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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

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

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.