Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis

By Giovanni Sartori | Go to book overview

chapter
seven
non-competitive systems

1. WHERE COMPETITION ENDS

The previous chapter deals with the competitive systems; we now enter the area of the non-competitive systems. Since competition ostensibly affords the major demarcation, in spite of its familiarity the concept deserves elucidation. By and large, a polity abides by the rules of competition when at election time most, if not all, seats are contested in each constituency between two or more candidates for office. And a first ground of inquiry focuses on what might be 'optimal competition', as compared with too much or too little competition.1 Too much competition may overheat the market and verge on unfair competition.2 But, at this point, the appropriate question is: How minimal can competition be in order to remain significant?

As noted with respect to the predominant-party systems, the minor parties must be truly independent antagonists of the major party. If the seats are contested – that is, if the candidates of the predominant party are opposed without fear and with 'equal rights' – then competition is significant, regardless of outcome, and the meaning of 'truly independent antagonists' is clear enough. Supposing, however, that the seats are not contested, it does not necessarily follow that the system is non-competitive: It may be sub-competitive. The distinction between a sub-competitive and a non-competitive situation may appear thin – yet the difference is crucial.

A sub-competitive situation assumes that a candidate is unopposed only because it is not worth the effort to oppose him. If so, the holder of a safe constituency remains exposed to the rules of competition, and this means, in practice, that an opposer can always materialise and that a safe constituency can become, if displeased or neglected, unsafe. Something of the kind is currently happening to the formerly Solid South in the United States. Hence a non-competitive situation cannot be detected solely on the grounds that a candidate wins unopposed. A system is non-competitive if, and only if, it does not permit contested elections. What matters is, of course, the real, not the legal, ruling. Whatever the legal ruling, competition ends, and non-competition begins, wherever contestants and opponents are deprived of equal rights, impeded, menaced, frightened, and eventually pun

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