Can political regimes have legitimacy without democracy?

While democracy is a critical precondition to a regime’s legitimacy, it is not the exclusive one. It is equally important that the processes that comprise a democratic system are all reliable and functional. For example, the conduct of free and fair elections is mandatory and an attestation as such by a neutral institutional observer is also requisite. For example, organizations such as International Humans Rights Watch as well as international media can play this crucial third-party observer role. Only those elected regimes that stand the scrutiny of a neutral entity’s inspection and certification can claim to be legitimate.

For political regimes to gain legitimacy, they also need to practice a deliberative mode of democracy. At the centre of deliberative democracy is the belief that broad consent should be acquired before decision making. This is achieved through public deliberation, where “citizens justify the self-imposed laws and policies which are collectively binding. Because the outcomes of the deliberative process arise out of the autonomous and epistemically unrestricted collective reasoning of the polity, its members are obligated to obey these outcomes.” (Valadez, 2000, p. 32) Brought to the fore are processes of autonomous self-governance that reflect a “higher degree of collective knowledge and mutual moral responsibility.” (Valadez, 2000, p. 32)

Political equality is another characteristic of a vibrant democracy. In the context of deliberative and participatory democracy, a “particularly demanding conception of political equality” is desirable. (Valadez, 2000, p. 71) While voting and public deliberation are rudimentary mechanisms toward acquiring legitimacy, the ambit of political equality is a far more complex set of procedures and functions. It is important for the democratically elected government, as well as constitutionally appointed institutions to ensure that they are not undermined. It is utterly necessary to ensure that public deliberation is not monopolized by elites and establishment intellectuals. (Valadez, 2000, p. 71)

Political scientists have identified three types of legitimacy for governments. They are related to the three types of social generality. These are 1. The legitimacy of impartiality; 2. The legitimacy of reflexivity; and 3. The legitimacy of proximity. (Rosanvallon, 2011, p. 7) Here, the notion of legitimacy is redefined as that which “partakes of a broader decentering of democracy”. (Blick & Weir, 2009) What follows is reduced value to electoral democracy. Instead, people actively serve as watchdogs, veto players and judges of the system. The pre-eminence of the ballot box is replaced by the reorganization of the democratic regime. The result is a new form of legitimacy of the state which is not easy to attain. Moreover,

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