political parties that wrote the new Constitution were Democracia Cristiana ... only one congressman out of 158 seats.1 DCG was the most salient party during ...
The Institutionalization of the Party System in Guatemala Carlos A. Mendoza (2004)
1. Introduction Guatemala is a young democracy. The transition was initiated when a military government decided to allow free and fair elections for the Constituent Assembly in 1984. The major political parties that wrote the new Constitution were Democracia Cristiana Guatemalteca (DCG), Unión del Centro Nacional (UCN), and the coalition formed by Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN) and Central Auténtica Nacionalista (CAN). Almost twenty years later three of those parties have completely disappeared, and the most important one of them, this is DCG (founded in 1955), will have an insignificant role in the new legislature (2004-07) with only one congressman out of 158 seats.1 DCG was the most salient party during the transition era because it gained the Executive and the majority of seats in Congress in the general elections of 1985.2 Since then, several political parties have appeared in the political arena, have played an important role, and finally have died. The two current presidential candidates are running under the labels of new and almost unknown parties. 3 All these facts call our attention to the level of institutionalization of the party system in Guatemala. Thus, the aims of this paper are to describe and estimate the degree in which Guatemalans have developed a stable behavior and attitudes in the domain of party competition.
In the Constituent Assembly the coalition MLN-CAN had 23 seats, UCN had 21, and DCG had 20 out of 88. About the role of DCG in the transition toward democracy, see Mainwaring and Scully (2003). 2
DCG got 51 seats, UCN got 22, MLN formed a coalition with Partido Institucional Democrático (PID) and got 12 seats out of 100. CAN alone got only one seat. 3
Alvaro Colom is being supported by Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), a political party founded in 2001. Oscar Berger is running under a coalition: Partido Patriota (PP) and Partido Solidaridad Nacional (PSN) which were founded in 2002, and Partido Movimiento Reformador (MR) that was founded in 1995 but never had participated. 1
2. Dimensions of Party-System Institutionalization According to Mainwaring and Scully (1995) the institutionalization of the party system implies its stability. Such stability is basically characterized by continuity in inter-party competition, strong parties’ roots in society, legitimacy of parties and elections, and stable rules of party organization. The following subsections will describe each dimension for the Guatemalan case.
2.1. Electoral Volatility The continuity in inter-party competition is usually measured through the index of electoral volatility.4 The index essentially shows how changing patterns of voters’ preferences affect the party system as a whole. Table 1 shows the index of electoral volatility for the Guatemalan Congress during the period 1984-2003.5 The high volatility of 1985-1990 is explained by the existence of two new important challengers in 1990: FRG and MAS. The highest volatility, 1999-2003, is due to the presence of four new parties that obtained 42% of the votes in 2003.
Table 1 Congress Electoral Volatility (1984-2003) Time span Index of electoral volatility 1984-1985 30 1985-1990 49 1990-1994 40 1994-1995 29 1995-1999 38 1999-2003 61 Mean volatility (six electoral periods) 41 Source: Calculated by the author using Artiga (2000: 229) and Georgetown University Data Base (2001).
The index of electoral volatility is the sum of the absolute values of the change in percentage of votes obtained by each party in two consecutive elections, divided by two. After Jorge Serrano’s failed coup in 1993, there was a renewal of the legislature in 1994. The constitutional reform of 1993 shortened the tenure in Congress from 5 to 4 years. 5
It is possible to visualize this electoral volatility. Figure 1 presents the percentage of seats that each of the major parties in Guatemala obtained in the period 1984-2003.6
Figure 1 Percentage of seats in Congress of the major parties 1984
Percentage of seats
Source: Elaborated by the author using Artiga (2000: 229), Georgetown University Data Base (2001), and Tribunal Supremo Electoral (2003).
It is important to situate the index of electoral volatility in a comparative perspective to assess whether the Guatemalan party system is less stable than others. Table 2 shows some Latin American countries with previously estimated index of electoral volatility.
The mean of
Guatemala was recalculated for the period 1984-1995 for a more accurate comparison regarding the time span. Guatemala, Bolivia, and Ecuador have a similar index of electoral volatility. Peru is the extreme case with a mean that is more than twice the region’s average.
By “major” parties the author means those that have received the two largest percentages of seats in Congress or those who have gained the right to compete for the Executive in a second round. 6
Table 2 Lower-Chamber Electoral Volatility in Latin America No. of electoral Country Time span Mean volatility periods Uruguay 1971-94 3 10.4 Colombia 1970-94 6 11.2 Venezuela 1973-93 4 17.7 Costa Rica 1970-90 5 18.2 Argentina 1973-95 7 18.8 Bolivia 1979-93 4 34.5 Guatemala 1984-95 4 37.0 Ecuador 1979-96 4 38.6 Peru 1980-95 3 58.5 Source: Mainwaring and Scully (1995: 8) and Mainwaring (1999: 29).
The high level of volatility of the Guatemalan party system should be explained taking in to account both the political supply and the electoral demand. In the supply-side it is well known that the electoral system, this is the set of laws that regulate party competition, have an impact in the number of parties. Guatemala has proportional representation and multiplicity of electoral district magnitudes, from 1 to 31.7 This electoral formula has facilitated multipartyism. In fact, Guatemalans have been witnesses of the emergence of 56 political parties during its recent democratic era (1984-2003). In the last election (2003), 13 parties and a tri-party coalition presented candidates for Congress. From that total of 16 parties, ten are new ones. This happens in every electoral year because it is relatively easy to create a party. The most difficult legal requirement to fulfill is the minimum number of members, which is less than six thousand citizens.8 Such a low barrier to enter into the political competition promotes the materialization of parties that only respond to personal interests and are designed as a mere electoral vehicles.
Each departamento of Guatemala and Guatemala City are electoral districts according to the Constitution. Their magnitude depends of the population of each district (one congressman per 80,000 inhabitants). One fourth of the Congress must be elected at the national level. 8
The affiliation threshold is around 5,618 in 2002, this is 0.05% of the total population (11,237,196 inhabitants). 4
On the demand-side, the electorate has been doing its work of vertical accountability. Fiorina’s (1981) argument about retrospective voting behavior can be seen clearly in the case of Guatemala. As Figure 1 has shown, the parties that have occupied the Executive and / or had the majority in Congress in a specific period were always worse-off in the next period.
electorate has evaluated their performance in the past and basically has punished those parties. The consequence for some incumbent parties is not only to lose the elections but to disappear as parties. 9 In fact, that was the case of UCN, MAS and MLN. There were also many small parties with ephemeral life.10 After the election of 2003 four out of ten new parties will disappear because they did not obtain the minimum number of votes required by law to survive.
2.2. Party Roots in Society The stability of the party system also depends of the existence of strong linkages between the parties and the citizens. The index of electoral volatility could be also used to evaluate the strength of the connection of voters to parties, but the difference between legislative and presidential voting provides more relevant information on this dimension of party system institutionalization. The idea is that citizens who vote on the basis of party labels tend to vote for the same party in presidential and legislative elections. Such citizens’ identification with party labels is an indicator of how parties are rooted in society. Table 3 presents the presidential vote compared with the Congress vote in concurrent elections, which is the norm in Guatemala.
The Electoral Law establishes that any party that does not obtain at least one seat in Congress or 4% of the valid vote must be cancel. For example, in the year 2003 the threshold is almost 98,000 votes. 10
During the period 1985-1999 forty four parties participated in at least one election, but in the year 2000 only ten of those parties were alive, this is legally recognized as political parties (ASIES, 2003:143). 5
Table 3 Presidential Vote compared with Congress Vote (1985-2003) Year Mean differences 1985 4.5 1990 12.0 1995 5.9 1999 8.3 2003 15.0 Mean (five elections) 9.2 Source: Elaborated by the author using Artiga (2000: 229), Georgetown University Data Base (2001), and Tribunal Supremo Electoral (2003).
Those numbers reflect the electoral outcomes: DCG (1985), PAN (1995) and FRG (1999) gained both the majority in Congress and the Executive. In 1990, MAS got the Executive but DCG and UCN had most of the seats in Congress, 23% and 35% respectively. MAS only obtained 15% of the seats. In the next legislature (2004-07), the most important player will be the coalition PPMR-PSN with 32% of the seats. The incumbent, FRG has obtained 27% of the seats, and UNE will represent 20% of the Congress. The presidential candidates of UNE and the coalition PPMR-PSN are running for the Presidency in a second round on December 28, 2003.11
In a comparative perspective, Table 4 shows that Guatemala has a relative low mean difference between presidential and legislative voting. Only Mexico has a lower one, and Peru is closer to Guatemala. Thus, in the last two cases, it seems that the index of electoral volatility and the indicator used to compare concurrent elections are contradicting each other in terms of stability of the party system.
The Constitution establishes that any presidential candidate must obtain more than 50% of the electoral vote to win. All the presidential elections during the current democratic era have been decided by runoff. 6
Table 4 Presidential Vote compared with Congress Vote in Latin America (concurrent elections) Country Time span No. of elections Mean difference Mexico 1982-94 3 3.2 Guatemala 1985-95 3 7.5 Peru 1980-95 4 9.7 Paraguay 1989-93 2 10.4 Chile 1989-93 2 15.3 Colombia 1974-94 6 16.3 Ecuador 1978-96 4 25.9 Source: Mainwaring (1999:30).
It is clear that Guatemalan citizens vote more frequently for the same party label in both elections. However, in two elections (1990 and 2003) were the incumbent party was faced important charges of corruption the voters decided to support new and unknown parties. The electoral success of MAS in 1990 was a real surprise.12 In 2003 the two candidates that will run for the Presidency in the second round also participated in the 1999 elections, but under different party labels. Thus, it could be evidence against party labels as a short cut for voters, and in favor of a more charismatic linkage between politicians and citizens (Kitschelt, 2000). However, in the cases of DCG (1985), PAN (1995) and FRG (1999) it is true that their labels were well-know by the electorate at the moment of their victory. DCG was not just the oldest party, 30 years old in 1985, but also was the one with the largest territorial presence. PAN was 10 years old in 1995, and previously was elected twice to control the mayor’s office of Guatemala City. FRG was also 10 years old in 1999 and had played an important opposition role during the PAN administration (1996-1999). Both DCG and FRG had presidential candidates with a charismatic appeal to the masses. The combinations of all those factors could explain why the voters decided to support completely these three parties in the past. Nevertheless, the questions remain: Why did the citizens decide to vote in a different way in consecutive elections (volatility)? And why 12
Although FRG, as new party, had many troubles to participate in the 1990 elections, it won 12 seats out of 116 at the district level. 7
did they vote for different parties in concurrent elections just a couple of times? This point merits further research, especially using party identification as a better indicator of parties’ roots in society.
2.3. The Legitimacy of Parties and Elections It is crucial for the endurance of any democratic regime, and specifically for the stability of the party system, the attitudes of the citizens and all the relevant actors regarding the need of political parties and political competition to sustain the entire system. This dimension of an institutionalized party system is also an important component of the notion of “consolidation”, in the sense that it implies that “all the actors in the polity become habituated to the fact that political conflict will be resolved according to the established norms” (Linz and Stepan, 1996:5), and that “elites, organizations, and the mass public must all believe that the political system they actually have in their country is worth obeying and defending” (Diamond, 1999:66).
Surveys are frequently used to measure people’s trust in or disaffection with parties. The Latinobarómetro is the most comprehensive survey in Latin America about public opinion on democracy, political parties and other democratic institutions.
There are two fundamental
questions to assess the level of legitimacy of the party system and elections in every country. One addresses the willingness of the people to vote for a specific party label. The second one directly inquires whether the people actually trust parties. Figures 2 and 3 show the results of Latinobarómetro 2003 regarding each of those questions.
Figure 2 Which party would you vote for this Sunday? (2003) 22
Source: Latinobarómetro 2003. The percentage reflects people who have mentioned a party label.
Guatemala appears in the last position with only 22% of the people showing willingness to vote in favor of a specific party label. The Latin American mean is 42%. However, during the election’s day (November 9, 2003) almost 52% of the registered citizens did vote for a specific party. In fact, the mean of turnout as a percentage of registered voters for five consecutive general elections is 55%.13
Voter turnout numbers are as follows: 69.3% (1985), 56.4% (1990), 46.8% (1995), 53.4 (1999), and 51.7% (2003). See Boneo and Torres-Rivas (2001:7). The most important news paper in the country did a national survey which, several months before the elections, estimated effectively that 51.4% of the people had decided to vote. 9
Figure 3 Do you trust political parties? (2003) 5
Source: Latinobarómetro 2003. The percentage reflects people who trust political parties.
Guatemala is among the countries with less confidence in political parties (8%), but in this case the mean of the region is also very low (11%). Additionally, Latinobarómetro 2002 requested the opinion of the public about the possibility of a democracy without political parties. In Guatemala 45% of the public said that without political parties there can be no democracy, the Latin American mean was 50%. Thus, these surveys indicate that the Guatemalan party system suffers an important insufficiency of legitimacy. However, the attitudes of the citizens have not been reflected in their behavior. They criticize parties, but they do vote.
2.4. Party Organization This dimension focuses on internal aspects of the parties, such as human and financial resources, and the stability of their own rules to deal with problems of collective action and social choice (Aldrich, 1995). It also addresses the party discipline and loyalty of congressmen to their parties. In the case of Guatemala, the lack of information makes very difficult to evaluate this dimension by means of a quantitative approach. However, qualitative information (ASIES, 2000 and 2003) suggests that parties fulfill law requirements, such as organizational structures and statutes, but also face important limitations of financial sustainability and human capital. 14 A salient issue in the last pre-electoral period was the failure of innovative procedures for selecting presidential candidates. PAN, one of the major parties, decided to hold primaries but the winner was not supported by the Secretary of the party, who was the loser of the process and its designer as well. The leaders of PAN did not change the statutes to formalize primaries and did not anticipate mechanisms of internal conflict resolution. The final outcome was that the candidate selected by means of primaries decided to run for the Presidency but supported by the coalition of three small parties. He is actually leading the polls for the second round.
The previous example indicates that party organizations in Guatemala are seen by politicians as simple electoral instruments.
Organizational structures are subordinated to the interests of
ambitious leaders, thus major discrepancies among the party elite’s members or between factions are usually solved by the creation of a new party. This also affects directly the other three dimensions of party system stability by generating confusion, disaffection, and distrust among the electorate.
During the electoral campaigns the main source of money are private contributions. After elections, parties that have reached more than 4% of the votes receive public founding (US$0.25 per vote). 11
3. Conclusion Guatemala has an “inchoate” party system. In almost every dimension, the Guatemalan party system is weakly institutionalized.
There is a high electoral volatility that does not allow
stability in patterns of party competition. It is important to study in depth the causes of such volatility. Beyond the electoral system, more information about voters’ behavior and attitudes is needed to understand changes in their preferences. The evidence provided by one indicator of parties’ roots in society is not enough to appreciate the real linkages between parties and citizens. Nevertheless, it seems clear that parties in Guatemala have very weak roots in society. Otherwise, they would not appear and disappear with such rapidity. Thus, it is difficult to assert that party labels in Guatemala are good short cuts for voters. Clientelistic and charismatic linkages between politicians and citizens are the custom. There are few incentives in favor of programmatic linkages. The lack of legitimacy is a real problem for parties in Guatemala, but this is the case of many countries in Latin America. The risk is the emergence and success of outsiders with anti-system preferences, such as Fujimori in Peru. Only Christian Democrats have survived the difficult challenges of party competition in Guatemala, but their poor performance in the last two elections indicate that the end of DCG will occur sooner or latter. Thus, the ephemeral existence of the political parties in Guatemala means that the organizational structures of the parties will be hardly fortified.
The instability of the Guatemalan party system is neither a cause nor a consequence of its “incipient and difficult process” of democratic consolidation, as some scholars have suggested (ASIES, 2000).
Instead, the fluidity of the party system is probably the most salient
characteristic of the Guatemalan immature democracy.
4. References Aldrich, J. (1995). Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Artiga, A. (2000). La Política y los Sistemas de Partidos en Centroamérica. San Salvador: FundaUngo. Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales – ASIES (2000). La Institucionalización de los Partidos Políticos en Guatemala: un diagnóstico de la situación actual. Guatemala: ASIES. ----- (2003). Guatemala: Monografía de los Partidos Políticos 2000 – 2002. Guatemala: ASIES. Boneo, H. y E. Torres-Rivas (2001). ¿Por qué no votan los guatemaltecos? Estudio de participación y abstención electoral. Guatemala: Tribunal Supremo Electoral. Diamond, L. (1999). Developing Democracy Toward Consolidation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Fiorina, M. (1981). Retrospective voting in American national elections. New Haven: Yale University Press. Georgetown University (1999). “Guatemala: Elecciones Presidenciales y Legislativas 19851999,” en Base de Datos Políticos de las Américas. http://www.georgetown.edu/pdba Kitschelt, H. (2000). “Linkages between Citizens and Politicians in Democratic Politics,” Comparative Political Studies 33 No. 6/7, pp. 845-879. Linz, J. and A. Stepan (1996). Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Mainwaring, S. (1999). Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of Brazil. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Mainwaring, S. and T. Scully, eds. (1995). Building Democratic Institutions, Party Systems in Latin America. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ----- (2003). Christian Democracy in Latin America: Electoral Competition and Regime Conflicts. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Opinión Pública Latinoamericana (2003). La Democracia y la Economía, Latinobarómetro 2003. http://www.latinobarometro.org Tribunal Supremo Electoral (2003). Resultados de Elecciones al Congreso de la República 1999 y 2003. http://www.tse.org.gt