chapter  5
20 Pages

Political legitimacy and support

As early as the 1960s, Easton’s breakthrough study of different political systems claimed that for any political system to survive it has to have a certain degree of support from its population (one of the two input functions described in his application of systems theory to political science).1 Before the 1960s, authoritarian political systems, such as the former Soviet Union, were seen as lacking essential popular political support and legitimacy. Easton’s study was later supported by research evidence which showed that popular support for the political regime from sizable societal segments is crucial for the functioning and maintenance of any form of government.2 In general, levels of political support and legitimacy are more readily expressed and measured in democracies than in other forms of political systems. Popular democracy is also believed to be a more durable political system under socio-economic stress.3 Levels of political support and legitimacy are linked to regime stability. In democracies, waning political support for the ruling party or leaders often leads to regime change through an open and fair popular election. Even under authoritarian systems, sufficient popular support can also be an important factor affecting socio-political stability. Serious erosion of political support and legitimacy in authoritarian countries may lead to regime change or even revolution through violence. Political legitimacy is a relatively new term, even though it connotes a

very traditional concept. One of the most often used definitions of legitimacy is offered by Sternberger:

Legitimacy is the foundation of such governmental power as is exercised both with a consciousness on the government’s part that it has the right to govern and with some recognition by the governed of that right.4