The puzzle of African party systems

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Two puzzling features characterize African party systems: low fragmentation and high volatility. We present systematic data describing these features and provide a theoretically grounded explanation of them. The explanation emphasizes the role of strategic choice structured by the institutional legacies of authoritarian regimes in the formation and development of political parties. Political restrictions under authoritarian regimes produced severe information deficit concerning electoral mobilization, strategic coordination and the collective action problems that typically attend party formation and coalition-building. Under these constraints, political actors in Africa’s emerging democracies established political parties to preserve their fragmented power bases and relied on presidential elections and ethno-political cleavages as alternative sources of strategic coordination over votes and seats and electoral coalition-building. The result is the entry of large numbers of short-lived political parties, producing high volatility, and the electoral and legislative dominance of a small number of large parties producing low party system fragmentation.

Original Citation

Mozaffar S., Scarritt J.R. (2005). The puzzle of African party systems. Party Politics, 11(4), 399-421. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068805053210