Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 11, issue 2

Elisabeth Bakke and Nick Sitter, "Patterns of Stability: Party Competition and Strategy in Central Europe since 1989," Party Politics, 11 (March, 2005), 243-263.

First Paragraph:
Four or five competitive multiparty elections have yielded different patterns of party system stability in the Visegrád four: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Whereas the Czech and Hungarian party systems are made up almost exclusively of long-standing parties, the Polish party system has seen stability only on the post-regime side of the spectrum and the Slovak party system has seen turnover in parties on both sides of the main national-populist-civic-democratic divide, albeit with a stable core. Nevertheless, the region as a whole has proved to be more stable than many commentators and analysts expected in the early 1990s.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Major parliamentary parties
Table 2. Party system (in)stability in Central Europe
Table 3. Volatility in Central Europe
Table 4. Electoral systems in Central Europe (2002)
Figure 1. Wasted votes in Central Europe
Figure 2. Left parties in the Visegrád four
Appendix 1. Effective parties in Central Europe: electoral and parliamentary

First paragraph of Conclusion:
Comparative analysis of the four cases reveals that these different patterns of stabilization have been driven largely by strategic choices made by parties, in terms of what their goals are and how these are best pursued. To be sure, the higher number of parties in Poland and Slovakia at an early stage prompted more proportional electoral systems, which may have reinforced fragmentation. However, the reformed communists in Slovakia also proved far less adept than their Hungarian or Polish counterparts, let alone the Czech Social Democrats, at defining a clear role for themselves or pursuing enduring alliances. On the centre-right, ODS and (after 1995) Fidesz established themselves as the anchors of one side of the party system, albeit adopting different (respectively liberal and more national clerical) strategies. Both parties featured strong leaders that proved capable of taking advantage of their non-socialist competitors' suboptimal strategic choices or divisions. Neither the liberal nor the national clerical successor wings of Solidarity achieved this kind of unity or clear sustained strategies for competition (let alone clear economic policy priorities). Yet the former regime parties acted as an anchor in Polish party competition. In the Slovak case, the struggle against Mec˜iar and his majoritarian democracy eclipsed other bloc-building strategies. A range of opposition parties that were otherwise divided on strategy could nevertheless agree on the single goal of ousting his government, thus yielding a contingent opposition that is reminiscent of the old anti-communist opposition movements in its diversity. Only after the resolution of the Mec˜iar question does it look as if more stable left-right competition may be emerging; a development that is in line with findings from Western Europe that left-right coalition competition does not develop until regime questions have been solved (Budge and Keman, 1990). In short, party strategy matters: it shapes the trajectories of, variations in and degrees of party system stabilization.