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OverviewDominant Characteristics Of Political Systems

Among the most important dimensions of political systems are the basis of legitimacy, the party system, the pattern of recruitment of the executive, the actual power structure, the scope of political control, the ideological orientation of the system, and the formal vertical and horizontal separations of power. Legitimacy can be based on strong attachment to a political leader (charismatic), on elective procedures (legal-rational), or on a customary or informal acceptance (traditional) of political incumbents or a regime. Party systems are distinguished according to their degree of competitiveness, ranging from one-party states without any competitive elements, through semicompetitive single-party structures and restricted multiparty systems, to fully competitive ones. The recruitment of the executive can be achieved by inheritance, direct election by the population, a majority vote by parliament, or through forceful usurpation. The actual power structure within the executive can be strongly personalized and clientelistic or have a small collective group at its base (e.g., a military junta or a politburo of a centralized party), or it can be broadly composed to incorporate the most important plural elements of society.

The scope of control can range from limited to totalitarian. Ideological orientation is considered in relation to its respective social basis. This can consist of a "communalistic" (e.g., ethnic or religious) group, or of the lower, middle, or upper classes of society, corresponding to the political continuum of "left," "center," and "right." Finally, in a constitutional sense, the vertical separation of power can be viewed as complete, as limited but with an independent judiciary, or as nonexistent. Similarly, the horizontal separation of power can be federal or centralized. These dimensions and their discrete expressions are listed on the left-hand side in Table 1.

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