Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
14 - PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUTIONS WITH
PROPORTIONAL ELECTIONS: SUMMARY AND FURTHER CONCLUSIONS
In this constitutional setting we are likely to get several
political parties since the elections for the legislature are proportional.
Furthermore it is important for the parties to get into the executive,
since in a parliamentarian system most decisive constellations include
the executive. Since there are numerous parties the executive is likely
to be a coalition.
A party aspiring for a place in a coalition executive
is greatly helped by being cohesive and disciplined, and therefore the
parties will be so, if effective means for discipline are available. In
a proportional system that is the case, and thus the parties are likely
to become cohesive and disciplined. The main actors will consequently be
party main actors.
As for their policies the basic important fact is that
the parties are capable of delivering, or, in other words, have a capacity
for credible commitment towards the voters. In their relations to the voters
they are therefore likely to strive for instruction rather than delegation.
Furthermore, and since it is much easier to agree about specific instructions
than about general ones when forming a coalition executive, specific instructions
are likely to be particularly important components of policies. Politics
will to a large extent be interest politics.
Since lobbyists are expected to approach the main actors
they will, in this constitutional setting, turn to the leaderships of the
cohesive political parties. The lobbying activities will thus be very concentrated,
and to some extent perhaps also closed or secret. Since politics to such
a large extent is tuned towards interests, lobbying is also likely to be
quite effective. The interest organizations, which may have organizational
ties with the parties, are likely to get interests satisfied in exchange
for votes from their members.
This, so far, is a short summary of some earlier main
points. In addition to this a few further conclusions may be added. I will
start from the contention that the main actors, in this constitutional
setting, are political parties, and that politics therefore, on the whole,
is party politics. It may also be said that we are dealing with a partyocracy.
Now, since the parties are just parties, this means that
there is no democratically appointed main actor with a responsibility for
the common good. All actors represent primarily, and basically, their own
The fact that the main actors are parties, does not, of course,
mean that individuals are unimportant. The parties do obviously consist
of individual human beings and this fact should certainly, and in accordance
with methodological individualism, be recognized. The individuals do however
almost exclusively play their roles within, or on behalf of, the parties.
Thus, and when it comes to dealings with actors outside the party, for
example with other parties, or with the electorate in campaigns, or with
lobbyists, it is usually the individuals belonging to the party leaderships
which acts on behalf of their parties. Party positions on political issues
are of course also determined by the individuals who belong to the party,
usually with more influence the higher up in the party hierarchy they are.
Another related conclusion is that all proposals for decisions
are made by those directly interested in them. The making of proposals,
and of decisions, are in a sense inseparable aspects of one and the same
process. Almost everything is done when the executive is formed, and by
the parties taking part in that process.
Since the parties are likely to be well developed organizations,
and to have an easily recognized identity over time, they will be able
to develop successively, and to harbor, more and more elaborated, and more
and more comprehensive, party programs.
An important conclusion of this, since the individuals essentially
play their roles within, or on behalf of, the parties, is that that political
careers, in this type of system, always are party careers.
I have already said several times that politics in this constitutional
setting tends to be focused on special interests.
Furthermore, since the programs are likely to favour the
interests of particular groups of voters, long-lasting, mutually supportive
relations between parties and voters tend to develop. The party leaderships
will thus to a large extent be able to recognise their own people in the
This does not mean that general instructions are altogether
eradicated - we have for example seen that general instructions in a big
party's program may prevail. Specific instructions are, however, much less
threatened, and even encouraged by the system. Most parties, as it seems,
will have to deal extensively with specific instructions in order to survive.
Specific instructions are thus, in a sense, forced upon politics. This
may also impede the voters from favouring ideological positions, and reduce
them to interest seekers. All of this, it may be noted, is to a large extent
in agreement with Buchanan's contention (1993) that "Political players
who might seek to further some conception of an all-encompassing general,
or public, interest cannot survive". Buchanan is however discussing democratic
constitutions in general, whereas the focus here is on parliamentary constitutions
with proportional elections.
Another formulation of this conclusion, which alludes to
the well known Gresham's law in economics ("cheap money drives out good"),
is that specific instructions drive out general ones.
One implication of this focussing on special interests is
that the turnout in elections is likely to be high. Since people are stimulated
to pursue their own private or personal interests by political means, the
turnout is likely to be greater than in other types of democratic systems.
Another implication is that the system is likely to exhibit
the kind of properties which are usually associated with the so called
"tragedy of the commons". There, we remember, the single farmer, since
he is unable to affect the general handling of the common pasture, will
have to put his cow on the pasture as quickly as possible if it shall get
any grass at all. Consequently, and since all farmers are driven to behave
in the same way, the pasture will be destroyed. In the political system
discussed here the incentives of politicians and voters will bring them
to treat common societal resources in a similar destructive way.