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SPP 382

Author: Jack Bielasiak
Description: Competition among political parties is subject to two distinct functions, representation and effectiveness. This poses a dilemma for states undergoing democratization, as the political opening creates pressures for the representation of voices long suppressed, but the strain of the socioeconomic and political transformation engenders pressures for greater efficiency of the democratic project. Data from the newly competitive systems of East Europe and the former Soviet Union is compared to prior emerging democracies in Western Europe and Latin America, at comparable time periods. The evidence is that the institutionalization of representation and efficiency in postcommunist party structures is a more hazardous process. The political scene in the postcommunist region is characterized by considerable "political noise" with numerous contending parties, weak political actors, and floating constituencies. Multipartism remains high, contributing to the fragmentation of the political space to a degree that is beyond that of the earlier periods of democratization in Europe and closer to the pattern in Latin America. Similarly, volatility is not only higher in comparison to all other regions but continues unabated during the course of successive elections. These conditions are also responsible for much of the "ineffective representation" evident in the relatively large share of wasted and renewal votes at each election. Faced by a wide array of political competitors and changes in the supply of parties, voters' strategic behavior is undermined and significant sectors of the electorate are left out of the representative framework by casting votes for excluded parties. Electoral reforms reflect the twin pressures, with changes in formula favoring proportional representation, but higher effective thresholds making more difficult entry into parliament. The resulting mechanical and strategic effects confirm the expected direction of the reforms, although the distinct pulls towards representation and effectiveness render difficult the stabilization of party competition.

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CSPP School of Government & Public Policy U. of Strathclyde Glasgow G1 1XQ Scotland