Parties and Interest Associations


How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
The political parties have a membership structure and are democratic organizations. Parties have annual meetings where policies are determined and leaders elected. These meetings are open to the press and covered widely.
Four of the political parties represented in the Danish parliament – the Liberal
Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Social Liberal Party and the
Conservative Party – have existed for more than 100 years and have all
regularly participated in government. Since they are either in power or have
the prospect of being in the next government, they have a strong interest in
proposing plausible and coherent policies, and it is fair to say that they do so.
This is reinforced by the fact that most governments are minority governments
and the country’s tradition of consensus-driven policies. There is a strong
tradition of broad compromise and agreement, and daily politics is less
partisan than in some other countries.

Newer parties (e.g., the Danish People’s Party, Alternative and since June
2019 the New Right) may be more tempted to propose popular, even populist,
policies. However, parties that aspire to participate in future governments have
to moderate their views. The Danish People’s Party provided the necessary
parliamentary support for the liberal-conservative minority government (2009
– 2011) and the subsequent three-party government (2015 – 2019). In this
way, the Danish People’s Party has managed to promote some of the party’s core issues (e.g., elderly and immigration policy). Since 2019, the Social Democratic Party has formed a minority government with the support of the Unity List (left-wing party), Socialists Peoples’ Party and the Social Liberal party.
Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen and Jørgen Elklit (eds.), Det demokratiske system. 4. udg., Chapter 3. Hans
Reitzels Forlag, 2016.

Websites of the Danish political parties currently represented in the parliament (Folketinget) in order of
representation after the June 2019 election:
The Social Democratic Party:
The Liberal Party:
The Danish People’s Party:
The Social Liberal Party:
The Socialist People’s Party:
The Unity List:
The Conservative Party:
The Alternative:
The New Right:
The Liberal Alliance:
At the time of writing, nine parties held seats in the Finnish parliament (Eduskunta). Of those, five parties held more than 10% of the seats, and can be considered as major parties. Although empirical research on intra-party democracy has to date dealt mainly with the Center Party (Kesk), the findings of this research can be assumed to apply to other major parties as well. In general, candidates for parliamentary elections are proposed by local party organizations. The final decision on which candidates will be nominated is taken at the district level of the party organization (which usually coincides with the electoral district) in a vote open to all members of the party in question. However, it is also evident that the structure of internal decision-making systems within political parties has developed in two directions. While active party members operate in voluntary, subnational organizational units, national policy functions are decided by career politicians who constitute the party elite. This dualism places power in the hands of party elites, and most particularly the party chairs. This has led to a marginalization of party members from the executive functions within each party. As intra-party meetings are the highest decision-making institutions within political parties, the average party member participates in party meetings only indirectly by helping to elect delegates.
As a result of the pandemic, municipal elections were postponed by six weeks in the spring of 2021. It is apparent that the difficult pandemic situation made it more difficult for potential candidates to sign up for elections and to carry out campaigns.
Karina Jutila, “Yksillä säännöillä, kaksilla korteilla,” Dissertation, University of Tampere, 2003; Rauli Mickelsson, “Suomen puolueet. Historia, muutos ja nykypäivä,” Tampere: Vastapaino, 2007; Vesa J. Koskimaa, Intra-Party Power: The Ascendancy of Parties’ Public “Face,” in Lauri Karvonen, Heikki Paloheimo and Tapio Raunio, eds. The Changing Balance of Political Power in Finland, Stockholm: Santérus Förlag; Lauri Karvonen, “Parties, Governments, and Voters in Finland,” ECPR Press, 2014, p.62.
Party leaders are increasingly elected on the basis of votes among all party members, but the procedure changes from time to time. The SPD selected their leaders through a vote of all members in 2019. In 2021, they did so through a party congress. The CDU has selected their leaders at party conventions, including the election of Armin Laschet as the new party head in January 2021. Following his defeat in the general election in September 2021, this procedure has been subject to increasing criticism. In December 2021, the CDU conducted the first general vote among all members to decide on Laschet’s successor, a process that resulted in a majority voiting for Friedrich Merz. Generally, there is thus a clear trend toward ensuring the broad participation of party members in determining leadership, and the selection of party leaders often goes hand in hand with policy decisions. In addition, party conventions are where the toughest and most contested policy issues are discussed and decided on.
In the 2013 parliamentary elections, four out of 15 parties gained more than 10% of the votes. These four parties all hold their national conventions, which are the supreme decision-making forums for the parties, every second year. The conventions issue resolutions on major public policy issues, which oblige the members of parliament of the respective party to abide by these directives. Representatives from the regional and local party units of all parties have the right to participate in party conventions. The number of representatives attending is proportional to the number of party members in each unit. The nomination processes vary slightly among parties. Most parties have a tradition of primary elections in which only party members or declared supporters have the right to vote. The Progressive Party has for long had different rules, under which most constituencies have a constituency board (Kjördæmisráð) that selects candidates to a constituency congress (Kjördæmisþing). The number of representatives of each local party unit is equal to the proportion of each unit’s membership to the total membership of all units. At these congresses, candidates are elected one by one.

Regeneration (Viðreisn) does not hold primary elections. The Pirate Party (Píratapartíið), which has held seats in Althingi since 2013, holds electronic primary elections in every constituency. Further, the Pirate Party uses internet platforms to conduct open debates on many policy issues. The People’s Party (Flokkur fólksins) and the Centre Party (Miðflokkurinn), two parties that gained parliamentary seats for the first time in 2017 and won re-election in 2021, did not have any open selection procedures. Meanwhile, the Pirate Party held electronic primaries countrywide. In the nomination processes for the 2021 elections, the Social Democrats (Samfylkingin) decided to change from primaries to a much more internal nomination method. This led to disputes within the party and cost the party support. The independence Party held primaries in all constituencies in 2021.
Inner-party democracy takes place with different levels of intensity within the political parties, of which seven are represented in parliament – the Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), the Democratic Party (DP), the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party (LSAP), the Greens (déi Gréng), the Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), The Left (déi Lenk) and the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei). The current three-party coalition involves the DP, the LSAP and the Greens.

The years 2020 and 2021 have been marked by a change in the leadership of the two major political parties CSV and LSAP. A Politmonitor poll from November 2021 showed that the country’s major parties are all losing support, while politicians from smaller parties are gaining popularity.

The leadership of political parties in Luxembourg is determined in accordance with their statutes, which generally prescribe a specific designation procedure following an election procedure held during their congresses, conventions or conferences. These are open, in terms of candidacies and voting, only to their members. Non-members may be invited to participate as observers for the public part of these events. As a general rule, parties are led by a president, one of several vice-presidents, a general secretary and a treasurer. Since 2019, the Greens (a member of the coalition government) have implemented a co-presidency principle that became reality in 2020, when Djuna Bernard and Meris Šehović were elected to these positions during the party’s online congress. Following its leadership difficulties encountered early 2021, the main opposition party – the Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) – also adopted the co-presidency principle, electing Claude Wiseler and Elisabeth Margue at the extraordinary congress held the same year. The political platforms of parties are the result and expression of the internal reflection of their members grouped into specialized committees. These platforms are democratically adopted at the congresses, conventions or conferences. Even if they are not directly involved in drafting these documents, non-members are invited to participate in public debates and their viewpoints and propositions are often considered in order to improve the public appeal of such documents. Beyond the specifics relating to the ideological line of each political party, the platforms on EU topics and those drafted for European elections show a high degree of convergence.
« TNS. Politmonitor, 15.11.2021 ». Accessed 14 january 2022.

European Election Database. Norsk Senter For Forksningsdata. Accessed 14 January 2022.
All political parties give special preference to their members in terms of internal decision-making. Party manifestos are approved at annual party congresses, while regional party meetings nominate their constituency’s electoral candidates. Non-party members can be nominated as candidates, but this is rare and happens mostly in small municipalities in local elections. In most parties, attempts are made to anchor major policy agendas in the views of party members and party representatives. Membership in political parties has been halved, from 15% to 7% of adult voters over the last 30 years.

In some instances, new policy initiatives have been launched by party leaders without prior consultation with the party members. Concerns have recently been raised about structural biases in nomination processes that favor active party members’ preferences over those of average voters who rarely have or take the time to become active in political nomination processes. Some political parties have therefore begun experimenting with new modes of nominating and picking candidates. Compared to other European countries, the threshold for establishing new political movements in Norway is rather high, although the role of parties as political movements has decreased and voters are also increasingly demonstrating less loyalty to specific parties.
Politics in Sweden is party politics. The political parties shape public discourse on political issues and control public decision-making at all levels of the political system. All the major parties have developed extensive party organizations, in part supported by state subsidies. Party membership has historically been high but has declined over the last couple of decades. Elected delegates from all constituencies make decisions on party policy and programs at national conferences. These meetings are increasingly public events, used not only as forums to make decisions, but also to market the party politically. Beyond that, however, rank and file members are very rarely consulted or invited to voice their opinions on daily policy issues.

Candidate selection, too, is an internal party matter. Voters do have the opportunity to indicate support for specific candidates, however.

Over the past years, the internet has played a role in making the decision-making process within the major parties more open. In the period under review, political parties maintained an active online presence through their web sites and social media for the purpose of communicating their platform and addressing voters. This is sure to intensify during the next year ahead of the general elections.
There are two major parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, operating at the local, state and federal levels in nearly all areas of the country. Unlike in parties in parliamentary systems, individual officeholders (for example, members of Congress) decide their own positions on policy issues, subject to informal influence from party leaders. Thus, party programs or platforms, amounting to collective statements of party policies, do not exist. A national party platform is written every fourth year at each party’s presidential nominating convention but is rarely referred to after the convention.

The occasion for intra-party democracy is therefore the nomination of party candidates for office. Party nominations are determined by primary elections and open caucuses conducted within each party in each state, thus putting these decisions directly in the hands of ordinary party members. The Trump nomination underscored the critical views of analysts about the dangers of relying on ordinary party members to select party nominees. Yet, former supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful pursuit of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination successfully pressured the Democratic party to reduce the role of party leaders in the 2020 presidential nomination contest.
There are currently four major political parties at the federal level in Canada: the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC), the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois (BQ).

In April 2013, the LPC elected Justin Trudeau as their new leader, through an open-voting process that included non-party members. The policy formation process is also relatively open, new ideas are gathered from Liberal members and supporters through local groups, then written up as policy resolutions that are voted on and prioritized first within provincial and territorial associations and then at the LPC’s biannual conventions. All resolutions passed at the convention become official party policy. Following the 2021 federal elections, the LPC formed another minority government.

Decisions in the CPC are mostly made by the elite, and while grassroots views and resolutions passed at party conventions constitute input, they are not binding. In August 2020, the CPC chose Erin O’Toole, as the new party leader. O’Toole temporarily remained leader despite the disappointing performance of the CPC at the 2021 federal elections when the party finished second once more and stayed in opposition. O’Toole had steered the CPC toward the center in the hope of defeating the LPC, and he must now contend with the so-called social conservatives members of the party who want restrictions on abortions and looser gun control. (A month after the observation period Erin O’Toole who was voted out of his leadership position on February 2, 2022 by his party’s caucus in the House of Commons).

Unlike the CPC and most of the LPC, the NDP is integrated with its provincial counterparts. A wide range of views are expressed at NDP policy conferences, but all policy resolutions passed are non-binding on the party leadership. Jagmeet Singh is the first person of an ethnic minority background to lead a major federal party. The NDP is split between members who want the party to retain a left-wing ideological purity and members who think the party should position itself toward the center-left with the objective of forming a government. Jagmeet Singh has aligned the party with the first camp.

The BQ differs from all other parties in that it runs candidates only in Quebec. Although the BQ garnered only 7.6% of the vote in the 2019 federal elections, it won 32 seats because its support is concentrated in Québec. It is an important political force in federal politics While the BQ has some informal ties with the provincial Parti Québécois, which also supports the independence of the province, there are no organizational links. BQ leader Yves-François Blanchet is very popular and he wields a lot of power within the party. The BQ does not accept questioning of the secessionist position but debate has occurred on the strategy for reaching independence.
Lithuanian parties usually restrict decision-making to party members. Although in many cases, all party members can participate in important decisions, their capacity to influence the most critical party decisions is insufficient. Some political parties are more democratically structured than others: in 2007, the Social Democratic party of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Christian Democrats and the Homeland Union were found to be the most democratic in terms of internal decision-making. The latter two parties have since merged to form a party whose leader is directly elected by all party members. In 2018, this party selected its candidate for president (Ingrida Šimonytė) during primary elections, which were open to members of the public in addition to party members. In 2017, members of the Social Democratic party of Lithuania directly elected the party’s chair for the first time in the party’s history. Gintautas Paluckas, who won the party election, started the process of renewing the party elite. Between 2001 and 2015, the party was dominated by members over the age of 50. As a result of Paluckas’ victory, the party leadership decided to split from the ruling coalition led by the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union. Most of the party’s serving members of parliament continued to support the Skvernelis government after forming the Social Democratic and Labor parliamentary group, and later establishing a new political party. In 2021, a member of the European Parliament, Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, was elected as the head of the Social Democratic party. In 2021, Gabrielius Landsbergis was reelected as the chairman of the conservative party – he was the only candidate for the post, as others had canceled their candidacies in favor of Landsbergis.

Some other political parties are primarily used as a platform for their leaders to express their own political interests. Following the success of non-party candidates in the 2015 municipal elections, the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union brought together a group of non-party candidates for the 2016 parliamentary elections. Many of these candidates, campaigning as a movement rather than a political party, won against the candidates of established political parties. Many of Prime Minister Skvernelis’ parliamentary group and government ministers were not party members. A number of them followed Skvernelis when he decided to establish a new party after disagreements with the head of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union. Most of the members of the current Šimonytė government are party members, but the prime minister herself is not.
G. Žvaliauskas, Ar partijos Lietuvoje yra demokratiškos? Technologija, Kaunas, 2007.
G. Žvaliauskas, Lietuvos socialdemokratų partijos elito kaita 2001–2015 m. laikotarpiu, Viešoji politika ir administravimas, 2017, T. 16, Nr. 1, p. 52-67.
In terms of candidate selection, it is normal for the presidential candidate of each of the major parties to participate in some kind of primary election. The selection of candidates in all parties for the 2018 elections was unusual. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) selected José Antonio Meade, a former finance minister, who was not a party member. The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the National Action Party (PAN) agreed to present a common candidate, Ricardo Anaya, following bitter internal debates because of the strange left-right-coalition. MORENA, a rather personalistic movement, selected former PRD-politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Candidate nomination for other mandates vary from state to state and from municipality to municipality because of the federal system. PRI, the governing party, tends to be rather secretive, clientelist and hierarchical. Meanwhile, MORENA tends to be heavily reliant on the personality of its leader, AMLO. PAN is much more of a members’ party, with a degree of internal democracy, but an exclusionary attitude toward non-party members. The question of which party is in government is also crucial. Incumbent parties tend to be more internally authoritarian because of their greater patronage resources. In general, the PRI is probably the most controlled and authoritarian of the major parties.

In terms of candidates to both chambers of Congress, all parties are dominated by a leadership elite which makes all relevant decisions. They can operate in this exclusionary way because they are in control of the delegates’ votes. When the candidate lists are chosen, delegates will vote as their respective leaders indicate.

The current governing party, MORENA, promised during the election campaign to change the country’s political culture and adopt a more open process in its politics. To date, the results have been ambivalent. On the one hand, MORENA is highly hierarchical, and decisions are made by the undisputed leader, President López Obrador, in a traditional caudillo-like style. On the other hand, several elements of participatory democracy have been introduced, such as the introduction of the recall referendum that was scheduled for 2022. This constitutional change enables voters to remove the president and governors after the middle of their term. Although participation in direct democratic mechanisms has to date been very limited, future use could change the country’s political culture.
Greene, K./Sánchez-Talanquer, M (2018). Mexico’s Party System Under Stress. Journal of Democracy, 29, 4, October 2018: 31-42.
Parties in Spain are progressively allowing all members and even (for some issues) non-members to participate in making key decisions. Party candidate lists and issue agendas have not been as open. Internal debates within most Spanish political parties on electoral programs are common and made public. However, party leadership structures keep a significant level of control over the most important decisions, including the appointment of individual party leaders.

Spain’s political landscape now includes five major parties that draw more than 10% of the popular vote at the national level: the social-democratic PSOE, the conservative party PP, the left-wing party Podemos, the center-right Ciudadanos party and the right-wing populist party Vox.

The PSOE has never been a president-driven party. Internal debate on electoral programs is common and even public, frequently involving some of the regional branches (especially the powerful Andalusian and Catalonian sections, the latter of which is formally an independent party). The manner in which the PSOE selects its leader and main candidates has become quite open. With regard to the 2019 elections, the PSOE secretary-general was automatically named the party’s prime-ministerial candidate (since no other candidate sought to challenge him).

PP President Pablo Casado, who was selected as party chairman in 2018 after a vote by members (for the first time), was automatically named the party’s prime-ministerial candidate.

Podemos and Ciudadanos present themselves as more internally democratic. However, despite the rhetoric in these two parties, closed groups of party leaders were able to fully control the most important decisions,.

The Vox party has presented itself as more grassroots oriented and internally democratic than Spain’s traditional parties. However, the reformed statute of the party presented suppressed the election of candidates by party members, and gave total control over the procedure and election to the national direction.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these parties have increased their use of digital tools to foster internal party activities.
Juan Rodríguez Teruel and Oscar Barberà (2022): “¿Cuánto ha cambiado la oferta política? El impacto de los nuevos partidos en el reclutamiento de los candidatos,” Elecciones autonómicas 2019-2022, Madrid: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas.
The adoption of procedures to allow party members (and friends) to elect the party leadership and choose party candidates began in the 1990s. Gradually, party leaders have attempted to bypass procedures or create conditions that negate the need for grassroots members to exercise such powers.

The Democratic Rally (Δημοκρατικός Συναγερμός, DISY) formed, in mid-2020, groups to “produce policies” for the 2021 parliamentary elections. However, no platform of policies was produced for the campaign except a brief two-page text, as in 2019. The presidential candidate for 2018 was nominated by simply approving the already announced candidacy of the incumbent president. In the 2021 parliamentary elections, 10 candidates were nominated by the party chairman, while one surplus candidacy was submitted, requiring election in one constituency. Party officials have priority as candidates. Since 2018, the party leader’s powers have been broader and internal dialogue has been absent.

The Progressive Party of the Working People (Ανορθωτικό Κόμμα Εργαζομένου Λαού, AKEL) adheres to the principle of democratic centralism. Party members and friends choose candidates, with the final decision in the hands of the party leadership and managed via an opaque procedure. The party congress (1,200 cadres) elects the 105-member Central Committee (CC), which in turn elects the secretary general. AKEL’s presidential candidate is selected by party cells, based on proposals by the CC and a vote by an extraordinary congress. Electoral programs are approved by the party’s leadership.

The Democratic Party (Δημοκρατικό Κόμμα, DIKO) applies a direct vote for its leadership. However, the CC (150 members) nominates the presidential candidate, while regulations set the procedures for the nomination of candidates to other offices. The CC also approves the electoral program.
Parties are usually both centralized and organized hierarchically. There are few registered fee-paying political activists. These are all serious limitations to the inclusiveness of citizens. Many politicians are not selected by a party; they are individuals who have made their breakthrough locally and impose themselves on the party apparatus. In the case of the Macron movement, the change is even more radical: candidates were selected from a pool of volunteers with most candidates lacking any prior political experience. In contrast, national politicians normally have a concrete and ground-based knowledge of people’s aspirations and claims based on local experience. Another factor is the popular election of the president. Candidates’ programs are inclusive; no policy sector is forgotten in their long to-do list. A third factor lies in recent changes in the selection of candidates for presidential elections. Primaries have taken place, first within the Socialist Party, then in the neo-Gaullist conservative Union for Popular Movement (UMP, now LR, Les Républicains) before the 2017 election. In these cases, both registered activists and voters sympathetic to the party are eligible to participate. Actually, this “opening” of the process contributed to a further weakening of the parties, which are already very feeble organizations. The strong participation in the 2017 primaries (up to 4.4 million in the case of the conservatives) can be seen as a form of citizen participation in a crucial political party decision. However, in spite of this apparent success, the primaries in France have confirmed the American experience: they are the most efficient instruments for weakening and destroying political parties. The socialist and conservative primaries have been profitable to the most radical candidates in both cases, deserting the moderate political space and thus permitting the landslide success of the centrist Macron. The traditional parties of government were deeply divided and weakened. Given this catastrophic experience, they decided not to do it again. In 2021, Les Républicains reserved the choice to registered activists (triggering an increase from 70,000 to 148,000 fee-paying members within a three-month period), and the declining Socialist Party gave up organization of a primary altogether. As for the president’s movement, La République en Marche, it remains purely a product of and for Macron. It has not been able to transform itself into a political party capable of playing a proper role in decision-making and mediation between citizens and government in spite of being the largest political movement at present with 400,000 supporters (although most supporters are followers rather than activists).
Αll major political parties (i.e., New Democracy, Syriza and Pasok, which enjoy the largest representation in parliament) continue to suffer (to varying degrees) from intense factionalism, but – compared to the past – have become more open with regard to policy discussions and democratic participation.

The center-right New Democracy, now in government under its leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has made some effort to encourage supporters to participate in defining the party’s agenda. The last national congress of the party took place in December 2019, while the next one is scheduled for 2022. The radical-left Syriza’s party organs are regularly convened by the party leader (Alexis Tsipras) to discuss the party’s line, but the party’s rank-and-file are rarely consulted. Syriza’s last national congress took place in October 2016, with a subsequent congress continuously postponed. In Syriza, there are open and public debates among party factions. The third largest party, the socialist Pasok (leading a center-left coalition named Kinal) conducted a party congress in late 2019 and also conducted nationwide elections to select the party’s new leader in late 2021, in which all members of the party were eligible to vote. It is too early to tell how the newly elected leader (Nikos Androulakis) will manage the party.

Very heavy-handed leadership is more pronounced among small parties, including in the traditional Communist Party of Greece (the KKE) and the party of Yanis Varoufakis (Mera25). In these parties, a very small circle around the party leader, if not the leader himself, has the final word on all decisions. To sum up, intra-party life is more developed in larger than in smaller parties. Meanwhile, in larger parties over time, there have been improvements on the openness of issue agendas, and the exchange of views and public deliberation among party officials.
On preparations of New Democracy’s national party congress:
On preparations of Syriza’s national party congress:
After the 2010 elections, the former party system collapsed, and a new party system characterized by the co-existence of Fidesz and a plethora of smaller opposition parties emerged. In the 2014 and 2018 elections, the fragmentation of the opposition facilitated the victory of Fidesz. Since the 2018 elections, the six major opposition parties – the Democratic Coalition (DK), Jobbik, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), Dialogue (P), Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and Momentum – have intensified their cooperation. At the end of 2020, they agreed to hold primaries for both the prime ministerial candidate and the candidates for all 106 National Assembly districts. These primaries have led to an activation of party members, and have expanded the say of party members and supporters in decision-making. In contrast, Fidesz is still characterized by very centralized internal decision-making. Only a few party members, sometimes even the prime minister alone, make decisions on personnel and issues.
Party decisions and party lists are formally produced at conventions of party members or delegates. A 1999 analysis of local party organizations found that Swiss parties – with the exception of the Green party – prioritized party leaders’ strategic capabilities over membership participation. This tendency has increased in recent years.

However, these oligarchic tendencies are arguably not the primary problem with regard to inclusion in Swiss parties. The decline in party membership and party identification – particularly in the case of the Radical and Christian Democratic parties – along with the low level of party resources, may be even greater problems since party decisions are being made by an increasingly shrinking active party membership base.
Tresch, Anke, Lauener, Lukas, Bernhard, Laurent, Lutz, Georg and Laura Scaperrotta 2020. Eidgenössische Wahlen 2019. Wahlteilnahme und Wahlentscheid. FORS-Lausanne. DOI: 10.24447/SLC-2020-00001

VATTER, Adrian 2018: Das politische System der Schweiz. 3rd edition. Baden-Baden: Nomos (UTB), chapter 3
A distinction needs to be made for all major parties between the election of the leader, on which party members have a say, and the selection of other personnel or decisions over major issues, for which there are generally much more restrictive procedures. The selection of parliamentary and local council candidates usually involves local party members. Annual party conferences notionally have a major role in settling policy positions, but in practice it is party leaders that have the most significant role.

The Conservative Party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of selected delegates participate in the most important personnel and issue decisions. Central party influence over candidate selection has varied in recent years. David Cameron introduced a “priority list” with at least 50% women and significant representation from ethnic minorities, from which all target seats and Conservative-held seats were supposed to be selected. In the run-up to the 2010 election and in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, this requirement was relaxed. After the general election, selection rules reverted to the post-2005 procedure. The party leader is elected by a poll of all party members, who choose from a shortlist of two candidates nominated by Conservative Party members of parliament after a series of votes to eliminate other candidates. When the Conservative Party holds a majority in Parliament, the parliamentary Conservative Party is obliged to nominate the incumbent party leader as prime minister. Boris Johnson successfully used this mechanism to replace Theresa May in 2019.

The Labour Party also restricts decision-making to party members, although trade union influence remains strong. In most cases, a number of selected delegates participate in important personnel and issue decisions. Central party influence over local candidate selection has varied. Since 1988, there has had to be at least one woman on every shortlist. Since 2001, candidates require the approval of the central party’s head office prior to selection by their respective constituency Labour Party. Some political allies of the previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, favored a return to mandatory reselection, which would have increased the influence of the left-wing within the party and was therefore highly contested. The Labour Party’s selection process for party leader was changed prior to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Previously the old electoral college voted for the party leader, consisting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, constituency Labour parties, and the trade unions and affiliated organizations. Each group had one-third of the total vote. Since the procedural change, the choice is now based on a “one member, one vote” system. In addition, “registered supporters” were able to vote by paying £3, an amount increased to £25 in 2017, to be entitled to vote as well. The winning candidate must secure at least 50% of the vote. Consequently, the election process can take several rounds, as the candidate with the fewest votes after each round drops out, and their second preferences are redistributed to the remaining candidates, until the winning candidate has reached the required quorum. Keir Starmer emerged victorious in the first round of that process in the Labour leadership election in April 2020.
The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
Belgium maintains a multiparty political system, with 12 parties represented in the national parliament. Party organizations come in a broad variety of forms. Due to the high fractionalization of the May 2019 election, only two parties maintained a vote share above 10% at the national level: the conservative, separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA, 16%) and the extreme-right, separatist Vlaams Belang (12%). The historically dominant parties, such as the Socialists (respectively 9.5% and 6.7% for the French and Flemish wings), Christian Democrats (respectively 8.9% and 3.7% for the Flemish and French wings), the Liberals (8.5% and 7.5%) and the Greens (6.1% for both wings) all individually fell below 10%.

However, this observation must be qualified by the fact that each party runs only in its own district, mainly Flanders and Brussels for Flemish parties, or Wallonia and Brussels for French-speaking parties. Hence, the actual percentage totals for each given party should be increased by about a 70% ratio for the Flemish parties and by a 130% ratio for the French-speaking parties. The big picture is that the historically dominant party groupings (Socialists, Christian Democrats and Liberals) have been losing ground over the last decades, achieving historically low results in 2019.

Regarding internal selection procedures, Bram Wauters (2013) writes that “all Belgian parties represented in parliament give their members a direct say in the appointment of the party leader, be it at a party conference in which all members can participate and vote or via internal elections granting each member one vote (either by postal or electronic voting, or by arranging polling booths in local party sections).

Many of the parties selected new leaders over the 2019-2021 period. The competitiveness of internal party elections varies widely. In many internal elections, the winner is elected by a crushing majority – and, sometimes, there is only one candidate. But it does happen that some internal elections are highly competitive, and lead to surprising results (among others, the Greens typically have competitive internal elections, and both the Christian Democrats and the Liberals have occasionally tight contests). Overall, the process is thus mostly controlled by the party elites.
Electoral results:
Parties asking their voters to validate government agreements:
Election in the liberal party:
Election in the Christian Democratic party:
Elections in the socialist parties:

Wauters, Bram (2013). “Democratising Party Leadership Selection in Belgium: Motivations and Decision Makers.” Political Studies 62/S1, 62-80, DOI: 10.1111/1467-9248.12002.
Chile has a presidential governmental system. As the president determines the government’s policy agenda, presidential elections are much more relevant than congressional elections in terms of policy direction. Therefore, in campaigns for the presidency, government programs are presented by the presidential candidates and not by their coalitions or parties. These global program proposals tend to be limited to descriptions of policies’ intended public effects rather than technical details or any detailed discussion of content. The primary elections for the 2013, 2017 and 2021 presidential elections demonstrated that candidate selection and issue agendas are largely controlled by the parties’ leaders. However, the left-wing Broad Front (Frente Amplio) coalition – formed in 2017 by several minor new parties, and to which new President Gabriel Boric belongs – can be seen as a positive exception to the centralized and top-down tendency within parties.
Decision-making processes are very similar among the main parties. Formally, each party member can propose issues, but in reality, inner circles of 15 to 20 elite party members make the most important decisions. All parties have an annual congress at which delegates elect the party leader and other governing bodies. One such body is the board, which votes on political decisions, issues statements, and submits proposals to the party’s parliamentary group and to the party’s members in the government. The board also nominates ministerial candidates when the party is part of a coalition government. Another important decision-making body is the council, which manages the party when the general assembly is not in session. The council is comprised of board members and elected representatives from the various regions. The council negotiates agreements with other parties in the parliament, including decisions on whether to enter a governing coalition. Like the board, the council can also submit proposals to the party’s parliamentary group and the party’s members in the government. As a rule, it is the council’s responsibility to compose and agree upon the lists of candidates for general and European Parliament elections. Local party organizations propose lists for municipal elections.
The taoiseach is elected by the lower house of the parliament and is usually the leader of the biggest party in parliament. The position of party leader is therefore of great significance.

In the 2020 general election, the vote shares received by the parties were Sinn Féin 24.5%, Fianna Fáil 22.2%, Fine Gael 20.9%, the Greens 7.1%, the Labour Party 4.4%, the Social Democrats 2.9%, People Before Profit 2.6%, and Aontú 1.9%. Meanwhile, independent candidates won around 13.5% of the votes.

Specific party procedures for selecting party leaders and presidential candidates are detailed below. However, all the main parties now use a one member one voting system, meaning that each party member can vote once for the party candidate in their constituency. As such, party members are important gatekeepers to the selection of parliamentary candidates. While most candidates are selected locally, they need to be approved by the party’s national executive, which reserves the right to veto any local choice or to add a new name to the ticket. Empirically, the national parties are more likely to add a name to the ticket than to veto someone selected locally. For example, for the 2016 general election, 15 of Fine Gael’s 89 candidates and 16 of Fianna Fáil’s 71 candidates were added to the ticket by the respective party’s national constituency committees (see Reidy 2016). The introduction of gender quotas, which threatens political parties with losing half of their state funding if the proportion of male or female nominated candidates falls below 30%, appears to have further strengthened the hands of the national party. Ready (2016, 71) states: “the requirement for parties to meet specific gender targets facilitated the party center exerting even more control over selection processes than at previous elections.” In 2020, of the 516 candidates running for 159 seats in 39 constituencies in the general election, 160 or 31% were women (Carswell & O’Halloran, 2020).

Fine Gael:

The party leader is selected by an electoral college comprising the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party (weighting 65%), ordinary Fine Gael members (weighting 25%) and Fine Gael local representatives (city and county councilors, and members of Údarás na Gaeltachta, weighting 10%). On 2 June 2017, Leo Varadkar beat Simon Coveney to become the new leader of Fine Gael. He was appointed taoiseach by President Higgins following a vote in Dáil Éireann on 14 June 2017.

Fianna Fáil:

The party has a pyramidal structure based on the local branches (cumainn). There are approximately 3,000 of these across the country. The party leader is elected by an electoral college comprising ordinary members (weighting 45%), parliamentary deputies (weighting 40%) and other elected representatives (weighting 15%). Before the establishment of this electoral college, Micheal Martin was elected as leader of Fianna Fáil on 26 January 2011, in an election in which only members of parliament who were members of the Fianna Fáil party were eligible to vote.

Sinn Féin:

In February 2018, Mary Lou McDonald, after a special party conference in Dublin (Ard Fheis), succeeded Gerry Adams as leader of Sinn Féin. Since the party entered politics in 1986, no vote of confidence in the party leader has been tabled. The Ard Fheis (National Delegate Conference) is Sinn Féin’s ultimate policymaking body, where delegates – directly elected by members of local branches (cumainn) – vote on and adopt policies.

In autumn 2018, Michael D. Higgins, the president of Ireland, was re-elected by a considerable majority, obtaining a record 822,566 first-preference votes, to serve for a second seven-year term.
Theresa Reidy (2016), ‘Candidate Selection and the Illusion of Grass Roots Democracy,’ in Michael Gallagher and Michael Marsh (eds) How Ireland Voted 2016. Palgrave.
According to the last parliamentary election that took place on 23 March 2021, only two parties – Likud and Yesh Atid – can be considered major parties, having gained at least 10% of the popular vote.

Likud is characterized by intra-party democratic institutions. It chooses its candidates through primary elections and has elected representative institutions that take part in decision-making, such as decisions on whether the party will join or leave a governing coalition, and debates over policy stances. Nevertheless, despite its formal democratic procedures, the power of former Prime Minister Netanyahu on Likud’s institutions is overwhelming, after effectively removing all his significant rivals from power.

Within the Yesh Atid party, some consultation with party members is conducted, but important decisions are made by senior members and specifically by the party leader. Moreover, the regulations authorize the party’s leader to decide on the most important personnel issues, such as the list of electoral candidates.

Other parties are characterized by intra-party institutions which range from highly democratic to completely undemocratic.
The Knesset and the Central Elections Commitee website: “Parliamentary groups of the 24th Knesset,” (in Hebrew)
With regard to intra-party democracy, Italy’s major parties differ significantly. At one end of the spectrum lies the Forza Italia (FI) party, which was previously called Popolo della Libertà (the People of Freedom Party), where decision-making and leadership selection are both fundamentally dominated by its leader, Silvio Berlusconi. Requests to adopt primaries to designate candidates for leading positions at national and subnational levels were recurrently aired but have always been stopped by Berlusconi. The situation is rather different in the main center-left party, the Democratic Party, where leadership has in past years been selected through primaries open not only to party members but to anyone willing to subscribe a declaration of support for the center-left coalition. A similar procedure was sometimes adopted for the selection of parliamentary candidates.

The Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement, M5S) has introduced new mechanisms of online direct consultations for decisions and for candidate selection. At the same time, behind the scenes (and sometimes openly), movement founder Beppe Grillo has maintained a very strong steering and veto role. Internal opponents have found it very difficult to win a platform to voice their positions, and dissidents have frequently been expelled from the party.

Northern League party activists and members selected their current leader, Matteo Salvini, through primaries in 2017. The party is now totally dominated by its leader.

Overall intra-party democracy in Italy’s political system is not well established and shows a large degree of variation across parties. In particular, it seems difficult to balance an increasing personalization of leadership and the preservation of internal debate. Discussions about regulating the internal dynamics of political parties are recurrent, but have not been implemented.
The Law on Political Parties mandates that certain political-party decisions be made in the context of full-membership meetings or by elected officials of the parties. These include party officer elections as well as decisions on party governing statutes and party programs. Other decisions must be taken in accordance with party statutes, but are not subject to regulation. Regulations allow for little input from party members. By comparison, commercial law provides more rights to shareholders than rights accorded to party members in their own party.

In the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary election, three new parties emerged and gained substantial support: the nationalist-conservative New Conservative Party (Jauna Konservativa Partija, JKP), the center-left-liberal Development/For! (Attīstībai/PAR, AP) and the populist “Who Owns the State?” (Kam pieder valsts?, KPV LV) party. In their statutes, all three parties indicated a decision-making procedure in which power lies with the party’s general assembly and is directed by the board of the party. In the case of JKP, there is also an intermediate body of the party council. Since these parties have been elected to the Saeima, with the exception of KPV LV, there has been no indication that party guidelines have been seriously mismanaged.
Political parties are increasingly coming under pressure to consult beyond party membership. This shift has been driven by voter volatility, with voters less constrained by party loyalties. Rank and file views today are also made known through social media, and in most cases these are discussed and taken note of. However, most of this internal consultation takes place within the official organs of parties, such as the parliamentary group and the executive.
Recently, the Nationalist Party (PN) decided to open the second round of voting for the party’s leaders to its members. However, these members are only allowed to vote after party delegates have made an initial choice from among the contenders. The result has been the election of leaders who do not have the support of a number of the old stalwarts of the party. The Labor Party’s recent selection of a new leader took place through a vote that was open to all party members. The Labor Party has also altered its statute to ensure that the deputy leader can no longer be a member of parliament in order to allow the party to strengthen communication with its grassroots.
For the last decade, political parties have functioned under legislation that strictly defines the role of a political party and how parties are financed. Since most funding is public, the government mandates that democratic principles govern parties themselves. However, the reality is mixed, with some parties meeting democratic standards while others fall short (Wincławska et al. 2021). While in the 2015 parliamentary elections, only two parties – the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO) – received more than 10% of the votes, in October 2019, the social-democratic Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) also managed to overcome this threshold. The three parties differ enormously from one another in their internal decision-making processes. PiS, led by Jarosław Kaczyński since 2003, is characterized by a hierarchical model of organization. Legal statutes and bodies notwithstanding, all important decisions are ultimately made directly or indirectly by Jarosław Kaczyński. By contrast, PO, the second-largest party in parliament, and SLD have given members a more significant say, which has allowed for more far-reaching internal debates. The SLD was renamed the New Left (NL) in 2020 and has merged with the Spring party in 2021.
Wincławska, M., A. Pacześniak, B. Brodzińska-Mirowska, M. Jacuński (2021): Party Management from the Perspective of Party Members: Evidence from Poland, in: Problems of Post-Communism 68(4): 315-326 (
A total of 10 parties, running on nine lists, won seats in the most recent parliamentary elections held on 6 October 2019. Only three of these parties obtained more than 10% of the vote: the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS), which received 36.3% of the vote and 108 seats; the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata, PSD), which won 27.8% of the vote and 79 seats; and the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE), with 10.2% and 19 seats.

Of the other lists that obtained seats, the most successful was the Unitarian Democratic Coalition (Coligação Democrática Unitária, CDU) between the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the Ecologist Party (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes,” PEV), which secured 6.3% of the vote and a combined total of 12 seats, which resulted in 10 seats for the PCP and two for the PEV.

In both the PS and PSD, party leaders are directly elected by party members, while party members also elect delegates to the party congresses. However, regarding policy issues and candidates other than the party leader, the rank-and-file members have little say. Instead, decisions are largely made by the party leadership, which – depending on the internal balance of power – may have to negotiate with the leaders of opposing internal factions.

In short, the members of these two parties elect a leader who then presents a list for the other positions. The party’s representatives in the government are selected by the leader in consultation with the party’s political commission (although there is no obligation to act on this advice).

In January 2015, the PS approved new statutes that use primary elections to choose political candidates, and let registered party sympathizers (not just members) vote to choose the party leader. While current party leader António Costa gained the leadership of the party in a primary election, this mechanism was not used to select candidates in subsequent legislative or party leadership elections, which reverted to the direct election model previously noted.

BE party members elect delegates that convene at the party’s national convention and in turn elect an 80-member national committee called “Mesa Nacional,” which is elected proportionally. The Mesa Nacional then votes for the party’s political commission, which has 18 members since the 2018 convention. In its 10th convention, held in June 2016, the party changed its statutes slightly, albeit the change did not significantly alter the degree of internal democracy. Due to this change, it is now up to the political commission to elect the secretariat, which is comprised of 10 people since the 2018 convention. Until the ninth party convention held in November 2014, the BE had two national coordinators within the permanent commission. After this convention, the party returned to the model of a single coordinator, in this case Catarina Martins, who has retained her position since.
South Korea
There is widespread agreement among political scientists, political observers, politicians and the general public that political parties are one of the weakest links in South Korean democracy. Parties are organized in a top-down fashion, and typically led by a few powerful individuals (who may or may not hold official party offices). Parties often disband, rename and regroup around these leaders without the comprehensive involvement of members. In general, ordinary party members have very little to say. While the selection of presidential candidates has become more democratic since the introduction of the primary system in 2015, issue-oriented participation by party members remains anemic, and party organizations remain weak. Only some of the smaller parties not represented in the parliament, such as the Green Party, are organized in a bottom-up way. Organizing local party chapters remains illegal in Korea, making it almost impossible to build grassroots organizations. Due to their focus on personalities, parties tend to be ill-prepared to govern, and thus depend on co-opting political outsiders that have little experience in the political arena.
Elected members and senators – but no other party members – are responsible for decision-making in both major parties. Decisions regarding who should hold positions within the party, such as ministerial positions for the party in government, have largely been at the discretion of the elected leader in coalition governments. Labor prime ministers cannot choose their ministers freely, but instead have to allocate portfolios among a set of candidates selected by the factions.

The Liberal-National coalition has traditionally had a more open and inclusive process for determining leadership than the Labor party, which is dominated by factions to which most members are beholden. These factions are regularly criticized for making opaque decisions and for contributing to a lack of decision-making transparency. In response, the process for selecting the Labor party leader was altered in 2013, giving 50% of the votes to the wider party membership, with the remaining 50% staying with elected members and senators.

With regard to the development of policy agendas, both parties have inclusive forums for developing policy platforms. However, in practice, a small leadership group in each party tightly controls decisions on major policies.
The Austrian party system is going through a process of deconcentration. The traditionally dominant parties – the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, SPÖ) and the conservative, Christian democratic Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP) – have experienced an almost uninterrupted decline since 1980. Winning 37.5% and 21.2% of the total vote in the 2019 national election, they are however still the country’s two largest parties. At the national level, the FPÖ has been the second largest party (rather than the largest) during only one government term, back in 1999.

In general, the major parties have spent little time developing intra-party democracy and have focused instead on appealing to specific groups, whose support is considered necessary to win elections. In preparation for the 2017 general elections, the ÖVP changed its traditional procedure for nominating candidates. The party transferred total authority for the nomination process to one person, the party’s candidate for the Chancellor’s Office, Sebastian Kurz. This did not change for the 2019 elections, with the ÖVP remaining the party of Sebastian Kurz. This development must be seen as a significant decline in intra-party democracy and carries some similarities to what is currently happening to the U.S. Republican Party under the influence of former president Trump.

In contrast to the ÖVP, the other parties have largely followed their traditional procedures, ensuring that the different intra-party interests continue to be represented. However, after losing its primary position in parliament and now in opposition, the SPÖ has started to reform its internal decision-making procedures, which will give party members a stronger role. This was first exemplified in the decision about the new mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig. The SPÖ’s new national party leader, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, was initially chosen by the traditional process in 2018. However, in 2020, she was confirmed by a party member vote in which more than 41% of party members participated, with 71.4% backing Rendi-Wagner.
Bulgaria’s heretofore unprecedented four-party coalition, which was formed after two general elections, amid a pandemic and after two weeks of intensive but broadcasted deliberation, shook up the country’s political establishment.

The election delivered an important lesson: whereas no parliamentary group in the May-June parliament was prepared to enter into a coalition with GERB as the largest party, and the lead party (There is Such a People, ITN) of the July-October parliament did not want to cooperate with any other party, the spirit of cooperation – despite the various cleavages – prevailed in the parliament elected in November. ITN’s leader, Slavi Trifonov, has not held a public office and did not run for election in 2021.

In this respect, ITN resembles the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (DPS), whose honorable chairperson, Ahmed Dogan, designs and/or approves the decisions made in the party. More of an electoral alliance than party per se, We Continue the Change (PP) has scheduled party-building events for the early part of spring 2022
Democratic Bulgaria is a classical liberal coalition involving a substantial Green presence. Decisions are made by the bodies of the three parties and then discussed by a coordinating body guided by the three leaders.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is the oldest political party in parliament. Having suffered several splits in 2020 and 2021, the party is now united around its leader, Korneliya Ninova, who is also minister of the economy and industry and deputy prime minister.

This parliament consists of seven relatively small parliamentary groups, opposition or coalition partners, each of which have little choice but to be inclusive and maintain a spirit of dialogue. The only exception is the newly elected Revival – a radical, extremist party that opposes COVID-19 policies, the planned adoption of the euro, and Bulgaria’s membership in NATO and EU. Revival advocates establishing closer ties with Russia and threatens to bring about a revolutionary occupation of parliament and overthrow of the government if other parties do not agree with their demands.
Irrespective of changes at the helm of the party and its parliamentary group, GERB remains a leader-centered party. Boyko Borisov holds a position similar to that of Ahmed Dogan, but is also the most frequent public representative of GERB. In short, six of the seven parliamentary groups in parliament are leader-centered.
Croatian parties are characterized by a rigid structure. The degree of intra-party democracy is generally low, members do not regularly participate in party activities and the party leadership maintains considerable control over selection procedures and debates. In the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), no internal elections took place until April 2016. While the party’s chairman has been elected directly by party members ever since, the latter have not had the chance to choose between different candidates due to high formal and informal barriers. These barriers include the need to collect 11,000 signatures in order to become an official candidate. Incumbents also have substantial leverage over intra-party rivals due to widespread clientelism and the potential to punish party members who do not toe the existing party line. The threshold and barriers mentioned above are not as high in the second largest party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP is somewhat more open to internal debates, but does not tolerate the existence of open political blocs.
In the last parliamentary elections, the left-green coalition gathered around the platform Možemo (Yes, we can – M!) won seven seats, and won the local elections in Zagreb. The extent to which the new political grouping will allow party members to participate in shaping key party policies remains to be seen. The current SDP leadership has dissolved a number of local party organizations in the country, including the largest in Zagreb, expelling a number of prominent SDP members. As a result, the SDP’s deputy club in the Croatian parliament has split; it now has fewer SDP members than does the deputy club of the Social Democrats, which includes former SDP members who disagree with the current party leadership.
Ćelap, K., D. Nikić Čakar (2017): Unutarstranačka demokracija u Hrvatskoj: (Ne)moć običnih članova u procesu stvaranja stranačkih politika, in: Politička misao 54(3): 80-107.
The 2021 parliamentary elections transformed the Czech political landscape. Neither the Social Democrats (ČSSD) nor the Communists (KSČM) crossed the 5% threshold required for parliamentary representation. Only a coalition of three conservative parties – the Pirate Party (in coalition with a broadly liberal grouping) which had moved toward the political center, the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (Svoboda a prima demokracie, SPD), and Babiš’s ANO – won representation. The traditional parties had developed formal structures and means of participation in electing their leaders and voting at congresses on policies although, in practice, active involvement by members was limited. The internal organization of the Pirate party is the most systematically inclusive as it enables both members and sympathizers to engage in agenda-setting and other activities, the majority of which take place online. The internal decision-making of the ANO party is the polar opposite. The party is hierarchically organized, and its founder and leader, Andrej Babiš and a small group of his allies, dominate the decision-making process. The internal organization of SPD is even more restrictive, as the party leader Tomio Okamura controls both the decision-making and party finance in ways that involve intimidation and – according to investigative journalists – even extortion.
New Zealand
There are currently five political parties in the New Zealand House of Representatives. The two major parties, Labour (65 seats) National (33 seats) and Labour (46 seats) dominate the electoral map. Three minor parties won parliamentary representation in the 2020 election: the Green Party, ACT (both 10 seats), and the Māori Party (two seats).

The organizational structure of the Labour party is complex, as it mainly consists of affiliated members – that is, those who are members of affiliated trade unions. Although the party refuses to disclose membership numbers (a policy shared by the National Party), it is thought to have a current membership of approximately 7,000. Decisions with regard to personnel and policy are therefore not restricted to individual party members. However, at the same time, Labour uses a system of delegates. The selection process for candidates for parliamentary seats is based on a heavily formalized moderating procedure that takes into account criteria such as ethnic background, gender and region. Following pressure from grassroots members to have a voice in the selection of the party leader, in 2011 the party took away the parliamentary caucus’s sole responsibility for choosing the leadership, replacing it with a combination of party membership (40%), parliamentary caucus (40%) and affiliated trade unions (20%).

The National Party considerably increased the central leadership’s influence in an organizational reform in 2003. The newly created National Management Board, which includes the parliamentary leader, plays an especially influential role in pre-selecting parliamentary candidates for electorate seats (to a so-called Candidate’s Club) – although these are still required to compete with other nominees, using the existing decentralized electorate selection process. The selection of candidates for list seats has been equally centralized at the expense of regional party organizations. The party leader is chosen by the members of the parliamentary caucus.

While both ACT and the Māori Party are also organized in a relatively centralized fashion, they seldom reach the level of 10% of the vote. ACT managed this in 2020, but largely due to National’s declining share. The Green Party also reached 10% of the vote, although in New Zealand’s system, it is not considered a major party. That said, the Greens stand out from the rest within the party system with their emphasis on participatory processes. In contrast to other parties, decisions on policy and the selection of parliamentary candidates are made by the party membership, with less control exerted by the parliamentary caucus.
Constitution and Rules of the New Zealand National Party (Wellington: New Zealand National Party 2013).
Green Party: (accessed October 24, 2015).
NZ Electoral Commission (, 2017)
Candidate Selection and List Ranking Procedures 2014 (Wellington: Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 2014)
Labour Party: Constitution and Rules 2014 (Wellington: New Zealand Labour Party 2014).
Stephens, Gregory R. und John Leslie: Parties, organizational capacities and external change:
New Zealand’s National and Labour parties, candidate selection and the advent of MMP, Political Science 2011 (63): 205-218.
Slovenian party law leaves political parties with some organizational autonomy. Political parties are very heterogeneously organized, with some organized only on the micro level (i.e., in one or several of the 212 municipalities) and others organized only on the macro level. Access to decision-making processes is normally restricted to party members. Whereas party members have the formal right to participate in decisions, the party leadership controls the candidate lists and the policy agendas. The details of internal party decision-making are not widely known to the public, as most decisions are made behind doors that are firmly shut. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, only two political parties managed to win more than 10% of votes.
The dominant political view is that government interference in private organizations like political parties is incompatible with the role of the state in a liberal democracy. A law for internal party democracy is appropriate for countries with a history of non-democratic governance (e.g., Germany, some states in southern Europe and in central and eastern Europe). However, in the Netherlands with its strong democratic tradition, many consider it superfluous. Several recent reports show the vulnerability of Dutch democracy to (international) manipulation through weak controls over and accountability for party finance, political campaigning and candidate selection. For example, some political parties deal with their representatives’ ethical issues (especially regarding gender issues) through internal councils or executive organs, political parties report inflated numbers of formal members in order to boost state subsidies, and candidate lists and leadership-succession practices frequently lack transparency, illustrating Robert Michels’ thesis that political parties act as oligarchies.
In addition, political parties are not obliged to have a membership organization or conduct internal decision-making practices democratically. One party (the anti-immigrant party PVV) has only one member – its leader – and not even its members of parliament or local councils are able to join the party they represent, and not even members of parliament have any formal say in policies, candidate selection or internal workings of this party. Several political parties have received very considerable amounts of money (up to €1 billion), sometimes from foreign countries. Entrepreneurs have sold time with ministers and other high officials from governmental parties to companies during dinner parties in order to finance campaigns, eradicating the line between partisan activities and formal duties. Some political scientists therefore advocate a separate law on political parties, including grounds for prohibiting parties that undermine democracy itself; and an independent (non-state) commission for oversight and enforcement. Such a Party Law that would acknowledge the special and crucial functions that parties perform in the country’s democracy is now being prepared.

The very narrow basis of political parties is reflected in their membership figures. Political-party membership reached an all-time low of 285,851 in 2015. It increased to 316,000 in 2021 (2.4% of the electorate), owing to an increase in young voters joining D66, Green Left and Forum for Democracy. Approximately 10% of party members are considered active. Frequently party activism is used as a launching pad for a political career. Across all major political parties, political activists and (semi-)professionals dominate decision-making with regard to candidate lists and political agendas. Political parties are not bottom-up movements. Rather, they are intermediaries between political elites and their electorates, with political-party members as links. The attitude to intra-party democracy (e.g., party congresses, election of party leaders and intra-party referendums) is ambivalent. One former minister of defense and Labor party member commented: “Party congresses don’t buy combat planes.” Party leadership succession, even in political parties with some tradition of intra-party democracy (e.g., Christian Democrats, social democrats and D66), is not necessarily democratically regulated, but is often determined by opaque, “spontaneous” selection processes managed by party elites. In recent years, some political parties – such as the PvdA – have moved to a primary model, but can and do return to much more closed procedures of leadership and candidate selection.

The functional loss of political parties as clear representatives of social groups reverberates across the political system at all levels (see also “Association Competence (Others)”). Lower-educated citizens’ mobilization and integration into politics has declined in particular. Paired with the decline of the centrist parties (in particular the former dominant parties, the social-democratic PvdA and Christian democratic CDA), the rise of more extremist and fringe parties, increasing electoral volatility, parliamentary fragmentation, polarization on particularly cultural issues and strong anti-establishment sentiments have created anxieties regarding the role of politicians and political parties.
R.B. Andeweg and G.A. Irwin (2014), Governance and Politics of The Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 80-95

NRC Handelsblad, 26 January 2019. Kabinet: verbod op partijfinanciering van buiten de EU.

NRC Handelsblad, 9 March 2019. Politieke partijen die regels ontwijken – en een ministerie dat steeds wegkijkt. t-publieke-belang-van-politieke-partijen

Gr. A’dammer, Rijkema, 8 December 2021. Onzeker gesternte.

NRC, 20 March, 2021. Wij zijn het Wilde Westen van het politieke geld.

Andre Krouwel (2012) Leadership and Candidate Selection in Krouwel, A (2012). Party Transformations in European democracies. SUNY Press (State University of New York Press).

Andre Krouwel (1999) The selection of parliamentary candidates in Western Europe: The paradox of democracy, Working Papper Vrije Universiteit
Parties in Japan are fairly insider-oriented, with policy and personnel decisions driven by leading politicians and their networks.

Japan’s strongest party is the LDP (holding 259 of 465 seats in the lower house after the 2021 election). Its coalition partner, Komeito, holds 32 seats. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which has for some time been the LDP’s main rival, suffered a major blow before the 2017 election, when many of its lower house members left to form the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP, 96 seats), an entity primarily devoted to opposing changes to the existing constitution.

The LDP has traditionally revolved around individual politicians, their personal local-level support organizations and the intra-party factions built by key party leaders. Local party chapters may play decisive roles in choosing a parliamentary candidate if there is no “natural” successor to the former incumbent. Ordinary party-member involvement is usually limited to membership in a local-level support organization for a politician, and is mainly (but not solely) based on mutual material interests: While members want tangible support for their communities, politicians want secure “vote banks” for (re-)election.

Party congresses offer little real opportunity for policy input by delegates. However, delegates from regional party branches have participated in party leader elections since the early 2000s. When Fumio Kishida was elected LDP president in September 2021, votes from party members in the various prefectures counted for half the votes cast in the first round of voting. If no candidate can secure majority in the first round, the party’s Diet members decide the contest. While the LDP has also paid some lip service to increased intra-party democracy, it has shied away from major internal reforms.
Eric Johnston, The LDP’s leadership race kicks into high gear this week: This is how it will go down, The Japan Times, 14 September 2021,
The major Romanian parties remain controlled by leaders that are isolated from the party membership and seemingly have little patience and desire to consult local organizations before making decisions. Delegates to national congresses are selected by local organizations in ways that are not always open and transparent, and which allow relatives of current leaders to be promoted. Romanian parties remain largely clientelistic, nepotistic structures in which the power of a handful of leaders outweighs that of large segments of the membership.
The majority of Slovak parties are elite projects that are dominated by a few party leaders (Dolný/ Malová 2016; Gyárfášová 2020). Smer-SD, the dominant party until the 2020 elections, remains strongly centered around Robert Fico, who has led the party since its founding in 1999 and has remained its de facto head even after his resignation as prime minister in March 2018. The inner circle of the party and the number of party representatives with influence are rather limited. The party that gained most votes in the parliamentary elections, OĽaNO, also reflects the character of a personality driven party project with Igor Matovič, who founded the party in 2011 and has headed the party ever since. The program and public support of the party relies mainly on his image and his popularity. OL’aNO is an atypical formation without a membership base, classic party structures and standardized internal processes. Thus, OĽaNO resembles more a vaguely organized movement than an institutionalized party. The party is now confronted with two challenges: achieving sufficient inner consolidation and determining the future role of its founder Igor Matovič, who lost support by his erratic behavior during his short stint as prime minister. In addition to Smer-SD and OL’aNO, the only two parties that gained more than 10% of the votes in the 2020 parliamentary elections, two further parties of the governing coalition – Sme-Rodina and SaS, but also the far-right L’SNS are leader-dominated. The only more inclusive party that has made it in parliament has been the party Za ľudí (For the People), which was founded by former President Andrej Kiska shortly before the 2020 elections.
Dolný, B., D. Malová, D. (2016): Organisational Structures of Political Parties in Slovakia: Parties not for Members. In K. Sobolewska-Myślik, B. Kosowska-Gąstoł, & P. Borowiec (Eds.), Organizational Structures of Political Parties in Central and Eastern European Countries. Kraków: Jagiellonian University Press, 391-418.

Gyárfášová, O. (2020): Slovenské voľby 2020: potvrdenie „stabilnej nestability.” Prague: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Prague, March 6 (
A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
The centralized structure of the Political Parties Law (Law 2820) does not encourage intra-party democracy. The right to dismiss local party organizations (Articles 19 and 20), and party members (Article 53), provides party leaders with unlimited powers and thus undermines internal party democracy.

As a general tendency, membership issues, party congresses and executive boards are not democratically managed in most political parties. Nomination processes are dominated by a few party elites or directly by the will of party leaders. Since no wings or cliques are tolerated within parties, in case of serious disagreements, either the party’s leaders tend to expel their adversaries, or opposition groups establish new parties on their own. The ultimate result of this tendency is “party inflation.”

Within the AKP, Erdoğan has no rivals for power. Following the AKP’s 2019 losses in some municipal elections, for instance, some of the party’s leading members, including former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, former Minister of Economy Ali Babacan and some current deputies resigned from the party after disciplinary proceedings were initiated. The CHP, on the other hand, introduced some amendments to its party statute that will enable the party assembly to delegate the selection of candidates to the central executive committee. However, that party’s 2018 presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, established a new party, Memleket Partisi, after he lost a close leadership race to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The MHP traditionally has a strong leader and a centralized structure. The absence of democracy within the party led to the formation of the IYI Party by figures such as Meral Akşener and Koray Aydın. Among mainstream parties, the HDP respects intra-party democracy more than others by incorporating its multi-cultural voter base into the party cadres.
Kabasakal, M. (2014). Factors influencing intra-party democracy and membership rights: The case of Turkey. Party Politics, 20(5), 700-711.

Birgün. “CHP’de yönetmelik değişikliği: PM aday belirleme yetkisini MYK’ye devredebilecek,” 4 September 2019, kisini-myk-ye-devredebilecek-267223
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