Book Chapters

Parties and Regime Change in Latin America in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. February 2020. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.1671.

The importance of political parties has been at the heart of the debate about regime and regime change. Parties are essential actors for democratic politics. They can trigger transitions from and to democracy, polarize making democracies vulnerable to breakdown, or manage conflict to protect democratic institutions. However, not all parties or party systems are equal. The levels of fragmentation, polarization, and institutionalization in any given party and/or party system are key to understanding the rise, fall, and survival of democracy. In Latin America, the literature has focused, mostly, on party and party system institutionalization. In general, scholars agree that institutionalization fosters democracy. The organizational strength and embeddedness of political parties in society and the extent to which they interact regularly in stable ways, they argue, is key to the survival of democratic politics. There are instances, however, that suggest that this relationship is more problematic than the literature assumes. In contexts of crisis, highly institutionalized parties and party systems can be slow to adjust to new groups or demands and stiffen party leaders’ ability to respond to new issues. When facing a polarizing potential autocrat, for instance, high levels of party and party system institutionalization could hurt more than help democracy. They can reduce the ability of politicians to attract moderate voters from opposing parties, hinder their capacity to counteract antisystemic trends in order to lead opposition efforts, or limit the extent to which they can reach across the aisle to build ideologically diverse prodemocratic coalitions.

"De-Institutionalization without Collapse: Colombia's Party System" with Juan Albarracín and Scott Mainwaring in Latin American Party Systems: Institutionalization, Decay and Collapse. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018

Unlike most of the other cases in which once institutionalized systems either collapsed or seriously frayed, Colombia did not experience traumatic bursts of hyperinflation or severe economic downturns. The decomposition of Colombia’s traditional party system occurred in relative economic tranquility compared to the massive upheaval so many other Latin American countries experienced. The economic distresses that were pivotal in undermining traditional parties in Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela are not central to the Colombian story of party system deinstitutionalization.

In the Colombian case, the mismanagement of the security situation by both traditional parties and a severe security threat in the early 2000s fostered deep change in the competition for the presidency and altered national party competition. In the midst of an increasing disconnect between regional and national party politics, these changes did not have the same effect sub-nationally. Local patronage and clientelistic structures allowed the two traditional parties, particularly the Liberal Party, to survive. Although some regional politicians switched to new parties, the pace of change in regional politics was slower. The Liberal and Conservative parties remained relevant actors in municipal and regional elections. Consequently, even though Colombia’s party landscape changed substantially after the early 1990s, the system did not collapse.

"Desde dos flancos: hacia una reconfiguración de la oposición en Colombia" with Juan Pablo Milanese in Elecciones presidenciales y de Congreso en Colombia 2014: Representaciones fragmentadas y reconfiguraciones del sistema político colombiano. Bogotá: Fundación Konrad Adenauer, 2015

"El presente capítulo pretende compren-der de manera más profunda la configuración y comportamiento de la oposición en las pasadas elecciones y en el inicio del período legislati-vo. Siguiendo las principales teorías desarrolladas en este campo por la Ciencia Política, éste define la oposición política colombiana de acuerdo a dos parámetros: coherencia y responsabilidad. En él se sostiene que la oposición al gobierno de Santos es bimodal —con un “nodo” a la izquierda y otro a la derecha— y combina elementos responsables e irresponsables. Dicha composición, se sostiene aquí, es el resultado tanto de clivajes sociales —específicamente el conflicto armado— como de reglas institucionales que condicionan el comportamiento de los partidos y facciones políticas en elecciones y Congreso."