chapter  4
28 Pages

Party system institutionalisation across time in post- communist Europe


One of the most evident truisms in the literature on parties and party systems is that party systems, precisely because they are systems, take time to settle down and hence to become institutionalised. As such, and as has been argued elsewhere, it may make little sense to speak of ‘emerging’ or ‘consolidating’ party systems. To speak of a system (as opposed to a set) of parties is to ascribe to that system a degree of stability, predictability and familiarity in the interactions between the parties involved, and, by definition, these properties require time to develop. New ‘systems’ cannot be predictable, and they are certainly unfamiliar. Nor can we know whether they are stable, since this also requires the test of time. Since the beginnings of mass democracy in Europe, we can identify four separate clusters of cases in which parties and party systems have emerged and potentially consolidated (Mair 1997: 177-178). The first was constituted by the cases that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century in the wake of the establishment of universal male (and often) female suffrage, and were those seen by Lipset and Rokkan (1967) to have frozen into place by the 1920s. The second cluster were the new or revived party systems that emerged in a number of countries in continental Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s following the demise of authoritarian rule – Austria, West Germany, and Italy. The third cluster was constituted by the early third-wave democracies in the mid-to late-1970s – Greece, Portugal and Spain. Finally, in larger numbers, and at a slightly more uneven pace, there is the cluster formed by the post-communist democracies, beginning – in terms of founding elections (see Table 4.2) – in May 1990 in Hungary.