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Federalism and Political Party Systems

Jose Luigi Gabriel S Torres

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In a time where the flow of information has brought our diverse differences and histories, at the same time revealing our similarities there is a conflicting desire to unite under one common banner and simultaneously separate ourselves from the dissimilar. This tension between the similar and the different is embodied in the ideal federal system that provides a space for the institutionalization of the diverse and in many occasions, conflicting interests. The diffusion of power and the emphasis on autonomy are the key words that come to mind when conceptualizing a federal democratic nation. It is toutedhighlighted in political literature as a system that is the most conducive to democracy because of the very nature of the structure that provides spaces for addressing problems at the grassroots level of the polity with the decision making occurring in the institutions that are closest in proximity.1 There is a clamour for a shift towards a federal form of governance especially in regions in the world where there exists a massive plurality of identities, ideologies and histories. In many cases, the unitary form of governance that are found in these kinds of environments have been criticized as alienating and inefficient in the services that they provided, if they provide any at all. In an era where access to information is becoming widespread, diversity and similarity is magnified, so is the ability to compare ways of life with ones own. This historical moment has made federalism a very attractive alternative for peoples who have been for the longest placed at the margins because the hegemonic coercive force of a centralized state. Although federalism is championed as a viable solution to problems of diversity and alienation and as an environment conducive for democracy there are many blind spots in federalism literature. One such assumption that has not been adequately covered is how democracy is upheld in such systems. The objective of this paper is to inquire into the nature of democratic participation in federal systems and to elucidate the assumptions and presumptions of political participation in federal structures. The overarching question that would guide this research is: how is federalism conducive to political participation? But what does political participation mean, and what forms does it manifest? The notion of political participation is central to a democratic mode of existence, but taking it at face value, it runs the risk of oversimplification and misunderstanding without being clarified first. Perhaps what can point us towards a better understanding of what participation means is Thomas Carothers cautionary note about the perils of taking indicators of democracy without further elucidating their consequences on the ground. He states that we should not take elections as a given indicator for democracy.2 While it may be that there is a regular contestation of positions of authority, it only reveals one facet of the political conditions within a particular country. There may be elections, but beyond that, political participation in the course of public policy and accountability of authority is wanting. He attributes this to elites within political parties that are perceived by constituents as corrupt and ineffective a major cause of disaffection in the political processes of their countries. Despite their contribution to feckless pluralism in Carothers cases, political parties have a crucial role in providing an avenue for greater political participation. This will be investigated later in the subsequent sections of this paper.
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Jose V. Abueva, Some Advantages of Federalism (2001). Thomas Carothers, The End of the Transition Paradigm, Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (2002): 521,

The Philippines has long been under a unitary form of governance, with the Manila as the seat of power and centre of decision making. Local federalist scholars such as Dr. Jose Abueva have strongly advocated for a transition from a unitary to a federal form of government which would subsequently address many problems associated with the centripetal approach to political problems within the country. In his article, Some Advantages of Federalism and Parliamentary Government in the Philippines, he asserts that the characteristics of a federal and parliamentary form of government provide the basis for a more efficient, participatory and inclusive political processes that can address the social, economic and political problems in the Philippines by banking on the institutions that are created from the grassroots.3 This paper will attempt to clarify the relationship between federalism and political participation, more specifically participation in political parties. If federalism is a more conducive space for democracy then there should be indications of increased political participation in this system of governance. A comparison will be made between the different federal systems around the world, and their levels of participation with our current Philippine system. But before this can proceed, we will have to identify and clarify the salient concepts that will be extensively used in this research. What is federalism? The concept of a federal government or federalism is not a monolithic rather there is a spectrum of definitions that describe the different configurations of federal governments in practice. In Designing Federalism, Filippov et. al give a general definition of a federal government by citing Riker (1964):
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two levels of government rule the same land and people, each level has at least one area of action in which it is autonomous, and there is some constitutional guarantee of the autonomy of each government in its own sphere.4

They cautiously note that there limits to this definition in practice because of the various degrees of federal characteristics that their sample possesses. Generally, federations are dynamic entities of national and state governments that are in constant negotiation of power and authority wherein subject states under the national government have various degrees of autonomy from the national government. The general definition presented by Riker above, although limited, does introduce the configuration of a federal government, providing a basis for understanding politics within a federation. In order to conduct their study, they highlight the debates on the definition of federalism and caution that in practice, the shape of a federation may change with time, making it quite resistant to a fixed definition. This assertion is supported by illustrating how practical reality tends to escape theoretical formulations of federalism. They set up an example of distinguishing a federation from a confederation by looking at the boundaries of monetary and defence policies. This is subsequently destroyed by citing a historical example of how the United States national government did not possess a central bank from 1832 to 1913 and how it relied on state militias in the mid 19th century. Their point was to highlight the danger of being mired in
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Abueva, Some Advantages of Federalism. Michael Filippov, Peter C. Ordeshook, and Olga Shvetsova, Designing Federalism: A Theory of Self-Sustainable Federal Institutions, First Edit (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

the debates of theoretical formulations of a federal system of government that tends to drive the attention from studies of the implications and effects of federalism on the ground. Instead, they transition towards presenting a definition of their own: a nation-state is federal if there are several layers of government and each level has its own set of executive, legislative and judicial branches that are elected directly by people. Furthermore, subgovernments within federation are geographically based as a matter of convention within their research.5 This may perhaps set the foundation for a further study between party politics and federalism, by co-opting their underlying assumptions of federalism. Boundaries of power within federations The boundaries between the authorities of the national and state governments are continuously tested and redrawn. Authority needs to be clarified here because it may take many different forms such as authority in policy making, authority in policy implementation, resource allocation, service implementation, budget making etc. National and state governments continuously jostle for jurisdiction over public goods and the power between both entities waxes and wanes over time. Though there is limit to the concentration of power between the two levels of governments and a distinction must be made according Dikshit.6 He introduces two terms, federation and confederation the difference between the two is that the latter the central government is subordinate to the unit government in the sense that it runs at the mercy of the other. Power within this institutional configuration is concentrated within the constituent states, making the central authority subject to their will. On the other hand, Dikshit explains that a federation, states are autonomous from the central government and the autonomous powers is limited and allocated constitutionally.7 This concentration of power over policy formation and/or implementation between the national and state governments largely determines the interests and loyalties of the constituency. The struggle for control over these processes via the political party system is the focus of Chhiber and Kollman research.8 Their study will be further explored below in the next section. In Federalisms Values and the Value of Federalism, Inmans analysis and interpretation of empirical data of the comparisons between the performances of democratic federations, dictatorial federations, democratic unitary and dictatorial unitary governments. He asserts that institutions that are unique to the federal set-up of governments are crucial for democratic participation, policy formulation and service delivery to the constituents. 9 The empirical analysis provides a very convincing argument in favour of federalism in terms of policy decentralization and policy outcomes. The bedrock of this argument is the robustness of institutions created because of constitutionally protected political jurisdictions10 which secure economic property rights, political and civil rights which therefore affect the output of workers. Inman attributes this to the constitutionally established boundaries of powers and political representation which provide a legal check and balance between the central national government and the constituent federal states as opposed to an administrative federation that has a central government that delegates tasks to local governments for policy implementation. Within the
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Ibid. Ramesh D. Dikshit, Geography and Federalism, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 61, no. 1 (1969): 97115, 7 Ibid. 8 Pradeep K. Chhiber and Ken Kollman, Formation of National Party Systems (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004). 9 R. P. Inman, Federalisms Values and the Value of Federalism, CESifo Economic Studies 53, no. 4 (January 11, 2008): 522560, 10 Ibid.

administrative configuration, power and authority is very one sided, with the local governments merely acting as a vehicle for the central governments policy.11 This is in contrast with a constitutional federation that ensure each constituent state is an end in itself. We will have to invoke Carothers caution about taking the indicators for democracy for granted. Although Inmans argument is very powerful because it presents an empirical comparison between the performances of democratic and non-democratic types of federations and unitary governments, it still falls short of providing a comprehensive historical analysis of democratic political participation, especially with regards to how regional elites may co-opt the local government systems and institutions to meet their interests. Inman bluntly states that elections marked by high rates of voluntary political participation (emphasis mine) confer legitimacy on the winners of those elections.12 Here we see the weakness in Inmans assumption as explained by Carother because he does not go further to elaborate what constitutes political participation and takes it as a given in his article. The occurrence of regular elections does not guarantee the presence of democratic conditions within a particular context. Political parties and the struggle for dominance If federalism is about the division of powers between the national government and the state, then the political authorities and policy making institutions, nationally and within the states are the targets of common interest groups because of the ability to influence policy making and policy outcomes, nationally and sub-nationally depending on the division of powers. A strong party system that is respondent to the will and needs of the people is one powerful indicator of a mature democracy. Chhiber and Kollman argue that political parties are instrumental to the succession of power and influencing the course and outcome of public policy.13 They are a means of support for the government or a source of opposition against its power. The pertinent question to this assertion is how do political parties facilitate a democratic mode of existence for the constituency? Carothers cautionary note on feckless pluralism highlights the danger of putting political party systems on a pedestal because their presence does not necessarily signify democracy. It may be that political parties that are captured by elite interest merely bicker and jostle for power without effective program implementation, discouraging the constituency from participating. Chibber and Kollman argue that political parties can provide a coherent base of support and a label for a common interest that a constituency can rally behind.14 Carother accounts for the structural configurations of countries that have an abundance of political party activity but yet have a poorly performing democratic system. On the other hand, Chibber and Kollman argue that political parties can also be a means to support and promote political participation especially if the structural conditions of a country allow for it. Filippov et. al support this assertion by arguing that parties are a means of channelling information about candidates and as vehicles to communicate common interests or ideologies under a common banner.15 Candidates within a mass democracy benefit from the security and endorsement of an organization that holds similar principles and interests of the candidate. The organization itself provides a pool of resources for candidates and an avenue through which the candidate can rally support from the constituency of the party during elections or during crucial policy making periods. Thus the literature suggests that political parties can provide a linkage between the interests and will of the
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Ibid. Ibid. 13 Chhiber and Kollman, Formation of National Party Systems. 14 Ibid. 15 Filippov, Ordeshook, and Shvetsova, Designing Federalism: A Theory of Self-Sustainable Federal Institutions.

people and the government. Parties act as a bridge between the constituency and the seats of power that determine the course of public policy and outcomes thereby making the parties and therefore the candidates directly accountable to the people that support them. Losing support from the people would mean losing power within the policy making and implementation sphere of governance. Chibbers and Kollmans discourse on political parties raises several questions about how political parties can set out to achieve this ideal bridging between the peoples interests and the decision making authorities. Before they could proceed with their research on how federalism affects the formation of national party systems they loosely define parties as a group of candidates running for election under the same label which suggests that parties are a means rather than an end. These organizations arise out of several factors which are crucial to understanding political parties and the ways by which they operate within a given context. The most salient factor that is relevant to bridging the concepts of federalism and political party systems are voting preferences for party systems that give them an edge in policy formation. In Chhibbers and Kollmans discussion of national party systems, voters will most likely choose parties that are congruent with their interests and the partys ability to change or influence prevailing national policies or policy outcomes.16
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[Linking Federalism with Political Parties] Federal systems around the world come in different configurations of distributions of powers between the national and subnational governments. It is essential to highlight this configuration before delving into the intricacies of party politics within a federation because the distribution, or rather the dispersion of power tends to dictate the priorities of politicians.

Party Behaviour in Federal Systems

The literature on political party behaviour in federal systems is extensive, with studies conducted in different federal configurations. The results are wide and varied with authors having difficulty pinpointing the factors that have on the link between of federalism and on the behaviour of parties. But one factor does stand out that authors generally agree on that affects political party behaviours in decentralized systems, namely the parliamentary form of government. According to Mayer, the parliamentary set-up within a federal system serves as a catalyst for the level of cohesiveness of political parties.17 In order for government to function effectively, there needs to be a stable majority within legislation. This particular junction between federal systems and the type of government is crucial to throwing light on the interaction between the federal tends to heighten the level of competing interests because the allocation of national and state resources is linked to who controls the majority within parliament.18

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Chhiber and Kollman, Formation of National Party Systems. Lawrence Mayer, Federalism and Party Behavior in Australia and Canada 23, no. 4 (1970): 795807. 18 Scott W. Desposato, The Impact of Federalism on National Party Cohesion in Brazil, Legislative Studies Quarterly 29, no. 2 (2004): 259285.

Although the diversity of contexts presents a challenge for comparative scholars to extrapolate empirical results of party behaviour within a federal setting to a general theory, the parliamentary form is an attractive unit of analysis because the contest for majority tends to be the common feature of parliaments around the world. Control over legislation via majority entails control over the distribution of resources, and within federal systems this is further complicated when national legislators are confronted with the centrifugal forces of the subnational governments. National and subnational legislation are two different levels of competition with each level having their own political priorities. Thus there is an expected tension between both national and subnational politicians over the power of the distribution of resources. Political parties are instrumental for the coordination of politicians horizontal-wise, which means at each respective level of government, national and subnational politicians compete for the majority. At the same time, there is a vertical tension between the national legislation and the state-level legislation. In many cases there is a clash of interests between the national and the state, and between states. This multi-dimensional conflict arises out of the federal structure when coupled with the parliamentary arena which has a profound effect on party behaviour. Thus it is imperative that a clarification be made on the effect of the federal structure of government on the behaviour of national and state level parties.

The Effect of Federalism on National Party Ideology

Stewart, in his article Fission and Federalism investigates the link between Canadas diverse cultural and geographical characteristics which are a source of interparty cleavage at the national level, compounded by the federal structure of government. Given the physical and social geography of the country, federalism provides a space for strong regional politics which have huge influence over the national policy making process. Stevens highlights the link between the countrys diversity and the low coherence of national parties which translates to the platforms and programs that they promote to their constituents in order to muster support in national legislation.19 The capture of majority is dependent on a partys discipline which means that to form a stable majority within government, the party needs to be powerful enough to rally legislators together. This is a challenge because ideological differences of national parties in Canada emerge due to competing priorities and interests of their constituents across provinces A stable majority matters more to the government-aligned party because the operation of government is dependent on their ability assert policy making control. This suggests that there are mechanisms within and between parties at play to ensure that cohesion is maintained. But within the Canadian context, decentralization forces are at times too powerful, fragmenting national parties. An array of incentives in the form of ease of access to state resources, bargaining of executive posts and key positions within parties constitute the di scipline mechanism of parties. This is necessary for the cohesion the government party members on key policy issues within legislation. On the other hand, the oppositional and marginal parties attack

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David K Stewart and Ian Stewart, Fission and Federalism: The Disaggregation of Activists Canadian Party, Publius 27, no. 3 (1997): 97112.

exert countervailing pressures of the majority party and aggressively campaign to expand their constituency in order to assert dominance in the next round of elections In Stewarts study, the coastal province of Nova Scotia at the eastern fringe of Canada, and the fossil fuel rich, landlocked province of Alberta have a fragmenting effect on the Progressive Conservative (PC) party of Canada such that the same party at the national level will have at often times, schizophrenic voting pattern, reflecting the disparity of interests between the constituents of the two provinces. Tensions within the party are also dependent on who ends up in power within the different levels of government. Stewart notes that this was highest when the national and provincial wings were in office at the same time. His study to measure the interparty cleavage within the PC party involved surveying the opinions of party activists in Nova Scotia and Alberta during crucial policy making periods. His results suggest that federalism, to a large extent had a disaggregative effect on Canadian political party ideology. In the Brazilian party system, characterized by politicians frequent party switching, is judged to be not as institutionalized and robust as its counterparts in the North such as Canada. However, Desposato argues that despite the weak party discipline in Brazil, the fact there is party switching implies the fact that parties do matter despite the perceived lack of institutionalization.20 He presents a powerful rational-choice model to determine the factors that affects a Brazilian national politicians party preference. His results confirm that politicians affiliate themselves with parties on criteria, 1) parties are able to maximize his chances for reelection, 2) the partys access to pork and 3) the ideological compatibility with his own goals. Although Desposatos study provides valuable insights into the party preferences within a federal setting, it does not clarify the link between the structure of federalism with party behaviour. Moreover, the party systems of Canada and Brazil differ in the fact that executives in Brazil tend to hold more influence compared to parties. Borges highlights the vertical competition between national and state elites which overshadow the political party allegiances.21
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The Effect on Constituency Support Mayers study on the party behaviour in Australia and Canada studies another dimension of political party behaviour in federalism that adds to the insights drawn from Stewart. He highlights the effect strong regional interests on party behaviour caused by cultural differences, language barriers reify the effect of decentralization because clear identity boundaries between constituents within the federal system. But he also notes the effect of the cabinet system of government that acts as a countervailing force against the centrifugal force of strong regional interests. This is because there are contradictory pressure on members of parliament for national party loyalty and the parochial interests of the constituency.

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Conclusion: Linking Federalism and Political Party Systems

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Scott W. Desposato, Parties for Rent? Ambition, Ideology, and Party Switching in Brazils Chamber of Deputies, American Journal of Political Science 50, no. 1 (2006): 6280. 21 Andr Borges, The Political Consequences of Center-Led Redistribution in Brazilian Federalism 46, no. 3 (2011).

We can tie federalism and political party activity with the factor mentioned above. Within a federal system of government, the power over policy making and implementation oscillate between the national and state governments within the constitutionally enshrined boundaries. Therefore political interest in shaping policy and its outcomes become the interest of constituency who are directly affected by this structural configuration of government. Depending where power over policy lies, voters tend to choose the most effective channel for affecting policy and its implications. Political parties, according to Chhibber and Kollman, provide an avenue to affect this process at the state or at the national level.22 In federal systems, state policies tend to matter to citizens within the effective jurisdiction of that state (which is presupposed by constitutionally allocated powers). This, coupled with a robust political party system, lowers the cost of participation in public policy discourse because the constituency see that they have a stake in shaping public policy.
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Abueva, Jose V. Some Advantages of Federalism (2001).


Chhiber and Kollman, Formation of National Party Systems.

Borges, Andr. The Political Consequences of Center -Led Redistribution in Brazilian Federalism 46, no. 3 (2011). Carothers, Thomas. The End of the Transition Paradigm. Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (2002): 521. s.html. Chhiber, Pradeep K., and Ken Kollman. Formation of National Party Systems. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004. Desposato, Scott W. Parties for Rent? Ambition, Ideology, and Party Switching in Brazils Chamber of Deputies. American Journal of Political Science 50, no. 1 (2006): 6280. . The Impact of Federalism on National Party Cohesion in Brazil. Legislative Studies Quarterly 29, no. 2 (2004): 259285. Dikshit, Ramesh D. Geography and Federalism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 61, no. 1 (1969): 97115. Filippov, Michael, Peter C. Ordeshook, and Olga Shvetsova. Designing Federalism: A Theory of SelfSustainable Federal Institutions. First Edit. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Inman, R. P. Federalisms Values and the Value of Federalism. CESifo Economic Studies 53, no. 4 (January 11, 2008): 522560. Mayer, Lawrence. Federalism and Party Behavior in Australia and Canada 23, no. 4 (1970): 795807. Stewart, David K, and Ian Stewart. Fission and Federalism : The Disaggregation of Activists Canadian Party. Publius 27, no. 3 (1997): 97112.

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