Is Democracy Possible Without Political Parties?



Democracy Without Political Parties: Constitutional Options
The Center for Constitutional Transitions at NYU Law


The authors ask whether liberal democracies can be re-designed to reduce or minimise the role of political parties. They note that in all established democracies, political parties have played a central role in organising the participation of citizens in politics.

More than 60% of democracies also have constitutions that guarantee the right to form a political party. They argue that political parties play an important role in democracies because they promote political competition, stability and accountabiity.

But they note that political parties also have significant negative consequences, including promoting elitist-style politics, nepotism and factionalism.

The authors go on to discuss the various ways that democracies might be reconfigured to effectively make them non-partisan by reducing the role and influence of political parties. They highlight how in the US state of Nebaska, all candidates have to present themselves as 'independent' and how the leadership of the legislature there is not organised around party affiliation.

But having reviewed the options for potential change, they conclude it would be very difficult for democracies to function effectively without political parties.

Moreover, changing constitutional and electoral rules to minimise the role of parties is a significant obstacle to change.


Thumbnail image: Nebraska State Capitol. By Tim O'Brien/Flickr

Richard Stacey


Michael Riegner


Published Date
June 27, 2014