Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Romanian Party System and the Catch-All Party Phenomenon

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Romanian Party System and the Catch-All Party Phenomenon

Article excerpt

Political parties play an important role in the development of linkages between the government and the individual, the elite and the rank-and-file. Moreover, parties help to shape the broader political system. In this way, parties are an essential component of the nation-state. Parties provide a forum for the conflict and compromise that is expected during the development and maintenance of a nation-state (Rokkan, 1970: pp. 120-138).

While parties act as a force upon the state, there are also pressures that are placed upon the party.(1) If indeed Downs is correct and a party is a "team of men seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election," then parties respond to changes within the electorate in order to maximize their opportunity to win office (1957: p. 25). This is the logic behind Kirchheimer's theory of the "catch-all" party.

According to Kirchheimer (1966), the mobilizing capabilities of mass parties has diminished in Western Europe due to decreasing party loyalty. Following World War II, parties began to transform themselves into catch-all parties in order to achieve the integrative ability of the old mass parties. Kirchheimer argues that a catch-all party is typified by an interest in "issues which are scarcely liable to meet resistance in the community" and "attracting a maximum of voters" (p. 186; p. 193). He concludes, therefore, that a catch-all party can only appear at a time of "deideologization." Kirchheimer's theory accords well with the prior research of Downs (1957) and Duverger (1962); however, is this theory of the catch-all party applicable to non-Western party systems? This article shall analyze the catch-all party phenomenon in Eastern Europe.

Specifically, this article shall examine whether umbrella organizations, such as the Democratic Convention in Romania, assist mass-based parties in their transformation into catch-all, broad-based parties. This is an important question for two reasons. First, by exploring the nature of party transformation in Romania, we will come to better understand the process of nation-building in that country. The transition from a one-party dominant system to a multi-party system affects the process of nationbuilding.

Second, this research allows us to investigate the appropriateness of Western European concepts in an Eastern European context. Some might argue that a discussion of catch-all parties in Eastern Europe is premature in the process of party development in that region. There is no doubt that the development of stable party systems in Eastern Europe will take decades, if not generations. However, individuals such as Roskin (1993) have already argued that Eastern European countries such as the former Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and even Bulgaria have developed catch-all parties. Therefore, this article attempts to provide a theoretical basis for the discussion of catch-all parties in Eastern Europe, and more specifically Romania, by creating a typology of parties. This article shall first examine the different types of parties in Romania using a 2 x 2 research design and then assess whether the Democratic Convention facilitates the development of catch-all parties.

Typology of Parties

The development of this typology of parties does not take into consideration a whole host of issues which are fundamental to the development of a stable party system. I have not, for example, specifically addressed the issue of how electoral laws impact the development of party systems. The typology presented here addresses a fundamental question: How can we classify parties so as to draw useful distinctions between them? On the issue of electoral laws, I would argue that catch-all parties can be found in either winner-take-all systems or proportional representation systems. The United States and Germany would be obvious examples.

The typology advanced here is an extension of the party research of Duverger (1962) and Lipset and Rokkan (1967). …

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