Download our paper prepared for the APSA 2022 Annual Meeting 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.
On June 21st, fifty deputies and ten senators announced their definitive rupture with the “Five Star Movement” (MoVimento 5 Stelle, M5S) and the launch of a new parliamentary group “Together for the future” (Insieme per il Futuro, IpF). The split led by Luigi di Maio, the current minister of foreign affairs and former M5S leader, was triggered by the recent disagreements on the party line regarding the government’s policies, particularly over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yet the tensions between di Maio and the current M5S leader Giuseppe Conte were high back in January when the two diverged on the candidate to support as the next Italian president.
As an immediate result of this fission, M5S lost its position as the largest parliamentary party group (PPG) in the lower chamber to the League (remaining the largest in the Senate, though) and a few Ministers in the current government. Seen in a longer perspective, however, the rupture may lead to the decline of the Five Stars Movement and possibly to the decay of the populist appeal in Italy.
Born as an anti-establishment, post-ideological civic movement in 2009, M5S disrupted the long-standing duopoly between centre-left and centre-right coalitions and has become one of the crucial actors in Italian politics. It was in opposition as the second largest party in the country following a striking success in the 2013 parliamentary elections with 25.6% of the vote, and entered the government after winning the largest number of seats as an individual party (32.7% of the vote) in the 2018 general contest. However, this identity shift from a protest to the mainstream (and ruling) party and incoherent programmatic offer have increasingly disappointed its voters, as reflected by the systematic drop in public support, further confirmed by M5S poor performance at the most recent local elections.
Although the most striking in terms of magnitude and consequences, the split of the Di Maio’s group is just the latest manifestation of the party’s internal turmoil. Since the beginning of the term in 2018, M5S has been affected by various instability events, which have cost it almost 50% of parliamentarians (162 out of 339 in both chambers). These include individual and collective exits to the Mixed Group (i.e. independents), defections to existing PPGs, and splits to new – more or less durable – breakaway PPGs (e.g., Alternativa in February 2021).
The creation of the “Together for the future” PPG results from a multi-party split. Besides fifty M5S deputies, its creation also involved one MP from the “Courage Italy” (Coraggio Italia, CI) PPG. His departure, preceded by an exit of another MP to the Mixed Group, led to the collapse of the CI group (as it fell below the twenty deputies required for a PPG to exist) and, eventually, to a rupture within the party. Among eighteen formally independent deputies, seven have remained party members and have established a componente politica (a subgroup within the Mixed Group composed of at least ten – or under certain circumstances three – deputies), while eleven MPs left the party and launched a separate subgroup, “Vinciamo Italia – Italia al Centro con Toti.”
In the words of its political leadership, “Together for the future” is a ‘strictly parliamentary creature’ and, thus, will not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections under its current name or in its current form. Instead, the defectors intend to build a party ‘on the ground’ relying on regional/local political structures, with a different name and an anti-populist identity. However, experts remain unconvinced of di Maio’s ability to launch a new party very shortly before the next general election (due no later than on June 1st, 2023) and attract voters, as the latest opinion poll indicated a drop in support for the IpF from around 2.5% to 0.7%. Therefore, at the moment, its prospects remain considerably worse than those of the Five Stars Movement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.