Eduardo Dargent and Paul Muñoz, "Democracy Against Parties? Party System Deinstitutionalization in Colombia." Journal of Politics in Latin America 3, 2 (2011): 43-71. Click here for ungated PDF.
This article argues that in Colombia, decentralization and electoral reforms adopted in the late 1980s and in the 1991 Constitution – designed to improve democratic quality – brought about a gradual deinstitutionalization of this country’s traditional party system as an unintended consequence. Building upon resource-based theories of party configuration, we contend that in developing countries, where resources are usually crucial for party aggregation, “democratizing” reforms designed to distribute power and resources in the political system can reduce local candidates’ incentives to join and remain loyal to political parties, particularly when those parties’ reputations are weak. In Colombia, these reforms (i) reduced the power of intermediate-level party leaders over the distribution of selective incentives, making these leaders less important for local politicians, and (ii) gave more political and financial autonomy to local candidates, reducing their need to join parties in order to advance their electoral goals. As a result, party cohesion and discipline become difficult to maintain, and the party system gradually deinstitutionalizes.Decentralization is often portrayed as a positive force, since its goal is to weaken clientelist ties and increase accountability at the local level. The argument here, though, is that local leaders don't need national parties anymore to achieve their programmatic goals, which makes individual politicians more important than the party they belong to. As a result, Alvaro Uribe came very close to amending the constitution again to run for a third term. Fortunately he backed off, but it was a warning sign for Colombian democracy.