Electoral Law in Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe


What is the impact of legal constraints of political competition on the party systems that ensue? How do district and national electoral regulations affect party competition? Why do districts giving out the same number of parliamentary seats, produce different number of political parties? By taking a fresh look at the rules governing electoral competition and their effect on the electoral process which ensues, this project aims is to provide at least a preliminary answers to these questions and contribute both theoretically and empirically to the question about the determinants of party system size. Focusing on contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, the project studies electoral regulation and the rules which bind political parties’ participation in the electoral process. The main goal is to evaluate the extent to which district and national electoral incentives intervene in party system development. Being able to make better predictions about the number of political parties will not only increase our understanding of existing party systems and the differences that they have, but will also strengthen our ability to design institutions in ways that promote, rather than limit, the quality of democracy. The project contributes to ongoing debates about political legitimacy and accountability, the effect of rules, and more broadly the quality of democracy overall. It extends our understanding of the relationship between electoral and party systems in a context of changing regulatory environment and a trend of a growing dependency of the parties on the state.



The project intends to study the effect of electoral regulation on party system development. In particular, the interest here is to examine how and to what extent does regulation which sets the rules for political conduct within which parties compete affect the number of political parties. The question which will guide this research is how institutions matter? Of particular interest here is to ‘un-pack’ the conditions constraining party competition and to analyze the effect they have on strategies of the political elite and the party system that ensues. These questions will be examined from the perspective of opportunities for new party entrants and representation. In doing this, the project aims to contribute to the debate on the link between electoral and party politics, and on representative democracy as a whole.

Employing an institutionalist, rational-choice framework of analysis to evaluate the constraints and assess the role of districts vs. national rules in governing party competition, this project will make a thorough comparative examination of Central and East European electoral laws and build a comprehensive database of the rules restraining the electoral competition and the specific level at which they apply. Furthermore, the project will provide a systematic standardized dataset of district characteristics beyond magnitude alone and execute studies of party competition at the level of the district. Cases where country-specific rules are found to have a strong effect will be examined further. The process of systematic examination of the determinants of the number of parties, as well as the study of deviant cases and the concentration of the analysis on the district level, will allow for more reliable conclusions on what affects the number of parties and more specifically, which type of rules have a stronger effect and why. Thus, the current project will contribute to the broader understanding of what increases or decreases the quality of democracy.



Taking a multi-method approach, the project relies on qualitative examination of electoral laws, media articles, other relevant legislation and personal survey or interview data, and on quantitative analysis of the effect of institutional and societal factors on party system development. The research follows three successive steps. First, the gathering and examination of the content of Central and East European electoral laws and district-level social diversity indicators. This would allow the identification of trends (second step)of variation in the rules of competition among different states and thus point to unique cases where to conduct in-depth expert interviews. Finally, the research efforts will culminate in a large-N statistical analysis and case-studies of two of the countries singled out within the findings in the previous steps.


Knowledge Utilization

The project asks questions relevant to Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the world. Party systems continue to change, emerge and develop as academics struggle to define the conditions under which this change occurs and pin-point the effect they have on their development. With its focus on the effect of regulation on party system size, this project contributes to the critical debate of the quality of democracy. Thus, considering current political events, and especially the massive attempts of de-authoritarization we have witnessed in the past few years in Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab states, as well as recently in Ukraine, the project seeks to make a contribution to our ability to predict and understand party system development.

The targeted audience of the project is first and foremost the academic community. The project output will be attractive to scholars working in various sub-fields of comparative politics, but it has a clear relevance for scholars and students of electoral and party system dynamics, as well as those studying parties per se. The results may also offer crucial insights to scholars working in the field of public law and will attract especially those with a particular interest in the role of institutions in party system development. In addition to the scholarly community, the project is likely to attract professionals involved in the engineering of political institutions. Finally, the research can impact and is relevant to national electoral commissions and a broad range of NGOs and civil society organizations which deal with the building democratic institutions around the world.



The execution of the project is made possible with the financial support of the University of Innsbruck (UIBK), Austria, and a EURIAS Junior Fellowship hosted at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS)in Wassenaar, the Netherlands.