The East Central European party systems : the development of competitive politics in a comparative politics perspective
The thesis approaches the development, stability and change of party systems in Hungary, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics since the collapse of communism from a comparative politics perspective, thereby raising questions about whether party systems have developed, about the peculiarity of these systems and about the factors that drive party system development and change. The analysis of East Central European party systems therefore invites questions about party systems theory in general, hypothesising that parties are becoming increasingly independent of extra-parliamentary constraints. Applied to East Central Europe, this suggests that party system development has been driven by the parties, principally their strategic choices under conditions of economic and political transition. Nationalism provides a further dimension without which post-communist party competition and coalition building cannot be fully understood. The comparative politics analysis of the four East Central European party systems warrants a three-level set of conclusions. First, the Lipset-Rokkan cleavage model is re-worked, with particular focus on the definition and structure of cleavages (including non-structural cleavages) and the context in which they are translated in to political competition; the newly negotiated rules of the game; the comparatively weak links between voters and parties; the organisation and structure of the parties; and most significantly, party strategy as the key driver behind party system development, stability and change. Second, come the 1997/98 series of elections, the four party systems had developed from anarchic competition to party systems characterised by a degree of stability and predictability in terms of party competition and co-operation. Third, and finally, the project concludes that party system change and stability is driven primarily by the political parties. If comparative West European politics is influencing analyses of East Central European party systems, the East Central European experience has prompted re-working of comparative party system theory. And the parties have stolen the show.