Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 15, issue 4

Omar Sanchez, "Party Non-systems: A Conceptual Innovation," Party Politics, 15 (July, 2009), 487-520.

First paragraph:
Institutionalization is the most important dimension along which party systems in the developing world differ. Variations in fragmentation or polarization are relatively unimportant criteria for comparing party systems whenever essential differences in the degree of institutionalization exist among them. Ever since Mainwaring and Scully's (1995) landmark collaborative study, it has been more explicitly recognized that a low level of party system institutionalization poses serious problems for democratic governance. With the present study, my aim is to contribute to the still embryonic conceptualization of party system under-institutionalization (Schedler, 1995). I contend that some party constellations, characterized by a fundamental inter-temporal discontinuity in the identity of the main parties in the polity, do not deserve the label of party 'systems'. I introduce the concept of 'party non-systems' to join existing party universe categories and operationalize it in more concrete terms. The definition provided is then applied to a number of Latin American cases at the low end of the institutionalization continuum (Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru) in order to highlight important qualitative differences in the nature of inter-party competition among them - and across time in each country. In the process, I show the descriptive and analytical value of the concept of party non-systems.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Ladder of generality: how party universe types relate to one another
Figure 2. Visual difference between intra- and extra-systemic volatility
Table 1. Difference between inchoate party systems and non-systems
Table 2. Party system institutionalization continuum
Table 3. Guatemala: top four parties in first-round presidential (P) and congressional (C) elections (in order of votes gathered)
Table 4. Electoral volatility in Latin America (selected countries)
Table 5. Extra-systemic volatility of top four parties (parliamentary elections) (selected countries)
Table 6. Ecuador: top four parties in first-round presidential (P) and congressional (C) elections (in order of votes gathered)
Table 7. Bolivia: top four parties in first-round presidential (P) and congressional (C) elections
Table 8. Peru: top four parties in presidential (P) and congressional (C) elections, 1978-2006 (in order of vote received)

First Paragraph of Conclusions:
The conceptual innovation advanced here is that of a new party universe type: party non-systems. The main theoretical claim made in this study is that constellations of parties do not make a 'system', properly understood, when there is a fundamental lack of inter-temporal continuity in the identity of the main parties of the polity. Distinguishing between inchoate party systems and non-systems can profitably add to the descriptive and analytical toolbox of comparativists. The adoption of the concept of party non-systems allows for differentiation between party universes where volatility is largely intra-systemic and those where it is also substantially extra-systemic - with consequences for the quality and performance of democracy. Such a distinction has yet to be conceptualized or operationalized. Using Sartori's ladder of generality scheme, I have argued that non-systems differ from all other party universes not only in degree (of institutionalization) but in kind, as they transgress the land of 'systemness' into a chaotic terrain of fundamental discontinuity marked by the absence of core, systemic parties. As explained, there are both empirical and theoretical grounds to think such party universes may become more, rather than less, common in the foreseeable future.

Last updated July 2009