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Article

Party Systems: Types, Dimensions, and Explanations  

Zsolt Enyedi and Fernando Casal Bértoa

The study of political parties and party systems is intimately linked to the development of modern political science. The configuration of party competition varies across time and across polities. In order to capture this variance, one needs to go beyond the analysis of individual parties and to focus on their numbers (i.e. fragmentation), their interactions (i.e. closure), the prevailing ideological patterns (i.e. polarization), and the stability of the balance of power (i.e. volatility) in all spheres of competition, including the electoral, parliamentary, and governmental arenas. Together, these factors constitute the core informal institution of modern politics: a party system. The relevant scholarship relates the stability of party systems to the degree of the institutionalization of individual parties, to various institutional factors such as electoral systems, to sociologically anchored structures such as cleavages, to economic characteristics of the polity (primarily growth), to historical legacies (for example, the type of dictatorship that preceded competitive politics) and to the length of democratic experience and to the characteristics of the time when democracy was established. The predictability of party relations has been found to influence both the stability of governments and the quality of democracy. However, still a lot is to be learned about party systems in Africa or Asia, the pre-WWII era or in regional and/or local contexts. Similarly, more research is needed regarding the role of colonialism or how party system stability affects policy-making. As far as temporal change is concerned, we are witnessing a trend towards the destabilization of party systems, but the different indicators show different dynamics. It is therefore crucial to acknowledge that party systems are complex, multifaceted phenomena.

Article

Party Systems in Latin America  

Laura Wills-Otero

Since the beginning of the third wave of democratization in the late 1970s, Latin American party systems have confronted several challenges, and they have frequently been transformed. There have been various types of changes. While some systems collapsed in the 1990s (e.g., Venezuela and Peru), others realigned (Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay), or expanded (Argentina and Mexico), or were able to become consolidated and ensure their stability over time (e.g., Brazil). What factors explain the transformations in party systems during the past three decades, and how can Latin American party systems be classified according to their attributes? In trying to answer these questions, scholars of Latin America have undertaken studies that are both theoretically and empirically rich. Their work has increased our knowledge of the party systems and representative democracies in the region. Different factors have been highlighted in order to explain the changes these systems have undergone since the third wave of democratization. Some works emphasize the importance of institutional reforms introduced by politicians or by constitutional assemblies. The questions they address are the following: What political reforms have been introduced into Latin American political systems, and what effects have they had on the party systems in different countries? The researchers do not limit their attention to reforms of electoral systems. For example, some of them also study decentralization processes and their effects on party systems. From a different perspective, other authors focus on changes in electoral preferences and their effects on the configuration of political power, exploring how regional economic, political, and social changes have affected voter preferences and the political configuration of party systems. Still others consider the crises of democratic representation in these countries, underlining the decline in the programmatic character of parties as an explanatory variable for the crises and noting that the level of institutionalization of a party system declines when parties abandon this distinctive feature and become clientelistic or personalistic instead. On the other hand, in order to describe party systems and to observe the changes they have undergone, academics have proposed a set of concepts and measurements that make it possible to identify their levels of institutionalization (i.e., stability vs. volatility), nationalization, and programmatic structuration, among other aspects. The operationalization of these concepts has provided researchers with useful data for describing, comparing, and analyzing the party systems of the region transversely over time. Understanding the transformation and characteristics of Latin American party systems over time sheds light on both the progress democratic regimes have made and the setbacks they have suffered within specific countries and in the region at large.

Article

Political Parties and Democratization  

John Ishiyama

Parties are indispensable to the building and maintenance of democracy. This is because parties are purported to promote representation, conflict management, integration, and accountability in new democracies. Second, the failures of parties in helping to build democracy in systems in transition are because they have not performed these functions very well. Third, there are three emerging research agendas to be explored that address the relationship between parties and democratic consolidation: (a) the promotion of institutional innovations that help build institutionalized party systems; (b) the role of ethnic parties in democratization and democratic consolidation; and (c) the role of rebel parties in building peace and democracy after civil wars. Although not entirely exhaustive, these three agendas represent promising avenues of research into the role political parties play in democratization.