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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Bate Papo! Practice your Portuguese and enjoy some Brazilian treats: bolo de aipim

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Bate Papo! Start your morning off with some delicious bolo de aipim (cassava cake). We’ll be outside the LBC on the patio of Pocket Park (next to bookstore in case of rain).

This event is sponsored by TULASO and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Megwen at mloveles@tulane.edu.

CALL FOR PAPERS: 65th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies

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Proposal Submission Deadline: November 1, 2017

The Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University is pleased to host the 65th Annual Meeting of SECOLAS in Nashville, Tennessee from Thursday, March 8 to Sunday, March 11, 2018. SECOLAS invites faculty members, independent scholars, and students to submit panel and individual paper proposals for participation in the conference.

SECOLAS welcomes submissions on any aspect of Latin American and/or Caribbean Studies.

Graduate student presenters will be eligible to submit their paper for the Edward H. Moseley Student Paper Award for the best paper presented at the SECOLAS meeting.

After the conference, all presenters will be eligible to submit their paper for publication consideration in the SECOLAS Annals issue of The Latin Americanist, an international, peer-reviewed journal published by SECOLAS and Wiley Blackwell.

To submit your abstract proposal, click through to the online submission form.

SECOLAS 2018 Program Chairs
History and Social Sciences
Lily Balloffet
History Department
Western Carolina University
lgballoffet@wcu.edu

Literature and Humanities
Amy Borja
Modern Languages Department
University of Dallas
aborja@udallas.edu

Bate Papo! Practice your Portuguese and enjoy some Brazilian treats: pavé

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Bate Papo! Our fearless leader will be attempting pavé, a Brazilian layer dessert, for the first time. Come gauge her efforts!

This event is sponsored by TULASO and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Megwen at mloveles@tulane.edu.

Bate Papo! Practice your Portuguese and enjoy some Brazilian treats: brigadeiro cake

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Bate Papo! We’re expanding on the brigadeiro madness. Next up: brigadeiro cake! We’ll be outside the LBC on the patio of Pocket Park (next to bookstore in case of rain).

This event is sponsored by TULASO and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Megwen at mloveles@tulane.edu.

Call for Papers: Association of Academic Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean 2018 Conference

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The Association for Academic Programs in Latin America and the Caribbean (AAPLAC) seeks session proposals for its 29th Annual Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 21-24, 2018, hosted by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University.

This year’s theme, “Study Abroad: Meeting the Challenges of Cultural Engagement,” includes a variety of paper topics, including:

  • New Orleans after Katrina: The impact of the growing Hispanic population which came to help with rebuilding and has since stayed on
  • Interdisciplinary Institutional Content Assessment: How to best track what students are doing overseas and the benefits for our campuses
  • Global Partnerships through Peer Collaboration: How we can better work with institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Research Collaborations – U.S.-Latin America: Faculty led/student participation in on-site studies
  • Anglo-Hispanic Challenges: Cross-cultural understanding through experiential learning and study abroad
  • Strategic Partnerships: How we can enhance protocols between our schools in the US and those in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Strengthening AAPLAC Relationships through Inter-Organization Mentoring: How we can enhance protocols amongst our schools in the US
  • Latina Empowerment: More women on study abroad programs: How we can take advantage of this bond between women of the North and the South
  • Rethinking Mobility: How is the student’s identity compromised/enhanced abroad?
  • Community-Based Partnerships: How students can learn as they engage with local communities in working type environments
  • Crossing Borders: The eternal quest for a global space as students interact with the other
  • Global Xenophobia on the Rise of Brexit/Trump? What is our role?
  • Cuba: Future U.S. Relations – Impact on Study Abroad

Please visit the Call For Papers web page to download the proposal template, timeline, and more information about the conference.

For questions, please contact Laura Wise Person at 862-8629 or lwise1_at_tulane.edu.

Bate Papo! Practice your Portuguese and enjoy some Brazilian treats: canjica

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Bate Papo! We’re getting close! Celebrate this last bate-papo of the semester with some steaming canjica to warm your heart and get you through the last few days of classes.

This event is sponsored by TULASO and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Megwen at mloveles@tulane.edu.