Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Party System Institutionalization without Parties: Evidence from Korea

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Party System Institutionalization without Parties: Evidence from Korea

Article excerpt

Formally institutionalized party organization is usually considered a prerequisite for the development of programmatic linkages between parties and voters. However, in this article I show that political parties in South Korea have succeeded in stabilizing interparty competition through programmatic linkages without making any significant efforts to build a formal organizational base. In fact, it could be argued that South Korea is a "partyless" democracy, as political parties get easily captured by the interests of ambitious politicians, thus failing to establish themselves as independent actors. I therefore make a more general argument about the concept of party system institutionalization: we need to rethink the current practice of aggregating the different attributes of party system institutionalization into a single scale, as these attributes do not seem to be connected in a linear fashion. Keywords: South Korea, party system institutionalization, political party organization, voting behavior, electoral volatility, programmatic linkages

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AT THE HEIGHT OF THE "THIRD WAVE" OF DEMOCRATIZATION--IN THE mid-1990s--Mainwaring and Scully (1995) made a startling observation that has significantly shaped the research agenda in the field of party politics and electoral studies: party systems in new democracies are, by and large, characterized by much lower levels of institutionalization than party systems in established democracies. To measure differences in party system institutionalization, Mainwaring and Scully put forward a set of four attributes: (1) the stability in the nature of interparty competition, (2) political parties' rootedness in society, (3) the degree of legitimacy attributed to parties and the electoral process, and (4) the extensiveness and "systemness" of political party organization. Although Mainwaring and Scully leave themselves a way out by noting that "these four dimensions of institutionalization need not go together, but they almost always do" (Mainwaring 1999, 27; emphasis added), the underlying assumption is that the relationship among the four attributes is linear: if one attribute goes up, so do the other attributes. This assumption is reflected in the fact that Mainwaring and Scully aggregate the different attributes into a single scale of party system institutionalization--an approach subsequently adopted by many other scholars (for example, Croissant and Volkel 2012; Kuenzi and Lambright 2001; Payne 2005; Stockton 2001). Moreover, the three different types of party system that Mainwaring and Scully identify--institutionalized systems, inchoate systems, and hegemonic systems in transition--are not defined by combinations of different values on the four separate dimensions; instead, they describe different points on the single, aggregated scale.

However, more recent research from Latin America challenges this one-dimensional understanding of party system institutionalization: not only do contradictory combinations of conceptual attributes seem to be much more common than Mainwaring and Scully would believe (Luna and Altman 2011), but party systems that are only institutionalized on some dimensions--not on all of them--still seem to possess the potential to positively contribute to democratic consolidation (Zucco forthcoming). In other words, these recent studies highlight the fact that it might be necessary to move away from aggregate models and "unbundle" the concept of party system institutionalization.

The case of South Korea (Korea hereafter) supports the emerging "revisionist" argument: while the postautocratic party system scores very high on the first dimension of party system institutionalization--stability of interparty competition--other dimensions display features that are commonly associated with inchoate systems. In particular, Korean parties are characterized by a lack of extensive and elaborate organizations, which makes it easy for individual politicians to capture parties for their own self-serving interests. …

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