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
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
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
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
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