eliminates
stalemates (kebuntuan) among the regional political units.
b. The centralisation of power and authority in a single , national government, encourages citizens to
identify with the country as a whole, rather than expressing divided loyalties to regional authorities.
11. Explain the functions of a State.
The functions of the state are the following:
a. To formulate and enforce laws and policies for the whole country.
b. To protect the state against the threat of attack by other nations or from internal subversion.
c. To provide various services for the welfare and well-being of its citizens.
d. To conduct diplomatic relations with other countries.
12. Explain the rationale for the separation of powers.
Separation of powers refers to the principle that each of the three branches of goverment, namely,
the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, has its own responsibilities, functions and powers
while being legally independent of and equal to others.
The rationale for the separation of powers are the following:
a. To protect democracy
b. To avoid abuse of power by the government
c. To protect the rights and freedom of the people.
d. To enable each branch of government to act as a check on the others

Lesson 1: Discussion of constitutionalism and its relationship to human rights

This lesson introduces the concept of constitutionalism, while making a distinction between adopting a constitution and genuine constitutionalism. The relationship between constitutionalism, human rights and the rule of law is also discussed.

What is constitutionalism?

For genuine democracies, constitutions consist of overarching arrangements that determine the political, legal and social structures by which society is to be governed. Constitutional provisions are therefore considered to be paramount or fundamental law. All other laws within a country must abide by and follow the principles of the constitution. Under these circumstances, if constitutional law itself is inadequate, the nature of democracy and rule of law within a country is affected. This will affect citizens' human rights, which can only be realized and protected under a rule of law framework.

The structure of modern nations has been shaped with government being divided into executive, legislative and judicial bodies, with the commonly accepted notion that these bodies and their powers must be separated. This is one of the most fundamental tenets of modern governance, and as such is a key characteristic of any constitution. Of course, the separation of powers does not mean these bodies function alone, rather they work interdependently, but maintain their autonomy. Other tenets include the idea of limited government and the supremacy of law. Together, these can be termed the concept of constitutionalism.

In other words, constitutionalism is the idea that government should be limited in its powers and that its authority depends on its observation of these limitations. In particular, these limitations relate to legislative, executive and judicial powers. A constitution is the legal and moral framework setting out these powers and their limitations. This framework must represent the will of the people, and should therefore have been arrived at through consensus.

If these are taken to be the basic tenets of constitutionalism, then not all states with constitutions will have embraced constitutionalism; authoritarian governments or military dictatorships do not fulfil the tenets of the supremacy of law or the separation of powers. The judiciary in Cambodia for instance, is highly subordinate to the executive, blurring boundaries between the two arms of government. The huge number of disappearances of alleged political activists in Pakistan is a clear violation of the rule of law. The message sent to society in these cases is clear: it is not the constitution that reigns supreme, but those in power. It is therefore important to distinguish between adopting a constitution and genuine constitutionalism. This distinction becomes particularly important when constitutions are adopted to protect the interests of the ruling regime. A constitution is not merely a document introduced by the state with the title of 'constitution'. Many authoritarian regimes introduce such documents to justify arbitrary rule. Thailand for instance, has had a new constitution virtually every time there is a change of power. A genuine constitution however, is an attempt to limit and reverse all forms of arbitrariness.

Democracy and constitutionalism

Authoritarian governments are by their very nature unconstitutional. Such governments think of themselves as above the law, and therefore see no necessity for the separation of powers or representative governance. Constitutionalism however, is primarily based on the notion of people's sovereignty, which is to be exercised--in a limited manner--by a representative government. The only consensual and representative form of governance in existence today, is democratic government consisting of multiple political parties, fair elections, freedom of opinion and expression, and the rule of law. In this way, there is a very important and basic link between democracy and constitutionalism.

Just as mere constitutions do not make countries constitutional, political parties and elections do not make governments democratic. Several Asian countries have been termed 'illiberal democracies', for while they have periodic elections, they are not governed by the rule of law and do not protect the rights and liberties of their citizens. India and Sri Lanka are both examples of such countries, where the politicization of public institutions is common, where politicians and government officials are deemed above the law and where there is significant violence against minorities and marginalized groups. Genuine democracies rest on the sovereignty of the people, not the rulers. Elected representatives are to exercise authority on behalf of the people, based on the will of the people. Without genuine democracy, there can be no constitutionalism.

Rule of law

Rule of law refers to the supremacy of law: that society is governed by law and this law applies equally to all persons, including government and state officials [See Lesson Series 40 for a detailed study of the rule of law and human rights in Asia]. There are two aspects to the relationship between constitutionalism and rule of law: not only is constitutionalism the institutional basis for rule of law in any society, it is also safeguarded by the rule of law. Following basic principles of constitutionalism, common institutional provisions used to maintain the rule of law include the separation of powers, judicial review, the prohibition of retroactive legislation and habeas corpus. The independence of law making bodies is established, as is independence for judges in articulating and interpreting laws. Genuine constitutionalism therefore provides a minimal guarantee of the justice of both the content and the form of law.

On the other hand, constitutionalism is safeguarded by the rule of law. Only when the supremacy of the rule of law is established, can supremacy of the constitution exist. Constitutionalism additionally requires effective laws and their enforcement to provide structure to its framework.

Process of constitution making

It is now clear that the constitution is an essential document, laying out the framework of a nation's political, economic and social structure. How should such an important document come into being? First, it is necessary to note that not all constitutions are written documents. The greatest example of a constitution that cannot be found in a written format is the British constitution, which has however, existed for many centuries. Modern constitutions though, tend to be found in written documents.

A framework for a country's governance and structure cannot be laid out without deep intellectual and societal agreements on political, legal and moral issues. In order to arrive at such agreements, there must be considerable public debate and discussion prior to the adoption of any constitution. Such discussion must take into account that all societies will have conflicting interests. While certain interests will inevitably predominate, the impartial protection of rights and liberties should ensure that such dominant interests do not harm others. Drafting a constitution is therefore very much related to democracy and the rule of law.

Modern constitutions have tended to be written in the aftermath of colonial or military repression. They therefore learn from the mistakes of history, and write into new constitutions numerous limits and obligations of government. The 1947 Constitution of India for instance, paid much attention to the rights of individuals to participate in political affairs, as well as the duties of the government in protecting these rights, in particular by limiting the powers of arrest and detention. This was a direct consequence of colonial history, which saw hundreds of political activists taken away and tortured.

Questions For Discussion

1.�� �In your opinion, what are the most important aspects of constitutionalism? Discuss these in relation to the constitution of your country.
2.�� �Discuss the relationship between democracy and constitutionalism. Are non-democratic governments constitutional?
3.�� �How would you explain to a human rights activist or a law student the relationship between human rights and constitutionalism?


1. "Constitutionalist" redirects here. For parties called Constitutionalist see Constitution Party.
Constitutionalism has a variety of meanings. Most generally, it is "a complex of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law"
A political organization is constitutional to the extent that it "contain[s] institutionalized mechanisms of power control for the protection of the interests and liberties of the citizenry, including those that may be in the minority". As described by political scientist and constitutional scholar David Fellman:
Constitutionalism is descriptive of a complicated concept, deeply imbedded in historical experience, which subjects the officials who exercise governmental powers to the limitations of a higher law. Constitutionalism proclaims the desirability of the rule of law as opposed to rule by the arbitrary judgment or mere fiat of public officials…. Throughout the literature dealing with modern public law and the foundations of statecraft the central element of the concept of constitutionalism is that in political society government officials are not free to do anything they please in any manner they choose; they are bound to observe both the limitations on power and the procedures which are set out in the supreme, constitutional law of the community. It may therefore be said that the touchstone of constitutionalism is the concept of limited government under a higher law.

PAD 120

Political science may be defined as the systematic study of the state and government. This means that political scientists study the origin, structure and functions of the state and government; political institutions; political processes; various forms of government; the behaviour of individuals, groups, leaders and decision-makers; relations among nations; political theories; and the various activities of governments. Political science also deals with such fundamental values as equality, freedom, justice, power and sovereignty.
Other definitions of political science
1. Political science is an academic and research discipline that deals with the theory and practice of politics and the description and analysis of political systems and political behaviour. (Catlin)
2. Political science is the study of shaping and sharing of power. (Lasswell)
3. Political science is that part of social science which treats of the foundations of the State and the principles of government. (Paul Janet)
4. Political science deals with the associations of human beings that form political units, with the organization of their governments and with the activities of these governments in making and administering law in carrying on inter-state relations. (Gettell)
The scope of political science is very vast. “Scope” means the sub-fields or subjects or branches or topics that come under the field of political science. In other words, it refers to the contents or subjects or topics covered under the study of political science. Political science is generally divided and organized into six main fields, each representing a major subject area of teaching and research in institutions of higher learning: (i) state and government (ii) political theory (iii) comparative politics (iv) public administration (v) political behaviour (vi) international relations.
State and government.
Political science is the study of state and government. It deals with the nature (characteristics) and formation/origin (history) of the state, the various functions and forms of government. This field of study also focuses on the various political institutions such as the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary, the Cabinet, the civil service, local government, political parties, government agencies, public opinion, voting and elections and pressure groups. Political science also studies the nature of the relationship between the individual and the state.

Political theory.
Political theory involves the study of the political thought or ideas of the great political thinkers (philosophers) from ancient Greece to the present. We study the political thoughts of Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, John Rawls, John Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau and others to understand their ideas about the state and government. Based on the political ideas of these great thinkers, political theory develops, formulates and interprets concepts such as freedom, democracy, liberty, equality, human rights, justice, power and sovereignty. Political theory also involves the development of models for government, such as participatory democracy or constitutional systems and the logic that political scientists use in their inquiries.
Comparative politics (government).
Comparative politics involves the study of the politics of different countries – i.e. structure and forms/ systems of government, constitutions, legal systems, powers of various branches of the government, political institutions and practices, etc). Some political scientists, known as area specialists, study a single country or a culturally similar group of nations or the countries of a particular area of the world, such as the countries of Southeast Asia . Area specialists have better knowledge of the language, history and culture of the country or group of countries they study. Other political scientists compare culturally dissimilar nations and investigate the similarities and the differences in the politics of these nations. Political scientists who undertake these comparisons are often motivated by the need to develop and test theories- for example, theories of why revolutions happen. This may lead them to discover commonalities between countries that are widely separated and appear very different. For example, political scientists have found many similarities between the transitions from autocratic rule to democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1980 and 1990s.
Public administration.
Public administration refers to the various activities and operations carried out by the government. These include policy-making, enacting laws, providing public services such as education, law enforcement, national security, health care, financial administration, planning and implementation of development projects, maintenance of peace and order, local government administration, crime prevention, settlement of criminal and civil cases by the courts, etc. Political scientists interested in public administration study government agencies and their relation to other parts of government. Political scientists investigate how these public agencies work and try to devise methods of improving their effectiveness. For example, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler’s book Reinventing Government (1992) inspired many national, state and local governments to adopt more competitive, less bureaucratic, better ways of delivering quality services to the public (“doing more for less”).
Political behaviour.
Political behaviour involves the study of how people involve themselves in political processes and respond to political activity and events. This field emphasizes the study of voting behaviour (why do people vote, how do people vote and what wins elections), public opinion (people’s reactions to specific policies, issues and problems), study of political parties and pressure/interest groups and the behaviour of political leaders in certain situations.
International relations.
International relations is the study of the international system , which involves interactions ( i.e. political, economic, trade, diplomatic relations) between nations, international organizations (such as the United Nations and its specialized agencies, the European Union, ASEAN, OIC, OPEC, NATO, APEC, World Trade Organization (WTO) and other regional organisations) and multi/transnational corporations. This field of political science covers a wide range of subjects and include diplomacy, foreign policy analysis, international law, international organizations, methods of international disputes settlement, role of small, middle and big powers in the international system, peace and war studies and defence studies.
Methodology is very important in carrying out a systematic study of the goals, processes and institutions of the State and political events, incidents, phenomena and behaviour of individuals in a state. A method is a way of investigation for arriving at a particular finding or result. In a study of any political phenomenon, the method adopted should be explicitly stated, or it must be readily ascertainable. This would help others to retrace the steps, verify the reported facts and findings and examine the validity of the generalisations made on the basis of these facts. The following are some of the common methods adopted in political science to study political issues or subjects.
Statistical or Quantitative method.
This is one of the most modern and most useful methods for studying political issues or phenomena and hence it is very popular these days. This method is particularly applied to the study of political parties, public opinion, comparative governments, international relations, voting behaviour, general elections, etc. Political scientists who favour quantitative research most often use statistical methods such as opinion surveys and aggregate-level analysis. Opinion surveys ask a representative sample of individuals a series of questions about their behaviour, attitudes about politics, reactions to certain specific issues, their social status and other individual characteristics and come out with some findings.. In some countries, like the USA and the United Kingdom , Gallup Polls or public opinion polls are held to find out the trends in public opinion. Political scientists also commonly employ aggregate-level statistical analysis, in which administrative entities such as electoral districts, states or countries compose the units of analysis. Such analysis can be used to test broad theories – for example, the relationship between a country’s level of prosperity and how democratic its government is. In addition, time series analysis can be used to track political relationships involving time, for example, the voting strength of the various parties and the amount of government spending on social programmes over a ten-year period. However, the statistical method must be used with great care. We must be careful in the collection, use and analysis of the statistics. There is the possibility of the data supplied not being exact or accurate. Wrong decisions may be taken or wrong conclusions may be reached on the basis of wrong or inaccurate data. Statistics may be manipulated to suit the interests of a certain group. Those may be distorted for electoral and political manoeuvring. Despite this, it cannot be denied that a knowledge of statistical principles and sampling method is useful for investigating political events and issues.
Comparative method.
The comparative method involves the identification of similarities and differences. In other words, the very essence of this method lies in comparing different historical facts and political events for the purpose of finding the causes responsible for them. Similar events may occur under different political conditions or vice versa. Prof. Gilchrist has given the example of Revolutions which have taken place at all times under various conditions. By using the comparative method we may be able to find out why revolutions occur ; what are the main reasons /causes/consequences of revolutions; and are the conditions, causes and consequences the same or different and under what conditions are they different. Moreover, theories about the causes of revolution can be developed and tested by comparing the details of a few important revolutions. We may take the example of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Political scientists compare it to the French Revolution of 1789. They not only try to explain the causes and consequences but also point out the general principles which may serve as a guide for the future. The comparative method can also be used to compare different constitutions, legal and political systems, forms of government and working of democracy in various countries.
Historical Method.
The historical method is as old as Aristotle, the father of political science. This method aims to gather facts from past history (from documents and interviews) and arrive at some generalizations about political institutions. Every political institution has a history of its own ; institutions grow and are not made; they are the product of history, experience and experimentation. Therefore, without a proper knowledge of the genesis (origin), evolution and growth of the political institutions, there cannot be any in-depth study of politics. In other words, in order to understand any political event, institution or process, we must study its beginning and development. It is only by knowing the past and the present that we can plan for the ideal institutions of the future. According to Sir Frederick Pollock, the historical method “seeks an explanation of institutions as they are, and are tending to be, more in the knowledge of what they have been and how they came to be what they are, than in the analysis of them as they stand.” The formation of Malaysia , the development of the cabinet system, the evolution and growth of the parliamentary and federal systems of government and the growth of nationalism and democracy and the origin and development of the party system are some of the political events that could be studied using the historical method. The advantage of the historical method is that it clearly explains how and why certain political ideas, events and institutions originated and developed gradually. It further gives us a sense of history, a historical perspective. The disadvantage of this method is that history, as the record of past events, only explains what happened in the past without offering any effective solutions as to how political institutions and processes could be improved. Every age or generation is faced with some problems peculiar to it. History cannot help us in tackling such practical problem situations in a rapidly changing modern society like ours. Moreover, as history does not deal with values and ethical codes, the historical method does not offer any ethical guidelines or prescriptions to improve political institutions and processes.
Observational method.
The observational method involves visits to the outside world (countries) of political life to observe at close range the actual working of political institutions, processes and phenomena and collect valuable first- hand data/information and analyse it to reach some exact conclusions. The conclusions reached should be based on factual information and in-depth observation. Subjective views and personal prejudices of the researcher should be avoided. This method is useful for studying general elections, constitutions, systems of government and for assessing the social, economic and political conditions of countries. The main advantage of the method of observation is that it is practical and realistic. The facts/ information collected by the researcher can be verified and its truthfulness can be ascertained. The researcher writes down what he observes and studies the actual situation. Another merit of this method is precision, provided the researcher is well-informed, knowledgeable, truly competent and objective in his assessment of the information and situation.
Before we examine the claim of political science to be called a science, we should understand the meaning of "science." "Science" may be defined as “a body of systematized knowledge.” So a knowledge that has been accumulated by a systematic process is called a science. A systematic method or scientific method consists of the following steps: (i) formulation of the problem; (ii) observation; (iii) classification; (iv) hypothesis; (v) verification; and (vi) prediction. Whenever a physical or social phenomenon is systematically analysed for formulating certain general principles or laws, we may call this method a scientific method. A knowledge that has been gathered as a result of systematic method should be called a science. So it is neither laboratory experiments nor universally valid laws that make a science a science. But it is systematic study or scientific methodology that makes a science a science. Physical sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, etc follow this scientific method while studying physical phenomena. Social sciences like sociology, political science and economics also follow this scientific method while studying a social phenomenon.
For example, a political scientist may observe the voting behaviour in a particular constituency for the purpose of formulating certain general principles. Aristotle studied the working of 158 constitutions; Likewise, Lord Bryce compared the working of democracy in various countries and then reached his conclusions on the relative merits and demerits of democracy. The bicameral legislature experiment of Britain has encouraged many countries to adopt the system. The same can be said about the working of the two-party system and proportional representation. It has been found by experience that democracy is a better form of government than other systems. It is more permanent than most other forms of government and helps more in promoting the welfare and well-being of the common people. Dictatorship, autocracy and aristocracy have been experimented in different parts of the world in ancient and modern times, but none of them proved successful.
Prof. R.N. Gilchrist is of the opinion that general laws can be deduced from the information collected and these could be helpful in solving the actual problems of the government. Lord Bryce believes that political science is a science “in the sense that there is constancy and uniformity in the tendencies of human nature, which enables us to regard the acts of men at one time as due to the same which have governed their acts at previous times.”
Every state must have its own constitution. It is the way in which the State organises itself and the functions of its government. The constitution, is therefore, a set of rules, either written or unwritten, that determine the structure of the State and government, the distribution of the powers of various organs of the government and the relations between the rulers and the ruled. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a constitution as 'the system or body of fundamental principles according to which a nation or state is constituted and governed.' A constitution is also defined as 'the fundamental law of a state', ' the collection of principles according to which the powers of the government, rights of the governed and the relations between the two are adjusted' and as 'a written instrument by which the fundamental powers of the government are established, limited and defined and by which those powers are distributed among the three branches of the government for their more safe and useful exercise for the benefit of the state.'

Purposes of constitutions
i. Constitutions establish a supreme law of the land. They state the fundamental laws of society and are not meant to be easily revised.
ii. They serve as a yardstick by which any activities of the government or the people are to be measured or evaluated.
iii. They indicate the values, ideas and goals that seem to best express the spirit of the national political culture.
iv. A constitution is also a blue print and a plan of government. It is a written description of who does what in government, defining the authority and limiting the powers of each branch and providing a mechanism for the resolution of conflicts.
v. A constitution also outlines the division of power between central and regional governments in a federal state. In a federal system of government, powers and responsibilities are divided between the national (central) government and several state or regional governments. Malaysia is a Federal State. Its constitution gives the central government control over certain areas of responsibility, such as defence, foreign affairs, finance, trade, education and health.
vi. Another role of a constitution is to give a government the stamp of legitimacy. Many nations in the world community will not even recognise a new state until it has adopted a written constitution. Constitutions proclaim the values of a new regime while also establishing a permanent outline for the organisation of government. As a symbolic statement of intentions with a practical outline of structure, a constitution helps to set the stamp of legitimacy on a new government. This is the main reason why almost every nation has adopted a constitution as soon as gaining independence.

Classification of constitutions
Constitutions have been classified as written (codified) , unwritten (uncodified) , rigid and flexible.
A written constitution is one in which most of the provisions are written down in a single document. Malaysia, India, the United States of America, Canada, etc., have written constitutions. Whenever there is a written constitution in a country, a distinction is made between constitutional law and the ordinary laws. There is a special procedure laid down for the amendment of the written constitution. The ordinary law can be enacted, amended and repealed by a simple process which is different from the one laid down for the constitution. All federal states have written constitutions. The great merit of a written constitution is that it is very definite. The people can refer to a document which contains all the fundamental principles concerning the structure and working of the government. It is easy for the masses to understand a written document. Moreover, as the powers of the various organs of the of government are clearly defined in the constitution, there are less chances of confusion and disputes. Even if a dispute arises, it can be referred to the judiciary, whose duty it is to decide it.
An unwritten constitution , on the other hand, is one in which most, but not all, the fundamental laws have been reduced to writing. An unwritten constitution consists largely of customs, usages and judicial decisions. It also consists of some written element which the legislature might enact from time to time. The best example of an unwritten constitution is that of the United Kingdom (England). The British constitution does not consist of a single document as ours does. Parts of the British constitution are in written form. They consist of court decisions, charters such as the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights and statutes (i.e. laws passed by parliament). However, an important part of the British constitution is unwritten. It consists not of documents but of certain customs, conventions and traditions about the government that the British people generally agree upon. For example, no written document spells out that the government is to be headed by a Prime Minister elected by Parliament. Rather, this has come about over the years as a result of tradition. Contrast this with the detailed way our (Malaysian) written constitution describes the office of Prime Minister and how it is to be filled.
A rigid constitution may be defined as one which cannot readily or easily be amended. This does not mean, of course, that it cannot ever be amended, but that any necessary amendments to the basic constitutional provisions may only be made by means of a special process or procedure provided by the constitution for that purpose. In the United States, for example, the method of proposing amendments to the constitution is by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress (i.e. the Senate and the House of Representatives), and then ratification by three- fourths of the state legislatures (i.e. approval by 38 of the 50 states). In Sweden, constitutional amendments must be passed by two successive legislatures, with a general election in between. In Malaysia, constitutional provisions can only be amended by the approval of two -thirds of both houses of Parliament. The chief merit of a rigid constitution is that it is definite, stable and certain. The people know the constitutional law of the country and there is no fear regarding its future. No unscrupulous politician or political party can change it overnight. The various interests in the country and the fundamental rights of citizens are well-protected as these are enshrined in the constitution. A rigid constitution is absolutely essential in the case of a Federation. The demerit of a rigid constitution is that cannot be changed to adjust itself to changing situations or circumstances.
A flexible constitution is one which can be readily or easily amended without any special procedure. In Britain, for example, there is no special legal procedure to amend the constitution. Parliament has the power to pass/ amend constitutional laws in the same way as it passes the ordinary laws. This means that there is absolutely no distinction between the procedure of passing ordinary and constitutional laws. The British constitution is flexible in the sense that it can be amended by a simple majority vote of its Parliament. The great merit of a flexible constitution is that it can be amended according to changing situations and circumstances. However, if a constitution is too flexible, there is a danger of instability in the country. It becomes a plaything in the hands of unscrupulous politicians and parties. They keep on changing it according to their own whims and fancies and vested interests. Such a constitution can create uncertainty and instability in the country. This can hinder socio-economic development of a nation.
Democracy refers to any system of government in which rule is by the people. The term democracy comes from the Greek “demos” (meaning "the people") and “kratia” (meaning "rule") or, putting the two together, rule by the people. The key idea of democracy is that it is the people who hold sovereign or supreme power. Thus, government is conducted by and with the people's consent. Abraham Lincoln best captured this spirit in describing democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. In short, democracy is a form of government in which the people rule themselves either directly or indirectly through their representatives.
Characteristics of democracy
Individual liberty.
Democracy requires that all individuals must have as much freedom as possible consistent with order. No individual, of course, can be completely free to do absolutely anything he or she wants. That would result in disorder or even violence. Rather, democracy requires that all persons be as free as possible to develop their potential and personalities. In Malaysia, the fundamental liberties of citizens are enshrined in articles 5 to 13 of the Federal Constitution.
Majority rule with minority rights.
Democracy requires that government decisions be based on majority rule, but with the rights of the minority protected. Since democracy means rule by the people, majority rule answers the question of how the government determines what the people want. In a democracy, people usually accept decisions made by the majority of the voters in a free election. Laws enacted in our legislatures represent the will of the majority of the legislators and are accepted as such by the people and public officials. Democracy requires that the majority not use its power to diminish or abuse/violate the rights of the minority. Further, the minority must respect the rights of the majority.
Free elections.
All genuine democracies have free and open elections. Free elections at regular intervals (say once in five years) give people the chance to choose their leaders and to voice their opinions on various issues. Free elections also help to ensure that public officials are responsive to the needs and wishes of the people. In a democracy, free elections means: (a) that all citizens have equal voting power. In other words, the votes of all persons carry the same weight - a principle often expressed in the phrase "one person, one vote." (b) that all candidates have the right to express their views freely, choose their preferred leaders, and voters have access to competing ideas or programmes. (c) that citizens are free to organise in support of candidates or issues, and (d) that citizens are able to vote freely by secret ballot, without coercion or fear of punishment for their voting decisions.
Competing political parties.
Rival political parties are an important element of democratic government. A political party is a group of individuals who organise to win elections, form a government and determine public policy. Rival parties help make elections meaningful. They give voters a choice among candidates representing different interests and points of view. They also help simplify and focus attention on key issues for voters. Finally, in democratic countries, the political party or parties that are out of power serve as the Opposition. That is, by criticizing the policies and actions of the party in power, they can help make those in power more responsive and responsible or accountable to the people.
Popular representation.
In representative democracies, the voters elect representatives to act as legislators (to enact laws) and to voice and protect their general interest. Each legislator usually acts for a given constituency, district or group of people.
Free press.
Authoritarian regimes or dictatorships cannot tolerate free and critical mass media; democracies cannot do without them. One of the surest ways of determining the extent of democracy in a country is to see how free its press is. The press provides citizens with facts (information), raises public awareness and keeps rulers responsive to people's demands, needs and wishes. Without a free and critical press, those in power can disguise wrongdoing and corruption and lull the population into passive support.
Limited government.
A democratic government is carried on according to the principles, rules and provisions laid down in the constitution. This means that the powers of the government are restricted by the constitution. In other words, the government cannot exercise its powers arbitrarily, or abuse its powers according to its own whims and fancies.
Independent judiciary.
In a democracy, the judicial branch of the government functions independently. In Malaysia. the Federal Court, as the highest (apex) court, resolves disputes between citizens , between citizens and the government and between the state and Federal Governments.
The term sovereignty is derived from the Latin word “supremitas” which means supremacy or supreme authority or absolute power.
According to Bodin, “ Sovereignty is the supreme power of the State over its citizens unrestrained by law.”
Willoughby defines sovereignty as “ the supreme will of the state.”
The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia describes sovereignty as “ absolute political and military power embodied in a ruler or governmental body."
Grotius defined it as “ the supreme political power vested in him whose acts are not subject to any other and whose will cannot be overridden.”
Soltau describes sovereignty as the exercise of “final legal coercive power by the state.”
According to Laski, the sovereign is “legally supreme over any individual or group.” It possesses “supreme coercive power.”
Jenks defines sovereignty as “an authority which, in the last resort, controls absolutely the actions of every individual member of the community.”
Duguit says that sovereignty is the “commanding power of the state ; it is the will of the nation organized in the state; it is the right to give unconditional orders to all individuals in the territory of the state.”
Burgess describes it as “the unlimited and independent power of the state to command and compel obedience.”
Based on the above definitions, we could define sovereignty as the supreme and absolute authority of a state over its citizens and territory. Sovereignty means that a state is independent of other states; it can govern its own territory; declare war; enact and enforce any laws or policies within its own territory; it can compel or force its citizens to pay taxes or obey its laws and punish those who disobey its commands; it can have diplomatic and trade relations with any country; it is independent and no other state can control it or interfere in its internal affairs.
The following are the characteristics of sovereignty: (i) permanence; (ii) exclusiveness; (iii) all-comprehensiveness (Universality); (iv) Inalienability; (v) Indivisibility; and (vi) absoluteness.
(i) Permanence. Governments may come and go, but the state remains for ever. As the state is permanent, so is its sovereignty. So long as the State lasts, sovereignty also lasts. The State and sovereignty cannot be separated from each other. Sovereignty continues or remains uninterrupted by changes in government in a State. When there is change of government or ruler, sovereignty shifts to the new government or ruler. But sovereignty as an attribute of the State continues. It is in this sense that sovereignty is claimed to be permanent.
(ii) Exclusiveness. Another characteristic of sovereignty is exclusiveness. It means that the State alone possesses supreme power and is legally competent to compel the obedience of its citizens. In other words, there cannot be more than one sovereign in a state claiming the legal obedience of the people. Acceptance of more than one supreme and ultimate power would affect the essential unity of the State.
(iii) All-Comprehensivenes. The all-comprehensive and universal character of sovereignty denotes that within a State, the authority of the sovereign must extend to all persons, associations and groups existing within the territory of the State. Hence, the commands of the sovereign are binding on all persons and groups. No one can be exempted or free from the all-embracing authority of the State. However, foreign diplomats and ambassadors enjoy immunity from the control of the State in which they reside. They are subject to the laws of their own states. But these extra-territorial privileges enjoyed by the diplomatic community under the provisions of international law is not a real limitation on the State’s sovereign power; for it is, after all, a matter of international courtesy and the sovereign may at any time withdraw the privileges granted to those who enjoy them.
(iv) Inalienability. Sovereignty is also inalienable. It cannot be transferred or parted with, without destroying sovereignty itself. In other words, no sovereign can claim to be sovereign after transferring its supreme powers to another person. However, the abdication of a monarch or sovereign or a change of government does not mean the alienation of sovereignty – in this case, sovereignty only shifts to a new bearer. When a state cedes a portion of its territory, it loses its sovereignty over the area ceded. For example, when the United States and its allies occupied Iraq , sovereignty shifted to them, but later sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqis soon after the elections.
(v) Indivisibility. Sovereignty cannot be divided. The reason is that if sovereignty is divided, more than one state would exist. Sovereignty is an entire thing- to divide it is to destroy it. It is the supreme power in a state and we cannot think of two or more states sharing sovereignty. In a Federal state, there is no division of sovereignty as sovereignty rests with the Federal government. The division, distribution, delegation or sharing of powers between the Central government and the state governments do not affect the idea of undivided sovereignty.
(vi) Absoluteness. Sovereignty is absolute and unlimited. This means that neither within the state nor outside it is there any power which is superior to the sovereign. Within the state, the sovereign can make any law it pleases. It can even change the constitution itself. No other authority within the state has this power. Externally, the state is not subject to the control or domination of another state. In other words, there is no authority outside the state to which a sovereign is obedient or dependent. The state can enter into any treaty or have relations with any other state it wishes.
Sovereignty has been classified into different types : (a) Internal sovereignty; (b) External sovereignty; (c) Popular sovereignty; (d) Legal sovereignty; (e) Political sovereignty; (f) Titular sovereignty; (g) De Jure sovereignty; and (h) De Facto sovereignty.
(a) Internal sovereignty. Internal sovereignty means that the state has complete legal and ultimate authority and control over all individuals and associations within its territory. The state has the authority to issue orders or commands to all citizens and associations in the state and use force, if necessary, to get people obey its orders or laws; it receives orders from none of them; its will is subject to no legal limitation of any kind; what the state proposes is right by mere announcement of intention. In other words, no individual or group has the legal right to act against the decisions of the state. The authority of the state is supreme in all its internal matters.
(b) External sovereignty. External sovereignty means that the state is legally independent of other states. It is not subject to the control or domination of foreign nations. No state can interfere in the internal affairs of another state. The state is free to conduct its own affairs according to its will.
(c) Popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty means that the supreme power and the ultimate authority in the state rests with the people. They alone decide as to how the government should be run or administered. In other words, the government of a country should be carried on according to the public opinion prevailing in that country because the government exists for the good of the people. If the wishes of the people are ignored, there will always the possibility of a revolution. Moreover, there should not be unnecessary use of force by the state. The government should be held responsible to the people through periodical elections. In short, popular sovereignty means government is run according to the will of the people through the exercise of the right of voting. People can elect any leader or party they like to form the government. The government is formed by “the consent of the governed."
(d) Legal sovereignty. By legal sovereign we mean “the person or body in whom resides as of right the ultimate power of laying down the general rules.” It is , in other words, the sovereign whom the law recognizes as sovereign. For instance, in the United Kingdom the parliament is legal sovereign as it is the final and supreme law-making authority in that country. There is no other power or body of persons that can declare laws enacted by parliament (legislature) as ultra vires or invalid. Similarly, in Malaysia parliament is the legal sovereign. It alone declares in legal terms the will of the state through laws passed by it from time to time. Some writers interpret legal sovereignty as the ability of a state to make its own laws or amend or repeal its own laws without limitations imposed by any outside authority.
(e) Political sovereignty. In a democratic country, while the legal sovereign is the supreme law-making and law- enforcing authority, there is behind it the will of the people which is the ultimate and final source of all authority. It is the authority from whose verdict there can be no appeal. For example, while parliament may be the legal sovereign in Malaysia, the real power behind the parliament is the electorate. It is the power of the electorate that empowers parliament. The decision of parliament is always influenced by public opinion. It is for this reason that it is said that the electorate constitutes the political sovereign. Some writers identify political sovereignty with the mass of the population, some with public opinion, some with the electorate and some with groups who have the power to bring about changes in the government.
(f ) Titular sovereignty. The term "titular sovereignty" is used to denote a king or queen who has no real powers but one who symbolizes the sovereign power of the state. Perhaps the best example of a titular sovereign is the British Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch has only nominal powers but no real powers. All powers are exercised on her behalf by the Ministers who are responsible to the British parliament. The Queen is the constitutional monarch of England, having merely a titular position in the constitutional system. Yet all orders and commands are issued in the name of the Queen (Her Majesty's Government). In Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is also a titular sovereign. Under the Federal Constitution, he acts on the advice of the Cabinet. He has only nominal powers. Actual or real power is with the Cabinet.
(g) De Jure sovereignty. "De Jure" means "according to the law". De Jure sovereignty is based on law. The de jure sovereign is competent to issue the highest command of the state and it has the legal right to command obedience. The law of the land recognises only one authority, i.e. de jure sovereign. To put it differently, a de jure sovereign is one who is considered to be sovereign in the eyes of the law, (i.e. legal sovereign) although he may not exercise actual control over a territory or administer a government. The Yang di- Pertuan Agong is the de jure sovereign in Malaysia. Queen Elizabeth II is the de jure authority in the United Kingdom and Australia.
(h) De facto sovereignty. The term "de facto" means something that does not exist in the eyes of the law (not recognised by law). The de facto sovereign is one who possesses the actual power, but is not recognised by law. Sometimes it may so happen that a legal sovereign may be replaced by force (during a military coup) or otherwise (when a ruler is seriously ill, etc) by another ruler or authority who exercises sovereign rights without a legal basis. In such cases, the person is called de facto sovereign. For example, after the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, the Communists became the de facto sovereign of China. Other examples of de facto sovereignty are: Overthrow of Prime Minsiter Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by Gen. Zia Ul-Haq in Pakistan (1977); Overthrow of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff by Gen. Pervez Musharaaf in Pakistan ( October 1999) that made Musharaaf the President of Pakistan; Overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (Shah of Iran) during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 that made Ayatollah Khomeini the Head of State; Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz taking over the control of government administration in Saudi Arabia following a stroke suffered by King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz in 1995 - Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz was appointed monarch following the death of King Fahd on 2nd August 2005. It must be noted that generally the de facto sovereign becomes the de jure sovereign in the long run (either by formal appointment or through a general election).
Parliamentary Government
A parliamentary form of government is one in which the executive is responsible to the legislature. It is also called the cabinet system of government. In Malaysia, India, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, etc., we have a parliamentary form of government.
a. There is always a dual executive - one executive is nominal and the other is real. In Malaysia, the nominal executive is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the real executive is the cabinet. The nominal executive does not exercise any powers. He is required to act in accordance with the provisions of the constitution - i.e. he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. All the powers of the government are enjoyed and exercised by the cabinet, which is responsible to the legislature and through it to the people. The nominal executive is the head of state whereas the real executive - the prime minister - is the head of government.
b. In parliamentary systems, voters elect only a legislature. The legislature then elects an executive from among its members.
c. The majority party in parliament forms the government. The prime minister who is the head of the largest party in parliament, names a team of ministers who are themselves members of the parliament. These ministers then guide the various ministries or departments of government that form the executive branch. The prime minister and the ministers are responsible or answerable to the parliament for all their actions.
d. The ministers are the members of the legislature as well as the executive heads of government departments. Thus they enjoy a dual position. As members of the majority party in parliament, they formulate public policy and are responsible for enacting laws. As members of the executive, they control the different departments of the government and enforce those laws and implement public policy. The theory of separation of powers, therefore, does not hold true in a parliamentary form of government. The ministers remain in office so long as the party to which they belong to enjoys the support and confidence of the majority members of the legislature. They have no fixed term of office. If they are defeated in the legislature, they have to resign.
Advantages of parliamentary government
The most important merit of a parliamentary form of government is the harmony and co-operation between the legislature and the executive. This is due to the fact that only the majority party in the parliament is allowed to form the cabinet. As the cabinet is always sure of its support in the legislature (because the executive and legislative branches are governed by the same party), it feels confident that whatever legislation (laws) it initiates, will be passed without any change. This accounts for the solidarity of the government and its stability. A stable government ensures efficiency, effectiveness and the speedy implementation of the policies which received the approval of the electorate at the time of the general election.
In a parliamentary government, responsibility of the government is continuous and immediate. The weaknesses and blunders of the government can be criticized and condemned without any loss of time . The legislature sits most of the time and the ministers too sit in the legislature. There is no difficulty in asking the ministers questions and supplementary questions. If the actions of the government are wrong, the prime minister and cabinet can be speedily ousted by a vote of no confidence in the parliament.
Parliamentary government is the best specimen of representative democracy as it recognises the ultimate sovereignty of the people and ensures ministerial responsibility. The elected representatives of the people are the trustees of the whole nation. If they act against public opinion, they may not be elected again. Their actions are always under scrutiny.
Another merit of parliamentary government is its flexibility and elasticity. Under this form of government, people can easily change the government without a bloody revolution and 'choose a ruler for the occasion' who may be specially qualified to manage a crisis situation. At the time of the Second World War, Chamberlain was replaced by Churchill as Prime Minister because national emergency demanded it and this change was brought about without any political upheaval in England.
One other advantage of parliamentary form of government is its high educative value. It cannot function without well-organised political parties. The aims of political parties are to mould and educate public opinion, win elections and form the government. They place before the people different manifestoes or programmes. For winning elections, the electorate must approve the programmes of the parties. All this makes the people politically conscious and vigilant.
A final merit of parliamentary government is that it is in the real sense a government by criticism. Whereas the majority party in the legislature forms the government, the minority party forms the opposition. The opposition criticises and acts as a check and balance on the government. There is a saying in England that the Prime Minister knows the Leader of the Opposition better than his wife! This explains how far the cabinet is alive to the criticism of the opposition.
Demerits of parliamentary government
If a parliamentary system has certain merits, it has its shortcomings too.
a. It violates the theory of separation of powers as it combines the executive and legislative functions in the same group of individuals. This leads to tyranny or 'cabinet dictatorship'. A party can get anything done or can rule as it pleases if it is backed by a majority in the parliament.
b. A parliamentary government is weak in times of war or an emergency situation. As the cabinet consists of large number of ministers, and there are 'many minds to be consulted', it cannot take prompt or quick action or make decisive decisions in times of national crisis.
c. The parliamentary system of government is unstable. The government has no fixed life. It remains in office only so long as it can retain its parliamentary majority which is subject to the whims and fancies of the representatives and they may frequently change their opinion. The uncertainty in the tenure of office does not encourage the party in power to adopt a far-sighted and consistent policy. There is hardly any continuity of policies in a parliamentary government, particularly in a coalition government or under a multi-party system.
d. The Opposition often opposes the policy and the bills introduced by the party in power irrespective of their merits. Political parties sometimes distort public opinion and do more harm than good. Irresponsible criticism by the opposition may pose a threat to national unity, stability and prestige.
e. A parliamentary government is ineffective and inefficient because it is a government by amateurs. The ministers in-charge of their departments know very little about their departments. Sometimes, following a cabinet reshuffle, they are transferred from one department to another. the result is that they do not have enough experience of the working of the departments which they head. Therefore, much cannot be expected from them in terms of efficiency or effectiveness in work performance.
f. In a parliamentary form of government, the cabinet system degenerates into a party government in which the political power is monopolised by the majority party. So long as parliamentary majority is assured it assumes dictatorial powers neglecting the interests and rights of the minorities. With the growth of rigidity in the party discipline, every member must obey the party whip, otherwise he is liable to party discipline, which may mean the end of his political career. Members, therefore, cannot be objective or independent. They are required to support their party blindly, much against their conscience or judgment.
In spite of these defects, and some of them are real, it cannot be denied that the parliamentary system of government is both responsible and responsive. There is no other form of government which fulfils these democratic ideals. It is for this reason that the Malaysian Constitution provides for such a system.
Features of a Federation
A federation is a union among several States agreeing to form a new State either for political or economic reasons - i.e. to promote economic prosperity or to resist external aggression. They believe in the saying that 'unity is strength'. According to Freeman, a federation is the coming together of a number of States formerly separated and sovereign into some kind of arrangement to secure the common safety and prosperity. The United States of America was originally a union of the thirteen states. Now it is the union of fifty (50) States. Other examples of a federation are : Malaysia, India, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, etc.
The following are the distinguishing features (characteristics) of a federation:
a. Co-existence of two governments. In a federal system, the territory of the entire State is divided into a number of autonomous (independent) units. Each of these units is known as a State or province and has a regional government. Thus in a federation we have two layers or levels of government - i.e. a central government and several regional or state governments. In Malaysia (a union of thirteen states) the regional governments are called State Governments, in Canada as Provincial Governments and in Switzerland as Cantonal Governments.
b. Division of powers. This is the most important feature of a federation. Each of the two sets of governments in a federation (i.e. the Central government and the State governments) has specified powers to exercise. This allocation or division or sharing of powers between the central and state governments is enshrined in the constitution itself. In Malaysia, for example, the powers of the Federal Government is specified in the Federal List whereas the powers of the State Governments are clearly spelt out in the State List in order to avoid disputes. The general principle in the division of powers is that all powers which are of national importance, e.g., defence, foreign affairs, national finance, trade, external borrowing , education, etc., are assigned to the central government and matters of provincial or local interest like sewerage, land, local government affairs, entertainment , etc., are granted to state governments.
c. A written and rigid constitution. All federal states have a written constitution. This is because in a federal system there is sharing or division of powers, which must be laid down in clear, definite and precise terms. The constitution is not only a written one , it is also rigid to ensure that the central or regional governments do not alter the federal characteristics of the State as and when they like. Further, a federal constitution is supreme over the laws passed by both the central and regional governments. In case a law enacted by both the central and regional governments conflicts with the provisions of the federal constitution, the law in question would be invalid.
d. A federal judiciary. A federal government is like a contract or agreement. As such, there may be numerous occasions for conflicts between the states and the central government or among the states on matters or questions of jurisdiction, powers, functions or administrative relations. In order to decide such disputes, the federal constitution provides for a supreme court. The independence of this court is maintained by making the tenure of the judges permanent during good behaviour. In Malaysia, the highest (apex) court is known as the Federal Court.