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The Effect of Political systems & Political Institutions and their Characteristics on the Incidence of Civil War


In this paper I’m going to discuss the relationship between political systems, political institutions and their characteristics and how they affect the incidence of civil wars.

First I would give a brief definition of each element and the factors that correlate them.


In order to understand the relation between political systems, institutions and their characteristics and how they impact internal conflict, I would like to mention the definition of each variable.

Political system & institutions:

There are many definitions of political system, but they are more related to the notion that it is the system of power relationships between the ruled and the ruler; it was defined by Easton as “A continuous operating mechanism with demands and supports going in inputs and authoritative decisions and actions coming out as outputs” (Mahler S. George:1995, p12)

Demands in political system are expressions of opinions that an authoritative allocation with regard to a particular subject matter should or should not be made by those responsible from doing so.

Supports are those inputs between political system and environment that remains after demands have been subtracted. (Mahler S. George: 1995, p13)

Political institutions are the objects in the political system.

Incidence of Civil War:

Civil war is defined as an internal armed conflict generates at least 1000 deaths. They are the more extreme form of political violence. In the literature of civil war, there are many factors causing civil wars mainly the grievances of certain group of population influenced by political and economic reasons.

There are many arguments regarding the incidence and factors affecting civil wars; as per capita income which is a proxy for the state over all financial, administrative police and military capabilities, the lower of income per capita decrease the opportunity cost of engaging in civil wars.

Also the weakness of the government as the rebels can expect a higher probability of success.

Population size also can be a factor increasing the risk of civil wars, the higher population size, increase the number of potential rebels.

The existence of mountains and large distance with natural fortune within the country also increases the risk of civil wars as it provides a refuge for the rebels.

The availability of natural resources can increase the payoff for the rebels.

Political rights and civil liberties decrease the risk of armed conflict as the attenuate discrimination and repression. (Querol R. Marta: 2004, p456)

Politics affecting social conflict:

Political system and its characteristics can increase the polarization in societies with different religious and ethnic structure

Political instability depends on the social and economic structure of a country, and the stability of political system can prevent the ability of conflict.

Conflict can be avoided if the interests are not highly divergent.

Also political instability favors corruption and hence affects growth and related investments negatively, highly polarized societies (usually polarization comes as a result of political instability) tends to have radical changes in economic policies.

There is a direct relationship between political instability and growth, if the political institutions are functioning well they may prevent social conflict and foster growth.

The interest in studying characterizing political system that are socially stable and no group want to rebel against the system Usually rebellion aims to exchange the current political system, the winner will impose their most preferred political system irrespective to whether it is stable or not.

Characteristics of Political System and Civil Wars:


Inclusiveness is defined as” the ability of a system to avoid political exclusion. Democracy is just one dimension of the concept”. It is particularly relevant to heterogeneous societies with ethnic differentiations. (Querol R. Marta: 2004, p456)

Democratic governments with multiparty decision makers are more inclusive than democratic government with one decision maker.

There is a basic relationship between the level of inclusiveness and stability of political system. The more inclusive political system, the less likely to experience civil war.

Checks and Balances measures of inclusiveness: It’s the number of decision makers whose agreement is necessarily before policies can be changed.

There are two facets of Checks and Balances; Number of actors has veto power and thus can block policies and explicitly on not leaving out any minority group.

The lower Checks and Balances value is the high politically exclusive system and hence the lower degree of inclusiveness.

There is also another measure for inclusiveness through Political System Data; it tends to measure the potential inclusiveness of a system.

The results from the mentioned measures of inclusiveness shows that proportional systems are the most inclusive followed by majoritarian and presidential systems are the less inclusive.

Inclusiveness and political stability:

Political system can be regarded as stable if no group is better off by triggering a rebellion.

Proportional system is the more inclusive than majoritarian system, as majoritarian system selects the policy considered ideal by the median voter, the voters may belong to the same group in the case of one party government.

Efficiency of Political System:

Policies may harm the interests of certain groups, to consider the most efficient policy is to minimize the total harm.

The total social benefit is the sum of individuals benefits, should be the rule of collective choice. (benthamite view) (Querol R. Marta: 2004, p450)

Majoritarian system can produce extreme losses if the total loss is minimal one of the groups might experience a large enough loss to challenge the system.

As we are concerned about the political stability; we should avoid outcomes that hurt particular interests. Regarding the stability of policies we should give some weight to how policies are distributed.

Political Institutions and Civil Wars:

Anocracies, which are part democracies and part dictatorships, are more prone to civil wars than pure democracies and pure dictatorships. There is an argument that “A regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features…is likely to indicate political contestation among competing forces and, in consequence, state incapacity” As dictators, too, require political support to maintain their rule, and when they can, they attempt to build coalitions by “encapsulating” or coopting social groups outside of the ruling elite.

Legislature is the key institutional variable that explains civil wars. Under pure dictatorships repress the rebels, Pure democracies allow peaceful disagreement but anocracies neither repress nor accommodate civil disagreement. Nominally-democratic institutions under dictatorship, such as legislatures, elections and parties, are typically dismissed as mere window-dressing

Nominally democratic institutions conceptualized sharply and operationalized through clear observable measures (accountable) and hence when it acts effectively in a democratic environment it can reduce the incidence of civil wars.

We found that the level of democracy affect civil wars, partly democratic countries are more likely to experience civil wars. (Ghandi. Jennifer and Vreeland. James: 2004, p1-21)


  1. Mahler S. George, 1995, Comparative Politics: An Institutional and Cross National Approach, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall Inc., New Jersey, USA.
  2. Arnold. Guy, 2009, the A to Z Civil Wars in Africa, the Scarecrow Press Inc., UK.
  3. Ghandi. Jennifer and Vreeland. James, 2004, Political Institutions and Civil Wars: Unpacking Anocracy, University of Yale, USA.
  4. Querol.R Marta, 2004, Does Democracy preempt Civil War?, European Journal of Political Economy, Vol21, (2005) 445-465.