Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Political Party Fragmentation: A Pejorative Term?

By Ludovico Feoli

At a recent workshop a group of scholars analyzing the post-electoral state of a particular party system expressed concern about utilizing the term â’‘¬Å“party fragmentation.â’‘¬Â Typically employed to describe an increase in the effective number of political parties represented in a legislature, it conveys, according to these scholars, a negative connotationâ’‘¬‘€a partition into â’‘¬Å“fragmentsâ’‘¬Â, a certain brittleness. This claim holds that the term stems from a traditional preference for majoritarian institutions, which are more decisive, over more plural ones. Instead, these critics assert, plural representation is the very basis of democracy and an increase in the number of parties reflects the direct inclusion of more social sectors. To them, this does not represent “fragmentation” but a move towards a better form of democracy, a â’‘¬Å“consensual democracyâ’‘¬Â.

How valid are these claims? Can greater pluralismâ’‘¬‘€expressed in a greater number of partiesâ’‘¬‘€be equated with greater democratic quality?

If we value â’‘¬Å“survivabilityâ’‘¬Â of the regime we must ponder the effect that the number of parties has on political stability. For if the proliferation of parties affects regime stability, opening the possibility of its degeneration into a non-democratic state, or a state of anarchy, what does this tell us about the virtues of increasing the number of parties? Would it not be right to consider this a â’‘¬Å“fragmentationâ’‘¬Â?

Linz reminds us that, in presidential regimes, extreme multiparty systems exacerbate conflict between the executive and the legislature, which in the absence of an institutional â’‘¬Å“escape valveâ’‘¬Â can lead to a breakdown, given the fixed nature of presidential terms. Extreme multiparty systems can also worsen polarization, diminishing the effectiveness of democratic government and leading to an opposition that encourages â’‘¬Å“irresponsibility and the politics of outbidding, culminating in the collapse of the center of the political spectrumâ’‘¬Â (Coppedge 2012, 96). Fixing the point of inflection at which the number of parties becomes â’‘¬Å“extremeâ’‘¬Â is difficult, and there are other factors that interact to determine the fate of a regime. But these are tendencies that can be plausibly posited to be likely as the number of parties increases.

From Arrowâ’‘¬’“¢s theorem we know that there is a tradeoff between social rationalityâ’‘¬‘€understood as the ability to reach collective decisions that are coherentâ’‘¬‘€and the concentration of power. When actors are many and their preferences heterogeneous, the probability of reaching collective decisions diminishes. Institutional rules that foster the aggregation of interests have the virtue of working against this tendency. They are not counter to pluralism, understood as diversity, as all groups can be represented. As Pitkin holds, representing means acting in the interest of the represented, in a manner responsive to them, and democratic mechanisms enable that this happens accountably. On the other hand, institutional rules that foster the disaggregation of interests must account for the difficulties they entail in terms of collective action.

To the degree that an increase in â’‘¬Å“veto pointsâ’‘¬Â favors gridlock, the resulting stasis has implications for the quality of democracy. The inability of a regime to adequately respond to and satisfy the needs of its constituents erodes its legitimacy and, ultimately, its popular support. The resulting sense of malaise can lead to perceptions of government unfairness and erode the public trust. Under these circumstances, citizens may be more willing to dispense with democratic institutions when a messianic savior, or the military, offer deliverance through direct intercession.

So, while the notion of increased pluralism and government by consensus are intuitively appealing, they do harbor dangers for democracy. These dangers, as we have seen, relate to the stability and quality of democratic regimes. But, more fundamentally, the notion of consensus is dangerous in itself because it is indeterminate. What exactly do we mean by consensus? How is it reached?

Conceptually, these dangers increase with the number of political parties, which is why an increase in their number is not necessarily an unqualified good, and it is proper to refer to the phenomenon as fragmentation.


  • Ludovico Feoli

    Permanent Researcher and CEO, CIAPA, Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University






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Bate Papo! Primavera 2020--NOW ONLINE!

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Bate Papo will now be held virtually! Join the conversation!

A weekly hour of Portuguese conversation and tasty treats hosted by Prof. Megwen Loveless. All levels are welcome! Meetings take place on Fridays at different hours and locations. See the full schedule below:

January 17th, 11 AM, LBC Pocket Park
Treat: Suco de maracuja

January 24th, 3 PM, Boot
Treat: Suco de caju

January 31st, 4PM, Cafe Carmo (527 Julia St.)
Treat: Suco de caja

February 7th, 11 AM, LBC Pocket Park
Treat: Agua de coco

February 14th, 11 AM, LBC Mezzanine
Treat: Guarana

February 21st, 12PM, PJs Willow
Treat: Cha de maracuja

February 28th, 2PM, Sharp Residence Hall
Treat: Cafe brasiliero

March 6th, 9:30 AM, LBC Mezzanine
Treat: Cha matte

March 13th, 1 PM, LBC Pocket Park
Treat: Suco de goiaba

March 20th, 3 PM, Greenbaum House
Treat: Limonada a brasiliera

March 27th, 12 PM, LBC Mezzanine
Treat: Batido de abacate

April 3rd, 11 AM, LBC Pocket Park
Treat: Suco de acai

April 17th, 1 PM, LBC Pocket Park
Treat: Caldo de cana

April 24th, 2 PM, Boot
Treat: Groselha

Ancient Civilizations K-16 Series for Social Studies Educators

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Ancient Civilizations
K-16 Educator Workshop Series
Spring 2020

For educators of grade levels: K-12

Tulane University’s Middle American Research Institute (MARI), Stone Center for Latin American Studies (SCLAS), S.S. NOLA, and AfterCLASS will host a professional development workshop series open to all K-16 school professionals. These workshops will challenge educators to learn about the unexpected impact and connections of Ancient civilizations from Central America to the Gulf South. In particular, the workshops will foster a deeper comprehension of how to incorporate art, language and food across the disciplines. Participants will learn unique ways to incorporate the Tunica, Maya and Aztec cultures into the classroom in a variety of subjects. Registration for each workshop is $5 and includes light snacks, teaching resources, and a certificate of completion.

The workshop series will prepare teachers:

  • To utilize digital humanities resources in the classroom;
  • To design culturally appropriate primary and secondary research projects;
  • To teach about Pre-Columbian and ancient civilizations, language, geography and foods;
  • To encourage student self-determination through meaningful and relevant cultural projects.

Saturday, January 25, 2020
9:00 am – 12:00 pm
The Tunica of the Lower Mississippi River Valley
Middle American Research Institute – Seminar Room
6823 St. Charles Avenue
This workshop will introduce participants with little or no prior knowledge to ancient Tunica history, art, and language, with special focus on the role of food and native foods of this region. Participants will explore the physical, cultural and linguistic characteristics of the region. Representatives of the Tunica community will introduce their language and culture and the work they do to preserve their language.

Friday, March 6, 2020
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Understanding Maya Fare: Beyond Tamales and Cacao
AfterCLASS – Taylor Education Center
612 Andrew Higgins Blvd. #4003
In collaboration with the Annual Tulane Maya Symposium, this workshop focuses on foods of the Maya. Participants will explore the foods of the Maya focusing on the role of food over time. Join us as we hear from chocolate specialists and our Kaqchikel language scholar will discuss the importance of corn. REGISTER HERE.

Thursday, May 2020
Aztec Mexican Art and Culture
Participants in this workshop will explore the art and culture of the Aztec community. Date TBD