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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.

Article

Party-System Change in Latin America  

Jason Seawright

From one point of view, Latin America’s party systems are in a constant state of change, with high levels of electoral volatility, recurrent episodes of personalism, and a generally low level of predictability. From a deeper analytic perspective, however, there are clear differences between periods of massive, essentially region-wide party-system change, as at the birth of mass politics in the first half of the 20th century and during the neoliberal era, and periods of relative stability, such as the period of the Cold War. Latin American party politics is thus characterized by a rhythm of (sometimes long) periods of continuity interrupted by episodes of crisis and change. Episodes of change occur when the foundations of political competition are revised: at the dawn of mass politics in the early 20th century, for example, or during the period of political and economic reform that marked the end of the Cold War. A distinctly Latin American puzzle for the study of party systems emerges from taking the long view of these periods of stability and disruption. For the most part, party systems in the region are distinctly central to politics and electoral in origin, in contrast to many other developing countries where parties are noncentral, volatile, or oriented toward nonelectoral forms of governance. Yet, these same party systems are largely unable to adjust their appeals when faced with fundamental transformations to the social, political, or economic landscape—in contrast to the party systems of much of North America and Western Europe, where many parties and party systems have successfully navigated multiple such transformations with the identities of key parties intact.

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

Uruguay’s Stability and Change in an Institutionalized Party System  

Rafael Piñeiro Rodríguez and Fabrizio Scrollini Mendez

Uruguay is considered one of the most democratic, transparent, and stable countries in the world, an outlier in the Latin American context. The institutionalized nature of Uruguay’s party system contributed significantly to democracy, but was not sufficient to prevent a military dictatorship period in the context of the Cold War (1973–1984). Eventually, the political party system adapted to accommodate the emergence of the Broad Front (left), which gained the most votes of any political party in 1999 and won the election in 2005. The recent wave of progressive reforms in Uruguay, such as the introduction of universal healthcare, abortion laws, same-sex marriage laws, and cannabis legalization can be explained by the strong links political parties (particularly on the left) maintain with social movements. Further, this link also helps to explain the legitimacy that political parties still retain in Uruguay. Nevertheless, Uruguayan democracy faces challenges in terms of transparency, equality, and the risk of democratic “deconsolidation.”

Article

Parties and Regime Change in Latin America  

Laura Gamboa

The importance of political parties has been at the heart of the debate about regime and regime change. Parties are essential actors for democratic politics. They can trigger transitions from and to democracy, polarize making democracies vulnerable to breakdown, or manage conflict to protect democratic institutions. However, not all parties or party systems are equal. The levels of fragmentation, polarization, and institutionalization in any given party and/or party system are key to understanding the rise, fall, and survival of democracy. In Latin America, the literature has focused, mostly, on party and party system institutionalization. In general, scholars agree that institutionalization fosters democracy. The organizational strength and embeddedness of political parties in society and the extent to which they interact regularly in stable ways, they argue, is key to the survival of democratic politics. There are instances, however, that suggest that this relationship is more problematic than the literature assumes. In contexts of crisis, highly institutionalized parties and party systems can be slow to adjust to new groups or demands and stiffen party leaders’ ability to respond to new issues. When facing a polarizing potential autocrat, for instance, high levels of party and party system institutionalization could hurt more than help democracy. They can reduce the ability of politicians to attract moderate voters from opposing parties, hinder their capacity to counteract antisystemic trends in order to lead opposition efforts, or limit the extent to which they can reach across the aisle to build ideologically diverse prodemocratic coalitions.

Article

Electoral Volatility in Latin America  

Miguel Carreras and Igor Acácio

Latin American political systems experience significant levels of institutional uncertainty and unpredictability. One of the main dimensions of this institutional and political instability is the high level of electoral volatility in the region. In the last 30 years, traditional parties that had competed successfully for several decades abruptly collapsed or weakened considerably in a number of Latin American countries. New parties (or electoral movements) and political outsiders have attracted considerable electoral support in several national and subnational elections in the region. Even when the main partisan actors remain the same from one election to the next, it is not uncommon to observe large vote swings from one established party to another. While some scholars and observers expected that the instability in electoral outcomes would decline as democracies aged and consolidated, electoral volatility has remained high in recent decades in many Latin American countries. However, in other Third Wave Latin American democracies (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Uruguay), the patterns of interparty competition have been much more stable, which suggests we should avoid blanked generalizations about the level of party system institutionalization and volatility in the region. Cross-national variation in the stability of electoral outcomes has also motivated interesting scholarly work analyzing the causes and the consequences of high volatility in Latin American democracies. One of the major findings of this literature is that different forms of institutional discontinuity, such as the adoption of a new constitution, a significant enfranchisement, electoral system reforms, and irregular changes in the legislative branch (e.g., a dissolution of Congress) or in the executive branch (e.g., a presidential interruption), can result in higher volatility. Another major determinant of instability in electoral outcomes is the crisis of democratic representation experienced by several Latin American countries. When citizens are disenchanted with the poor performance and moral failures (e.g., corruption) of established political parties, they are more likely to support new parties or populist outsiders. Weak party system institutionalization and high electoral volatility have serious consequences for democratic governability. Institutionalized party systems with low electoral volatility promote consensus-building and more moderate policies because political parties are concerned about their long-term reputation and constrain the decisions of political leaders. In contrast, party systems with high volatility can lead to the rise of outsider presidents that have more radical policy preferences and are not constrained by strongly organized parties. Electoral volatility also undermines democratic representation. First, the fluidity of the party system complicates the task of voters when they want to hold the members of the incumbent party accountable for bad performance. Second, high instability in the patterns of interparty competition hinders citizens’ ability to navigate programmatic politics. Finally, electoral volatility augments the cognitive load required to vote and foments voter frustration, which can lead to higher rates of invalid voting.