Political Parties in Democratic Transitions

Political parties play an essential role in democratic politics, but are especially important in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy.  This publication, edited by Greg Power and Rebecca Shoot, and published by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy draws together the first hand experiences of political practitioners and analysts from Latin America, Turkey, Indonesia, Serbia and South Africa.  It aims to provide insights and lessons for their counterparts going through the process of transition in the Middle East and beyond.

The deliberately personal perspectives emphasise the pivotal role of political parties in changing the relationship between people and power.  The revolutionary movements in the Arab world were the result of multiple frustrations about the arbitrary use of power.  Democracy offers the prospect of political influence, choice, and accountability.  Huge expectations are invested in political parties at this time.  Yet, the transitional period is arguably when they are weakest.

The publication looks at the challenges for new parties in establishing and distinguishing themselves, fostering multi-party dialogue, negotiating the withdrawal of the military from politics and convincing the public that democracy works.  Political parties, ultimately, need to manage people’s expectations of the new system. As Samuel Huntington has argued, “What determines whether or not new democracies survive … is the way in which political leaders respond to their inability to solve the problems facing the country … Democracies become consolidated when people learn that democracy is a solution to the problem of tyranny, but not necessarily anything else”