The construction of surrogate parties in unconsolidated polyarchies: the catch-in party
In the last days, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with photos, links, and posts regarding the newly established “military”-wing of the United Romania Party (Partidul România Unită). This pathetic publicity stunt was created to attract the press attention on the National Congres of the party, so I’m not going to speak about the Vlad Țepeș Guard but about the party, its utility, and role in the Romanian political system.
What is a party? Giovanni Sartori defines a political party as “any political group identified by an official label that presents at elections, and is capable of placing through elections (free or non-free), candidates for public office” [1. Giovanni Sartori, Parties and Party Systems (Colchester: ECPR Press, 2005), 56.]. Also, Maurice Duverger defines a political party as “a group of persons organized to acquire and exercise political power“[2. Maurice Duverger, “Political party,” in Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed on January 28, 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/political-party.]. So, the PRU meets the definition of a party but I have doubts that its real purpose is to acquire and exercise political power.
Why do I have doubts? Because I don’t think that the main purpose of the United Romania Party is to acquire political power and to implement its political platform. In fact, I strongly believe that this party is just another catch-in party that is so typical for unconsolidated polyarchies with strong states, like in Romania.
In unconsolidated or procedural polyarchies with strongly institutionalized states, the political structure [3. Understood in sociological terms as a set of political processes, interactions between actors, and the (formal and informal) norms present in political systems.] tends to stimulate the creation of surrogate political alternatives that are under the insidious control of the political establishment. I name them catch-in parties, because their sole purpose is to catch the marginal and radical electorate that is not appealed by the political establishment and creates for them an organized way of expressing their political views, providing them with a sense of political representation. Thus, the establishment is avoiding the radicalization of the marginal electorate and the development of real radical parties that could constitute a danger for the state and the political establishment itself. It is practically a risk management instrument.
The catch-in parties have a short life, they are created one or two years before a general election season and disappear shortly after the elections have taken place, when the funding from the establishment ends. If the public unsatisfaction with the establishment is large and the catch-in party will be able to surpass the electoral threshold, the party candidates will be insidiously selected by the establishment to assure that every or a large majority or the winning candidates will have the same values and ideas of the political structure, willing to align with the establishment. After the elections and the dissolution of the catch-in party – no longer of political utility – the MPs of the now defunct party will enter into the traditional party structures.
So, the United Romania Party is a catch-in party created by the establishment (Bogdan Diaconu was a member of the Social-Democrat Party and later the vice-president of the Conservative Party) to catch-in the nationalist and radical electorate (450.000-500.000 people) and to control de political radicalization of the public arena. I am completely sure that it will disappear in 2017, in the same way the former Peoples Party-Dan Diaconescu, another catch-in party, evaporated from the political arena.
Vladimir Surkov’s Russia is an excellent example of many fake, catch-in, and predatory [4. A predatory party is a party created by a political actor with the sole purpose of stealing votes from a political opponent. The Liberal-Democrat Party (to steal from the National-Liberal Party) in Romania and A Just Russia party (to steal from the Communist Party led by Zyuganov) are successful examples.] parties.