The Center for Constitutional Transitions

Democracy Without Political Parties: Constitutional Options

By Michael Riegner and Richard Stacey

Practically all established constitutional democracies rely on political parties, and a large majority of constitutions worldwide recognize the beneficial role of political parties. In contrast, authoritarian regimes typically eliminate party competition. Past attempts at creating non-partisan democracy on a nation-wide scale have failed, and examples of large-scale, functioning democratic systems without political parties are limited to sub-national and local government. However, a party-based system of politics does pose risks to democracy, which provide a basis for arguments against partisan democracy. Parties can serve as vehicles for small elites and their interests; they can be instruments of divisive factionalism; and party splintering may lead to instability in government. This Working Paper examines the role political parties generally play in democracies, and asks whether an electoral system can establish effective and democratically accountable government in the absence of political parties. Whether a non-partisan system could sustain democracy is doubtful, given the negative experiences in historical examples of non-partisan democracy.

Download the paper: English (PDF)

About the Working Paper Series

This Working Paper is part of the series “Meeting the Challenges of Emerging Constitutional Democracy”, focusing on specific challenges that confront constitution-makers in new democracies. The Working Papers are intended primarily as a resource for practitioners working in the field in countries undergoing constitutional transition and in new democracies where efforts are being made to consolidate the transition to democracy. The four substantive papers in the series consider constitutional mechanisms to protect of minority rights in culturally diverse societies, whether meaningful electoral democracy can be achieved without a political party system, the advantages and dangers of semi-presidential government in the post-authoritarian context, and the creation of constituent or sub-national territorial units in federal systems. The last of these papers is supplemented by two data-rich annexes and a shorter “practitioners manual”.

About the Center

Constitutional Transitions generates and mobilizes knowledge in support of constitution building. Constitutional Transitions generates knowledge by identifying issues of critical importance to the success of constitutional transitions, where a lack of adequate, up-to-date research impedes the effectiveness of technical assistance for constitution building, and assembles and leads international networks of experts to complete thematic research projects that offer evidence-based policy options to practitioners. Constitutional Transitions mobilizes knowledge through an innovative clinical program that provides “back office” research support to constitutional advisors in the field, and deploys faculty experts and field researchers for support on the ground. We meet existing field missions’ needs for comprehensive research, dramatically enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency in their role as policy advisors and actors.