Political equality, as an ideal concept and as a practical recourse in politics or governance, is one of the cornerstones of democracy. This paper will explore the self evident and abstracted concept of political equality in the light of its practice in a democratic political system. It will be argued that political equality is an ideal and normative political concept which is not absolutely being realized.
Hence, this argument shall be centered on the definition of political equality in terms of political participation. The paper shall define political equality in terms of how the constituents are able to represent their interests and how they participate in a political system (Winters & Page, p. 732). It shall evaluate how the said concept actually fits in. It shall juxtapose this very argument with the normative description of political equality, that people should participate and the contexts of why and how this important participation does not take place in an actual polity and how this affects the political systems and the welfare of the constituents.
It is such as problematic issue to define political equality when we examine as to how it is applied in the ideal and the actual world of politics. Ideally, equality should be extended to all the members of the state and this strongly illustrates the basic concept of political equality (Dahl, p. 78). There are various kinds of political equality and this one is anchored on status i.e. the right to vote (Neckerman & Torche, p. 335). This is also realized in fundamental representation such as one-person, one-vote, being equal before the law and having equal rights in speech, etc. (Verba, p. 2). Hence, political equality is institutionalized through the political participation of the citizens in an elections, political campaigns, political protests, local participation and actions within the community, etc. (Ware, p. 394).
In such practices, the citizens are able to express their needs and their interests to the political system and this makes the latter turn more attuned to their needs. Political participation becomes an instrument by which citizens relay information about their own needs, preferences and interests and assert their pressure to the government. The citizens’ activities also influence who will get elected into public office and what the government agencies do. Hence, political participation is at the heart of political equality (Ibid.). These principles have been long articulated by Hobbes and Locke. Verba et. al. (p. 12) articulated this in defining political equality as a “matter of who makes the decisions in a political system. In this author’s own thinking and conviction, political equality is the substantive political participation of the citizens in one polity.
In political decision making, political equality means a stronger and greater participation of various political actors and groups (Sen, p. 45). It also means they can collectively claim their rights, especially in the distribution of resources in a polity. Cohen (p. 16) explains that inclusion of all citizens in active participation not only promotes the feeling of self-worth but it also promotes, basically, the acknowledgment that each constituent receives self recognition and a sense of justice from others, especially from the public agencies of the society. Political equality promotes the overall recognition of people as equal members of an equal and equitable system of cooperation. This further leads to an atmosphere that all has the same chance of taking part in the political decisions of the polity.
However, there are valid contentions to this normative participation in one polity. Equal participation, as the indication of political equality, does not actually mean everyone is participating in the above-mentioned political activities. In reality, political equality is a vague concept. According to Bartels (p. 1), serious political scholars like Dahl have enough reasons to think that citizens cannot be truly “politically equal” by their representatives under a real political system. For instance, he cited that rich and better-educated constituents are more likely to be more knowledgeable of their political interests and preferences and they can fully articulate their needs to the polity. They are also more likely to go out and vote and have the greater opportunity to be able to personally or directly get in touch with their public officers. They are also more likely to influence the political activities such as those of political campaigns and protests (Dahl, p. 22). In essence, political participation is incoherent with the actual mechanisms of democratic system (Pogge, p. 168). Thus, the ideals of what political equality is not truly fulfilled even in modern democracies. Political equality is not fully exercised.
Also, the concept of an ideal political equality is also incoherent with the minority’s political participation and their political influence. In a study of the “Non Discrimination and Equality in the Right of Political Participation for Minorities,” Wheatley (p. 2), it is evident that the minority has to introduce special measures in order to secure their political equality with the other participating blocks in the polity. They have to protect and promote their own culture. Thus, it goes to show that even when the basic percept of non-discrimination in the minority’s political rights is an inherent right, they still encounter problems when it comes to its actualization.
Political equality has been defined as the equal participation of the constituents in a given polity in all aspects affecting their well being and their interests. It is quite a problematic concept because their normative definition is not coherent with its actual practice. Political equality is ideally extended to all the members of the polity and the people have statutory rights to actively participate in the political systems. They can vote during elections, they can stage protests or enjoy the freedom of speech.
However, political inequality also exists particularly in the areas where minority has to exert extra initiatives to equally influence the public officials pertaining to their needs, interests and preferences. In this light, this paper concludes that the acknowledgement of both aspects of political equality. It further asserts that as long as there is a substantive participation in both aspects, then political equality is realized.
Bartels, Larry. Economic Inequality and Political Participation. Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. August 2005. Accessed on 15 January 2011 .
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