Academic journal article Ibero-americana

Intraparty and Interparty Politics: Factions, Fractions, Parties, and Coalitions in Uruguay (1985-1999)

Academic journal article Ibero-americana

Intraparty and Interparty Politics: Factions, Fractions, Parties, and Coalitions in Uruguay (1985-1999)

Article excerpt


A vast majority of the studies in coalition formation and survival, either in parliamentary or presidential regimes, take political parties as the critical units of analysis. Political parties are crucial organizations in contemporary democracies. Although there is an important literature on intra-party politics, little research has been done on how differences in party organization affect party's willingness to engage in coalition politics. The body of coalition theory, especially those works made from a rational choice perspective, treats patties as unitary actors that bargain over a set of well-defined gains-usually, office or policy. In this assumption there is some truth, but more error. It is not that parties do not pursue offices or policies, but rather the idea of parties as unitary actors. Parties are complex organizations, where internal divisions and structures affect how they and their leaders politically behave.

In analyzing the motivations of political parties to join an executive coalition we frequently focus our attention on their electoral, office, and policy gains. While some scholars stress one of these motivations, i.e. office and vote (Downs 1957); policy (Wittman 1973); office (McCubbins y Rosenbluth 1995), other scholars combine them in one way or another (Altman 2000, Strom 1990, Strom y Müller 1999). Although some scholars seek to capture the complexity of political parties' goals, a broad body of the literature on inter-party politics treats parties as unitary actors. Perceiving parties as unitary actors has its advantages in terms of research resources, and that in some instances it is indeed legitimate to study interparty politics assuming parties are unitary actors. Nonetheless, it is a rather simplistic view of political parties and there are important works in the literature that have already underlined the problems attached to considering parties as such (Coppedge 1994, Katz y Mair 1992, Laver y Shepsle 1999). In fact, "although many interesting political phenomena can be described by treating parties as if they were unitary actors, we clearly do need to consider what goes on inside parties if we want to include an account of party decision making in a model of some political process" (Laver y Shepsle 1999:23).

Moreover, "the scholarly literature that examines political parties is enormous, and yet our systematic knowledge of party objectives and behavior is still quite modest" (Strem y Millier 1999:5). Thus, if we are aware that political parties are rather complex organizations, why is there so little research on how intra-party politics affect coalition bargaining? As Druckman remarks,

This gap has two explanations. First, despite the large amount of theoretical knowledge of intra-party functioning, little empirical data have been historically available for testing propositions. second, the theoretical literature on inter-party competition often starts from the premise that parties are unitary, allowing for more parsimonious models (Druckman 1996:398).

Most case-studies on coalition formation and survival tend to assume internal party organization as a constant variable and therefore, these institutions are usually not empirically studied. If there is not variation among party internal institutions, it would be methodologically correct to leave them aside and to concentrate in inter-party bargaining, as usually happens. Yet, given that inter-party relations are extremely complex to be captured in one or several indicators, statistical cross-national analyses of coalitions almost always give priority to structural characteristics of political parties (legislative size, ideological positions, age of parties, etc.), rather than inter-party relations, which are at best, inadequately defined.

This paper tries to shed light on the connection between intra-party politics and inter-party relations, especially on those issues concerning executive coalition formation and survival using the Uruguayan case. …

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