From the outside looking in: Latin american parties in comparative perspective

Allen Hicken, Rachel Beatty Riedl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


INTRODUCTION: THE DECLINE OF PSI As comparative party scholars who work in other regions of the world, we offer observations on the points of similarity and contrast from a global perspective. One of the striking themes emerging in this volume is that the gap between party systems in Latin America and the rest of the developing world has closed considerably. For decades, an important point of contrast for scholars working in Sub-Saharan Africa/Southeast Asia has been the comparative lack of ideological differentiation across parties. In much of Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia it was impossible to credibly align parties along some sort of issue or policy dimension, which stood in contrast to Western Europe and parts of Latin American. But this gap has now closed considerably. After an initial intense period of polarization in most important cases of highly institutionalized party systems in Latin America (e.g. Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Uruguay) many party systems evolved over time to display very minimal differences between the main parties. Whereas in Western European states, the party systems remain more ideologically differentiable, in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and now increasingly in Latin America, party programs, to the extent they can be identified, obscure more than they clarified. The chapters in this volume make clear that there is little basis for a regional distinction for Latin America from other developing world regions based on ideological or programmatic differentiation. In many countries PSI has declined and the salience of left-right divisions has shifted over time and space - seemingly diminishing the connection between institutionalization and programmatic differentiation. This quote from the Philippines, for example, could now just as easily apply to Peru: “Far from being stable, programmatic organizations, the country’s main political parties are nebulous entities that can be set up, merged with others, split, resurrected, regurgitated, reconstituted, renamed, repackaged, recycled or flushed down the toilet anytime” (Quimpo 2005). This deinstitutionalization is an interesting and important development for a number of reasons. To begin with, deinstitutionalization contradicts what has been a common argument/assumption about increasing PSI over time. This argument was especially prevalent in work on Eastern Europe (for example, Tavits 2005; Tavits and Annus 2006). However, the work in this volume, consistent with the findings in much of the rest of the developing world, suggests the following three points.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationParty Systems in Latin America
Subtitle of host publicationInstitutionalization, Decay, and Collapse
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781316798553
ISBN (Print)9781107175525
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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