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54 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

Party Competition in Post-Communist Europe: The Great Electoral Lottery"

Jun 13, 2024 – Abby Innes


This article suggests that the academic emphasis on rational choice and political-sociological approaches to party development has led to a misleading impression of convergence with Western patterns of programmatic competition and growing partisan identification in the Central European party political scene. As an alternative thesis, the author argues that the very character of ëtransitioní politics in Eastern Europe and the necessarily self-referential nature of the parliamentary game has structured party systems in those countries, and that the differences between the party systems in this region are critically related to experiences under communism (ña political-historical explanation). The paper argues that, in order to cope with a practical lack of public policy options in major areas such as the economy, parties have had little choice but to compete over operating ëstyles,í rather than over substantive (ideologically based) programmatic alternatives. The development of parties incumbent in government since 1989 may be compared to the development of catch-all parties in Western Europe in terms of the competitive logic of weakening/ avoiding ideological positions in order to embrace a large constituency. However, successful parties in Eastern Europe lack the ëbaggageí of an ideological past and the history of mass membership and a class or denominational clientele ñ their defining characteristic is that they try to appeal to all of the people all of the time.