Political Parties, Elections and Electoral Systems

Parties, elections and the
electoral systems
Lubomir Kopecek
CDK & Educational Initiatives, December
Sense of parties
• Political parties represent a vitally important link
between the state and society.
• The most important functions: representation and
promotion of interests of voters.
• Parties: necessary element of every representative
What is a political party?
• Minimal definition of Giovanni Sartori: a
political grouping that takes part in
elections, and through them is able to get
their candidates into public offices.
• Criteria of elections: distinguish political
parties from other political actors (e. g.
interest groups such as trade unions,
business groups, etc.).
Party competition
• Party competition: fundamental attribute of every
democratic regime.
• Free competition among political parties: the
citizen/voter freely chooses between at least two
political parties > background of Schumpeter´s
definition of procedural (electoral) democracy.
• In dictatorships, government political parties usually
function as an instrument of tyranny and
repression: typically one-party system (only one
legal party) or system of hegemonic party (other
parties are subordinate to one party).
Organisation of parties
• Cadre parties: they did not seek to build a large
membership base, extensive territorial structure and
coherent program.
• Mass parties: they have a large numbers of members,
strong institutional structures with many local
organisations (party machinery), and coherent program.
• Catch-all parties: after WWII in Western Europe,
changes of societies, the erosion of traditional social
boundaries, and the growth of social mobility.
• Catch-all parties: trying to attract socially very diverse
voters, politically more moderate and less ideological,
they became more professionalized, and more
Party identity: party families
• Common background of every party family: similar
ideological values, programatic principles and historical
Selected families, their ideology and history
• The social democrats and socialists
• Great transformation: original identity after their
appearance in the late 19th century was revolutionary
radicalism, Marxist program, and rejection of the market
• Over time the social democrats adopted the principles of
the liberal political order, and their Marxist program was
gradually abandoned.
• The vision of the so-called welfare state, with a large
public sector and regulated market economy.
Selected party families
• Far left: in the 20th century was mostly shaped by the
• Ideology: the concepts of class struggle and a state
based on the dictatorship of the proletariat, rejected
political competition based on political plurality and the
principles of liberal democracy.
• Communist parties usually had link to the Soviet Union
or China.
• During time European communist parties shift in identity.
Important moment: the breakup of the Soviet Union and
Eastern block.
• Today only a few of them are traditional communist
• Generally, politically and economically far left parties are
still radical. However, they usually do not challenge the
democratic regime.
Selected party families
• Christian democrats: the beginnings of these
parties lie in the last decades of the 19th century.
• Confession parties: Christian democrats were
mostly Catholic in origin; parties with Protestant or
other Christian origin were a minority.
• At present the Christian democratic parties usually
present themselves as ecumenical, and a large
role in their identity is played by other elements
such as family, morality, and traditional values.
• Today they usually defend a social market
• Non-Christian religion parties exist outside
Selected party families
• Conservative parties strongly emphasize the importance of
nation, state, defense of national interests, and traditional
institutions, whether they be the monarchy, family, or local
community (depending on the national context).
• At present, most of the conservative parties are
economically liberal.
• Ethnic and regional parties emphasize defense of the
interests of a particular region or ethnicity or both.
• The goal of parties in this family may be to achieve greater
autonomy for the given region, federalization of the national
state, or full independence.
• The basic function of elections in a
democracy is the selection of political
• Elections: a peaceful resolution of tension
within society.
• Through elections voters are mobilized on
behalf of certain values, demands, or
Free elections
• Four elements of elections : universal, equal,
secret, and direct.
• Universal: every person has the right to vote.
• Equal: each person’s vote has the same value.
• Secret: it is not possible to find out whom or
what a person voted for.
• Direct: the voter selects his representative.
Electoral systems
• Sense of electoral systems: transforming votes
into mandates (seats).
• Electoral systems influences the structure of the
party system in the given country.
• Two main types: majority and proportional.
Majority electoral systems
First past the post: many single-mandate district, the winner is the
candidate who wins the most votes in district. The voter casts a
single vote for his (or her) preferred candidate.
Absolute majority: the candidate must win more than half of all the
votes. If no one receives more than half of all votes in the first
round, a second round is held between the two most successful
candidates from the first round.
Majority electoral systems, especially first past the post system,
eliminate parliamentary seats for the minority (smaller parties)
in favor of producing viable governing majorities: a clear winner
– one party.
The reduction of proportionality - small parties are mostly
The consequence is that majority electoral systems, especially
first past the post, concentrate votes around major political
parties and tend towards two-party systems.
Proportional representation (PR)
electoral systems
• The essence of PR systems is proportionality.
• The share of the vote for given parties to mirror closely
the proportions of seats in the legislature.
• On the other hand it produces the necessity of forming
coalition governments.
• The PR systems are most often founded on the system
of party-lists.
• However, PR is also more or less affected by the district
size (number of seats in district), election threshold (e. g.
2 %, 4 %, 5 % etc.), or other specific factors.