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Matthijs Bogaards, "Dominant Party Systems and Electoral Volatility in Africa: A Comment on Mozaffar and Scarritt," Party Politics, 14 (January, 2008), 113-130.

First paragraph:
In a recent publication in this journal, Mozaffar and Scarritt (2005) identify and seek to explain two puzzling features of African party systems: low fragmentation and high volatility. In fact, the main puzzle lies in the unusual combination of the two. However, there are reasons for doubting these findings. First, the analysis is based on a database of electoral system features and election results that is only summarily described, but appears to include almost all sub-Saharan African countries with multiparty elections, irrespective of the nature of the regime, the quality of the elections and the number of consecutive elections. Whereas studies of electoral volatility in Eastern Europe and Latin America have either selected on regime type (Tavits, 2005) or controlled for regime type (Remmer, 1991), Mozaffar and Scarritt do neither. This leaves open the possibility that the concentration in African party systems at least in part is due to undemocratic elections and that aggregate electoral stability is different in democratic versus nondemocratic countries.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Elections, parties and volatility in 20 African countries
Table 2. Party system type and average volatility in 20 African countries
Table 3. Effective number of parties and level of volatility in 20 African countries

Last paragraph:
In light of the emerging research on volatility in Africa, it is difficult to understand Manning's (2005: 724) claim that 'volatility and fragmentation, among the most common measures of party system development and stability, are clearly not adequate measures of anything in the African context'. This conclusion seems to be based on the notion that volatility and fragmentation are meaningful concepts only in the context of strong, socially rooted parties, with coherent organizations and programmatic identities. The same critique could be levelled against the analysis of parties and party systems in Africa in general, which would thereby invalidate most of our cumulated knowledge about and the analytical tools for the study of African politics. However, such a verdict cuts against the grain of recent work by Africanists who have concluded that 'much of what we know about how electoral and democratic politics works in the established democracies may also apply to new democracies in Africa' (Lindberg and Morrison, 2005: 20) and that, 'although there is a strong western European bias in established party research, it can be applied in a modified way to political parties in Africa as well' (Erdmann, 2004: 80-1).

Last update December 2007