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 “party fragmentation.” 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 connotation–a partition into “fragments”, 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 “consensual democracy”.

How valid are these claims? Can greater pluralism–expressed in a greater number of parties–be equated with greater democratic quality?

If we value “survivability” 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 “fragmentation”?

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 “escape valve” 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 “irresponsibility and the politics of outbidding, culminating in the collapse of the center of the political spectrum” (Coppedge 2012, 96). Fixing the point of inflection at which the number of parties becomes “extreme” 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 Arrow’s theorem we know that there is a tradeoff between social rationality–understood as the ability to reach collective decisions that are coherent–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 “veto points” 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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research

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La Hora del Cuento: Summer Bilingual Story Hour at the Pebbles Center

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This summer, join us for La hora del cuenta bilingual readings series at the Pebbles Centers of the New Orleans Public Libraries!

On the first and last Saturday of every month, we will read a bilingual book at the Algiers Regional Library and the Children’s Resource Center Library beginning on Saturday April 28 until Saturday, August 25. Children and parents welcome!

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The Latin American Library's Annual Open House

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The Latin American Library will be hosting its annual open house event on Friday, September 21. This annual event will welcome back faculty, students, staff, and friends from the New Orleans community. The event includes an exhibit, informal presentations by invited guests, and a book sale.

The event is free and open to the public.

For more information contact Madeline White via email (mwhite7@tulane.edu) or by phone at (504) 865-5681.

K-12 Educator Workshop Celebrating 25 Years of the Américas Award with 2018 winners Ibi Zoboi and Duncan Tonatiuh

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This year marks the 25th year that the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs CLASP will honor the work of the many authors, illustrators, publishers, educators, and readers of the award with 2018 award winners Ibi Zoboi and Duncan Tonatiuh.

Zoboi’s book, American Street is a complex and multi-layered story anchored around relationships and questions of loyalty. She will share her experiences writing this book and provide context for teaching this book in a high school classroom.

The second 2018 award winner by Duncan Tonatiuh, Danza is a magnificent celebration of Amalia Hernández, the dancer and choreographer who founded the famed Mexican dance company, el Ballet Folklórico de México. Tonatiuh will share with educators his unique illustrative style and engage participants in an exploration of Amalia Hernández and her impact in the world of dance. This picture book is the perfect book for every library.

The workshop will explore this year’s winners, providing guidance and resources that span the 25 years of the award. This special 25th anniversary workshop will focus on diversity and the role of community.

Co-sponsored by the national Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP), Howard University, and Teaching for Change. Organized by the Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.

Celebración Latina at the Audubon Zoo

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In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, please join us at the Audubon Zoo for the 2018 Celebración Latina family festival to explore and celebrate the rich diversity of Latin America. Celebración Latina, presented by Pan-American Life Insurance Group, will be held at the Zoo’s Capital One Stage and Field. It will offer a true taste of the Latin American culture with live music, children’s activities, and authentic Latin cuisine prepared and sold by local restaurants. Local artisans will sell hand crafts, and local social service, health, and education organizations will offer wellness, education, and social service information.

Celebración Latina is included with Zoo admission or Audubon membership. No outside food, beverages, or tents allowed. Portable chairs and blankets are welcomed.

Don’t forget to check out photos from past celebrations!

For more information, please visit the Audubon Zoo website.

Celebración Latina is sponsored in part by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Ron Austin & Associates.

Carnaval Latino and Parade of the Americas

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Join us for the 19th annual Carnaval Latino festival in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month from October 13 – 15, 2018.

The Hispanic culture has thrived in New Orleans for almost 300 years, and Spanish influence can be seen all over the city. To celebrate the best of Latin culture, the 19th annual Carnaval Latino returns to the downtown area.

The Hispanic American Musicians and Artists Cultural Association hosts the festival to celebrate the music, food, art and culture of Latin America. Numerous musicians, both locally and from overseas, perform to honor the rich Spanish heritage in New Orleans.

In addition to live music and fantastic food, the Krewe of Quetzal will kick off the celebration with a New Orleans style parade, Desfile de Las Americas, or Parade of the Americas, on Saturday, October 13th. See the Hispanic community ride in elaborate costumes, throwing souvenirs to the crowds. After the parade, festival goers will then enjoy Latin music, art, food and drink, during Carnaval Latino’s festival at Generations Hall in the Warehouse District.

For more information on the festival and parade, visit Carnaval Latino’s official website.