Steven Levitsky, Professor of Government, Harvard University, CGIS-North, Rm K204

In collaboration with: Jorge Domínguez, Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico in the Department of Government James Loxton, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University Brandon Van Dyck, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University

We propose a two-day (Friday/Saturday) conference, to be held on November 16 and 17, 2012. We plan to have 12-15 papers presented by scholars who have recently undertaken research on party-building in Latin America, plus five discussants, most of whom are experts on party-building in other regions of the world. The final product of the conference will be an edited volume with a major university press.

Summary: Political parties are the basic building blocks of representative democracy. They reduce information costs for voters, enhance executive accountability, and contribute to democratic governability by facilitating legislative organization and aggregating the interests of powerful societal groups. Yet parties remain weak in much of Latin America. Over the last two decades, established parties have weakened dramatically in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Moreover, notwithstanding three decades of competitive elections and repeated efforts at electoral reform, the record of party-building (or rebuilding) has been at best mixed. New parties took root in some countries (e.g., Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico), but in many others they did not, and in and in a few cases (e.g., Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru), party systems decomposed into “party non-systems” (Sanchez 2009). The failure of party-building had clear negative implications for democracy. Where parties collapsed and were not rebuilt in the 1990s and 2000s, democracies almost invariably fell into crisis (e.g. Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela). Where successful party-building occurred, by contrast, new democracies proved more robust (e.g., Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico).