Monday, October 3, 2011

Party before government

It looks like some enterprising individuals are trying to construct parties in Libya:
As Libya's new leaders work on setting the country right and eliminating the last holdouts of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists, budding politicians are looking forward to the planned elections.
"Our party is being formed," said Abdel Dayem al-Gharabli, a lawyer from Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, after lengthy talks in a cafe with a group of friends. 
To be called the National Democratic Encounter, it aims to be broad-based, supporting the rule of law and respect for liberties, he said.
The really interesting thing here, of course, is that there's not yet a government for the parties to influence, a legislature to which to recruit members, or elections in which to participate. There's a provisional government, and there will likely be a constitutional convention next year, followed a year later by some sort of legislative and presidential elections. Parties are forming now with an eye to influencing the process of creating a government.

This is reminiscent (to me, anyway) of the argument advanced in The Party Decides that America's constitutional Founders were essentially a party. They built a government that would protect and advance their interests, and deliberately made that government very hard to change (the amendment procedure is a very high wall, and the separation of powers structure is filled with veto points making it difficult to pass sweeping laws). Importantly, they organized and planned to control a government prior to that government's existence.

In Libya, it is not entirely clear on what basis these parties are being formed. They certainly have their roots in geography and ethnicity, but some sorts of ideological claims may be built on top of those.

(h/t Marc Herman)

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"there's not yet a government for the parties to influence, a legislature to which to recruit members, or elections in which to participate."

And, yet, political freedom has increased from perhaps a 5 on a scale of 1-100 to perhaps a 70.

With all that pent up demand to engage in political activity, and a meager supply of formal political channels to express it in, it seems almost inevitable that there will be a surge in all kinds of political activity that don't require a formal government structure, such as the formation of political parties.

Indeed, historically, the precedent is for political parties to explode like a boom or medical marijuana dispensaries until the first couple of elections lead to a shake out and consolidation of viable and non-viable parties. First elections in countries having their first real democratic election typically produce dozens upon dozens of political parties. You see it in the early post-war elections of Germany and Italy, in the time it took for a two party system to develop in the U.S. (a few election cycles), in the brief interlude of electoral government in the Russian Revolution before the Communists took over, in Weimar Germany, and so on. You also saw something similar in the open race to fill the recalled Govenorship in California.

The number of political parties that persist after the first couple of election cycles is largely a function of the electoral system rules - first past the post single member gives you two political parties tops in an given geographic area; the total number of political parties depends upon how homogeneous the electorate is politically (Canada and the U.K. have historically had more regional variation than the U.S. which could probably support a three party system as the country has had de facto via intraparty factions of one of the major two political parties for much of its history). Straight proportional representation where the legislative body numbers in the hundreds of members tends to produce about a dozen. If the threshold for representation in parliament, either by fiat or by holding proportional representation votes in regional districts with about twenty seats each, is on the order of 5% of the vote, you end up with more like half a dozen parties.