Securing Democracy: Political Parties and Democratic Consolidation in Southern Europe

By Geoffrey Pridham | Go to book overview

Chapter two

Party elites and democratic consolidation: cross-national comparison of southern European experience

Gianfranco Pasquino


Introduction

Analyses of the transitions from authoritarian regimes and of democratic consolidations have basically focused on the interplay of political, social, and economic organizations. In some cases, due account has been taken of the impact of external factors. In other cases, Kirchheimer's lesson on the importance of 'confining conditions' has been learned and put to use. 1 More recently, and most notably in this volume, the emphasis has been put on that very relevant political actor which is the political party (in the wake of the criticisms levelled against political parties in contemporary democracies, one has risked losing sight of their important contributions in establishing and consolidating democratic regimes). All this has been rightly done.

If party organizations are important in channelling popular support towards a new democratic regime, their rate of success (in some cases even their ability to do so) must be influenced by whether party leaders behave in such a way as to create and consolidate that democratic regime. It is not simply that politics always has a strong personality component. It is also that, in many cases, personality conflicts played a role in the demise of the pre-authoritarian regime (as, most notably, in the case of Greece); and, above all, that party leaders enjoy an unusual amount of political visibility, strategic flexibility, and tactical discretion in the phases both of transition and consolidation.

The leaders of other organizations have, in all likelihood, been discredited by their participation in the authoritarian experience-as is the case with military leaders, industrialists and, of course, members of the inner circle of authoritarian decision-makers. Officials, both in the executive and the legislative branches, are definitely too identified with authoritarianism. Church leaders, while powerful, might be more inclined to arrest unfavourable trends during transition than to get involved in what for them would be a confused and risky process. Therefore, in some cases by default, in other cases because of their

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