You are on page 1of 7

Comparative Political Institutions Short Essay Word count: 1386 (without references) Bunga Manggiasih Department of Public Policy

Central European University

Are political parties in crisis? Can democracies exist without parties?

The death of political parties is coming ever nearer if they do not change their political paradigm. Cheating in politics and election manipulation is no longer possible as people are getting smarter and politically conscious.

Ajinatha, a blogger, wrote it in his post in Kompasiana, the largest citizen journalism portal in Indonesia, in July 2012. He was commenting on the governor election in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, where candidates backed up by big parties including the one supported by the national ruling party Partai Demokrat were defeated by the pair who is already popular for their integrity and thinking outside the box and then nominated by the much smaller opposition parties. Almost a hundred comments below Ajinathas post voiced their approval of the bloggers position that parties matter less now. The commentators also further discussed how their trust toward political parties kept declining because of the gazillion problems haunting the parties, from corruption to their detachment from the will of citizens.

The sentiment against political parties is echoed in many researches in Indonesia and other parts of the world. For example, a nation-wide study conducted by Indonesian Institute of Sciences in July 2012 found that only 23.4 percent of the 1,700 respondents still trust the parties. Furthermore, political parties are also considered the democratic institution with the lowest performance (Ichwanuddin 2012). Eurobarometer 2004 shows that in the 15 European Union member states combined, only 16 per cent of the public trust political parties, the last position across the 13 organisations assessed. Parties in 17 out of 20 Western countries are also seen to be the most corrupt institution in Transparency Internationals Global Corruption Barometer 2004 (Dalton and Weldon 2005). Distrust against political parties in Latin America countries, together with other

related factors, even led to the breaking down of one third of the regions nationally competitive parties between 1978 and 2007 (Lupu 2011). Afrobarometer survey also shows that citizens in several countries in Africa put no trust upon political parties (Bleck and van de Walle 2010).

All the above-mentioned studies signify that political parties are indeed in trouble. However, can democracy exist without parties? And what will happen to political parties? In this essay, I will argue that although political parties have been weakened, they will continue to exist. However, independent candidates are filling in the gap, serving as rivals, punishment for underperformed parties, and reminder that when parties fail, there are people ready to take their place.

Political Parties: Weaker But Still There It is generally accepted that political parties are crucial to achieve, maintain, and improve the quality of democracy (Levitsky and Cameron 2008). When parties are weak, there will be a tendency that class actors have fewer stakes in electoral politics, and parliament is less able to oversee the executive. Meanwhile, anti-system or independent candidates will be more common and successful, but societies will be less capable to resist or remove authoritarian and autocratic governments.

According to Dalton and Weldon (2005), sentiments toward parties have been negative, and the pessimism has deepened over the past generation. Mair (2005) explains that is partly because the ability of parties to engage the ordinary citizen has been decreasing, leading the people to withdraw from conventional political involvement. Another cause is that parties can no longer adequately serve as a base for the activities and status of its own leaders, who increasingly direct their ambitions towards, and draw their resources from, external public institutions. This makes parties to be left by their elites as well.

In the other hand, anti-political sentiments have been more evident in policy-making literature since the late 1990s (Mair 2005). For example, in 1997 the US economic professor Alan S. Blinder criticizes the government to be too political thus not optimal in delivering its tasks, and suggests it to follow the Federal Reserve model instead: to be out of touch of elected politicians, but managed by nonpartisan experts. In Europe, in 1996 Giandomenico Majone voices his concern that politicians only commit themselves in short terms, meaning because the policies are controlled by them, the outcomes will be suboptimal. Therefore the powers should be delegated to institutions which are by design not accountable to voters or their elected representatives.

However, political parties are still the foundation of the system of representative democracy; although fewer citizens today trust them (Dalton and Weldon 2005). Parties remain to play significant role in connecting various elements of the political process (Dalton and Wattenberg 2000). Nevertheless, the nature of democratic politics is constantly reshaped. Mair (2005) says democracy itself is adapting to the failings of the parties, which in turn makes the parties to be even weaker. Democracy is redefined in such a way to cope more easily with, and adapt to, the decline of popular interest and engagement.

As for the change in political parties, Mair (2005) sees them to have moved to a very close proximity to state institutions, working with them while hoping and targeting to be in those very institutions. Consequently, they neglect their representative role. Although for some it seems to be a survival strategy, Mair believes it probably cannot succeed in the longer term. Unless parties are also representative, they will experience hard times in legitimizing their procedural role.

The Rise of Independent Candidates Distrust of parties means a decrease in voting turnout, which contributes to the fragmentation of party systems and the electoral base, while stimulating broader cynicism towards government (Dalton and Weldon 2005). The weakened parties leave significant political gap that can be filled by the independent candidates. With different levels of engagement and success, the independents are already a common feature in some democracies, such as Ireland, Australia, United Kingdom, and United States of America; but is still a new notion in other democracies like Malawi, Zambia, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to Bottom and Copus (2011), these independent candidates see themselves as an antidote to party politics. They also want to bring common sense back onto parties in government, both local and national. The drive for more accountability and a frustration at the practices of party politics stimulate Independents to contend in elections.

Levitsky and Cameron (2005) shows that it is possible for politicians to run without parties. At least, it did happen in Peru during the days of President Alberto Fujimori. Peoples disgust of political parties made independent, candidate-centered electoral strategies as an effective alternative to parties. Established party labels and organizations were not only no longer necessary for, and might even be a hindrance to, a successful political career.

Political parties, especially those operating as cartels, of course try to tackle the independent candidacies (Tan 2012). As the legislatures who write the rules of the game, such as the election and party laws, they do try to keep out those who would challenge their power. It happened in Indonesia, but the Constitutional Court as a powerful veto player already ruled that independent candidates could run in elections for regional governors and regency heads, although not yet in the

national level. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Court has decided that independent candidates are also eligible for public funding under certain circumstances; and could not be excluded from committees merely because he was not a member of any party (Pildes 2010). As Tan (2012) puts it, the loss of the monopoly of the right to nominate was a significant blow to the embeddedness of the parties in the political system.

Copus et al (2009) concludes that independent candidates, along with the small political parties, offer a challenge to the dominance of the political landscape by the main parties; and give the voters a choice beyond the mainstream. They are not panacea, and the voters have neither wholly rejected or fully embraced their existence. Nevertheless, independent politicians will continue to exist in different political institutions and at different levels of government. The dominant political parties may try to abolish or prevent the independents because they are a threat to the status quo; or instead see it as a chance to instrospect and change their operations to re-engage with the voters. Further study into particular cases is important to reveal more insights on which direction the political parties choose, or forcen to take, after the so-called crisis; and for what consequences.

References Ajinatha. "Pilkada DKI, Tanda Awal Kematian Partai Politik (DKI Election, Early Sign of the Political Parties' Death)." Kompasiana, accessed December 2, 2012, Bleck, J. and N. Van de Walle. "Parties and Issues in Francophone West Africa: Towards a Theory of Non-Mobilization." Democratization 18, no. 5 (2011): 1125-1145. Bottom, K. and C. Copus. "Independent Politics: Why Seek to Serve and Survive as an Independent Councillor?"Public Policy and Administration 26, no. 3 (2011): 279-305. Copus, C., A. Clark, H. Reynaert, and K. Steyvers. "Minor Party and Independent Politics Beyond the Mainstream: Fluctuating Fortunes but a Permanent Presence." Parliamentary Affairs 62, no. 1 (2009): 4-18. Dalton, R. J. and M. P. Wattenberg. Parties without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies Oxford University Press Oxford, 2000. Ichwanuddin, Wawan. "Dukungan Publik Terhadap Demokrasi Di Indonesia (Public Support for Democracy in Indonesia)." Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia, accessed December 3, 2012, tober2012.pdf.html.

Levitsky, S. and M. A. Cameron. "Democracy without Parties? Political Parties and Regime Change in Fujimori's Peru." Latin American Politics and Society 45, no. 3 (2008): 1-33. Lupu, N. "Party Brands in Crisis: Partisanship, Brand Dilution, and the Breakdown of Political Parties in Latin America."Princeton University, 2011. Mair, P. Democracy Beyond Parties. Irvine: Center for the Study of Democracy, University of California, 2005. Olvera, A. J. "The Elusive Democracy: Political Parties, Democratic Institutions, and Civil Society in Mexico." Latin American Research Review 45, no. 4 (2010): 78-107. Pildes, R. Political Parties and Constitutionalism. New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers. Vol. 179. New York: 2010. Professor Russell J. Dalton and S. A. Weldon. "Public Images of Political Parties: A Necessary Evil?" West European Politics 28, no. 5 (2005): 931-951. Tan, P. J. "Reining in the Reign of the Parties: Political Parties in Contemporary Indonesia." Asian Journal of Political Science 20, no. 2 (2012): 154-179.