Understanding the Complexity of Party Instability in Parliaments

Download our paper that proposes a new typology of parliamentary party switches.

Abstract. We propose a new typology of parliamentary party switches (switching events) that focuses on three dimensions: (1) the number of MPs and the degree of coordination, (2) the origin of switchers and (3) the destination of switchers – a parliamentary party group (PPG) or independent status. We further distinguish between switches with single and multiple destinations. Our approach sheds new light to party instability in various ways. We elucidate types of party instability to emphasize the complexity of party instability that have eluded the conceptual toolset available thus far. For example, “collective defection” (coordinated movement from one PPG to another), “collective exit” (MPs exiting their parliamentary group to become independent MPs) and “multi-PPG split” (coordinated moves from several PPGs to form a new PPG). Using preliminary data compiled for Instaparty (Party Instability in Parliaments) project from (mostly) Poland and Ireland, we find rich diversity in the forms of parliamentary party instability. While individual defections are much more common than group defections, they are clearly more dominant in Ireland than in Poland; furthermore, switches between PPGs (rather than between PPGs and independent status) have been more common in Poland. Our typology is illustrated by the analysis of the 8th Polish Sejm that provides examples of nearly all single-origin switching events and of most multi-origin ones. The new typology presents the first step of our inquiry into the patterns, causes and consequences of party switching in eight democracies (Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania) from 1960s/1990s to early 2020s.

Welcome to Instaparty: Lena Weltrich and Paulina Salek-Lipcean

Lena Weltrich and Paulina Salek-Lipcean have recently joined the Instaparty team.

Lena started as a PhD Research Fellow at the University of Bergen. While undertaking her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Germany, from the Universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne, she has spent lots of time abroad, which made her pay attention to democratic processes and party politics all over Europe.

Paulina joins the team as a Research Assistant at University College London. She holds a PhD in Political and Social Science from the European University Institute (EUI). In her research project, she investigated the trajectories of party and party system development in two post-Soviet republics, i.e. Georgia and Moldova, and the role of formal-legal factors in this process. Before starting her PhD, Paulina completed a BA and MA at the University for Foreigners in Perugia and earned a MA at the College of Europe. Her main research interests include post-communist party and electoral politics, state-building, institutional engineering and politics of transition from the communist rule.  

Romania: A Rupture in the National Liberal Party

Ludovic Orban, the former leader of Romania’s National Liberal Party (PNL), set up a new centre-right party named Forţa Dreptei (Force of Right) in December 2021. Orban, who served as the Prime Minister from November 2019 to December 2020 and as PNL’s president between 2017 and 2021, resigned from PNL’s parliamentary group on 26 October 2021. Orban had lost PNL’s top position in September 2021 when Florin Cîțu was elected the party’s new president. The party’s National Executive Bureau expelled him in November 2021 following his accusations towards the party’s current leaders.

“We consider it a democratic and especially moral obligation for us to continue to represent the citizens of Romania who gave us the vote, put their trust and hope in us after the PNL decided to be the fifth wheel at the PSD [Social Democrats] cart. The dynamic Romania, that of craftsmen, of professionals, of those who have the initiative in society, who create, who produce, has no political representation today,” Orban said.

Immediately after Orban’s resignation, fifteen MPs followed his example: twelve members of the Chamber of Deputies and three senators. They initially became non-attached members of parliament, but Orban is likely to form a new parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies in the new parliamentary session starting on 1 February 2022.

Romanian analysts believe that Forţa Dreptei lacks potential to last on the political scene for long but can damage current PNL leadership and may eventually seek fusion with PNL. A similar fate was experienced by Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). Tăriceanu was the Prime Minister between 2004 and 2008; he also served as the PNL and the vice-president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR). In 2014, Tăriceanu left PNL due to their intention to leave Social Liberal Union (USL, a Romanian coalition of parties) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) to join European People’s Party (EPP). Shortly after his resignation, he announced that he would launch a new political party, the Liberal Reformist Party (PLR). In July 2015, PLR announced its merger with the Conservative Party (PC) to form a new party, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). Yet, as of early 2022, the party is on the verge of dissolution and likely to merge back to PNL.

Image: Forţa Dreptei Facebook group

Lithuania: A collective switch towards a formation of a new party

Ten MPs from the party group of the Peasants and Greens Union, the largest opposition party group in Lithuanian Seimas, declared on the 7th of September that they are creating a new parliamentary group “Democrats – For Lithuania”. The new group is led by former Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis. It was joined by further three MPs from the “mixed” parliamentary group including another former Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius.

The former members of the Peasants and Greens Union parliamentary group have accused the leader of the party, Ramūnas Karbauskis, for excluding them from the decision-making in the parliamentary group and party and pursuing the course of unnecessary polarisation with the centre-right government. The faction includes some of the more liberal Peasant and Green MPs who have recently challenged Karbauskis’ conservative positions on single-sex partnership legislation.

Skvernelis was not a member of the Peasants and Greens Union but played a key role in its electoral victory in the 2016 parliamentary election and served as its prime minister in 2016-2020. The departure of Skvernelis and his supporters weakens the parliamentary influence of the Peasants and Greens, leaving them with only 22 out of 67 opposition MPs, and may also be related to its drop in public opinion polls from 15 to 10 percent. The split also signals party’s definite shift from the catch-all appeal – most prominent in the 2016 election – to the socially conservative ideological positions and populist rhetoric.

Initially stating that it is too early to discuss the creation of a new party, on the 18th of October representatives of the new parliamentary faction declared the intention to create a new political party. In the meantime, the split of the Peasants and Greens Union seems to have been most beneficial for the opposition Social Democrats which, after electoral defeats in 2016 and 2020, are leading in the polls again.

Photo credits: Darius Janutis. Source: infolex.lt.

Work with us: Research Assistant positions at University College London

The UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) is seeking to appoint two part-time (50% FTE) Research Assistants with Polish or Romanian language expertise. This is an excellent opportunity to work with an international team of three renowned experts of party politics: Raimondas Ibenskas (lead investigator, University of Bergen), Sona Golder (Penn State University, PSU) and Allan Sikk (UCL SSEES). The Research Assistants will help the team with database creation and data collection on Romania and Italy, or Poland and collaborate with the team on research. 

We are looking for applicants with a Master’s degree in political science or related disciplines, especially (part time) PhD students. You will need some experience with social science research, data collection or analysis, and Excel skills (R desirable). Bulk of the work can be done remotely, but you are expected to visit UCL SSEES regularly. Note that if you are coming to the UK from abroad and are fully vaccinated, you would not need to self-isolate on your arrival.  

Closing date for applications: 31 October 2021

Start: 1 January 2022 or promptly thereafter

Further Details

We are hiring: PhD position for 4 years at the University of Bergen

The Department of Comparative Politics at the University of Bergen is advertising a 4 years PhD position to work on the project INSTAPARTY: Party Instability in Parliaments funded by the Norwegian Research Council. The successful applicant will work with an exciting international team of three renowned experts of party politics: Raimondas Ibenskas (lead investigator, University of Bergen), Sona Golder (Penn State University, PSU) and Allan Sikk (University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies).

The duration of the PhD position is 4 years, of which 25 per cent of the time comprises obligatory duties associated with research, teaching and dissemination of results. The employment period for the successful candidate may be reduced if he or she previously has been employed in a PhD position.

Further information >

INSTAPARTY: Party Instability in Parliaments

INSTAPARTY is funded by the Norwegian Research Council, project no 325141

Elected representatives are widely expected to remain affiliated with the political parties that got them elected. However, party switching in parliaments is common, if not endemic, in many established and young democracies. By changing their affiliation, elected representatives create party instability: new parties form, existing parties dissolve, and the size of parties in parliament changes. Party instability may have important effects on election and government formation outcomes, public policy and voter representation.

This project examines party instability in parliaments in European democracies. It has three objectives: to map out diverse forms of instability, to explain why instability occurs, and to understand whether and how instability affects voter support of parties.

A key idea in the project is that party switching can happen in different ways. For example, elected representatives may act individually or in coordination with current co-partisans, legislators from other parties or independents; they can leave or be expelled from their current parties; and may enter existing parties, form new parties, or become independents. Clear definitions and careful analyses of different forms of instability will therefore constitute an important focus of the project. Moreover, the project will examine whether and how external shocks and events (for example, economic crises) lead to party instability.

The project aims to provide detailed information about each instance of party switching in three North-Western European countries (Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands) since the 1960s and five countries in Central and Eastern and Southern Europe (Estonia, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and Romania) since the 1990s. The project will also establish the Observatory of Parliamentary Party Switches (OPPS) that records ongoing instability in the same set of eight countries as well as five additional Western European countries.

The INSTAPARTY research team is led by PI Raimondas Ibenskas (Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen) and co-PIs Sona Golder (Department of Political Science, Pennsylvania State University) and Allan Sikk (School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London).