Transition as a Legacy

Article excerpt

In spite of the increasing differentiation between CEE democracies one striking commonality appears to be the fact that virtually all ended up having an institutional set-up with a high number of "veto players" in decision-making, or something Arend Lijphart would call consensus democracy. (4)

Most CEE systems are marked by the following factors: strongly proportional electoral systems, weak, short-lasting coalition governments, multi-party systems, rigid constitutions with a strong judicial review, independent Central Banks and an increasing degree of decentralisation. These features endow the democratic systems of these states with a high number of veto players and require much more negotiation and accommodation between participants in the political game than more majoritarian systems.

However, both domestic and external observers find little signs of accommodative and consensual patterns of elite interaction in the region reaching the standards of established Western consensus democracies. (5) Moreover, having successfully concluded EU accession some external incentives for enforcing consensualism on a narrower range of policies and institutions have diminished. Indeed, the first post-accession years saw a surge in electoral support for parties lacking commitment to both European integration and certain core values of liberal, Western style democracy (as seen in Poland or Slovakia). This included a startling revival of authoritarian, nationalistic, xenophobic, and illiberal ideas as well as a questioning of certain constitutionally enshrined key elements of consensus democracy and the EU acquis (such as minority representation in parliament) by some political leaders.

In many instances it seems that institutions cannot regulate political conflict the way they are expected to do and conflicts are carried out beyond boundaries of the established institutions. Elster, Offe and Preuss see democracy consolidated when the rules according to which political and but also concerning distributional conflicts are carried out are no longer object of conflict themselves. (6) According to this definition we cannot really talk about fully consolidated democracies in CEE: In some countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia or Romania political elites appear to be more and more separated by unbridgeable cultural-ideological divides impacting day-to-day politics and a lack of agreement on the fuctioning of basic political institutions. Hungary, a so far seemingly stable democracy experienced a partial breakdown of routinized democratic politics in favour of partly violent street politics. Conflicts touching upon the legitimacy of basic democratic institutions (parliament, presidency, justice) and their rights have been seen in Hungary, Romania or Poland. Populist, polarizing policies seem to be increasingly adopted by political leaders in a number of countries. More generally, these observations shed doubt on the expectation that institutional convergence with mainstream European institutions would also lead to a convergence in elite political culture in terms of commitment and adaptation to the values of the new democratic system. This paper therefore focuses on some of the sources of the (lack of) commitment by political elites to the existing democratic set-up, in particular their limited ability to interact in a consensus-democratic institutional setting. Finally, some consequences shall be discussed.

In this regard, I view institutions and institutional changes as following both rationalist and sociological dynamics. This means that actors aim at efficiently pursuing certain pre-existing preferences in picking institutions and interacting through them (i.e. the "logic of consequentialism"), and they also act according to the logic of "appropriateness" (i.e. in their behaviour they adapt to collective norms of "what is right," which are embodied in institutions). (7) For the context of consensus democracy this means that institutional constraints, such as a high number of veto players in the democratic game, forces actors to some extent to co-operate, exchange information, and seek commonly acceptable solutions for pursuing their individual interests. …


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