Political Parties and Democracy a Central Claim Essay

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  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #61362131

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Political Parties and Democracy

A central claim of democratic theory is that democracy induces governments to be responsive to the preferences of the people. Political parties serve to organize politics in almost every modern democracy in the world (in both presidential and parliamentary systems). Some observers claim that the parties are what induce democracies to be responsive. In this essay, the author will show this point of democracy being dependent upon the buildup of democratic expression through the buildup and maintenance of organic party organizations in both presidential and parliamentary systems in democracies worldwide. This analysis excludes ethnic parties which infect the systems with instability. Rather, we will see how other institutions can be harnessed to channel these energies in more profitable directions.

Brief Outline of Sources on Best System Mix for Political Stability-

The stability of any presidential system is that the candidates participate in the races in the multi-party systems that produce true coalitions consisting of grass roots political groups. A parliamentary system's stability describes that it has had a superior historical performance. This is especially true in societies with political cleavages and multiple party systems. The continuity of a political party is when it is in power and there it has expression in the duration of stable political coalitions between the political parties.

The articles below point out the adaptability that exists between the two political (presidential and parliamentary) systems and how they differ significantly from each other. The presidential system features a fixed term in political office that does not allow for some political adjustments to require some subsequent events. In this system, there is no democratic principle existing to solve disputes easily between executive and legislative branches. There is also less inclination to engage in consensus building because compromises look negative to others across the aisle. In parliamentary systems, the adaptability for the system is that the cabinet crises are most easily solved. Mainwaring shows that the most stable of these is found in the Chilean system which together successfully combines the parliamentary and presidential systems together (Mainwaring, 1990, 1) / This is also the case with the work of Valenzuela and Scully who point out the successful fusion of the presidential and multi-party systems in Chile (Valenzuela and Scully 1997, 511).

The last criterion about the major differences between these two democratic systems are the checks and balances between them. The presidential system, on the other hand is a winner-takes-all politics zero-sum game where the fixed mandate identifies losers and winners for the entire political system. There is no moderating power involved and presidents avoid coalitions with opponents because it could weaken them. A president has unlimited independent power in that they can appeal directly to the people. Because of this, they have a mandate that he/she represents the society as a whole even if he/she can be elected by only a minority of the people, hence the heavy reliance on personal qualities. On the other hand, the checks and balances of the parliamentary system is that a prime minister is a part of a larger political party body and is more on an equal foot with ministers in the government. In both types of systems, parties can aid in stabilization overall by giving voice to different ideological strands of society (Lijphart 1969, 208).

This can is also be seen to be the case in the application of the work of Robert Putnam more widely to systems such as Italy's where good government builds upon the social capital it has built up in the party system through public participation (Boix and Posner 1996, 1).

Main Body-Presidential Systems vs. Parliamentary Systems

Pro Arguments-Section 1-

Again, we will be comparing the two systems side by side. Anderson and Guillory showed that the nature representative democratic institutions (based on Lijphart's consensus-majority index of democracies) mediates the relationship between the person's status as part of a political minority or majority and his or her satisfaction with the way the system works based upon majority rule (Anderson, and Guillory 1997, 66).

In presidential systems, party discipline is weaker and the local interests are better represented. This is the case in Spain where two major political parties have ruled the country following the rise of democracy after dictator Francisco Franco's death (Chhibber and Torcal 1997, pp. 27-28).

In many presidential democracies, regimes have problems due to new democracies have low levels of legitimacy due to their newness. Therefore, they have to be cautious when presenting their ideas to their people. They must supply the change that they promise. In this way, they need to "put their best foot forward." As such, there is a great emphasis upon the inaugural address of the presidential winner to set the regime on the right path and to win over the people, especially in democracies of Anglo tradition. If they do not do this, they will not be able to institutionalize and develop effectively (Lipset 1994, 1).

Lipset again credits economic developments concurrent with political party development such as the development of economic institutions, values, social institutions and historical events as a component of democracy building across the board, including in presidential democracies where there are fewer parties (Lipset 1959, 65).

Lipset's work is important because he is looking at how these organizations mesh with political parties in the construction of democracies such as presidential or parliamentary democracies. Lipset's work is echoed in the work of Prezeworski and Limongi who definitively connect economic development with political parties and democracy (Prezeworski and Limongi 1993, 51).

Barry Weingast also sees a close linkage between economic development and stable party democracy. Without it, one can count on instability and dictatorial rule. For political parties and their systems to work, they can not have large swings in public policy but must ensure stability through a consistent public administration (Weingast 1993, 1-2).

Multi-party elections have clearly become regular institutions in Africa and it is still to be seen whether or not they will bring stability there. Parties there function as a way of regulating political competition

. As such, they have become institutionalized and a regular part of the political landscape, promoting more stability and genuine democracy in the process. In this endeavor, political parties have developed and become a stable part of the political landscape (Basedau, Erdmann and Mehler 2007, 7).

Con Arguments-Section 2-

In parliamentary systems, the system depends upon multiple rounds of balloting. Sarah Birch assesses the impact of such systems upon democratic performance.

She argues that the very possibility of holding a second round of voting is a destabilizing factor that inhibits the democratic development and thereby encourages the use of non-electoral means of exercising power. This therefore necessitates the discipline of political parties (Birch 2003, 319). Michael Coppedge finds that without this party discipline, the multi-party systems of Latin America do not hold up to the standard of stability that most would like in democracy (Coppedge 1998, 547).

This is further explored by Robert H. Dix who applies the ideas of Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan who felt that voters were mobilized by the several parties and that did economic and social change

Dix applies this to a Latin American environment in countries other than Chile where multi-party democracies did not combine well with a presidential political system (Dix 1989, 23).

The fact that stable democratic systems have generally not evolved there can be taken as evidence against the premise that multi-party systems tend to be more stable for democracy. Since there is a failure in Latin America, it is hard to carry the generalizations of party political stability to other areas of the Third World that are not on the Anglo doorstep.

This can be seen further in the application of such ideas to the Third World such as Africa where they come up wanting. In such areas, institutions besides political parties are in play such as clan, tribe and religion are as active as political parties are in determining the outcome of elections and societal change. The concentration of such forces makes the political party system less effective (Mozzafar, Scarrit and Galaich 2003, 379). Even in Latin America, factors outside of the political party affect democracy volatility. According to Kenneth M. Roberts and Erik Wibbels, institutional variables have the most effect upon democratic volatility. In the case of Latin America, this is due to short-term economic volatility which shakes up the societies there, the institutional fragility of regimes and systems and relatively fluid cleavage structures in the society (Roberts and Wibbels 1999, 575).

Section 3-Anglo Case Studies

The British System has long been considered a case study in successful parliamentary democracy employing political parties. Klaus Armingeon points to this as a case study example that consensus democracies are on the whole, better, kinder and gentler democracies due the compromises that happen based upon the stable interaction of political parties. However, most democracies do not meet this ideal totally. In the British system, it succeeds because political parties compete for the governmental…

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