Redeeming the Communist Past: The Regeneration of Communist Parties in East Central Europe

By Anna M. GrzymaŁa-Busse | Go to book overview
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4
Convincing the Voters:
Campaigns and Elections

With the advent of democracy, the communist successor parties confronted a challenge their predecessors had long forgotten: free political competition. The communist successors had to cope with a profusion of polarized competitors, inchoate electoral institutions, and an electorate whose priorities and preferences were not fully clear. All these made formulating a winning electoral strategy difficult, and forming stable governing coalition even more so. Yet only an electoral victory or participation in a parliamentary coalition would give the parties their ultimate goal: a return to governance, this time in a democratic system.

The configuration of environmental conditions made certain electoral strategies especially likely to succeed. First, the parties had been forced to exit from power, and were largely discredited by 1989. They consequently could not rely either on patronage, appeals to nostalgia, or extremist ideologies. Second, the electorates were fluid the preferences of the voters were often unclear, making narrow appeals riskier. Third, the electoral institutions placed a premium on attractive electoral personalities: national party lists (in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary), single-member districts (in Hungary), and open party lists (in Poland). As we will see in this chapter, these conditions favored responsive appeals addressed to broad electorates, new dimensions of competition that got around the parties' discreditation, and cohesive national campaigns.

How well each party could cope with these environmental challenges, however, depended on elite political resources and earlier organizational transformation. These could produce both the cohesive campaigns and the cross-cutting appeals that would prove key to winning elections in postcommunist democracies. Thus, if the previous chapter examined the prerequisites for programmatic responsiveness and the creation of

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