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Rodney Smith and Anika Gauja, "Understanding party constitutions as responses to specific challenges," Party Politics, 16 (November, 2010), 755-775. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Constitutions and rules are often used in the empirical study of political parties as evidence of their ideologies and broad organizational features (see, for example, Katz and Mair, 1992; Poguntke, 1998). Although reference to constitutions in general empirical investigations of political parties is common, there is almost no systematic and comparative analysis of the overall coverage and detail of party constitutions, why they have developed in particular ways, or their relationship to the everyday political practices of party activists. Discussion of party constitutions tends to be limited to explaining the seismic shifts that occur periodically in the ideologies and structures of individual parties (see, for example, McKenzie, 1963; O'Meagher, 1983; Shaw, 1996), or to comparing the ways in which parties have addressed specific problems, such as the role of members (Seyd, 1999) or candidate selection (Bille, 2001; Johns, 2000). In this article, we extend the study of party constitutions in two important ways: first, by considering constitutions in their entirety; and second, by comparing the constitutions of diverse parties operating within the same political system. In doing so, we aim to develop a framework for analysing party constitutions as the products of a range of institutional and environmental imperatives.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Key features of the 16 parties
Table 2. Lengths of party constitutions
Table 3. Comprehensiveness of party constitutions

Last Paragraph:
The key lesson for scholars of comparative party organizations is that party constitutions as a source of data should not be read in isolation, but need to be understood as the product of legal, economic and political considerations. In this article we have argued that the variety found among the constitutions of NSW political parties can be explained by examining five key institutional and normative imperatives: the need to satisfy legal requirements; to pronounce ideological principles; to confer legitimacy on decisions of the party; to manage internal conflict; and a need to respond to external competition. The extent to which a political party gives priority to one or more of these challenges over the others determines the character and content of its constitution and, in turn, the structure and operation of the party organization. Although developed with reference to NSW, this analytical framework can potentially be applied to other political systems. The imperatives we have outlined arise from the broad institutional arrangements associated with parliamentary democracy, party government and electoral competition, and as such produce constitutional and organizational challenges for parties that are common to most contemporary democracies.

Last updated October 2010