Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

'Break-In Parties' and Changing Patterns of Democracy in Latin America *

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

'Break-In Parties' and Changing Patterns of Democracy in Latin America *

Article excerpt

Arend Lijphart's (1999, 2012) patterns of democracy can be regarded as the most influential and most widely accepted tool to classify democratic regimes. It is based on one central dimension, the degree of power dispersion or concentration, and on two polar types, majoritarian democracy and consensus democracy. In the course of empirical analysis the typology evolved into a two-dimensional matrix, with a so called executive-parties dimension on the one hand and a unitary-federal dimension on the other. Ljiphart's (1999, 2012) original work was primarily concerned with classification. Insofar as theory building was undertaken, he treated the properties of democratic systems - their majoritarian or consensual characteristics - as independent variables and checked for their effects on governance and policy outcomes.

Lijphart's (1999, 2012) approach and measurement have been applied so far mainly to established democracies and OECD members (ARMINGEON, 2004; VATTER et al., 20131). As for Latin America, there has been little research based on this typology. This is probably due to the fact that Latin American democracies are different in several aspects from established Western ones. They exhibit a higher degree of instability, apparently from high rates of electoral volatility, comparatively frequent presidential impeachments and stronger political polarization. Furthermore, informal institutions, which are not explicitly covered by Lijphart, play a more important role in structuring political processes in Latin America (HELMKE and LEVITSKY, 20062). Together, higher instability and stronger informality complicate typological assessment. Lijphart's framework, therefore, has to be adapted to the Latin American context in two respects: first, informal aspects have to be included into the operationalization of the defining variables, and second, more emphasis has to be put on aspects of institutional change by choosing shorter periods of assessment.

Changing institutional patterns has become a major concern in established democracies, too. In recent years, shifts between majoritarian and consensual patterns have been observed even in prototypical cases such as Switzerland and Great Britain (FLINDERS, 2010; VATTER, 2008). These institutional changes have moved the focus of investigation from categorization to theory-building and turned democratic patterns into a dependent variable. As a consequence, two main questions arise: What kind of institutional change is actually taking place (VATTER et al., 2013) and what are the driving forces behind changing institutional patterns?

Through an analysis of ten of the major Latin American countries, we will try to approach answers to both of these questions3. With regard to the first question, we take account of institutional changes during the past 20 years. We applied Lijphart's (1999, 2012) variables to our sample and made two measurements, one between 1990 and 1999, and a second one between 2000 and 2009. Given the dramatic political and economic changes that took place during those periods, we expected a shift in the patterns of democracy and aimed at determining the direction of this shift. Among the reasons for us to expect such a shift is the emergence of the so-called break-in parties4. Parties like the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) in Brazil, the Frente Amplio (FA) in Uruguay, FREPASO in Argentina or the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) in Mexico, to name just a few, took an impressive rise between 1990 and 2000 and 'broke into' party systems that for long had been dominated by traditional party machines dating back to the first half of the 20th century. Due to these 'break-in' parties, the structure of Latin American party systems and thereby the structure of political competition changed fundamentally (LÓPEZ, 2005). How exactly this change has proceeded is an issue that has to be substantiated by a closer look at the dimensions and variables of Lijphart's (1999, 2012) typology. …

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