Relationship between “Authority” and “Legitimacy” in Politics

Authority without legitimacy is power. Power is a legal power or capacity. It may or may not enjoy a popular recognition and acceptance as a just and rightful power. Legitimacy alone can secure and guarantee the acceptance and obedience of power as authority.

Only legitimate exercise of power i.e. exercise of power as authority can lead to a real and productive use of the power of the government for securing desired and productive results.

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The power of a dictator or an authoritarian ruler of state is devoid of legitimacy and is backed by force and coercion of the power-holder. As against it, the power of a democratically elected power-holder is a recognised and legitimate power i.e. authority. Legitimacy ensures a successful use of authority.

Weak legitimacy is a source of weakness for the authority. Absence of legitimacy reduces authority to power. Legitimacy ensures acceptance, obedience and respect of authority and makes it productive of desired results.

The people willingly obey the laws, policies, decisions and plans formulated and enforced by the power-holders of a democratic state because these enjoy a strong legitimacy.

As against it, in a dictator ruled state like Pakistan, the power of the rulers is legal does not enjoy legitimacy. Even the attempts made by a dictator to secure legitimacy by getting elected to the highest office of the state, is viewed with distrust by the people. His authority continues to lack legitimacy.

The people obey his laws and commands out of fear of force and coercion. The weak legitimacy of the ‘ruler’ also always adversely affects political obligation. The dictator exercises power and not really authority, as neither his title to authority is legitimate nor his decisions and actions enjoy legitimacy.

The February 2008 election results in Pakistan clearly demonstrated the weak legitimacy of President Parvez Musharraf. In contrast, a democratically elected power-holder uses legitimate power i.e. authority and successfully commands obedience in respect of his policies and decisions.

The authority of PM Dr. Manmohan Singh in our liberal democratic political system enjoys a high level of legitimacy. It got clearly reflected in the for 15?‘ Lok sabha Elections results (May 2009)

Since the authority of a duly elected and empowered authority-holder enjoys a high level of legitimacy, the people willingly accept and obey his decisions and hold these to be just, lawful, legitimate, useful, productive and essential.

Even when the leaders of opposition parties oppose his policies and decisions, they do not challenge their authority; they simple highlight the weaknesses and faults of his policies and decisions.

Hence, legitimacy and authority are intimately related and the former is successful only when it enjoys a high level of legitimacy, in a democratic political system, election is the process by which the power-holders get their legitimate power i.e. political authority to exercise the power to rule the state for next few years. Free, fair and transparent elections act as a source of legitimacy for the winners in these elections.

They become the power holders and thereafter, try to continuously maintain and strengthen the legitimacy of their authority by the making and implementing meaningful and nationally useful and essential laws, policies, and decisions.

They fully understand and respect the relation between legitimacy and authority and always try to strengthen the legitimacy of their rule. A failure to do so always Strong legitimacy ensures strong authority. Weak legitimacy leads to weak authority.

Absence of legitimacy means power and not authority. Hence legitimacy and authority always go hand in hand. These are the two sides of same coin.

Lack of legitimacy and credibility of elected political authority-holders always adversely affects their ability and capacity to win next election.

To conclude our discussion on Power, Authority and Legitimacy we can write:

1. Ability and capacity to command obedience by dependence upon force and coercion = Power

2. Recognised and accepted legitimate power = Authority

3. The quality of being recognised, accepted, just, rightful and legitimate power = Legitimacy

4. Power + Legitimacy = Authority

5. Authority—Legitimacy = Power

6. Authority + Legitimacy = Successful and Effective Authority