Who's actually running the place? That's a good question, and one which I've chosen to deal with here for lack of anywhere much better. The answer is probably that nobody quite knows. Nowhere in the country is there any one person (or even one group of people) who can be said to be "in charge", either symbolically or actually. Things are decided mostly by an interplay between various centres of power, each with its own particular areas of strength and weakness. You can basically narrow the groups down to the politicians, the bureaucrats, the spies, the generals, the businessmen, and a group of secret societies that think they're clever. (The unionists, the priests, the gangsters, and the aristocrats still think they're powerful, but aren't really).
A more detailed overview:
- The Senate — made up of 150 representatives, mostly elected by the people in some fashion or another. Senators belong to one of a myriad of political parties, ranging from communists to free-marketers to nationalists to environmentalists to who knows what. Nobody ever has a majority in the Senate, and there are no coalitions — parties will be allies on the first vote, enemies on the second, and then back to allies on the third. In practice, however, the leaders of the big parties (mostly clustered around the political centre) have long since decided that governance can't be left to the vagaries of political rhetoric — as such, they frequently get together informally and do deals. Once the major party leaders have sorted things out privately, the compromise that they made will usually sail through the Senate without difficulty. As such, the leaders and powerbrokers of the four main parties (Balance, Imperial, Reform, and Socialist) can be counted among the most powerful people in the country, regardless of whether they hold any additional office.
- Note about the Senate: Lendosa doesn't have the same separation of executive and legislature that most countries have — the Senate doesn't just supervise or appoint the executive, it is the executive. It governs by a number of lengthy documents which constitute the the government's official policy, and which the bureaucracy is expected to implement to the best of its ability. The documents are permanant, being amended by Senate vote as necessary. The Senate isn't really a law-making body — it's an oversized cabinet.
- Another note about the Senate: Perhaps surprisingly, Lendosan senators are remarkably uncorrupt, and most are even honest. The cause of this is probably the Panopticate (see below), which spends a lot of effort weeding out "unsuitable" politicians. The Panopticate is quite thorough — every one of them is under 24-hour surveilance, and all their phone calls and emails are recorded. It's simply too difficult to get away with being corrupt in the Lendosan Senate.
- The bureaucracy — which is fairly autonomous by international standards. The bureaucracy is tasked with following the instruction documents laid out by the Senate (see note above), but if the Senate hasn't specified something, the bureaucrats decide. If you've ever seen the BBC series Yes, (Prime) Minister, you'll have some idea what the Lendosan bureaucracy is like. It's headed by a committee of elitist, aristocratic, elderly men, led by one Numerio Jadiro — they're hardly ever in the news, but they're effectively in charge of everything the Senate has forgotten to mention in its instructions. (And because the Senate has to agree on instructions among multiple parties, there are often things skipped over).
- The Panopticate — the country's intelligence agency. Secretive, inquisitive, and very good at its job (it's better funded any real-world intelligence agency I'm aware of — a reflection of the paranoia that underlies much of the Lendosan government). The Panopticate operates on the principle that you should never under any circumstances tell anybody anything about anything if you can avoid it — knowledge is power, and as such, denying knowledge to others is just as useful as hoarding it yourself. The Panopticate doesn't actually use its power very much (anymore), but when it recommends something, it's very rare for its recommendation to be ignored.
- Why? Many reasons. Firstly, many people are just plain scared of them — they've supposedly reformed from the days when they killed people, but not everyone is willing to bet on that. The Panopticate makes a conscious effort to appear as sinister as possible without actually doing anything obviously evil. Secondly, many people (often correctly) believe that somewhere in its files, the Panopticate knows their dirty secrets. It never makes threats about this, or even implies that it know something, but its reputation ensures that people are worried anyway. Thirdly, most people in the government, despite everything, believe that the Panopticate are the goodies — they may be creepy, but they're on our side. Most Lendosan officials will put up with a lot if they believe it's in the interests of state security.
- The Alcintra — essentially, a coalition of Lendosa's biggest businesses. Together, they represent such a significant chunk of the Lendosan economy that the government can't really ignore them — while senators tend to avoid the Alcintra for fear of being seen as in the pocket of big business, many top bureaucrats have close relationships with it, on the basis that mutual understanding between the government and the Alcintra is vital for the stability of the Lendosan economy. The Alcintra doesn't control the government's economic policy, but it does have easy access to the people who implement it.
- The military — formerly a major force in politics, and although now greatly diminished, still influential. See the comment about state security under the Panopticate — if the military tells people that something is necessary for the country's safety, it'll probably be accepted without a great deal of scrutiny (except by the Panopticate, which doesn't trust the military, and which is responsible for the military's loss of influence over recent years).
- The secret societies — like neighbouring Neoliliana (although not to the same extent), Lendosa has a tradition of secretive clubs which meet together and plot to increase their power. How seriously these groups should be taken is probably a matter of opinion — while they do count many important people amongst their membership (senators, generals, top bureaucrats, cardinals, etc), they're loosely organised and not particularly competent. On the whole, a meeting of these secret societies tends to conclude with members agreeing to a "master plan" which, on closer inspection, just leaves everyone doing what they'd probably have done anyway as individuals. Still, the societies are occasionally dangerous — people have occasionally been killed by them. The two most significant ones are the Ivadari and SIA. The Ivadari style themselves as a club of the most intelligent and enlightened people in the country — their membership is mainly bureaucrats, academics, and people who like opera. SIA, by contrast, sees itself as tougher and stronger than everyone else — mostly military and security types. Both want to run the country — the former because they think they'd be best at it, and the latter because they're power-hungry megalomaniacs.
People who used to be powerful, but aren't so powerful anymore:
- Guilds and unions — once upon a time, guilds/unions has a significant amount of say in government policy — using strikes as a weapon, they could frequently force the government into making concessions. Often, they did not even have to begin a strike, or even publicly threaten one, to win — a quiet word with a member of the government was enough. However, a number of factors have since sapped their strength — the abolition of compulsory union membership, the increased powers of companies against striking workers, changes to employment contract law, and other such things. Membership is a lot lower now, and therefore, so is their power.
- The Papaist Church — formerly commanding the loyalty of millions of Papaists, the Church could have a significant impact on policy when it chose — few politicians wanted to have the Church openly opposed to them, with the resulting loss of votes that this would bring. However, most Papaists don't look to the Church for political guidance anymore — corruption and frequent bickering, although now repaired, took a heavy toll over the years. Even if its adherents still paid paid attention to its views on politics (they don't), the Church is forbidden from commenting on political matters by the Antario Accords.
- Organised crime — back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and to a lesser extent after that, there was a certain amount of influence on the government by organised crime (bribed police officers and government officials, mostly). Central to this were the Azcionari, the local parallel to the Mafia. Initially, the Azcionari were tolerated because they were useful — they controlled many of the unions, and therefore kept the unions from being taken over by the then-illegal Communist Party. Once the Panopticate decided that they'd outlived their usefulness, however, they were almost entirely exterminated. A few remnants survived, and occasionally succeed in bribing lower level officials, but the days when senior government figures were in the pay of organised crime are long gone.
- Aristocrats — under the Empire, of course, aristocrats had a lot of influence — they could talk directly to the Emperor, and convince him of their views. Since the monarch's abolition, however, the aristocrats have lost even the official recognition of their titles. With the exception of the Piolsan monarchy (and arguably the Riochan monarchy, if you count it as one), aristocrats aren't held in very high esteem these days.