Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Lessons from a Divided Society: How to Deal with Party Factionalism

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of Political Science

Lessons from a Divided Society: How to Deal with Party Factionalism

Article excerpt

Political parties in new democracies underwent a process of institutionalisation and organisational adaptation. Despite their recent formation, these actors do present similar features with their Western counterparts, preserving at the same time sui generis types of behaviour (Van Biezen 2003, 2004). Weak structures of membership and centralised patterns of decisionmaking and dependence on the state resources seem to summarize their main organisational features. Acting as public utilities (Kopecky & van Biezen 2007) and not as chains of representation, the post-communist party organisations were guided by rent-seeking practices and party colonisation of the state (Kopecky 2006).

In a general context of organisational frailty, one notable exception can be identified: the ethnic based parties. Illustrating the divided ethnic composition of the post-communist societies, which resulted in the emergence of an enduring ethnic cleavage, the ethnic parties presented a rather unique trajectory in what concerns their electoral success (Lewis 2001). In the beginning of the 90s their electoral achievements were mainly linked to an initial function: defending ethnic minority interests and acting "as vehicles for seeking redress of particular grievances generated by communist minorities policy" (Millard, 2004: 235). However, in some cases, their continuity on the political scene during the last 20 years, sometimes as key governmental players, suggests the existence of atypical strategies for organisational survival and interest representation. Parties such as the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) in Bulgaria or until recently, the Hungarian Coalition in Slovakia (until 2010) constituted one of the main players of the post-communist politics. This also seems to be the case of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR).

The lack of politicised social stratification, the weak programmatic parties (Van Biezen 2003, Kitschelt 2000) describing all the countries in the region, did not block in the Romanian case the articulation of a tension between a nationalistic and antinationalistic discourse (Gallagher 1995, Mungiu 2002, Preda 2003, Preda & Soare 2008, De Waele 2002, 2004). Reflecting a long historical tradition, fuelled by the heritages of the Ceausescu's era of high centralisation and forceful homogenisation of ethnic divisions, the post-communist nationalism has been used as a "substitute for social integration" and mobilised by the successor party's representatives as means of blocking the creation of an autonomous space necessary for genuine pluralism (Gallagher 1996:221-222, see also Chen 2003). In the beginning of the 90s, the "ex-communist apparatchiks" promoted radical claims transforming the ethnic minorities into scapegoats (Gallagher 1995, Tismaneanu 1998:41). The unusual strategy of radical populist movements' cooption into the governmental arena applied during 1992-1996 (Mudde 2002:224), allowed the political promotion of parties which combined both nationalism and socialism claims. This also constituted an important weapon in the hands of ex-communist political elites ensuring their electoral endurance (Mungiu 2010:66). Stimulated by poverty, the erosion of confidence in the institutions as well as by parochial structures of the post-communist society, the Romanian nationalism constituted an important gridlock in the democratisation process (Mungiu 2002).

Paradoxically, the salience of the minority issue proved to be quite beneficial for DAHR's internal cohesion and survival on the political scene (Millard 2004: 238-9). Representing the main minority of the country, approximately one million and a half of Hungarians (6.6% of the whole population), DAHR preserved a score gravitating around the share of the Hungarian population (Horvath 2005a:143-67), exhibiting an important capacity of mobilising the ethnic vote concentrated in the Transylvanian counties (mostly in Cluj, Covasna, Harghita and Salaj) (Horvath 2005b:233). …

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