Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Moderation of Religious Parties: Electoral Constraints, Ideological Commitments, and the Democratic Capacities of Religious Parties in Israel and Turkey

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Moderation of Religious Parties: Electoral Constraints, Ideological Commitments, and the Democratic Capacities of Religious Parties in Israel and Turkey

Article excerpt


Whether religious parties' inclusion in electoral competition moderates or polarizes their positions remains an enigma as deductive accounts yield contradictory results. This analysis questions the institution- and ideology-centered approaches to party change and shows that dichotomizing religious parties as moderate or extreme and moderation as a monolithic process obscures religious parties' role in democracy. When scholars view moderation as consisting of behavioral and ideological dimensions and examine it through an inductive analysis of Israel and Turkey's religious parties, several modes of moderation emerge with different democratic outcomes. While some bolster procedural democracy, others thwart the expansion of liberal democracy.


moderation, elections, party transformation, democratization, religious parties, liberal rights, religion and liberal democracy, Israel, Turkey

The growing electoral success of religious parties and the establishment of their roles as pivotal agents in countries ranging from Japan to India pose some crucial political science puzzles with important policy implications. Are religious parties Janus-faced agents of democracy? Does their ascendancy undermine democracy in their respective countries and the expansion of liberal democracy in the broader world? Is electoral competition a cure for the radicalism of religious parties? Does their participation in electoral competition moderate their political views or induce them to adopt more extremist positions? Can the inclusion of religious parties into the electoral process be seen as strengthening democratic capital globally in general and that of the Middle East in particular?

While these questions have become more critical to understanding politics in many countries, beneath the plurality of views, two competing frameworks have emerged to explain how religious parties change and affect their respective democracies. One such prevalent approach contends that religious parties' primary commitments are to their respective doctrines and thus their role in a democracy hinges on the role of democratic ideas in their respective religions; religious parties are more likely to maintain uncompromising positions on issues informed by their religious doctrines even when they accept the basic rules of democracy. Such analyses ask if a given religious doctrine is compatible with democracy, and some warn that allowing religious parties to participate in electoral competition can amount to tolerating undemocratic actors for the sake of democracy, thereby endangering the very future of democracy (Tibi 1996; Kramer 1996). On the other hand, the second framework contends that democratic bargaining and strategic actions induced by external actors and institutions, not ideological commitments, force religious parties to become tamed agents of democracy. Beneath this argument lies the assertion that all participants in a democracy, once they are engaged in electoral competition, change one way or another and come to accept not only the procedures but also the principles of democracy (Kalyvas 1996; Przeworski 1991).1 Democracy can happen without democrats, and democratic ideologies are often not the main ingredient but rather a by-product of democratic electoral competition.

A review of the extant debates reveals that two dominant hypotheses inform our analyses:

Hypothesis 1: It is the ideologies of religious parties (internal factors) that define whether these parties can be moderate or not; because of their unquestionable commitment to religious ideas, many religious ideologies are not easily amenable to democratic interpretation (ideologycentered analyses).2

Hypothesis 2: It is the strategic bargaining of the elite, the positions of the contesting actors, and the political opportunity structure (external factors) that define whether religious parties can be moderate after entering electoral politics (institution- and behavior-centered analyses). …

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