“PARTY SYSTEM INSTITUTIONALIZATION: A CRITIQUE”
In new democracies, political parties are still struggling to keep pace with the challenges of democracy. Unlike in highly developed democracies, new democracies are usually vulnerable in reverting back to authoritarianism. This is because the institutions that are primarily concerned with promoting democratic governance are weak and cannot cope with the influences of the elite. Political party is considered to be an essential institution to provide a building block in democratic governance. Where the role of political party is weak, this also results to the weakening of democratic governance. Political party makes government accountable to its action; its primary role is to aggregate the interests of the people in the government, to form the government and to promote democratic norms and practices. But, what if these political parties have weak role in the government and that they are only used by the self-interested elites to gain power and control over the government? These questions are related to the level of the party’s institutionalization. Party systems in democracies and semi democracies of the less developed countries are less institutionalized than party systems in advance industrial democracies. What might account to this striking difference would be how parties evolved from each condition. This paper discusses the level of stability of party systems in third world countries or new democracies as compared to the advance industrial democracies. Stability and value of political parties depends upon their level of institutionalization of party system. II. Party System Institutionalization
According to Huntington, institutionalization is the process by which organizations and procedures acquire value and stability. Mainwaring argues that party institutionalization consists of its level of stability, strong rootedness of the party to the society, legitimacy of the parties and finally, the autonomy or independence of the party from external influences especially in the influences of the elites. Party system institutionalization is important because a stable party system encourages the strong role of parties in representing the interests of the people by providing coherent platforms and policies. Hence, institutionalization has consequences for representation and electoral accountability. If there is an institutionalized party system, parties are therefore stronger and hence more accountable to voters. Conversely, if party system is under institutionalized, parties are weak and unaccountable to voters. To illustrate, comparison between the less developed democracies and highly developed democracies would help to explain the concept of party system institutionalization. Firstly, institutionalized systems enjoy considerable stability. Party competition manifests itself regularly. The same parties appear during elections and there is no frequent shift of votes. In third world countries, electoral volatility is usually high where main parties appear and disappear from one election to the next. Stable party system as discussed earlier encourages representation based on issues and programs so that candidates are more identified and accountable to voters. However, in third world countries, frequent shifting of one party to another is rampant which do not only weaken the role of parties in presenting coherent platforms and programs but also prone to erratic policies. Second, in more institutionalized systems, political parties have a strong root in the society. Voters have a strong attachment to their political party and they support it regularly, thus lessening electoral volatility and providing regularity in elections. Because voters have strong attachment to their party, they consistently vote for it from one election to the next hence lessening massive shifts from one party to another as reflected by electoral volatility. The strong root of the...
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