Practically, legitimacy in the context of political systems means public or political accountability. Need of a satisfactory solution to public accountability is greater because of its legal mechanism. The State is a compulsory organisation having monopoly over the exercise of coercive power. As all citizens and subordinates, and their non-adult dependents have a faith in the legitimacy of its structures, processes and functioning, its responsibility to operate within the confines of ‘rightness’ increases manifold so as to respond to their hopes and expectations.
These expectations must be accomplished more with the exercise of influence, authority and leadership than force, coercion and violence. Though after attainment of legitimacy, exercise of power or force cannot be treated as coercion or violence, yet it should primarily resort to persuasion, propaganda, and deference to the moral susceptibilities of the people. Authorities do have the right to exercise force, domination, manipulation, and other sanctions, but their use should strictly conform dispassionately to the accepted procedure as shown below.
Obedience to rule is necessary to maintain and sustain a society and its polity, but it should base itself on the following:
(1) Legitimate authority:
It bestows ‘right’ to issue orders and directives, take decisions, make policies, and run administration through various authorities, subject to rational higher principles of social life.
They can be positive as well as negative, external or internal, instrumental and non-instrumental. They can be functional, if used with discrimination and proportion to cases under consideration.
These can be used in a direct or indirect manner, and their consequences can be intended or unintended.
(4) Ideology and leadership:
In democracy, they play a dominating role.
(5) Participation and cooperation:
When people are involved in the process of decision-making and implementation of policies, compliance, despite difficulties, increases. Cooperation of persons representating communities and sets of opinions, makes compliance increasingly ensured. It should be pointed out that legitimacy does not always mean blind obedience to laws or decisions. In-spite of their belief in legitimacy, people can oppose or support them for their instrumental gains or loses and the former can persist even by allowing them to pursue their own goals.
However, it has to accommodate such demands for strengthening itself. It can be cautioned that moral values are individualistic by nature, whereas legitimacy is collective and political in essence. If incentives of award and punishment overweigh the sense of legitimacy, people would follow the former and neglect the latter. Therefore, politics must assiduously contrive to make legitimacy more effective, acceptable and practiceable.
Another aspect of political accountability concerning legitimacy belongs to the members of a political system. There is a distinction between legitimacy and holistic consensus based on integration of cultural values. The political system should always keep the bases or sources of legitimacy before it, and in that light constantly evaluate various political structures, processes, activities, decisions, etc. All deviations from them must be taken care of at political, legal or non-legal levels.
Political actors may be called upon to make sacrifices at the altar of gaining legitimacy, as it happens at the time of upheavals and revolutions. If one wants to make change in the basis of legitimacy, it must be undertaken by general consent, and all concerned have to be informed in advance to deliberate and express their views on it. Political accountability of legitimacy demands that political leaders continue to fulfil their obligations at moral, legal and political levels.
The countries belonging to the Third World have scarce means to spend and have constantly to face the ‘revolution of the rising expectations’. Their storehouse has limited political and economic resources. As such, they cannot afford to operate on the basis of naked power or sheer force.
If they do so, their energies and scarce resources would be dried up in replacing one rule by another, increasing forces, and purchasing of arms. Therefore, it is very necessary that they try, first and foremost, to earn legitimacy for the whole political system, and begin to work on influence and authority. Politics, not power, is the direction to which they must move to tread on the path of development. Politics must acquire legitimacy first, then it should proceed to convert influence into authority.